Looking for the truth in MIA’s ‘More Real’

Coming away from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ new show “More Real: Art in the Age of Truthiness,” I was struck by what I had learned.

1. You will never know the truth.

2. Don’t ever stop looking for the truth.

Curator Liz Armstrong has presented us with a series of conundrums and riddles, all pointing to the fragility of what we think of as reality. We see photos of the Eiffel Tower standing next to Korean apartment buildings, and learn the image has in no way been digitally altered. We stare at the backs of paintings that, according to their labels, are famous works – but we don’t dare turn them over to reveal what’s really there.

Armstrong says the exhibition is inspired by the times. When we get our news from comedy shows, and CNN reporters start writing fiction, who’s to know what is real anymore?

Seung Woo Back

RW001-001, 2004; from Real World I series

Courtesy of the artist and Gana Art Gallery, Seoul

The Internet, social media and smartphones have given the world access to more information and images than ever before, inspiring revolutions in some countries and government crackdowns in others.

Amid all this social and political upheaval, Armstrong says it’s more critical than ever to remember that seeing is not necessarily believing.

“Because of this incredibly rampant technology, anybody can fake photographs, news, information,” says Armstrong. “‘Wiki-reality’ is a tricky thing, and we live in it now. We are compelled to be more observant of what is real.”

Dion_Curator's-Office.jpg

Mark Dion,

Curator’s Office, 2013

Site-specific installation

Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts

As visitors encounter real art by imaginary people, false histories based on real events and lush landscapes from a digital world, the incriminating evidence builds. How do we truly know anything?

“We have to remember that we do construct our reality,” stresses Armstrong. “We assume our lived experience to be true. But what are our perceptions of that experience based on? It’s partly personal, it’s partly cultural, it’s where we were born, how we were educated… We forget this, and I think our forgetting is at the root of many problems, both political and social.”

Absolute truths do not exist, says Armstrong. However, questioning one’s own reality is a step toward understanding other people’s perspectives.

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Joel Lederer

200805262351, 2009; from The Metaverse is Beautiful series

archival inkjet on paper

Courtesy of the artist

One work in particular raises the specter of our own complicity. Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s “Phantom Truck,” only dimly visible in a darkened room, makes real what we now know to be fake. Using renderings from the U.S. State Department, former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s own words and photographs used as evidence in Powell’s presentation to the UN Security Council, Manglano-Ovalle built the supposed “weapons lab” that justified the United States’ invasion of Iraq 10 years ago.

By putting us face to face with a lie that has cost the lives of more than 100,000 civilians, Manglano-Ovalle forces us to contemplate what would have happened if we had thoroughly questioned what was presented as fact.

Phantom-Truck.jpg

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle,

Phantom Truck, 2007.

Installation View Documenta 12.

Photo: Barbara Sax/AFP/Getty Images

The show is by no means all dark. It’s also whimsical and often tongue-in-cheek. An elevator is stuck mid-floor, evolutionists flock to a Darwin-shaped wall stain, and you get the sense Stephen Colbert might at any moment jump out from behind a curtain.

“The brain is this wonderful tool that can imagine all kinds of experiences and things,” says Armstrong, smiling. “I think we all need to revel in that, especially at a time when there are big global worries. The human body and brain want to enjoy the world. So as human beings we still need to take pleasure in life, no matter what our circumstances.”

As the world becomes filled with an overwhelming number of images and words, it’s tempting to simply tune out. But for those who are willing to navigate the complex new terrain, “More Real” offers a look at both the perils and pleasures involved.

“More Real: Art in the Age of Truthiness” runs through June 9 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.