We can no longer rely on the evidence of our eyes alone: digital image processing has come on in leaps and bounds to the point where we cannot tell if the things we see are fact or fake merely by looking closely.
This is not a new phenomenon – optical illusions, trompe-l’oeil, visual trickery and deceptions have always been around, particularly in art. Since antiquity, artists have been playing with our senses, reminding us time and time again how easily we are deceived. With examples from painting, sculpture, video, architecture, design, fashion and interactive virtual-reality works, the exhibition weaves a highly entertaining path through the (art) history of appearance and illusion.
A veritable cabinet of curiosities
The exhibition transforms over four millennia of optical illusions into an exciting art experience, with every room holding new surprises in store. Visitors are invited to discover both little-known artists and marvel at works by great masters of art and design history, including Cornelis Gijsbrechts, Viktor&Rolf, Laurie Anderson, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thomas Demand, Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol and many more. The common denominator: in an engaging way, they all turn our familiar perception of the world upside down.
The history of deception
Since time immemorial, artists have been searching for new ways of duping the beholder, confounding him with their craftsmanship. Even the frescoes of antiquity impressively simulate three-dimensional images. Baroque church ceilings refine these illusion techniques, seeming to draw the gaze of the congregation up into heavenly spheres. Moreover, during the 17th century, the golden age of illusory painting, audiences were captivated by the trompe-l’œil (fooling the eye): these works are so perfectly executed that the depicted objects seem to emerge from the frames. Today’s digital virtual reality technology offers almost unlimited possibilities of extending the longstanding tradition of optical illusions in ways hitherto undreamed of.
The joy of dis-illusionment
It is often the small deceptions that surprise and amuse us. A cabbage is revealed as a porcelain tureen. What appears to be a man’s folded shirt is actually a lifelike sculpture, superbly carved in marble. A light installation is so skillfully designed that it is like looking into a space of infinite depth. It is always especially enjoyable when we know that it is a trick, yet get taken in regardless – over and over again.
A constant source of amazement
Every development in the realm of visual appearance challenges human perception anew. Legend has it that, at a screening of a black-and-white film by the Lumière brothers in 1896, the audience was dumbfounded by the illusory effect, convinced that a train was hurtling directly towards them. The film no longer has the power to disorientate modern cinema goers. Nonetheless, visitors can experience equally unexpected moments at the exhibition by donning a virtual reality headset and stepping into mind-boggling worlds. The medium is still so new and the execution so surprising that our perception is fooled spectacularly.