Is Art Over?

Three shows of art imitating life hit Minneapolis. Uh-oh.

It’s a pack of cigarettes! Nope, it’s a fake pack of cigarettes, right down to the Surgeon General’s warning. It’s a garbage bag! Nope. Well, you get the idea. Are we obsessed with reality? How else to explain the convergence of three similar exhibits in Minneapolis over the next year and a half: the Walker Art Center’s current Lifelike, featuring handmade replicas of everyday objects (including that pack of smokes); the Weisman Art Museum’s Re-viewing the Real, a survey of reproductions, from the birth of photography to ink-jet printing, opening in August; and the dystopian More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness, which travels to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2013. Or perhaps artists have run out of ideas, with 2012 bringing about not the end of the world, as the Mayans predicted, but of imagination? Could be. Here’s another, more likely scenario: it’s not artists’ imagination that is lacking, it’s ours that has grown—so much, in fact, that 2012 may indeed go down as the year that reality as we knew it no longer exists. After years of reality television, Second Life, and fake bacon, we may have crossed a threshold, a more pedestrian version of that Total Recall moment when the dream becomes lucid and the virtual becomes real. This is what artists are trying to tell us: that we live as much in the “reality” of our own invention as plain old reality. The real world isn’t what it used to be, and, as a result, neither is art.