By Jackie Wullschläger
A Paris exhibition draws on the iconic works of 70 museums for a once-in-a-lifetime sweep of a sumptuous genre.
Through millennia, art has evoked our joy in the touch, taste, smell, as well as sight, of things. (...)
The last significant European still life show was Louvre curator Charles Sterling’s in 1952. This new one is a once-in-a-lifetime sweep: a sensualist’s feast and also, in intellectually playful Parisian tradition, a philosopher’s tale. How we think about things reveals our relationship with the world, our attempts to make sense of it. Still life, the show argues, is not inert “nature morte” (dead nature) but a living form, animated by individual minds and hearts, and by social and scientific forces.
Still life has special affinities with minimalism. Throughout the show are paintings — Adriaen Coorte’s Six Shells on a Stone Table, each encrusted form luminous against a dark ground; Giorgio Morandi’s pale jars and cake moulds Still Life; Miquel Barceló’s shadowy Grisaille with Swordfish — whose simplicity yet authority stops you in your tracks, stirring a sense of mystery, the enigma of the visible.