Truthiness or Dare

Don’t let the Stephen Colbert reference fool you.

Yes, “More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness,” a powerful new exhibition opening tonight at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, was inspired by fake cable news. Yes, your head may explode over its portrayal of the slipperiness of reality. But not because you’re laughing so hard.

Far from it. There are certainly lighter moments, like the taxidermy sculpture of a cat trapped in a bird cage, the bird perched on top. And you can come to your own conclusions about the well-preserved curator’s office, just before you enter the exhibition, that’s now being presented as a period room (the curator mysteriously vanished many decades ago).

Yet it almost seems like curator Liz Armstrong has the AC cranked in the galleries, as a chill settles into your bones. That’s a great credit to Armstrong, who has been planning “More Real?” since she arrived at the museum in 2008. And the show’s most chilling work is also its most brilliant.

Lurking in inky darkness behind a heavy black curtain—occupying an entire gallery devoid of light, in fact—is artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s monster-piece: “Phantom Truck.” Constructed entirely of aluminum, the truck is a not-quite-lifelike replica of a mobile weapons lab, of the kind Colin Powell described to the United Nations Security Council prior to the American invasion of Iraq. As we now know, no such truck ever existed. But Mangalo-Ovalle immediately seized on Powell’s descriptions, based on reports from American and British intelligence, and used it to build an actual truck. It is, in his words, a “fabrication of a fabrication.” A lie made real. A bogeyman conjured into existence.

Conceptually, this would be spooky enough. But the piece’s true thrill is the psycho-perceptual illusion it enacts. As you enter the dark gallery, you can barely make out the industrial hulk of the truck. After a few minutes, your pupils adjust, and the sculpture appears to materialize out of the shadows. The effect is incredible—and incredibly satisfying. But it also doubles as a conceptual bombshell. You the viewer are recruited—literally, in a physiological sense—into making the lie real. It’s a biting metaphor for the American public’s complicity in making the Iraq war happen.

“Phantom Truck” is just one of many military-themed pieces in the show (which shouldn’t be a surprise, given our current era of the drone), from photographs of Vietnam War re-enactors, slyly fake photographs of the Commander in Chief’s office, and—the exhibit’s poetic show-stopper—an army training video game presented as silent ballet.

I’d say more about this last piece, but I don’t want to spoil the strangeness.

Colbert, I think, would be impressed. Or at least his maniacal alter ego would be.

More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness
Opening party tonight, March 21
6–9 p.m.
Free admission, museum-wide
Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2400 3rd Ave. S., Mpls.