October 19, 2010 | Myrna Anderson

The Center Art Gallery re-opens in its new home, the Covenant Fine Arts Center, with at 7 p.m., Thursday, October 21, with a show titled "The Humor and Wit of Pieter Bruegel the Elder."

It’s called Big Fish Eat Little Fish, and everywhere you look, that is what’s happening : “You see a giant fish that’s eating a fish that’s eating a fish,” art history professor Henry Luttikhuizen described the 16th-century engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. “He’s saying that human beings behave like fish, and what we do is we become preoccupied with incorporation. We consume each other,” Luttikhuizen interpreted. “This is basically a warning about capitalism gone awry.”

Big Fish Eat Little Fish is one of 36 prints that will be showcased in “The Humor and Wit of Pieter Bruegel the Elder,” the debut exhibition of the newly constructed Center Art Gallery. The Bruegel exhibition celebrates the opening of the gallery in its new location in the Covenant Fine Arts Center (CFAC) at 7 p.m., Thursday, October 20, 2010. The event  kicks off with a lecture by Calvin art history professor Luttikhuizen titled “Laughing and Learning within a World Turned Upside-Down—An Introduction to the Bruegel Exhibition.” An 8 p.m. reception and tour follow.

“It’s a great show to open the gallery because it showcases a great collection and also excellent scholarship,” said Calvin director of exhibitions Joel Zwart. “This exhibition really sets a high bar for what we want to do with the gallery in the future.”

Classic vice meets Dutch humor

The prints in the exhibition, chosen from a private collection, also include Elck or “Everyone,” The Battle of the Moneybags and the Strongboxes and a series that Zwart believes may be the crowd-pleaser of the show: 14 engravings representing the seven classical virtues (faith, hope, charity, justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance) and vices (envy, pride, avarice, anger, gluttony, lechery and sloth).

Bruegel’s vices are especially enjoyable because they’re so humorous, Luttikhuizen said: “It’s basically satire at its best.” The vice prints feature ordinary creatures distorted by various sins: a man who carries his grossly overweight belly in a wheelbarrow in “Gluttony”; an armored woman, gazing at herself in a mirror in “Pride”

“It’s imagery that values ethical behavior while, at the same time, recognizing our all-too-real tendency to blow it,” Luttikhuizen said of the virtues/vices series. “On the one hand, he shows us what it is to be virtuous, but on the other hand, he says that’s not the way people behave … Everything you’re seeing here is imaginary, but on the other hand, yeah, that’s pretty much the way the world works.

A new gallery

The Bruegel exhibition will be on display in the new 1,800-square-foot temporary exhibition space, one part of the new gallery’s overall 3,800 square-footage. The temporary space, devoted to shows chosen or created by the exhibition committee, has twice the height—meaning twice the usable wall space—of the former gallery. “It allows us so much flexibility,” Zwart said.

 The opening is the first of several events, offered by the departments of art and art history, music and English, to celebrate the dedication of the CFAC.

Luttikhuizen’s talk, which examines Bruegel’s imitation of Hieronymus Bosch, is the first in a lecture series accompanying the Bruegel exhibition. The series features Calvin English professor James Vanden Bosch and philosophy professor Rebecca Konyndyk-DeYoung, a specialist in the seven deadly sins. It also features two of the most renowned scholars on Breugel and Bosch in North America, said Zwart: Bret Rothstein, an art professor at Indiana University, and Larry Silver, an art history professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

“It’s kind of like liberal arts at its best,” said Luttikhuizen with a chuckle.

Detail from Big Fish Eat Little Fish

Joel Zwart and Henry Luttikhuizen

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