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Seven Sins in Dutch Design

Currently on show at the Centraal Museum Utrecht is the exhibition The Seven Deadly Sins curated by Makkink & Bey. Hieronymus Bosch’s famous depiction of the subject is given a contemporary makeover, Dutch Design style. 

By Cassandra Pizzey / 11-10-2013

A museum that has lately been pulling its weight and attracting a steady crowd of design and fashion lovers is the Centraal Museum Utrecht. Boasting an impressive collection of old master paintings, design artefacts and recent fashion acquisitions such as the Fong Leng collection, the museum is always worth a visit, yet the carefully curated exhibitions are making trips to Utrecht more frequent. 

The exhibition currently pulling in visitors is named The Seven Deadly Sins and sees design duo Makkink & Bey (Rianne Makkink and Jurgen Bey) rework the familiar theme in a fresh manner. The starting point is the 15th-century painting by Hieronymus Bosch in which we see the seven sins depicted alongside the punishments. The level of symbolism in this particular painting is easy to read, thus appropriate for contemporary interpretation. 

Upon entering the exhibition it is apparent that Makkink & Bey have not literally translated what can be seen on the paintings – although some objects do coincide with the medieval portrayal – but have instead dissected each image, translating figures, objects and scenes to their modern counterparts. The ‘Language of Things’ is how it is described in the exhibition. While we are familiar with some objects and their meaning – a heart means love, a mirror vanity – others have a more hidden message, such as the wolf, a common medieval symbol for evil. 

Combining various objects allows the painter, or in this case the designers, to tell a story.

Take, for instance the ‘Acedia’ or sloth scene. The painting shows us a man forsaking his faithful duties, a disapproving nun at his side. In the exhibition, said nun is represented by a Yohi Yamamoto dress, the sloth himself as a ski suit by Borre Akkersdijk – perhaps a hint towards the onesie, the modern synonym for lazing around. Frank Halmans’ Vacuum Cleaner Cabinet stands there, not just a witty reference to housework as a closer look reveals this cabinet is actually a miniature flat.  

Impressive, to say the least is the ‘Gula’ or gluttony scene. An early 20th century interior featuring gilt walls and intricately patterned ceiling is combined with a Joep van Lieshout toilet and Maarten Baas chair among other things. Gluttony may not be portrayed here as in the painting – where a man fills his belly whilst others are starving – but with a mannequin dressed as a waitress, one in monochrome (the beggar?) and another in opulent suiting it is clear what the message is.  

The exhibition invites its viewers to look closely at the various scenes, link them to the original and form their own translation of objects. The combination of design, fashion and art pieces in a staged and somewhat unusual setting is fun and seems fresh while offering a good overview of some Dutch design classics. 

The exhibition The Seven Deadly Sins is on show at the Centraal Museum Utrecht until 18 May 2014.

Photos: Ernst Moritz

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