Art, Art & Archives, Exhibitions and Installations, J. Paul Getty Museum, Photographs, Film, and Video

A Seductive Still Life

<em>Early American—Still Life with Steak</em>, Sharon Core, 2008. Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles © Sharon Core

Early American—Still Life with Steak, Sharon Core, 2008. Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles © Sharon Core

Greeting you as you enter the exhibition In Focus: Still Life are two beautiful photographs that incorporate dead animals in their compositions. Lorikeet with Green Cloth by Marian Drew includes a parrot on a plate, while Sharon Core’s portrait of asparagus and steak presents a slab of meat that’s as sumptuous as it is ghoulish.

A photograph that can pass, at first glance, as a painting, Core’s work is inspired by, but strategically altered from, a still life with steak by 19th-century American artist Raphaelle Peale.

Why Peale? “There was something beautiful but very strange, uncanny,” Core says of his still lifes, which have been described as possessing a visceral physicality that “makes our own meatiness palpable.” She spoke to us for an audio stop (available here and on our audio player on-site) that’s the latest installment of an ongoing series of interviews with contemporary artists about their work.

“Everything is built on a pyramid,” Core said, “so it appears very solid and aesthetically whole, but the details of the objects belie a more grotesque reality”: the visual assault of a bloody piece of raw meat (and the contrastingly wan, fingerlike asparagus), the tension between painterliness and photographic precision. Heightening the impression of assault, a dry, purplish carrot emerges from the glistening flesh, leading the eye to an unwashed beet lurking behind the fat at right.

Core chooses the objects for her still lifes with great meticulousness, even growing her own heirloom produce at her home in the Hudson Valley:

Peale’s subject matter is never really flawless. It’s hard to find the right things in a supermarket. Agriculture has gotten too big, so I’ve created my own little farm in my yard to be able to use every part of the plant. I wanted to include the flowers, the leaves, the ripening fruit, the ripe fruit, the overripe fruit. By having this garden at home, I was able to have a constant supply of things to work with at varying stages.

Ironically, the imperfections in the produce heighten the seduction of her carefully staged world, and our disconcerting pleasure at taking it in.

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