One exhibition of Chris Oh’s work won’t bear much resemblance to another. That’s because when Oh embarks on a new series, he selects different artists to imitate. In 2017, for a show at Fortnight Institute, he copied works by Caravaggio and Leonardo da Vinci, among other Italian Renaissance painters. The next year, he pulled from 15th-century Netherlandish pieces for a series unveiled at Sargent’s Daughters. In Oh’s current exhibition, “Landscapes,” his second at Fortnight, the artist turned to Hieronymus Bosch in realizing his latest body of work, which recreates select scenes from five triptychs, including, not least of all, the masterful painting The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490–1500).
Here’s the catch: Oh’s copies aren’t rendered on panel or canvas—they’re painted on modern-day objects. In “Landscapes,” Oh’s reframing of Bosch’s mystical visions appear on a window pane, seed packets, an amethyst crystal, books, board games and a chalkware Virgin and Child statue, among other readymades.
For Communion (2021), Oh homed in on details within the triptych’s central panel, including its pink mushrooming spires, its human-vegetable hybrid creatures and its central parade of nude figures mounted on wild animals. In a gesture that interweaves terrestrial Boschian horrors, the source of which, some theorize, may have been consuming mushrooms or moldy bread, Oh then replicated these subjects on a packet of seeds. Hellscape (2021) reproduces the central panel of Bosch’s Triptych of the Temptation of Saint Anthony (c. 1501) on a suspended glass pane. Elsewhere, the most striking work, Sky (2021), depicts an ancient cityscape at dusk across the arms of the Virgin Mary, her cheek adorned with the Star of Bethlehem. This vignette comes from Adoration of the Magi (c. 1494), a decidedly less apocalyptic scene than The Garden of Earthly Delights, if one no less concerned with redemption. Inscribing Bethlehem on an unassuming sculpture of the Virgin (it reminds me of the sample wares bedecking countless headstone shops where I live near Green-Wood Cemetery), Oh reasserts Bosch’s logic, which is in some ways both sacrilegious and in violation of normal terrestrial affairs.
Some might call it foolhardy to try and paint like Bosch or Caravaggio or Leonardo, but how ironic it is to accuse an artist of hubris in our age of originality über alles. The wondrous quality of Oh’s art lies in how it re-injects enigma into the mundane, extending the potentiality of historical visions not yet exhausted. —Will Fenstermaker
Chris Oh, Sky, 2021. Acrylic on chalkware statue, 14 3/4 x 9 1/2 x 8 inches.