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.
American University Art Historian Nika Elder and MA graduates Abigail Swaringam and Michael Quituisaca discuss this virtual collection exhibition.
Our December 8, 2020 panel brought together experts in art law, documentary film, and provenance research to discuss the art forgery documentary Driven to Abstraction (2020) and the important questions that it raises about the value of authenticity, race and criminal justice, and cultural authority.
Moderated by Dr. Nika Elder (Art History, American University) and featuring panelists Christine Farley (Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, American University Washington College of Law), Leena Jayaswal (Professor, School of Communication, American University), and Victoria Sears Goldman (Director, Art Risk Advisory Practice, K2 Intelligence).
Peter Thomas (1934- ), Corcoran After Hours No. 12, 1981. Charcoal and acrylic on heavy white paper, paper: 37 7/8 × 49 3/4 in. Gift from the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Gift of the Women's Committee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art), 2018.15.2334.
Washington City Paper: City Lights: Consider Art and Authenticity in the Age of Fake News
Washington Diplomat: Long Before Trump’s ‘Fake News,’ Artists Stretched the Truth
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.
Presented in conjunction with our virtual series Contested Space.