Traditionally considered a lesser genre compared to others such as history and landscape painting, still life grew in prominence in the 20th century. Rather than promote the interests of an elite class, 20th-century still lifes reflect the individual histories and creative ambitions of their makers. With the rise of modernism and consumer culture, artists depicted unconventional objects such as mass-produced goods and broadly experimented with their methods of representation, turning the aged genre into a vital means of contemporary expression.
The subject of still life is widely represented in the McNay’s collection, the most recent example being David Ligare’s Still Life with Apples and Vessel, which serves as inspiration for this exhibition. Gathering tabletop compositions and studies of single objects, all works in Object Romance initially appear straightforward. However, many objects are strategically lit, positioned, and described, giving them a theatrical presence that suggests symbolic meanings and larger narratives. Together these works in painting, sculpture, printmaking, and photography declare the importance of the ordinary and the familiar and the vitality of this enduring genre.