Undying Traditions: Memento Mori

September 12 through January 5, 2020

Robert Steven Connett
Acrylic on wood panel
Courtesy of the artist

Alcoa Foundation Gallery

Memento mori (which translates to “remember death”) is a Medieval Latin Christian philosophy that encourages reflection on mortality, on the inevitability of death, and the transience of mortal pleasures and accomplishments.

The memento mori is typically expressed through the still life, incorporating the human skull with various symbols of time and decay. This tradition includes the danse macabre, a skeletal Death dancing away with the rich and poor alike, and the vanitas, a memento mori that depicts objects associated with physical pleasures such as musical instruments and food. In the Christian tradition, memento mori artworks were intended to remind the viewer that their death was assured and their focus should thus be on the spiritual and not the earthly.

Contemporary artists continue to explore this rich tradition in images that strongly reference their precursors. Skulls and flowers continue to fascinate artist and viewer alike. Organized by the Muskegon Museum of Art, Undying Traditions: Memento Mori brings together artists from across the United States currently exploring themes of death and earthly pleasure. From intricate paintings, to photography and sculpture, these artists offer us insights into our collective fascination with death.

Maria Tomasula, Anatomy Lesson, 2019

Featured Artists

Landis Blair, David Cahill, Robert Steven Connett, David Gluck, Kate MacDowell, Jeanette May, Chris Peters, Daniel Sprick, Katherine Stone, Paulette Tavormina, Maria Tomasula, and Will Wilson

(C)Paulette Tavormina (American, born 1949)
Vanitas IV (Dreams), After A.C.
Archival pigment print, 2015
Museum purchase, through the gifts of the Bob and Mary Sandling Estate, Ruth Frank, Kent and Gayle Brown, Mrs. Walter Shirlaw, and Mr. I.L. Butterfield, by exchange. 2018.5
Image courtesy the artist and Robert Mann Gallery, New York

Will Wilson
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist

Kate MacDowell
Memento Mori 2
Hand built porcelain, glazed
Courtesy of Mindy Solomon Gallery, Miami, FL


Opening Event
Thursday, September 12
5:30 pm Reception | 7:00 pm Lecture
Join us for refreshments and a lecture by Art Martin, MMA Director of Collections and Exhibitions/Senior Curator. Event is free and open to the public.

Open Mic Night with Kumasi Mack
Thursday, October 10
6:00 – 8:00 pm, doors open at 5:30 pm
Join us for our second open mic night hosted by local poet Kumasi Mack. Kumasi, alongside his DJ and two featured artists, will provide a night of spoken word at the MMA. Spoken word pieces will relate to themes explored in the Undying Traditions exhibition. Crowd participation welcome. FREE.

Brown Bag Film
Food for the Ancestors: The Mexican Celebration of the Days of the Dead
Thursday, October 24
12:15 pm, doors open at noon
Food for the Ancestors explores the fabulous festival, Day of the Dead, as it is done in the culturally rich state of Puebla. Learn about special holiday foods, rituals, artwork, and more. Free admission, coffee, and cookies. Paid admission required to enter galleries.

Passion and Perversity: The Inner Chambers of Edgar Allan Poe
Conceived, Arranged, and Performed by Tom Harryman
Saturday, November 2
5:00 pm Cocktail Hour
6:00 pm Performance
This one act play examines the inner workings of this master of suspense through Poe’s letters, stories, & poems including The Imp of the Perverse, Lenore, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, and others.
$12 advance / $10 MMA Member / $15 at the door. Call 231.720.2580 to order advance tickets.

Passion and Perversity: The Inner Chambers of Edgar Allen Poe
Courtesy of Tom Harryman