SP–Arte Viewing Room 2021: Still life: ways to approach time

9 - 13 June 2021

Still life, stilleven: the canonic genre of painting has unfolded in inexhaustible investigations since the 17th century in Europe. Being explored not only on painting, but in sculpture, installation, photography, etc., we can attest to its vigor and freshness with the works that Bergamin & Gomide selected for the SP- Arte 2021 OVR. Distinguished artists as Mira Schendel, Iberê Camargo, Francisco Brennand, Glauco Rodrigues, Amadeo Luciano Lorenzato, Maria Leontina, Rivane Neuenschwander, Tiago Mestre, among others, find themselves working on the same motive: interceding, reinventing, reworking inanimate objects and common use elements.

Art critic Meyer Schapiro, in a 1968 text1, argues that, in addition to the formal interest that artists have in relation to objects at rest in still life, there are symbolic and affective aspects that transcend the study of contours or the incidence of light. The choice of these objects, their context, the state in which they find themselves, the landscape with which they relate, the language used — all add layers of meaning that enrich the significance and reading of works of this genre. In the 17th century, the supposedly simple gathering of plants, fruit, and sumptuous dishes could indicate nothing more than a compositional study, but the attributes of each of these elements depicted not rarely seek to trigger the action of time (rotting fruit, drying leaves) and the emptiness that would consist in the attachment to vain, material things, to the sparkling vases that are there to remind us that silver shines, but that everything passes away (think vanitas and memento mori).

As for Cézanne, the famous apples that occupy his numerous paintings within this genre have a history, which Shapiro traces back to the canvas Le Berger Amoureux (erroneously called Le Jugement de Pâris, 1883-85) to discuss their presence as a figuration of eroticism and desire, beyond formal attributes. In the 20th century, in turn, Giorgio Morandi stands out as a painter of still life by ceaselessly dedicating himself to the composition of vases and bottles whose elegance and refined eye have inspired countless artists. This is evident in this selection with the works of the series that Francisco Brennand made in his honor, and with the bottles by Mira Schendel, who in other paintings, especially from the 1950s, made explicit his great influence in the compositions and colors she explored. Although Morandi was an observer and painted objects of common use, the basis of his interest was in all the meaning that can be added to banal elements, to the real. It is he who says: “I believe that nothing can be more abstract, more unreal, than what we can see. Things have no intrinsic meaning, but the meanings we attribute to them.” Hence the melancholy, silence and elegance that his “simple” bottles can emit.

Thus, these selected works seek to corroborate the reading that the artists’ choice for dialoguing with such a traditional genre within the history of art combines precisely their interest in appropriating its motifs, listed above, integrating them with their own expressive resources. This explains the diverse effect that Lorenzato’s abundant fruits and Schendel’s synthetic fruits cause in the spectator; just as Brennand’s ceramic bottles, although sculptural pieces, sometimes seem less solid than those by Giorgio Morandi that inspired him. Or, again, we find between Wilma Martins’ canvas and Tiago Mestre’s Vaso (2020) two distinct ways of exploring background and volume.

Rivane Neuenschwander, on the other hand, revisits the beginning of this tradition by interacting with time in Still-Life Calendar (2000) — and Maria Leontina, in the interweaving of colors she paints in Still Life (1951), explores her passion for the things of the world, as she comments in a 1979 interview with Walmir Ayala: “Since I was a little girl I fell in love with objects as others fall in love with people.”

Still life could say, therefore, ways to approach time, space and the elements of everyday life, displacing them and showing a glimpse of novelty. This is what Bergamin & Gomide wishes to demonstrate by selecting works that date from 1948 to 2020 and that constitute a collection of rereadings and dialogues with this genre.


1 Meyer Schapiro, The Apples of Cezanne: An Essay on the Meaning of Still-life (1968).