Corcoran Gallery of Art

Washington, DC




Donald Sultan: In the Still-Life Tradition

May 10 - July 7, 2000


Contemporary artist Donald Sultan reconsiders the tradition of still life painting in an upcoming exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Entitled "Donald Sultan: In the Still-Life Tradition," the presentation focuses on Sultan's work from 1985 to the present and features 20 large-scale paintings, including his celebrated flowers, lemons, and dominoes. The exhibition is on view at the Corcoran from May 10 through July 7, 2000.

The exhibition focuses on Sultan's innovative approach to an established theme - the still life. Picturing an arrangement of ordinary objects has captivated artists throughout history, from the mosaics of antiquity to Dutch seventeenth-century still life paintings; from Cubist compositions of the early twentieth century to more contemporary takes on the theme. Donald Sultan's work is a part of this long practice and moves the genre of still life painting into the new millennium. (left: Acanthe, July 5, 1993, tar, oil and plaster on linoleum over masonite, 96 x 96 inches)

Working with unlikely materials such as linoleum, tar, vinyl, spackle, and masonite, Sultan has stated that "anything can be used as a material for making art." His paintings of fruit, flowers and other ordinary objects are rendered through a labor-intensive and distinct method. Instead of canvas, Sultan works on masonite covered with 12 inch vinyl floor tiles. He cuts the shapes he desires into the vinyl, fills in the cutout space with plaster and/or tar, and then paints over it creating an extraordinarily rich texture. This process allows Sultan to transform the intimacy of still life painting into something monumental. His boldly colored shapes, set against a stark black background, make a powerful impact, dominating both the surface of the painting as well as the viewer.

"Although derived from a traditional theme, these paintings challenge the thought process and require the viewer to reexamine any preconceived ideas of the still life," says exhibition curator Dana Holland-Beickert of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. "I'm drawn into the paintings by their boldness, their confrontational directness, and their surreal quality. Time seems to stand still as you find yourself staring into the colors and shapes before you, examining every subtle nuance." (right: Gladiolas in a Chinese Pot, December 2, 1988, tar, oil, plaster, silkscreen and oil crayon on linoleum over masonite, Collection of Friends Seminary)

The work of Donald Sultan is voluminous and varied. Since 1975, when he arrived in New York, Sultan's creative energy has manifested itself in a variety of media including, painting, prints, and sculpture. His extensive body of work has placed him at the forefront of contemporary art, where he is renowned for his ability to successfully merge the best of yesterday's artistic tradition with a fresh and modern approach.

"Donald Sultan: In the Still-Life Tradition" is organized by the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and curated by Dana Holland-Beickert. Funding for the national tour and catalogue is provided by FEDEX Corporation. (left: Four Lemons, Feb. 1, 1985, tar, oil and plaster on linoleum over masonite, 96 x 96 inches, Private Collection)

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. It features an essay by Steven Maddoff, which discusses the tradition of still-life painting in relation to Sultan's paintings and a personal essay by noted playwright David Mamet. A checklist of the exhibition and selected biography are also included.


About the Artist

Donald Sultan was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina. Sultan received his BFA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 1973, and earned his MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1975. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship and a Creative Artists Public Service Grant. Sultan's work is internationally recognized, and is in the permanent collection of prestigious museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. (left: Stacked Dominos, Oct. 28, 1994, tar, oil, latex and plaster on linoleum over masonite, 96 x 96 inches, courtesy of Knoedler & Co., NY)


Tour Itinerary


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