by Martha Schwendener

Justine Kurland and Bruce Kurland

The New York Times


‘Airless Spaces’

Through Aug. 31. Higher Pictures, 980 Madison Avenue, Manhattan; 212-249-6100,

Bruce Kurland (1938-2013) made diminutive still life paintings that were bought by an enthusiastic cadre of collectors. He remained largely under the art world radar and might have stayed there, were it not for his daughter Justine Kurland, a well-known photographer who shares the walls with him in “Airless Spaces,” at Higher Pictures. Ms. Kurland’s black-and-white contact prints of domestic scenes are an interesting supplement to her better-known color portraits. But the real draw here is Mr. Kurland’s paintings.

Mr. Kurland’s aesthetic is consciously anachronistic. Drab browns and overworked surfaces create backdrops for dead trout and other animals that Mr. Kurland caught or shot, as well as vegetables and crockery. He borrowed heavily from 17th-century Dutch still life painters like Vermeer and Carel Fabritius; French artists like Jean Simeon Chardin, Claude Manet and Henri Fantin-Latour; and the American still life painter John Frederick Peto.

To this tradition Mr. Kurland added contemporary elements. Asparagus stalks rest on a Budweiser can; steaks wrapped in plastic foam are propped on the rim of a beige ceramic bowl; flaccid strips of bacon hang over an apple twig in a Coke bottle; graffiti created by his granddaughter forms a backdrop for one painting. The combination of new and antiquated could descend into gimmickry, but Mr. Kurland’s approach feels like a deadpan update of the classic memento mori, in which perishable items serve as reminders of human transience.

What you can ultimately see in “Airless Spaces” is that the eye for the poetic and the uncanny that gained Ms. Kurland fame in the ’90s runs in the family. It’s manifested beautifully, but differently, in her father’s paintings.