Hieronymus Bosch’s fantastical, large-scale triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights” has enthralled and mystified viewers for centuries. Painted between 1490 and 1500, the work’s weird and wondrous depictions of paradise and hell continue to capture our attention, reminding us of our own hectic, excessive, and sometimes catastrophic world. Bosch’s masterpiece has been on display at Madrid’s Museo del Prado since 1939, where it has inspired generations of artists, including Surrealists like Dalí and Miró. Today, a new exhibition pays tribute to the lasting influence of this iconic painting and to Bosch’s powerful imagination.
The Garden of Earthly Delights, Through the Artworks of the Colección SOLO at Madrid’s Matadero Centro de Creación Contemporánea brings together 20 works by 15 international artists who reexamine and reinterpret Bosch’s renowned triptych from a contemporary viewpoint. In contrast to Bosch’s original artwork — which was created with oil paint on oak panels — this exhibition focuses on artworks that utilize new technologies like artificial intelligence, sound, digital animation, and social media. Set within the exhibition’s labyrinthine installation design, these glowing, dynamic artworks reproduce something of Bosch’s chaotic energy, but on an immersive, multi-sensory scale.
Though Bosch’s own intentions for his triptych are unknown, his work is often interpreted as a sort of warning to viewers about life’s many temptations. The contemporary works in the exhibition are less interested in rigid notions of good and evil than in Bosch’s busy, bizarre inventiveness. Still, Dutch collective SMACK’s digital animation “SPECULUM” (2016–2020) deals with some of our modern evils: tech addiction, isolation, cyber bullying, and surveillance. Another work, “Angela’s Flood” (2000) by Cassie McQuater, looks like a 1990s-era video game filled with blooming flowers, swaying flamingos, and pink monsters. It offers a lighthearted, feminist remedy to the usual violence and machismo of gaming. And Filip Custic’s 2019 video projection “HOMO-?” recalls Bosh’s tangle of naked bodies, but this time in a commentary on sexual fluidity. Other works draw on modern matter like comics, manga, animation, graffiti, electronic music, and 3D imaging.
Ultimately, the multifaceted contemporary responses bring us back to the richness of Bosch’s original triptych. “The painting contains many paintings within it,” Colección SOLO founder and curator David Cantolla told Hyperallergic in a recent email. “It hides hundreds of stories and presents us with a ‘mirror’ of who we are, and has managed to retain its capacity to portray society.” This latest exhibition affirms that “The Garden of Earthly Delights” will continue to fascinate us today and long into the future.
The Garden of Earthly Delights, Through the Artworks of the Colección SOLO continues at the Matadero Centro de Creación Contemporánea (Plaza de Legazpi 8, Madrid) through February 20, 2022.