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Museum of Biblical Art interprets the Garden of Eden

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The story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden has been told over and over – even if you’re not religious you likely know the story. The evil serpent tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the garden, and Eve in turn then offers the fruit to Adam, leading to the loss of innocence and the wrath of a disappointed God. The story has been told and referenced in many ways throughout the centuries. Today, many artists interpret the story through multifaceted artworks and the Museum of Biblical Art is now hosting their summer exhibition to showcase it: Back to Eden: Contemporary Artists Wander the Garden will be on view through the end of September.

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How would you interpret this story? Genesis is rife with symbolism: the garden itself as a sanctuary and paradise; the serpent as evil; the delicious apple as temptation and sin; woman herself as temptation; the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge; the eventual expulsion from Eden. Each of these symbols has been understood in different ways and this exhibition proves that.

Alexis Rockman, in his painting "Gowanus," portrays a veritable city of Eden in the distance as sewer and garbage send everything into decay in the foreground. Fred Tomaselli illustrates the shamed Adam and Eve walking away from a cosmic explosion of drugs, animals, critters, flora and fauna. Mark Dion’s creation depicts the serpent as a dinosaur-like creature with legs, as it may have looked before it was banished to live on its belly. Barnaby Furnas paints the scene where Eve takes a bite out of the apple that the serpent sold so well - in the painting, everything is dripping; it seems as if the very paint will run off the canvas - a symbol itself for the Fall of Man.

The Museum of Biblical Art has played host to many fantastic exhibition over the years, including those featuring Tiffany stained glass, the King James Bible at 400, and Sacred Visions. Back to Eden is noteworthy because of the artworks that the museum had commissioned specifically for this exhibition – the very first commissions in the museum’s history! On view are six pieces that were made in response to the question of how the Garden of Eden is interpreted in their eyes.

Director Richard Townsend comments, “The story of Eden is a framework that gives contemporary artists access to universal themes, speaking to age-old human desires and potential. We are thrilled to commission works for the first time in the museum’s history, opening up new avenues for the museum’s exploration of the Bible’s enduring influence on the visual and cultural landscape today.” This is just the precursor to grander things to come in celebration of the museum's 10th anniversary.

Anonda Bell, Sean Capone, Mark Dion, Dana Sherwood, Mary Temple, and Marina Zurkow each have new works on view. Other works created within the last 15 years are also on view, with pieces by Lynn Aldrich, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Mat Collishaw, Jim Dine, Barnaby Furnas, Adam Fuss, Rona Pondick, Naomi Reis, Lina Puerta, Pipilotti Rist, Alexis Rockman, and Fred Tomaselli. Paintings, diorama, video, illustrations, and mixed media creations and installations are all part of the exhibit. It is obvious how diverse and wide-ranging an effect the Garden of Eden story has had.

One of the main themes the exhibition focuses on is the connection between the human world and the natural world, and people as stewards of our environment. We all have a claim to, and a responsibility for, the world around us. Are we having a negative effect on this world; have we lost that perfection of Eden? What can be done to counteract this?

Guest curator Jennifer Scanlon writes in the exhibition catalog,

"The tale of the Garden of Eden is a powerful story, one that has resonated for millennia.

Eden is a description of a natural Paradise, lost through human transgression, and a symbol of longing and regret. The story speaks to age-old human desires and weaknesses, and thus remains a framework that allows contemporary artists to explore universal themes. ... The artists in Back to Eden demonstrate that the Garden of Eden continues to be relevant, both as a means to highlight the disastrous effects of the conflicted relationship between humans and the natural world, and as an aspiration for a more harmonious future. That future, perhaps, to be realized by our everlasting desire to return to Paradise."

Accompanying the exhibition is a small paperback catalog with informative essays from curator Jennifer Scanlon and other contributors. A wide and fantastic array of public programs also accompanies the exhibition, including artist talks (July 27, September 17), curator-led tours (August 5, September 10), a panel discussion on art and activism (August 21) and a special mixer with the artists (free food and drink on August 13; RSVP required). No fee for any program or museum entrance.

There’s so much going on at the Museum of Biblical Art – and it’s all free, so why aren’t you there?! To make things easier, MoBiA is offering a free trial membership to all examiner readers - just contact Isabella Lores Chavez (ichavez@mobia.org) for the hook-up and tell her you're an examiner reader. Membership brings you some great benefits including store discounts, exclusive invitations to museum events, and invitations to exhibition opening receptions - don't miss out on this great, no-strings-attached opportunity!

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