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'The Garden of Earthly Delights' Gets a Queer-Feminine Overhaul

Bosch’s masterpiece gains a ceramic and textile rebirth in Caitlin Rose Sweet’s exhibition at Academic Gallery.
March 16, 2016, 1:20pm

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights via Wiki Commons

The iconic Hieronymus Bosch triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights, is a painting layered in so much complex, enthralling detail that even now, 500 years after its creation, art historians remain in open opposition regarding its interpretation and significance. Snake in the Grass is a project by artist Caitlin Rose Sweet that seeks to further explore and complicate the already convoluted discussion on Bosch’s masterpiece.

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Currently on display at Academic Gallery in Queens, Snake in the Grass responds to The Garden of Earthly Delights through outlandishly vibrant sculptural fusions of ceramics and textiles. Evocative of Bosch’s painting, the forms are far more abstracted and disjointed than the fantastical scenes of the original nude bodies. In Sweet's own words, this body of work is “looking at social constructs that envision feminine bodies as receptacles/vessels and how I complicate and quite literally poke holes into that reality.”

Caitlin Rose Sweet, Snake in the Grass (Installation View). All Images courtesy of Academic Gallery.

While it may seem unusual to reassess and respond to a 2D oil painting through a tactile installation, the artist sees the source work differently than most might: “I never really thought about The Garden in terms of a painting. For years now I have been consuming imagery of that painting through pop culture,” Sweet tells The Creators Project.

“2D work frustrates me. I want to touch it, move it, and dive into the world. I make work that engages people on a visceral level. The way I make installations forces people to move through the space. At the opening I watched people get on their knees to get a closer look at ceramic pieces,” she says.

Many of the popular interpretations of The Garden are based on patriarchal narratives, including categorizing the painting’s depiction of Adam & Eve as representative of “woman’s temptation” and asserting that the nude women within the painting are representations of male sexual desire. Sweet, who considers herself a “queer world maker” aimed to reposition the painting’s interpretation through her own lens of queer femininity.

“Art history suffers from linear thinking; things are stacked on top of each other in a straight line that serves a Western hetero-normative white supremacist patriarchal framework, which leaves out a lot of people and expression,” Sweet explains. “It’s unfortunate because art is such a powerful tool that humans have to mark an event, feeling, or thought… I am way more invested in notions of queer temporality, that it is possible to reach through time in all directions and touch the ghost of past and future.”

Explore Snake in the Grass at Academic Gallery, open to the public on Saturdays from 1 to 5PM. Take a peak at Caitlin Rose Sweet’s multimedia works here.

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