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The Not-So-Still Life

A Century of California Painting and Sculpture

Susan Landauer (Author), William H. Gerdts (Author), Patricia Trenton (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 237 pages
ISBN: 9780520239388
November 2003
$38.95, £28.95
As E. H. Gombrich once observed, the still life is compelled to challenge and at the same time perpetuate tradition. Without the elements of recognition and comparison, and the discovery of the familiar in the unfamiliar, the genre would lose most of its meaning. This lavishly illustrated volume documents the extraordinary challenges that artists in California have brought to the tradition of the still life as they have transformed and revitalized the genre over the course of the last century.

In abundantly illustrated essays, as entertaining as they are informative, The Not-So-Still Life traces the great variety of media and forms these artists have engaged as they have moved the still life not just off the table, but off the wall and into three dimensions. Susan Landauer, William H. Gerdts, and Patricia Trenton investigate a range of forces and influences—whether historical, sociological, economic, psychological, or biographical—that have played into this evolution, from the plein-air Impressionism of the early twentieth century to the Synchromist bouquets of Stanton Macdonald-Wright, the revolving table settings of Charles Ray, and the electronic sculptures of Alan Rath. In doing so they deepen our understanding of American art over the last century.

Presenting, interpreting, and celebrating the world-renowned and the lesser-known California artists who have uniquely defined and redefined the still life, this volume offers an exploration of the sensual pleasures, the aesthetic challenges, and the intellectual and perceptual associations of a century of art through the prism of a single genre.
Director’s Foreword
Daniel T. Keegan
Susan Landauer

Making Arrangements: California Still-life Painting at the Time of the Impressionists
William H. Gerdts
Before the World Moved In: Early Modernist Still Life in California, 1920–1950
Patricia Trenton
The Not-So-Still Life: A Survey of the Genre in California, 1950–2000
Susan Landauer
Artists’ Biographies
Ann M. Wolfe

Susan Landauer is Chief Curator at the San Jose Museum of Art and author of Elmer Bischoff: The Ethics of Paint (California, 2001), San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism (California, 1996), and California Impressionists (California, 1996). William H. Gerdts is Professor Emeritus of the Graduate School at the City University of New York. He has published extensively on American Impressionism. Patricia Trenton is the author of Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945 (California, 1995).
“The sumptuous catalog . . . restores the still life to a place of honor in California art history alongside the landscape, and highlights some artists in need of deeper study.”—Metro San Jose
"The wonderful reproductions in this book make it a page-turner, confirming that the genre of still life is alive and well in our own times. What amazing transformations the art form has taken over the course of the twentieth century! This book delights both the eye and the mind."—Wanda M. Corn, author of The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915-1935

"This book offers a major rethinking of the still life as well as a survey of California still life work. 'Still life' is ingeniously extended to include three-dimensional objects as well as the objects in conventional still life painting. The essays are imaginative as well as scholarly, vivid as well as historically precise, and above all they make clear the sweep and depth of California creativity."—Donald Kuspit, Professor of Art History and Philosophy, State University of New York at Stony Brook

"This is the sort of book you don't know you need until you discover it. With their accounts of California still life in the time of the Impressionists and early twentieth-century modernism, William H. Gerdts and Patricia Trenton add invaluable chapters to the history of American painting. And, as she traces the remarkable expansion of still life during the past half century, Susan Landauer demonstrates the centrality of this once-humble genre."—Carter Ratcliff, author of The Fate of a Gesture: Jackson Pollock and Postwar American Art and Out of the Box: The Reinvention of Art, 1965-1975

"The most venturesome aspect of The Not-So-Still Life is its casual expansion of the genre to include sculptures, assemblages, and even kinetic and Internet art. Susan Landauer discusses with informed gusto not only important West Coast painters who brought new life to this old form, but also witty ceramic sculptors and funky, outspoken assemblage artists. William H. Gerdts and Patricia Trenton contribute authoritative accounts of some sixty-five artists active in California between the 1880s and World War II."—David Littlejohn, West Coast arts correspondent, The Wall Street Journal

"With impressive scope and rigorous scholarship, The Not-So-Still Life demonstrates that what was once the most conservative of genres has been transformed into one of the more radical contemporary forms of expression. The authors bring coherence to an incredible array of artistic outpourings--from Pop art to earthworks, Surrealist painting to electronic art--that illuminate the distinctive form still life has taken in California."—Dianne Macleod, author of Art and the Victorian Middle Class

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