'Truthiness' inspires brilliant show at MIA

MARY ABBE | Updated 3/22/2013

"More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness" merges fact and fiction.

Richard Sennott

Talk about timing. The White House, citing budget cuts, cancels tours for the season and, bingo! The Minneapolis Institute of Arts launches a show that opens with an almost virtual tour of the Oval Office accessed through a white portico reminiscent of the president’s home.

It’s pure coincidence, but what curious fun. So, too, is “More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness,” a savvy and sophisticated exhibit of photos, drawings, videos, paintings, sculpture and installations by 28 international artists. With topics ranging from art to recent wars, it includes memorabilia from a Freudian theme park; interviews with “Shindler’s List” extras; poignant videos; “masterpieces” by Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Grant Wood; a full-scale model of an Iraqi chemical-weapons lab, a stuffed cat and a canary.

Daft as that catalog may sound, this is a fascinating collection of fresh art exploding with provocative ideas about one of the big existential dilemmas of our time: What is really real today — meaning authentic, honest, truthful? Everyone knows that politicians spin, singers lip-sync, photographers manipulate and “reality” television shows aren’t. So how do we navigate a world of illusion in which falsehoods start real wars, history gets re-enacted, and anyone can acquire an avatar and live a “Second Life” in a virtual world?

Irony and humor help, of course. Which brings us to Stephen Colbert, the comedian who coined the term “truthiness” to describe a preference for “facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.” A video segment from his faux news program introduces the show, setting the stage for the bemusing fabrications to come. Optimists will also appreciate the framed pages from a special edition of the New York Times published by the Yes Men, a pair of artists who filled the mock paper with upbeat stories they’d really like to read.

“The work is not about sensation or fakery, but about reminding us that you have to see critically and really think critically” to separate fact from fiction, said MIA curator Elizabeth Armstrong. She developed the exhibition in consultation with artists, writers and curators from around the world, including SITE Santa Fe, an experimental art venue in Santa Fe, N.M., where the show debuted last year. Its Minneapolis run goes from March 21 through June 9.

Illusion meets conceptual art

Categories are fluid in “Real?” but include some very clever updates on old-fashioned trompe l’oeil art; that is, objects so artfully real they fool the eye. The first gallery has a free-standing elevator apparently ripped from its housing and stuck between floors. Peer into the glowing aperture at the bottom, and you expect to see trapped people but find, fortunately, only a crumpled newspaper, all illusions by Argentine artist Leandro Erlich.

Surrounding the elevator are huge Oval Office photos by German artist Thomas Demand, who based them on a scale model of the presidential lair that he fabricated from cardboard, paper and confetti. His office’s rug derives from the TV series “The West Wing,” but the room is so familiar that it reads as “real” despite the obvious fakery.

Nearby, boxing gloves made by Texas artist Dario Robleto from “broken male hand bones,” among other things, carry an amazing tale about a black boxer who was denied passage on the Titanic because of his race. Really.

Trompe l’oeil meets conceptual next door where Vik Muniz, a Brazilian, has produced an installation of what appear to be masterpiece paintings, including Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” and the Art Institute’s own “Lucretia” by Rembrandt. One is hung, but the rest are propped on the floor with their “faces” turned to the wall. With only their backs visible, viewers are left to study hooks, hangers and loan labels while guessing if the objects are the real deals, or not.