High-level Communist Party officials wanted perfection, but thought their best singer, Yang Peiyi, had overly prominent front teeth, so producers played a recording of her rendition while the modelpretty Lin Miaoke was on camera, singing away but not being heard. Officials acknowledged the legerdemain a few days later.”
New York; Celebrating the end of one of the most hyped and extended political cycles in American history, Sue Scott Gallery presents “Legerdemain,” an exhibition of trickery, deception and propaganda seen though the lens of 8 contemporary artists and a composer. The power of media is clearly presented in a 1979 work by Sarah Charlesworth entitled United We Stand/A Nation Divided. As part of Charlesworth’s Modern History series, these works explore the presentation of current events in world newspapers – in this case the headlines of two British tabloids from March 3, 1979 which make conflicting claims about the state of the nation.
At the heart of the show is Jim Dine’s large scale carved and painted sculpture, White Gloves, 4 Wheels, 2007. Pinocchio is a poster child for lying, a symbol for life without a conscience. This darker, pre-Disney Pinocchio killed the cricket (his conscience) in the early part of C. Collodi’s original story, only to have it haunt him throughout his journey.
Marc Handelman’s three related paintings are part of a body of work that explores corporate identity within a broader field of abstraction and the aesthetics of power. Two contain fragmented texts from the logo of aerospace/defense contractor Northrop Grumman, suggesting the erosion of a once spectacular façade. Resembling a slab of dark corporate marble (or a lightening field), the third underscores the notion of a veneer or obfuscation.
For over a decade, Carol Irving has used the technology of polygraph instruments as a launching place or logic system to a number of conceptual ends. She uses it to examine and tamper with the underlying assumptions that are made about “TRUTH” and its questionable relation to physiology, to probe the invasive techniques of modern criminology and to expose our perverse desires to lie, confess, interrogate and tell stories. Instead of mediating truth and lies through a machine, in Past Lives Pavilion, 2008, Irving experiments with a different state of consciousness and its own properties of disclosure.
Suzanne McCelland uses language to explore abstraction. Feel the Pea, 2007, for example, can be interpreted both conceptually and formally. McCelland repeats the word ‘lies’ as a form three times and then hangs the forms from thin charcoal lines. The density of the oil paint contrasts the fragility of the powdery lines from which “lies” hang. Ideas differ as to what a white lie is and the effect of white lies has been minimized by our culture. White lies, for instance, can both protect and harm. As William Blake said, “A truth told with bad intent beats all the lies you could invent.”
The title refers to the story of the Princess and the Pea – the true princess can feel the pea. For twenty-six years, Arnold Mesches was the victim of FBI surveillance during which time agents filled an 800-page dossier chronicling his activities as an artist and activist. Under the Freedom of Information Act, Mesches obtained copies of the files only to discover some of the informants had been friends, students and even a past lover. Mesches has taken pages from these files and turned them into a series of collages.
Composer Mark Piszczek’s Chicanery Rows, 2008 takes as its source material national anthems from notorious dictatorships – Iraq, the Soviet Union, North Korea, Chile, Maoist China and Nazi Germany – and classic rock songs about lying. Most national anthems are positive, uplifting and optimistic in nature, a stark contrast to the realities of life inside a dictatorship. The irony is self evident with its combination of happy themes with the more sinister subtext lurking behind the curtain of propaganda and fear.
For more than twenty years, Ligorano and Reese have used their art to examine political and social issues. In Line Up, 2006 high-ranking government officials including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove appear in a series of fake mug shots holding slates inscribed with numbers referring to specific dates when the “suspects” may have lied.
Instead of using language for which he is most known, Ed Ruscha’s early silkscreens use trompe l’oeil. Insect Portfolio, 1972 comprises 6 screen prints of images of insects, including striking realistic depictions to scale of flies, black ants and swarming red ants. The artist as trickster, as one who enjoys fooling the viewer, is a role Ruscha has played often. As Picasso once said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.”
Sheng Qi fled China in 1989 after cutting off his finger to protest the atrocities of Tiananmen Square. Red Speaker may refer to 1989 but also illustrates the communist days of the late 70s and early 80s when loud speakers were used to control behavior. Life was bland – hence the drab garb of the people crowding the street. The red speaker could signify the Communist party, the dripping red paint the blood spilt in its name.
While Legerdemain does not offer a comprehensive look at lies, deception and propaganda, it does examine the transformative nature of art. As Piszczek notes, “In trying to create a work of art that “lies,” I discovered that art could never be dishonest … only people can lie. Regardless of an artist’s intent, talent or scruples, once a work of art is created it becomes a thing in itself and ultimately truthful. It can only act as a mirror to the dubious nature of human perceptions and the subjective nature of right and wrong.”