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Nine Circles of Hell Arrive on the Upper East Side

By Della Hasselle | September 30, 2010 10:24am

By Della Hasselle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER EAST SIDE — Dante's nine circles of hell are relocating to the Upper East Side this month, courtesy of artists including Salvadore Dali, Damien Hirst, Man Ray and Andy Warhol.

The "Divine Comedy," an art exhibition influenced both by Dante’s epic poem and New York comedy queen Caroline Hirsch, takes onlookers through the various stages of Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise at the Sotheby's gallery, at East 72nd and York Avenue, starting Thursday.

"An undercurrent of wit and satire, often tinged with irreverence, will be the hallmark of the art that is presented," a spokesperson for Sotheby’s said of the show in a statement.

"The work reveals a series of unique juxtapositions that are provocative, playful and stimulating."

Those entering Purgatory are greeted by Frans Francken’s winged Satan, and a cross-eyed god sporting a shoulder bag, depicted by George Condo, embraces Paradise.

The exhibit utilizes each stage of Dante’s poem to present artists from different genres. Approximately 80 works ranging from Contemporary, Modern and Surrealist art to Antiquities, Old Master paintings and African Art will be on view, and some will be offered for sale at prices ranging from $30,000 to $10 million.

The exhibition, which was scheduled as a lead in to the Nov. 3 opening of the New York Comedy Festival, shows the journey of artists from dark to absurdist humor and aims to be "funny as hell."

"The Inferno will highlight the darker, more horrific side of humor," a spokesperson said.

Maurizio Cattlean’s absurdist depiction of Adolf Hitler opens the exhibit. Other highlights include a catalogue with Jame Frey’s reinterpretation of Dante’s "Divine Comedy," entitled "Il Divino Bambino," and a site-specific art installation by Rob Pruitt that draws from his "Holy Crap" photographs of American church signs.

"It's really about how humor and comedy have influenced art over the centuries," Caroline Hirsch, the comedian behind Caroline's on Broadway, said about the exhibit. "It's pretty cool and quite amusing."

While some may find the exhibit hilarious, it may strike the wrong chord for others, former Guggenheim director and North and South American art chairwoman Lisa Dennison admitted.

"It is in essence a really terrifying thing," Dennison said. "There are going to be people who say, 'I don't know whether to laugh or be terrified.' But the artists want to be transgressive and provocative."

The exhibit will continue through Oct. 19.