Following the opening of ‘This Too Shall Pass,’ the curator joins Document to discuss the still life and her philosophy of impermanence
With her first commercial exhibition This Too Shall Pass, curator Racquel Chevremont turns the gallery into a greenhouse. Fluorescent flowers line the white walls of Venus Over Manhattan—painted onto canvases, stitched onto felt, and adorned with 24 karat gold.
Chevremont selected an array of still-life art from both emerging and established contemporary artists. Historically, the genre trends during times of economic excess: During the Dutch Golden Age, paintings of extravagant fruit spreads, dotted with flies, warned wealthy merchants against prioritizing worldly desires. The artwork in This Too Shall Pass, which pairs natural displays with iPhones and sharpened acrylic nails, remixes the still life for modern audiences.
Following the show’s opening, Chevremont joins Document to discuss her relationships with curation and modeling, her philosophy of impermanence, and why she thinks the still life speaks to our current moment.
Yasmeen Khan: Tell me about the curatorial process behind This Too Shall Pass.
Racquel Chevremont: I had been thinking about the many significant roles flowers play in our lives. Growing up, bouquets would only enter our home on occasions of joy or sorrow. By then, I already had a short list of artists who featured florals in their work, so I went on studio visits with each of them to find out more about what motivated that. A couple of recurring themes emerged: memory, impermanence, and the fleeting nature of things both good and bad. Flowers are visually evocative, and their forms and colorations have inspired humanity for millennia; I wanted to explore the motif in all of its multiplicity.
Yasmeen: This Too Shall Pass offers a modern take on a timeless topic: still-life art. How can this historic genre inform contemporary concerns?
Racquel: Still life, at its core, is focused on capturing a single moment in time—but the way in which we capture these moments has changed drastically over the eras. In past centuries, things that weren’t written down never got heard about again, or were inevitably changed by generations of oral history. Nowadays, everything can be recorded in great detail and with perfect precision. The genre is further complicated by the uncertain times we live in today, where many things we have long-considered human rights are being breached at every turn. In this sense, the genre of still life, and specifically the works on view at This Too Shall Pass, allude to the reality that all things will come to an end someday, for better or for worse.
“Still life, at its core, is focused on capturing a single moment in time—but the way in which we capture these moments has changed drastically over the eras.”
Yasmeen: You were a model for over 20 years. What inspired your shift to art?
Racquel: I wouldn’t call it a shift, exactly, as I did both fairly consistently for quite some time, and continue to model in a less formal capacity. In the modeling industry of the 1990s, you’d be sent to Europe to build your book. There were really two places they would send you: Paris and Milan. With my height and look, Elite chose to send me to the latter. I wasn’t much of a party girl, so I found myself going to museums in whatever city I was in.
Then, the first Thanksgiving after I had returned to New York, I took my mother out to dinner. To my surprise, she began drawing all of the patrons. That’s when I found out she was actually quite talented—I had never seen her draw before. It was our first interaction as two adults, not just mother and child. Throughout the meal, I heard how she would have wanted to study art, but that she felt it wasn’t in the cards for her. She was pregnant at 19 and a single mom at 21. She didn’t have a familial support system, and she needed to make a living. That experience is what spurred my interest in supporting and collecting artists. I started buying works that I liked from various galleries, and directly from artists who weren’t considered part of the ‘art world.’
In 2003, I was fortunate enough to be asked to join the acquisitions committees at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Guggenheim. After that, I took time to learn more about the art and nuance of collecting, and focused my collection around women and artists of color.
Yasmeen: Could you talk about the connection between modeling and some of the themes you highlight in this show—beauty, physicality, impermanence?
Racquel: The modeling industry is very much focused on youth and beauty. Despite positive strides in recent years, it has historically tended to discard and devalue female models, in particular, as they begin to show the physical signs of aging. When I first began modeling, I prepared myself for the fact that my career wouldn’t last a lifetime; yet, oddly, it hasn’t actually come to an end. Over time, it’s evolved to entail being on both sides of the camera, and through that, having more control over the creative process and over my own image.
Yasmeen: Transience can be a source of both terror and reassurance. Does the show favor one side of this dichotomy over the other?
Racquel: I believe the show stays quite balanced where this dichotomy is concerned. It focuses just as much on the positive side of the process of ephemerality as on the negative. Overall, transience is a neutral process that reflects the uniqueness of every experience—the joy, the bittersweetness, and everything in between.