Sandow Birk's Divine Comedy

February 4 – March 10, 2006
Guest Curator | Sandow Birk

About the Exhibition

Only a handful of artists have undertaken to visually translate Dante Alighieri’s 14th century literary masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. Southern California-based realist painter Sandow Birk is the most recent to do so, and in his epic series of paintings and prints Birk re-imagines the tale as an American narrative that is at once humorous and politically relevant.

In Dante’s classic work of Western literature, readers are invited to tour the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso with Dante as their guide. However, Birk’s contemporary reinterpretation is more than a straightforward rendering. He casts the story in modern-day American cities and takes viewers on a journey through a world filled with the freeways, fast food, traffic jams, liquor stores, and parking lots that clutter our contemporary American landscape. “Hell is set in alleyways and mini-malls and next to dumpsters,” according to Birk, whose paintings of the Inferno include police helicopters descending upon Los Angeles and gas-guzzling SUV’s overtaking the streets of San Francisco.

Over the last three years, Birk has worked with journalist Marcus Sanders to adapt Dante’s masterwork into contemporary American vernacular, while remaining faithful to the original text. The pair consulted frequently with Brother Michael Meister, a professor of religious studies at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. Known primarily as a contemporary realist painter, Birk illustrated each section of the Divine ComedyInferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso — with more than 100 lithographs and paintings, a portion of which will be included in the exhibition.

This is a traveling exhibition organized by the San Jose Museum of Art.

Raised on the beaches of Southern California, Birk’s reputation as an artist has grown exponentially in recent years. His work has been exhibited internationally and featured in Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, The New Yorker, the London Guardian, ArtNews, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and on NPR. The San Jose Museum of Art, organizer of this exhibition, believes that Fulbright Scholar and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient Sandow Birk is one of the most exciting visual artists working today and that the interdisciplinary nature of The Divine Comedy project will continue to generate great scholarly and public interest.

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