At a time when the word “fake” is dominating conversation, the Nassau County Museum of Art presents “Fool the Eye,” an ambitious examination of truth and illusion comprising more than 150 paintings, sculptures and works on paper from the past two centuries.
“Whether realist or abstract, all the works in the show play with perceptual effects,” says Franklin Hill Perrell, who, along with Debbie Wells, guest-curated the exhibition. To be sure, Perrell and Wells have gathered a delightfully mixed bag of visual tricks. Prominent among the optical devices on view is trompe l’oeil, a technique that upends rules of linear perspective to convince viewers they are looking at actual objects instead of two-dimensional representations of them.
In fact, museumgoers are apt to think the curators botched the installation of a circa-1870 oil painting by Port Jefferson artist William Davis depicting a wooden canvas stretcher, supposing the real image must be on its reverse. They are as likely to be tempted to peel off the pieces of torn and curling tape seeming to secure Otto Duecker’s black-and-white photographic rendering of Marilyn Monroe to a wall — that is, until they realize it’s all a pictorial ruse.
“The flat source images tend to heighten the visual illusion,” notes Perrell. “Duecker meticulously re-creates them, using shadows to blur the difference between the surface of the canvas and what appears to be lifting off of it.”
The same method of optical deceit is used by artists working in the abstract illusionist mode, such as movement pioneer James Havard. “These painters use spills, splatters and smears, but treat the gestural designs as real things in space, as if they are painting on glass and casting a shadow behind it,” Perrell explains. Other artists contribute works in the Op Art vein, where the imagery appears to shift, both projecting and receding into space. Examples include geometric canvases articulated with paper-thin stripes by Richard Anuszkiewicz, a student of the influential modernist Josef Albers, and tondo-shape compositions by Tadasky (Tadasuke Kuwayama) made with a tiny brush and a turntable.
Still others play with perceptions by producing life-size sculptures bearing an extreme degree of similitude to their models, like the mixed-media box of mixed-cordial candies by Peter Anton or the ceramic doppelgängers for a bowl of walnuts and a can of utensils by David Furman. Brazilian artist Vik Muniz probes the image-object relationship even further in “Buttons,” a construction unifying both actual buttons and photographs of buttons. “It is hard to tell what is real,” says Perrell, “and what is the transcription of real.”
The expansive show certainly serves as yet another reminder that distinguishing between truth and hoax can, indeed, be challenging.
WHEN | WHERE Through March 4, 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, Nassau County Museum of Art, 1 Museum Dr., Roslyn Harbor
INFO $4-$12; 516-484-9338, nassaumuseum.org
PHOTOREALISM IN WATER MILL
Also playing with our notions of what is real and what is not is “From Lens to Eye to Hand: Photorealism 1969 to Today” at the Parrish Art Museum. Mimicking the detached and detailed effects of photography, the 73 images in this show reassert the importance of academic-style rendering methods in contrast to abstraction’s improvisational techniques, from the convincing stainless steel surfaces in Ralph Goings’ diner tabletop still lifes to Richard Estes’ postcard view of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which cleverly casts the museum itself as the artwork. Based on photographs rather than direct observation, the works are realistic, yet one stage removed from reality.
WHEN | WHERE Through Jan. 21, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Hwy., Water Mill
INFO $12, $9 seniors, free ages 17 and younger; 631-283-2118, parrishart.org