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Still life as practice, subject, and lens at Monya Rowe

Among the expanse of methods and agendas available to artists today remain some sturdy long-standing genres. “Available (A Still Life Show)” at Monya Rowe Gallery takes a good look at one of them. Rowe and artist Angela Dufresne have gathered 21works that look to the still life as practice, subject, and lens. It’s a smart, playful exhibition that allows us to take pleasure in this humble genre, even while stretching its limits.

A lovely little print by Wayne Theibaud affirms of our expectation of the genre, as does an anonymous contribution of a photocopied Morandi painting in a store-bought frame. The latter served as curatorial inspiration—a reminder that still life is, at its core, the apprehension of the everyday, available to all, including the artist, whose mediation records the nuances of that apprehension.

Dawn Clements’ “Table (mums),” 2006 meets these terms head-on. Clements’ “Table” is a confidently rendered mass of objects, from bowls filled with of the stuff from pockets to boxes of sugar, packs of gum, and wilting mums. Clements affirms the persistence of still life as a contemporary form by keenly observing the chance operation of domestic ephemera.

Lynn Talbot edges off the center of the genre by both engaging and appropriating it. Dark oil on linen grounds support tiny vases, fruits, and fabrics. Dutch-inspired paint handling gives way to surrealist leanings as Talbot inserts streams of painted emissions—part thought bubble, part abstract disruption.

Other works in the show mess with the idea of still life painting on their own, and with the curators’ help. Kevin Zucker’s untitled c-print cleanly presents a messy clutch of used tissues and their box of origin, all made of paper and gooey paint. Painter Dona Nelson practically sculpts the profile of a diseased tree in “Old Burl,” 1981, and in this context a would-be landscape morphs into a subject part human, part thing. Vera Iliatova’s “location 30 (8)” presents a play with the notion of still by depicting film actors on location. Here the object observed is both movie still and the objectified movie star. David Humphrey’s “To Bears”, the only sculpture in the exhibition, stills the life of objects we normally animate by merging them into an odd Arp-like totem.

Humphrey shares the outer reaches of the genre with Anoka Faruquee, whose abstract diptych, “Big Brush Painting and Small Brush Copy” makes another painting the object observed and rendered. And while Faruqee’s process might otherwise be interpreted as a gesture of displacement by a small act of appropriation, here we see it as an act of mimesis.

Much is available in this exhibition—a celebration of the everyday, an embrace of what was once a lesser genre, and perhaps most important, lively encouragement to unravel the edges of fixed categories.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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