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Topic for 2014: ILLUSION

The central theme of all exhibitions in 2014 is illusion. In the narrower sense, illusion is a misperception of reality. In the broader sense, misinterpretations and misjudgements are also referred to as illusion. In arts too, a distinction can be made between a formal and a substantive meaning of this term. At formal level, artworks aim at the – mostly visual – deception of our sensory organs; in terms of substance, this subject comprises the broad spectrum of disappointed and unrealisable ideas, e.g. utopias.

Basically, it is all about the complexity of reality and the resulting vagueness in the interactions and interrelations between things. Our interpretation following perception is partly or entirely prevented by ambiguities. These ambiguities can emerge from natural phenomena (e.g. mirage), but also be generated artificially by manipulation.

The term illusion can be interpreted in many different ways – it can be seen from an evolutionary, neurobiological, cultural, but also from a historical and social perspective, and has always been an instrument and thus a subject of visual arts. All this makes it possible to present this phenomenon from a variety of different perspectives and to compile a diverse and inspiring programme.

Until the 20th century, the history of painting was all about creating illusions. The fact alone that three-dimensional reality can be reproduced in a two-dimensional picture is an illusion. Sources since prehistoric times have been demonstrating how artists were trying to depict the world around them as realistically as possible. The most famous anecdote is that told by Pliny the Elder about a contest between Zeuxis and Parrhasius . After the possibilities of painted illusion had reached their apogee in the Renaissance (linear and aerial perspective, foreshortening, cast shadows, colour modulation, depiction of material surfaces and motion), painters of the Baroque period had all possibilities at their disposal to advance illusionism.

During the following epochs, the depiction of nature, landscapes and atmospheres was the focus of artistic interest: A trend that came to a close with impressionism, since the desire for depicting reality arrived at a turning point when photography was invented – from this point in time on, painting followed different paths, but the creation of illusion always remained an artistic instrument (e.g. Op Art).

Illusion is an instrument that is also used in sculpture and architecture, e.g. the composition of light and shadow, the use of mirrors to enlarge rooms, the imitation of stone, marble and other materials as well as the techniques of grisaille and trompe l’oeil . The most perfect form of illusion is probably found in theatre and circus.

Illusion is not only a formal but also a substantive instrument, the function of which has changed over different eras. In some epochs, it was used to depict the surrounding reality in the best possible way. By contrast, illusionism in the Baroque period rather sought a spiritual connection between earth and heaven. A roof “opened” by means of fresco painting establishes a direct visual contact with the Kingdom of Heaven, which is impressively demonstrated in the Freising Asamtheater and the Cathedral, for example.

There are also social illusions (utopias), which are attempted to be realised using arts. The illusion of making the world a better place can also be involved in wars and revolutions. In this respect, the function of art varies: It is often used as part of the propaganda machinery, but sometimes also to reveal lies and manipulations. These examples of art history are taken out of context; at the same time, creating illusion is also play and pleasure.

What role does illusion play in contemporary arts? The emergence of new technologies (Photoshop, digital video editing, animations, holograms) has opened up a multitude of new possibilities. Using various fields of art and ways of presentation, we are trying to find answers to this question that are not content with visual faithfulness and playfulness, but allow us to better understand the complexity of reality by creating illusions.

Eike Berg



1) Wikipedia.org, 6.7.2013
2 )Trompe-l‘œil Stillleben gab es schon in der griechischen Antike. Am bekanntesten ist die Anekdote vom Wettstreit zwischen Zeuxis und Parrhasios. Demnach täuschte Zeuxis Vögel mit gemalten Weintrauben, aber Parrhasios Zeuxis mit einem gemalten Vorhang.
3)   Als Grisaille (von franz. gris = grau) bezeichnet man eine Malerei, die ausschließlich in Grau, Weiß und Schwarz ausgeführt ist. Bei anderen hell oder dunkel abgetönten Farben spricht man von Monochromer Malerei (franz. Camaieu). Sie beruht auf reiner Schattenwirkung. Eine Form der Grisaille findet auch in der Glasmalerei Verwendung.
4) Ein Trompe-l’œil (frz. „täusche das Auge“, von tromper „täuschen“ und l’œil „das Auge“) ist eine illusionistische Malerei, die mittels perspektivischer Darstellung eine dreidimensionale Räumlichkeit vortäuscht. Besonders in Wand- und Deckenmalereien erweitern solche Bilder die Optik der Architektur und erzeugen einen Ausblick auf Phantasielandschaften.

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