Showtime with Bosch, or Art for Dummies at Alte Münze Berlin
(Berlin.) It’s that time of year again - even if you can’t tell it by the Berlin weather, still hoping for that climate change to speed up a little while shivering in the rain, but summer’s come! Locals and strangers change place in the world’s every metropolis, and nothing much happens in art. If you don’t lie somewhere on a beach sipping cocktails from bikini tops to pass the days, you suffer from serious gallery withdrawal, and in desperation might even visit the tourist attractions your own city has to offer, “events” you would otherwise avoid at all costs. When I saw a poster promoting “Hieronymus Bosch: Visions Alive - A fantastic Multimedia Experience”, a description that should be warning enough to stay away, I knew I had to see this.
That poster further features three graces, one of whom is growing a rose from her rectum, but what would you expect from Hieronymus Bosch other than a spectacle with speculums, scenes from hell painted from a distorted, impossible perspective? Albrecht Dürer and Bosch were contemporaries, alas: the difference could not be more striking. The Dutch master loved to share his bad trips with the pious public (that darn ergot; if you remember the 15th Century you weren’t really there), he invented surrealism long before the word and painted the best Dalis when Salvador’s great great great grandfather was yet unborn. To arrive at the show, you cross through a backyard and pass by a fence covered with more appetizers from Dürer. Opposite it, you discover a cemetery for discarded fairground attractions, with a wooden cash cabin misleading some tourists looking for Hieronymus’ hellish horrors. Could also be a Christmas market summer-hibernating (you create a term for this, based on the Latin for summer). The entrance to the exhibition space is unguarded, I observed two elderly ladies willingly unwillingly dodging the cash desk. I did not follow their example, and right I was - I would not have wanted to miss out on that conversation between a group of visitors and the girl at the counter:
“We have two children, is it ok for them?” “Yeah, under sixteens pay only 9,50€.“ (btw., there’s no discount for artists or other art professionals; they certainly don’t expect those to come). The tourists put their question differently: “No, what we mean is: Is it ok for them, you know, the images... One is three, the other twelve years old?” “Oh”, said the girl, “it’s true, they’re quite impressive, quite scary for us humans(!) ... – er: for us adults - ... But they won’t understand.”
That’s a great attitude, no honestly. Everybody gets in. And if you fear, this moment might once be marked as the birth of two serial killers, be assured: most of the show is indeed suited for all audiences. The choice of images is comparably tame. Still the situation reminded me of the time when I was working in customer care for a firm that offers mobile payment solutions. I felt a little bit shocked when realizing on what S/M related website a calling woman’s teenage son had accumulated the expenses she discovered on his cell phone bill. I covered him out of a feeling of male solidarity. And pray his parents are still alive to this day. Anyway, having bought your ticket (or not, see above), you enter the atrium, maybe sit down to buy a cup of coffee, and muse about which door leads to the show. It’s the one in the far back!
A signpost underlines this art event’s particularity with the words: “Drinks allowed inside”, and no, I did not forget a “not”. My beverage of choice would be a 15th Century henbane flavoured hemp beer. Behind that door you arrive in an antechamber, or purgatory. Texts tell about the paintings’ background, and a biography on panels commences with the artist’s death on the left. First I thought, it would only list deaths, but no, there’s one historical event per year going back to the birth of Hieronymus Bosch aka Jheronimus Bosch aka Joen van Aken. Seven screens name one deadly sin in blood red letters each, alternating with related bible quotes. The seven sins are also evoked in the projection of a mandala with painted scenes (not starring Brad Pitt). Two more projections connect to a touchscreen, offering you to explore the details of a Boschian triptych, it’s quite instructive and well done.
The rest is the “experience”. In two rooms – one small with only a few seats in the centre, the other big with benches and bean bags – scanned Boschs, or images based on such, are projected to the walls link cartier. They not only scanned the paintings but left a bunch of animators have a go at them: People and beasts are moving. The best way to describe the results is to point at Monty Python animations, pop up books and Chinese shadow plays. Soundtrack is nice, between classic and electronica. I’d love to hate it, in fact I only came here for mockery, but there is something to it. It’s entertaining.
Maybe it was foreseeable: It’s no longer enough to show paintings, moving images it has to be. What next - live re-enactments, interactive even? (Would that be innovative or a step back to Viennese Actionism?) Maybe they could even make more money by offering it as an app. Maybe that’s an idea. Maybe I should do this!
The exhibition shop offers a graphic novel on Bosch, along with the usual bookmarks, cups and phone cases. Alte Münze (“Old Coin”), a building complex close to Alexanderplatz, is not a known exhibition space, nevertheless the city of Berlin recommends the show on its website (possibly enticed by some media placement money). It’s not obvious who hides behind the concept, my research led to a Russian company. I don’t know the identity of the bizniss men behind, nor if they have any art related knowhow. The unnamed animators are great craftsmen, perfectly mastering their software, that much needs to be said. (Maybe that’s the guys hacking your credit card data at night.)
I am looking forward to November, when a big bad Bosch show will be hosted by Gemäldegalerie. Stay tuned.
Hieronymus Bosch: Visions Alive, 06 July-30 October 2016, Alte Münze Berlin
World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism