Nudity, violence prominent in Ill. native's vision of Eden

Nudity, violence prominent in Ill. native's vision of Eden
Michael Reedy exhibit, International Museum of Surgical Science. Photo: Menachem Wecker

Choreographers mining the Genesis 3 story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden for gripping props will find no shortage of suitable choices. There’s a crafty (Hebrew: arum) serpent, some kind of Tree of Knowledge (often assumed to bear apples), another Tree of Life, fig leaves, leather clothes, and ultimately, fear-inducing Cherubim guards and rotating, flaming swords.

A new exhibit at the International Museum of Surgical Science (through Feb. 24) of works by Michael Reedy literally digs beneath the surface of the story.

Michael Reedy. 'malum A.'

Michael Reedy. ‘malum A.’

The show — 10 mixed-media-on-paper works ranging from 20 x 27 to 42 x 42 — “revisits the Biblical theme of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, popular amongst humanist painters in the early Renaissance in part due to the opportunity it provided to display their virtuosity in representing nude male and female forms,” according to the museum.

But beyond some apple trees, rabbits (often depicted in paintings of Eden), a snake with a woman’s head and torso (see malum A), there are few tell-tale signs in the show that the works have any kind of biblical parenthood.

Instead, the exhibit combines cartooning and — here comes the digging beneath the surface — anatomical drawing traditions. The “Adam” and “Eve” figures are not only literally nude (presumably pre-sin), but they reveal their internal organs, bones, and veins.

They are, so to speak, extra or doubly naked.

The medical drawing aspect is surely the impetus behind the International Museum of Surgical Science exhibit, but the study of the biblical narrative is no less noteworthy.

Reedy — a Galesburg, Ill. native and associate professor in the art department at Eastern Michigan University, who holds an M.F.A. in painting from Northern Illinois University — envisions Eden as a surreal landscape of eyeballs (some are Googly eyes) and monsters.

At first glance, the works look highly stylized from a distance and are so cartoony that they don’t seem to be threatening in the least. But when one inspects them more carefully, one begins to notice the violence and bizarre aspects of the works. It reminds me of something artist Siona Benjamin one said of Indian miniatures, that there is often danger disguised in the lush, beautiful borders of the paintings.

After all, the gap between the 10,000-foot view and the on-the-ground perspective is one of the major forces at work in the story about Eden. Adam and Eve might be said to have gotten caught up in the temptation of the moment (the smaller perspective), and God’s admonishment comes from a larger, and perhaps more dispassionate, view. Reedy’s Adam, Eve, serpent, and Angel of Death are cartoons with their innards exposed. God isn’t depicted, so one can only imagine would the divine mug shot looks like in Reedy’s surreal Eden.

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