the DeVos Art Museum opened a Still Life exhibit on Friday, January 21 that uses art as a way to reflect on time spent in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DeVos Museum of Art, inside the NMU Art and Design Building, currently features still lifes by 13 contemporary artists, including graphite drawings, all-carved wood artworks, collages of paint samples and photographs among many other mediums.
What brings these pieces together is how they show what the still life genre means in today’s modern age, said Emily Lanctot, director of the DeVos Art Museum.
“[The exhibit] is about how we had to stand still — where we had to observe other people’s things through screens or observe each other behind a mask,” Lanctot said. “Art has this way of explaining the world to us that can be really powerful.”
This kind of art can often be seen as something of the past, but it’s still important today, especially in terms of the pandemic, said James Asava, a young art and design student with a background in photography from dead natures.
“Still life is still very relevant today because it can be shown in many different ways, from painting to drawing to photography,” Asava said. “Speaking of a pandemic, this type of art can speak to experiences that others haven’t had.”
Melissa Cooke Benson, a Minneapolis-based graphite pencil artist, features six pieces featured in the exhibit, all of which showcase her experiences of the pandemic.
“Still life has become a way to reflect on where you are and where the world is,” Benson said. “I think a lot of artists turned to drawing their interior spaces or various objects as a way of thinking partly and partly because that was all that was available to some.”
Benson reflects on her own surroundings in a drawing that hangs on the back wall of the exhibit showing a butterfly locked in a jar that she caught like a caterpillar with her daughter.
“It became metaphorical – where it’s this beautiful thing but it’s slightly captive,” Benson said. “Where I also felt a bit stuck or captive inside our own home, but it became this symbol of hope and growth, a symbol of change.”
Lanctot came up with the idea for this exhibition over the summer to assess this relationship of everyday life during the pandemic.
“I thought a lot about the still life genre and how it speaks to the ephemeral and the everyday,” Lanctot said. “I wanted to work on an exhibition that would be a contemporary version of that.”
The Still Life exhibit begins with drawings of skeletal remains buried in ice drawn by Alaskan artist Don Decker, which assess the relationship humans have with the natural environment, Lanctot said.
“I thought of his work as a beautiful way to examine the beauty of the environment, but also the chaos that we threw into it,” Lanctot said. “This change is happening gradually and yet very quickly.”
The exhibit concludes with an acrylic painting of an off-center chair positioned over a vanity by New York painter Gabrielle Garland, which focuses on the passage and perception of time, Lanctot said.
“The ending of the show is about time diminishing and understanding that it’s over through that candle and vanity,” Lanctot said. “The space is almost dizzying as far as we are here inside, and in this space there is a lot of fragmentation.”
The Still Life exhibit at the DeVos Art Museum can be visited Monday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. until March 22 and is both free and open to the public.
“Everyone should go to the museum because it has passion and emotion, and the artists are dedicated for people to see it,” Asava said.