Divine Comedy

1334 York Ave
New York, 10021
(212) 606-7000

Sep 30 - Oct 19, 2010


Divine Comedy

A Special Exhibition in New York from 30 September – 19 October 2010

This fall, Sotheby’s will present Divine Comedy, an exhibition that will spotlight humor in the visual arts through the lens of Dante’s epic poem. Drawing on Sotheby’s expertise across many different collecting categories and time periods, the exhibition of approximately 80 works will place Contemporary art in dialogue with Antiquities, African Art, Old Master paintings, 19th Century European art, Modern and Surrealist works, Latin American paintings and 20th Century Design. Following the journey Dante takes in the Divine Comedy, visitors to Sotheby’s exhibition will travel through Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise, exploring how for centuries artists have harnessed the power of humor in their work. An undercurrent of wit and satire, often tinged with irreverence, will be the hallmark of the art that is presented. The Inferno will highlight the darker, more horrific side of humor.

The exhibition begins with a Roman Imperial marble sculpture from the 1st Century A.D. In a gesture both humorous and terrifying, a young faun steps forward menacingly, wearing an oversized comedy mask of an old faun, and thrusts his hand through the gaping mouth of the mask in order to surprise and terrorize his victims. In the contemporary realm, Inferno is stunningly exemplified by Maurizio Cattelan’s absurdist and unnerving depiction of one of the most evil figures all time, Adolph Hitler.

Purgatory will present a place between hell and heaven where sins are revealed and repentance is sought. In this section, Frans Francken’s monumental masterpiece, whose protagonist is a winged Satan with goat-like features with insects dangling from his ears, embodies mankind’s choice between good and evil, as well as reminding us of the inevitability of human mortality, and the vanity of earthly pleasures. And finally Paradise will feature heavenly joy – a place of virtue, faith, hope, love and beauty.

At last, with the depths of the blazing Inferno behind him, purged of all sins, Dante sees the divine light – here personified by George Condo’s cross-eyed God sporting a shoulder bag, his arms wide open, ready for an embrace.
“This exhibition has been an exciting collaborative venture which brings together the diverse knowledge of our specialists to include a compelling range of works” commented Lisa Dennison, Chairman of Sotheby’s North and South America. “Spanning Antiquities to Contemporary Art, the works reveal a series of unique juxtapositions that are provocative, playful, and stimulating.”

The exhibition, which was inspired in part by Caroline Hirsch and The New York Comedy Festival, will include works both on loan and for sale, which have been drawn from a community of private collectors, foundations, artists, and dealers. The show will be installed in Sotheby’s spectacular 10th floor galleries designed by renowned architect Richard Gluckman. Among the artists represented are: Francis Bacon, William Adolphe Bouguereau, Maurizio Cattelan, Peter Bruegel the Younger, Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dali, Frans Francken, Damien Hirst, David LaChapelle, Martin Kippenberger, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, Man Ray, Auguste Rodin and Andy Warhol.
Of the works available for purchase, prices range from $30,000 to more than $10 million.
A fully-illustrated, limited-edition exhibition catalogue will be available for purchase at Sotheby’s galleries, featuring best-selling author James Frey’s reinterpretation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” entitled Il Divino Bambino.

A site-specific public art installation by artist Rob Pruitt will also be featured in Sotheby’s York Avenue windows, in collaboration with the Art Production Fund, drawn from his “Holy Crap” series of photographs of American church signs.
The exhibition will be further complemented by an exciting online experience on Sothebys.com which will launch at the time of the opening. Sotheby’s is pleased to present this special exhibition as a lead in to The New York Comedy Festival which runs from 3-7 November 2010.