“American Still Life 1945-1983,” organized by Linda L. Cathcart of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston and on view at the Neuberger Museum at Purchase, New York, this summer,[1] is the kind of exhibition that would have been unthinkable ten, even five years ago, except as a show of more traditional painting. The term “still life,” with its visions of jugs, fish, and fruit, inevitably connoted archaism, an embracing of pictorial concerns far removed from the recent interests of contemporary art.

Yet it is no longer so preposterous to imagine still life coming into vogue as a vital artistic issue. It has been made possible, in part, by the emergence of aesthetic pluralism that acquired currency in the 1970s—the idea that multiple modes of artistic expression could co-exist in the artistic landscape where...


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