The Beauty of Decay

The first Monday in May

is almost upon us, and social media is blowing up with theories on who’s attending the Met Gala- will Taylor Swift make an appearance? Not to mention, how they’ll interpret this year’s dress code of fleeting beauty (inspired by J.G. Ballard's book The Garden of Time).

The event promises to be an ethereal carousel of graceful silhouettes and floral flourishes. Its romantic theme was influenced by the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute exhibition, 'Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion'. Nothing to do with fairytale princesses, the exhibition will focus on approximately 250 rare garments, which are too fragile to be worn but too beautiful to be neglected and forgotten.

The same could be said of Nicola Bertellotti’s landscape photography, Nicole Duennebier’s still-life paintings and Marcin Rusak’s botanical resin sculptures. In their own way, each creative exposes the elemental allure of nature’s impermanence.

While Vogue forecasts a “soft, whimsical and, dare we say, coquette" mood at the gala, we've chosen to focus on more macabre ideas of fleeting beauty. From furniture and sculpture to photography and oil painting, here are three creatives who have captured the delicate nature of decay, organic decomposition, and the all-powerful march of time.

La Breccia Nel Tempo by Nicola Bertellotti. Courtesy of Nicola Bertellotti


Nicola Bertellotti

Nicola Bertellotti is an Italian fine art photographer who specialises in the aesthetics of decay; photographing abandoned buildings, rooms and landscapes. Over time, he's cultivated a poetic language where decadence and melancholy coalesce in each frame. From overgrown courtyards and deserted chinoiserie ballrooms to cracked baroque frescoes and stucco, his photographs glimmer with emotion and fairytale qualities.

Bertellotti's photographs have appeared in various international magazines, exhibitions and art fairs across Europe. Through his romantic lens, time becomes an elusive concept that stands still, wreaks havoc on dilapidated buildings, or blankets dusty floors with a silvery sheen. His love for capturing ornate palaces in disrepair exposes the immortality of grandeur. Each photograph channels the autocratic demise of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias through decrepit gilded staircases and hallways.

Sinfonietta II by Nicola Bertellotti. Courtesy of Nicola Bertellotti
"I’m not interested in mere abandonment but in the sign of time, in the various stratifications which then define the decadence of an environment." Nicola Bertellotti

Flowers in resin sculpture by Marcin Rusak Studio


Marcin Rusak

Artist, furniture designer and 'botanical taxidermist', Marcin Rusak has nurtured a childhood fascination with his grandparent's greenhouse into an empire of blossoming tables, chairs, sculptures and ornaments. Rusak celebrates foliage in both their prime and decay. With a keen eye to detail, he preserves each bloom in milky-white resin and black lacquer. While some elegant pieces resemble Dutch still-lifes or East Asian lacquer, others are encrusted with florals that intertwine and snake across surfaces like intricate Art Nouveau paintings.

From Thaumatococcus daniellii to pear tree, eucalyptus and Cytisus scoparius leaves, Rusak collages dried blooms, leaves and stems with "intuition." The organic nature of his pieces transforms them from static objects to living, breathing organisms. After graduating from London’s Royal College of Art and founding his studio, Rusak has exhibited at Design Miami and collaborated with artists and heritage galleries like the William Morris Gallery in London.

Marcin Rusak in his Warsaw studio by Rafal Milach. Detail of Floral table by Marcin Rusak Studio & detail of Floral table. Marcin Rusak Studio
"Entangled within their ongoing dialogue, we find ourselves mesmerised by the restlessness of the natural processes. The cruelty of time and forever transforming force of decay makes us wonder – can it be tamed? Can the ageing process be stretched, prolonged, shrunk or paused? Can the ephemeral become preserved?" Marcin Rusak

Mass in Dissected View by Nicole Duennebier


Nicole Duennebier

Nicole Duennebier is a skilled painter who combines the dark intricacies of Maine's coastal ecosystems with the aesthetic of 16th and 17th century Dutch still-life paintings. Inspired by old-master opulence and biomorphic forms, her enchanting oil paintings explore the surreal beauty of dermoid cysts, fungus, and invasive flora and fauna. Encapsulating the ever-shifting ambiguities of the natural world, they straddle the borderlands between observation and ornamentation.

Using rich pigments, the painter saturates the visceral elements of decomposition with a fragile elegance; from acrid decay to bubbling purification. Duennebier's exquisite work has been recognised by Art New England, Hi-Fructose Magazine and Portland Press Herald, and displayed at Brown University, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and the New Britain Museum of American Art among others.

Collage of works by Nicole Duennebier. Portrait of an Irregular Pearl, Untitled Undergrowth, Pheasant Burst, Floral Hex #2, Hydnellum Myriorama (detail) & Turquoise Fleece Wash.
"Everything is always spewing, dripping, rotting a little. Similar to 17th century still-life paintings with those vibrant lusty fruits that show the light fuzz of beginning decay, I don’t see these works as allegorical depictions. To me it is more the realisation that both the rot and the fruit are a textural attraction in their delicacy; both take the same concentration and care to paint." Nicole Duennebier
Title image.  Collage of works by Nicole Duennebier. See above for credits.