Trompe l'Oeil Is Dead
|Patrick Jackson, Head, Hands and Feet, 2011. Hammer Museum|
|Deepfake Pope Francis, 2023, created with Midjourney|
A recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum unearthed Cubism's complicated frenemyship with trompe l'oeil. Considered gimmicky and middle-brow, trompe l'oeil was a perfect foil to the wise-cracking radicalism of Braque, Picasso, and Gris. Does trompe l'oeil mean anything to today's avant garde? I would have answered a hard no, but several works in the Hammer Museum's "Together in Time: Selections from the Hammer Contemporary Collection" made me reconsider.
|Laura Owens, untitled, 2016. Hammer Museum|
From the side, it can be seen that the raised bits are flush with the canvas. The picture is flat, save for the gobs of colored paint.
|Side view. (In the distance, Brandon D. Landers' 1 of 1, 2020)|
The backstory is that Owens was remodeling her Echo Park home when she discovered some old paper stereotype plates that a former owner had used for insulation. The plates were used for printing the Los Angeles Times in 1942. Intrigued by the filler stories and sexist ads, Owens used PhotoShop to collage different plates into a Frankensteinian whole. The use of mashed-up or fabricated news clippings references practices of traditional trompe l'oeil painters and the Cubists. Owens used PhotoShop drop shadows to simulate raised features and to set the page above its background (the background can also be read as a frame). The digital collage was screen-printed on a large linen canvas. Owens added juicy brushstrokes of oil and vinyl paint. The one part of the picture that's real is the paint, otherwise the raw material of illusion.
Owens thereby addresses a history of fakery, starting with the Boomer maxim "you can't believe everything you read in the newspaper." An ad for evaporated milk uses Ben Day dots, the pixel precursor now associated with Roy Lichtenstein's brand of Pop. At the bottom of the canvas, a cigarette ad is rendered in color pixels.
|Jefferson D. Chalfant, Which Is Which?, 1890. Brandywine Museum of Art. One postage stamp is real, the other painted|
|Detail of untitled 2016 Owens with paint and Ben Day dots|
|Detail with pixels and faux relief element overlapping frame|
|Llyn Foulkes, Lucky Adam, 1985. Hammer Museum|
Duane Hanson entered the trompe l'oeil pantheon when a museum guard confused one of his hyperreal figure sculptures for a real woman and called firefighters to revive her. Patrick Jackson is not playing that game, exactly, yet his two prone figures, dressed in real clothes like Hanson's, create a sense of the uncanny. The two sculptures were created for House of Double (2012), in which Jackson installed an empty apartment next to his own with simulacra of himself and his furnishings. The figures, modeled from film props, toys, and mannequins, are made of resin, silicone, human hair, yak hair, and denim clothing.
The figure at top of the post, with red hands, is easily missed, for it's installed among Armand Hammer's Old Masters, at the foot of Rembrandt's Juno. The Jackson installation reminds us that trompe l'oeil has been around a long time and, as the age of AI dawns, it's not going anywhere.
|Étienne Mouinneuf, Back From the Market, about 1770. LACMA. An unwitting LACMA visitor reported that the glass was broken.|