Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
Nathalie Karg Gallery is pleased to present Vanitas, a group exhibition curated by Hannah Chinn and Monica Hom. The exhibition runs from December 14 through January 22, 2022 and features work by Ya Chin Chang, Cathleen Clarke, Logan Criley, Flan Flanagan, Paul-Sebastian Japaz, Mike Lee, Ann McCoy and Sarah Peters.
The exhibition takes its title and inspiration from the genre of Baroque painting by the same name. Vanitas still lifes, a popular sub-genre in the Dutch Golden Age of painting (1570’s - 1670’s), were intended by their makers to function as vivid, sumptuous reminders of the inherent transience of carnal pleasures, the certainty of death, and the fleeting nature of our experiences here on earth. To illustrate these points, vanitas scenes typically included a set of morally loaded symbols such as rotting fruit, skulls, bubbles, wine, and books. These types of images are closely related to another well known category of painting, the memento mori. Memento mori, Latin for ‘remember you must die’, are best known for their inclusion of morbid motifs such as skulls, extinguished candles, wilting flowers, and timepieces. Like vanitas, these items are placed before the viewer to remind them of the ephemeral nature of life, influencing anyone who passes by to consider the moral fortitude of their earthly pursuits.
In Vanitas, the weighty themes of mortality and the nature of our very existence are deeply considered either through the artists’ direct, formal references to the symbolism of the genre, through conceptual explorations into the ways in which we assign moralistic meaning to everyday objects and spaces, or through a meditation on the fleeting nature of memory or time. Yet in this exhibition, the visual and conceptual language of traditional vanitas paintings are re-imaged and transposed to the iconography of our time; an extinguished flame becomes a flickering birthday candle, an hour glass becomes an iPhone, and flowers decay in modern sitting rooms.
These issues feel particularly pressing and pertinent in this historical moment. In the shadow of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and a major shift in world views, many of us find ourselves in a transitional phase of life, one perhaps consumed by visions of death or uncertainty. For these reasons, it feels especially urgent for both artists and viewers to refocus, look inward, and consider the nature of our own reality and what might come next.