President Donald Trump often cries “fake news” when media outlets share information and perspectives with which he disagrees. But the age of fake news actually started well before our current president entered politics. In the 1890s, amidst an increasingly saturated media landscape, newspapers turned to sensationalism and stunts, among other strategies, to increase sales. “Fake news” became a fact of life, but also a term that newspapers used to distinguish between truth and fiction.
This online exhibition assembles 30 paintings, photographs, and prints from the American University Museum Collection that span the long twentieth century and, themselves, test the boundaries of “authenticity.” Rather than unique images of novel subjects, they are provocations that reimagine historical art or techniques; exploit the possibilities of multiples; challenge the documentary function of photography; or manipulate found materials to artistic ends.
On account of their explicit interest in pictorial experimentation, many of these works appear entirely apolitical. But this exhibition reveals how and why these works respond to the broader political circumstances and cultural contexts in which they were made.
Spanning the long twentieth century, the artists in this exhibition reimagined the nature of portraiture, their chosen media, and the significance of the visual arts writ large. Their work interrogates the history of art, the realities of lived experience and, thereby, the value of “authenticity” itself.
For additional insight into each work in the exhibition, click through the portfolio on its page, which contains up to five related images, objects, and documents.
Curated by Prof. Nika Elder, this exhibit was realized by the students in ARTH520: American Art and the Illusion of Truth: Sofia Abate, Esther Rodriguez Camara, Caitlyn Carr, Charlie Coffey, Adrienne Cox, Sarah Froonjian, Bailey Harper, Katherine Hatcher, Evie Kalfaian, Jieren Ma, Meg MacKenzie, Ava Morollo, Taylor Morris, Alexandria Noble, Frances Pepper, Maria Pitsoulakis, Michael Quituisaca, Carolyn Russo, Aly Schuman, Abby Swaringam, Jessica Tackes, Lauren Viar, Natasha Zakin, with special assistance from Sarah Leary and Meg MacKenzie.
Our thanks to the Design and Build Lab (DaBL), Grey Devlin, and Carla Galfano for their important contributions to this project.