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Winter is ending! As we clear away months of detritus, physically and mentally defrost, and revel in the extra lightness at day’s end, the dichotomy of the Still Life takes on special relevancy. Beautiful Decay, a multiple media exhibition at Danforth Art Museum in Framingham, MA, celebrates the genre with works from their permanent collection, accompanied by installations by three invited artists, including Boston photographers Steven Duede and David Weinberg, now on view through June 5, 2016.
The Still Life has long been treasured for its symbolic power and aesthetic allure. Simultaneously expressing life and death, fertility and decline, a Still Life embodies the inherent transience of nature, accentuating the dearness of life. Dating from the master painters of the 16th and 17th centuries, the genre retains appeal through its universal language, its ability to connect the historic with the contemporary and to combine the organic with the man-made world.
Contemporary interpretations of the Still Life by photographers Steven Duede and David Weinberg demonstrate the range of this genre. Both spring from a painterly tradition, with rich colors and expressive compositions. From there they diverge, with Duede’s view from above into the chaotic and lush organic piles of his compost bin and Weinberg’s spare and precise positioning of symbolic elements across the horizontal plane of his frame.
Duede’s style is dynamic and painterly, with almost unbelievably sumptuous fruits, vegetables, flowers and even fish splayed across each frame with seeming abandon. Luring the viewer with his larger-than-life scale, Duede adds dimensionality through selective focus and discreet vignetting around each image’s edges. His utilization of diffuse outdoor light enhances saturation, producing opulent, quenching hues. The effect is accentuated by the daring installation decision of wrapping the walls of the room with photographs mounted edge-to-edge, enveloping viewers in an abundance of beauty and decay. Duede’s flamboyant photographs embrace the vibrant, unruly opus of life and death.
Weinberg’s photographs are exacting and constrained, their bright, directional illumination and deep shadows reminiscent of the Dutch or Spanish Baroque masters. Sparkling clarity and hyper-realism hint at the intensity of Weinberg’s emotions at the root of this series, created in the face of his daughter’s life-threatening medical crisis. His construction of symbolic tableaus pitting knives, “bleeding” fruit and newspaper obituaries against eggs, wine and seeds highlight the precarious balance of fragility and vigor. The recurrent pomegranate is his muse – representing fertility and prosperity – a quiet insistence on life in the face of death. Heightening both beauty and tension with rich hues and high contrast, Weinberg transforms apprehension over an unforgettable struggle into elegant visions of reverence and grace.
Lo, even this exhibit is impermanent. To learn more about the show and accompanying artist talks and special programs, go to: http://www.danforthart.org/BeautifulDecay.html
Feature Image: “Evanescence VIX” by Steven Duede (courtesy of the artist and Danforth Art, Framingham, MA).