Zoe Beloff's model of Albert Grass's proposed Dreamland amusement park re-vamp
In 2009, one-hundred years after Sigmund Freud first came to the United States and strolled around the amusement parks of Coney Island, multimedia artist Zoe Beloff erected an installation at the Coney Island Museum that celebrated Freud's time spent on there, and his impact on the working people there. Her exhibit featured drawings, photographs, artifacts, and short film.
Beloff has now re-imagined the show at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The thrust of her research centers on the Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society, a group inspired by Freud. Their founder, Albert Grass, re-designed Dreamland, one of the three amusement parks on the island at the time. Beloff even displays an argument suggesting that the image of Freud had been a part of the World of Wax Musée.
Zoe Beloff, Dreamland: The Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic society and its circle, 1926-1972
Of course, most of what you just read is untrue, except for the bit about Freud visiting Coney Island, and that Beloff had an exhibition in 2009 that she is now showing at the MIA. There really wasn't ever a Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society.
Yet, who knows? There's no evidence that there wasn't one. According to Beloff, Coney Island was a hotbed of socialist activity. So it's not hard to imagine that there might have been some Freudian thinking going on as well. "It's not about making a trick, it's about telling a story of people," said Beloff during yesterday's media tour.
"More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness
" is filled with pieces that play with the line between fiction and reality. In another room, artist Iris Haüssler displays the sculptural work of a fictional character named Ellen Stanley, who purportedly was struck with a mental illness soon after she was married. She was only able to find peace through filling her bathtub with clay, digging holes in it with her hands, and then filling the holes with beeswax, which became sculptural works. In a detailed history of Stanley's life, the gallery notes describe how her family (her sister and husband, who eventually became a couple and had a child) would melt the used wax down to be re-used.
For some reason, Haüssler's work feels more weighted toward the fictional end of the spectrum of real and not real than Beloff's installation. Perhaps this is because Beloff's meticulous "archival" materials seem so authentic looking. In a way, we know the "rules" of fiction. We accept that what we are reading about is not true, and therefore immediately get drawn into it.
Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG, Catt (Fake Cattelan sculpture), 2010. Taxidermy cat and bird, polyurethane resin, cage, wood
These two examples give you an idea of how narrative the whole exhibition is. It's a bit odd, as most folks don't typically associate narrative with contemporary art. It feels like a manifesto of sorts, proposed by the MIA's contemporary art curator Elizabeth Armstrong. In her essay about the show, available in the catalogue accompanying the exhibit, Armstrong draws on Umberto Eco's writings on hyperreality, and America's obsession with reconstructing our history through simulation and façade. She also touches on Jean Baudrillard's observations that people are increasingly more attracted to simulated reality over actual reality, and, as the subtitle of the exhibit suggests, "truthiness," Stephen Colbert's word for things that you want to be true rather than what is true. It's a fascinating essay, and a fascinating discussion about our world of reality TV, internet memes, and a 24-hour news cycles, where many people feel they can trust "fake" news shows with Jon Stewart and Colbert more than "real" news stations.
Armstrong's premise is so interesting, in fact, that the art in the exhibit doesn't do it justice. Reading her essay gives you a much better idea of the point that she's getting across. In a way, she'd perhaps illustrate her ideas better with footage from Fox News and reality television, or maybe a clip of Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which threw the monologist into infamy when it was discovered that the piece contained things that didn't happen, though he professed it was all true.
It's an issue of context. When you go to see a work of art, you generally don't expect it to be factual. When you see a play, you don't assume it to be true (unless it's based on true events, as in the case of Daisey). Usually, we experience art by finding our own truth in it, in dialogue with the proposals that it presents. That's completely opposite of how we read or watch or listen to the news, which we may experience with some skepticism, of course, but don't expect it to be fictional.
Ai Weiwei, Colored Vases, 2006
That being said, there are some wonderful pieces in the show. Ai WeiWei's Colored Vases, in which he has dipped supposedly Neolithic clay vases with buckets house paint, initiates a discussion of worth. The ancient vases, which are fairly inexpensive, become more valuable, as WeiWei's famous hands have placed on them. There's also a terrific film by Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation called 89 Seconds with Alcázar, starring none other than Peter Dinklage (who plays Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones), which dramatizes Diego Valázquez painting Las Meninas.
Bertrand Lavier, Walt Disney Productions 1947-1995
It's clearly no accident that the exhibit opens around the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq War. The massive lies to the American people concerning the so-called "weapons of mass destruction," which tricked us into a war we never should have started, looms over the whole show. It's the ultimate example of "truthiness": a convenient excuse to attack a country with loads of oil, irrespective of whether the reason we attacked had any factual merit.
At the heart of the exhibit is Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle's Phantom Truck
, inspired by a 2003 speech by Colin Powell where the former secretary of state said that there was evidence that Iraq was moving chemical weapons around in trucks and train cars. Monglano-Ovalle researched the lie of these supposed trucks extensively, eventually producing a large installation recreating a chemical weapon lab in a truck. "I'm less interested in the object, and more interested in the experience," said Monglano-Ovalle during the tour. In his work, the artist deconstructs the narrative behind the fabrication of these supposed chemical labs, allowing the viewer to experience in darkness the presence of this threatening bomb material.
It's unnerving to stand in the room with it, but the experience, unlike other works in the exhibition, doesn't trick you in any way. Many of the works in the show use fabrication, simulation, and illusion to reveal some other broader truth. In Manglano-Ovalle's case, he exposes what we already know is a lie, but forces us to feel that lie viscerally.
IF YOU GO:
"More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness"
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
$12 weekday/$14 weekends
Through June 9