Robert Crumb spent almost five years illustrating the Book of Genesis in comic book form. The monumental project included panels showing Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark and Sodom and Gomorrah; Crumb illustrated the entire book, verse by verse, in 207 drawings of six to eight panels. Eventually, the work was printed as a graphic novel with the warning "Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors" emblazoned on its cover.

Beginning February 8, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art will display Crumb's original drawings in the new exhibit "The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb's Book of Genesis."

Robert Crumb is an American artist and illustrator who has been active in the art world since the 1960s. His most recognized works include "Keep on Truckin'" and "Fritz the Cat," which became the first animated film to earn an X rating. Much more than a bawdy provocateur, Crumb occupies a highly influential role in contemporary art and is known as the father of the underground comic, a figure who dishes out the subversions Americans love to hide. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Hall of Fame in 1991.

If Crumb intended for his work to be read in book form, you might ask why we should be interested in seeing it on a wall in a museum. Curator Joachim Homann answered that question rather convincingly.

"First, I enjoy looking at the original drawing—how things were created; for example, in this exhibition ink and correction fluid on paper is the medium; so of course the process is really there to see in a way you only can with the originals," Homann said.

He further explained that upon entering Osher Gallery, where the exhibit will be displayed, you see 207 drawings dedicated to the Old Testament all at once. The exhibition makes the magnitude of the project apparent, while in book form the artist's investment of time and care is easier to overlook or write off as a joke.

The Genesis exhibit comes to Bowdoin from the Hammer Museum of UCLA. Curatorial Assistant Kate Herlihy '08 said that the 2007 museum renovation has made it possible for shows like this one to come to Bowdoin because of new climate control features.

At the opening of the exhibit, the Museum will play clips from the Terry Zwigoff documentary film "Crumb" in its media gallery. The exhibit is set up with the panels hung very close to one another in straight lines, both in order to accommodate all 207 pieces and to help create a viewing experience similar to reading a comic book or graphic novel. The exhibit also features some of Crumb's objects and images of inspiration.

When Crumb's book was first published in 2009, it was quite controversial. This was in part, Homann suggested, because of the imbalance between the "popular" medium of comics on one side and the most sacred stories of the Judeo-Christian tradition on the other. Crumb's work draws not only on previous comic illustrations of the Bible, but also on Hollywood films particularly from the 1950s showing stories from the Old Testament.

In Crumb's introduction to his book, he describes "an enormous amount of visual source material" that he used to help examine how we reconstruct the distant past. He further notes that many comic versions he has seen of the Bible change the text itself, most often to facilitate easy understanding, particularly for children. The authors and illustrators of these works nonetheless claim to believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. Crumb, on the other hand, has made every effort to accurately reproduce the exact wording of the Bible by relying mostly on U.C. Berkeley professor Robert Alter's translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew.

Crumb sees the Bible not as the "Word of God," but as the "Word of Man," and suggests that "its power derives from its having been a collective endeavor that evolved and condensed over many generations."

The work is a comprehensive, serious and unique look at the Bible, how we think about it, and what we want to think about it. Homann explained that Crumb's genius, and what qualifies his work as art, is the courage to present it all without explanation. The discrepancies and strange things found in the Bible are not edited out or glossed over, but presented in a way to make people think.

Homann claimed the illustrated Book of Genesis is something people can really chew on—something present in our culture today that connects us with generations past. Homann reads the work not merely as an affirmation of our culture, but as a confrontation and a criticism of contemporary consumerism. He called the images "rough, controversial, and enigmatic."

Two other exhibits examining the theme of religion in society will open this month at the Museum. The exhibit, "Object of Devotion: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum" and a student-curated show, "Displaying Devotion," will be placed in galleries adjacent to Osher. "Displaying Devotion" will exhibit some of the museum's own pieces, ranging from religious ivory carvings from the Middle Ages to Andy Warhol-era prints representing contemporary celebrity devotion.

According to Herlihy, the show will help tie "The Bible Illuminated" and "Object of Devotion" together by taking a broader view of devotion over a wide time range.

While "The Bible Illuminated" opens in the Osher Gallery February 8, there will also be a joint opening reception with "Object of Devotion" at 5:30 p.m. on February 17 at the museum.

Beforehand, Kathryn Smith, an associate professor of art history at New York University, will give a lecture titled "Bringing the Holie companie of Heven to Earth: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture in its Religious, Visual, and Social Contexts" in Smith Auditorium in Sills Hall.

The "Bible Illuminated" will be open until May 8, and the graphic novel is available at the museum's gift shop.