Art of Lying

New Exhibition: ‘Art in the Age of Truthiness’ at SITE Santa Fe (PHOTOS)

A new exhibition at SITE Santa Fe in New Mexico, ‘More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness,’ suggests that telling significant lies may be an important role of art today. By Blake Gopnik.

Eve Sussman / Rufus Corporation ; Seung Woo Back / Gana Art Gallery ; AFP / Getty Images

Eve Sussman / Rufus Corporation ; Seung Woo Back / Gana Art Gallery ; AFP / Getty Images

When Art Tells Profound Lies

Good art is supposed to convey profound truths, according to the hoary cliche. But what about when it tells significant lies? That may be one of the more important things that art can do today, according to a new exhibition called More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness, which recently opened at SITE Santa Fe and travels to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2013. More Real looks at art that channels, and maybe comments on, our ability to blur reality’s boundaries. “We now live in an ‘Age of Truthiness,’” says the exhibition press release, “a time when our understanding of the truth is no longer bound to anything tangible, provable, or factual.“ But do images such as those in this show comment on that situation or help to bring it about?

This Web gallery provides some evidence to make that judgment call. If you can trust it ...

—Blake Gopnik

Barbara Sax, AFP / Getty Images

An Accurate Untruth

Phantom Truck, a work from 2007 by Spanish artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, is shown here as it was presented at the Documenta 12 art festival in Kassel, Germany. It is included in SITE Santa Fe’s More Real because it is closely based on accounts of the Iraqi mobile bio-weapon labs that the U.S. presented to the United Nations Security Council in 2003 as justification for waging war on Saddam Hussein. Manglano-Ovalle’s piece gives an absolutely accurate view ... of a vehicle that never existed.

Courtesy of Seung Woo Back / Gana Art Gallery

Better Than Vegas?

An image from the series Real World by South Korean artist Seung Woo Back. It looks like a digitally manipulated picture of an actual site, but in fact it’s a perfectly truthful photo of the Manhattan section of a Korean theme park called Aiins World—which also includes duplicates of such World Heritage sites as Machu Picchu, the Colosseum, and a Japanese castle. Who needs reality when the fake is so much easier to get to?

Courtesy Eve Sussman / Rufus Corporation

Making Velazquez Tell the Truth

In her video called 89 Seconds at Alcázar, Eve Sussman, working with her Rufus Corporation, took the fiction of Diego Velázquez’s 1656 Las Meninas, possibly the greatest painting ever, and staged the reality that lay behind it—if, that is, it ever pointed to anything beyond fiction.

Courtesy of Jonn Herschend

Sowing (Dis)information

A still from Jonn Herschend’s Promotional Video for More Real? (or How Things Could Be Better
With Lisa and Me).
 Herschend made what curators are calling a “(dis)orientation” video, installed at the beginning of their show. It pretends to introduce the premise of More Real, but then veers wildly off topic, sowing more confusion than light.

Courtesy of Vik Muniz / Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

‘Starry Night’ in the Rearview Mirror

Brazilian artist Vik Muniz is presenting three works of art at SITE Santa Fe: American Gothic, The Smokers, and Starry Night—the last of which is shown in this image. Except that instead of giving us the fronts of these superstar paintings, Muniz is letting us look at their backs, which is where experts often go to confirm facts about an artwork’s history and authenticity. Of course in the context of More Real, viewers are left wondering whether some of the most famous artworks ever would really make the trip to an exhibition about the nature of contemporary truth.

Courtesy of Rinaldo Capra

A Fake ‘Catt’

Eva and Franco Mattes, two trickster artists from New York, have shipped a sculpture called Catt to Santa Fe. The first time they presented it, in 2010, it was labeled as a new work by another much more famous trickster, their fellow Italian Maurizio Catellan. Their credible version of his work (based on a random image found on the Web) made a splash on the Internet as an original by the master. 

Courtesy of Joel Lederer

The Wild, Wild West ... of the World Wide Web

New Yorker Joel Lederer explores a new American frontier: the Internet. He takes landscapes from the virtual world called Second Life and presents them as credible—if confusing—images of reality.

Courtesy of Robert Wedermeyer

Much More Than Meets the Eye (or the Jaw)

The Melancholic Refuses to Surrender, a 2003 work by Texan Dario Robleto made from cast and carved bone, charcoal, a melted vinyl record of Lead Belly’s “The Titanic,” broken male hand bones, ground coal, horsehair, dirt, pigments, lead salvaged from the sea, string, and rust. A simple trompe l’oeil sculpture of a pair of boxing gloves—a classic artistic deception—turns out to be an object with absurdly complex underpinnings. (Among other things, that Lead Belly blues record suggested that the boxer Jack Dempsey’s life may have been saved by the fact that blacks were barred from Titanic.)

Courtesy of Jason Wyche / Sean Kelly Gallery

Going Nowhere Fast

Argentine artist Leandro Ehrlich presents a sculpture that is indistinguishable from an elevator stuck in an empty shaft.

Courtesy of Omer Fast

Hollywood, Poland

Omer Fast, one of today’s most important artists, presents a video called Spielberg’s List. In it, local extras from Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, which was filmed partly in Poland, recall their experience on set—and, sometimes, in World War II. Fast’s virtuoso editing further confuses then and now, truth and fiction. This is a snapshot taken by one of those actors.

Courtesy of Omer Fast

‘Spielberg's List’

A snapshot taken by a Polish extra in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, which used a location near Kraków to stand in for a German concentration camp. In More Real, Omer Fast presents a video about this blurring of reality and fiction.