Boca Raton Museum of Art to Out Fakes and Frauds
A fibreglass 'merma' by Tony Oursler, a levitating woman by Sarah Charlesworth, and creations by professional magicians are gathered in the exhibition Smoke and Mirrors, which explores conspiracy theories, deep fakes, and 'alternative facts'.
Tony Oursler, Merma (2022). Fibreglass, resin, acrylic paint, glitter, fake hair, gemstones, video projection, sound. Performance by Dominique Bousquet. Courtesy the artist and Boca Raton Museum of Art.
The exhibition Smoke and Mirrors: Magical Thinking in Contemporary Art will take place at the Boca Raton Museum of Art in South Florida from 18 November 2023 to 12 May 2024.
'The correlation between magic and art making has always loomed large, and this exhibition takes this idea one step further, revealing strong connections between today and earlier periods in history when crises led to magical thinking,' said Irvin Lippman, Executive Director of the Museum, in a statement.
The exhibition parallels the magical thinking that arose during World War I and the Spanish Flu with the rise of misinformation in response to contemporary crises such as climate change and Covid-19.
Conceived by the Museum's Senior Curator Kathleen Goncharov, the exhibition received a Tieger Foundation grant for curator-led projects. It features works by 30 contemporary artists anchored by a gallery of Tony Oursler video installations that juxtapose the occult with technology. His installation Imponderable (2015–16), which was last presented at MoMA in New York, incorporates a Pepper's Ghost illusion.
Oursler's grandfather was a magician who exposed the trickery used in séances to exploit women widowed during World War I. Similarly, The Amazing Randi, who lived near the Museum and features in the exhibition, began his career as a conjuror but later called himself a 'sceptical educator'.
A MacArthur Fellow, Randi famously offered a million dollars to anyone who could prove a supernatural ability. Over 1,000 people took up the challenge, but none succeeded.
One of the works that most explicitly addresses the rise of contemporary disinformation is Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund's installation In Event of Moon Disaster (2019). The work uses deepfake technology to imagine the Apollo 11 moon landing—a favourite subject among conspiracy theorists—went horribly wrong.
'We hope our work will spark critical awareness among the public,' Panetta said. 'We want them to be alert to what is possible with today's technology, to explore their own susceptibility, and to be ready to question what they see and hear as we enter a future fraught with challenges over the question of truth.'
Other works in Smoke and Mirrors include Jeanette Andrews' interactive installation inspired by the recently declassified CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, Glenn Kaino's portrait of magician Ricky Jay made by throwing playing cards at the wall, and Sarah Charlesworth's 'Natural Magic' series of photographs, which include a portrait of a levitating woman.
'Art itself is a process of alchemy, transforming physical medium into illusions of beauty, messages that have the power to both inspire and manipulate audiences,' Lippman said. —[O]