Fool the Eye: Addressing Illusion in Contemporary Art

Wednesday, Feb 9 – Sep 24, 2022

441 Main St.
Racine, WI 53403

Traditionally, the phrase trompe l’oeil (French for fool or deceive the eye) is associated with two-dimensional imagery that appears to be three-dimensional space or objects. While the phrase gained popularity in the early nineteenth century, illusionistic images—especially as associated with artistic endeavors—were being created centuries before that in Greco-Roman mosaics, Renaissance cathedral ceilings, and Dutch still lives. More modern interpretations include large-scale murals on building exteriors as well as street chalk drawings.

Trompe l’oeil artwork is regarded by some as the manipulation of materials with highly technical skill. In addition, there is a kind of humor implicit in the object’s creation—knowing that the viewer will likely have a moment of surprise or disbelief. Expanding on this, contemporary artists use illusion to draw attention to the meaning of objects, to suggest narratives and stories of human presence or absence, or to comment on society, culture, and history.

Three-dimensional explorations of illusion have often included suggesting one material through another—such as sculpting “fabric” made of marble. This exhibition, with works drawn from RAM’s collection, features contemporary interpretations of trompe l’oeil technique. While most of the works included are three-dimensional, two-dimensional examples offer more direct links to art historical precedents.


Image: John Cederquist
Never Without His Sword, 2004
Wood, epoxy resin, and lithographic ink
81 5/8 x 37 3/4 x 25 1/2 inches
Racine Art Museum, Gift of The Estate of Linda Brooks Sullivan
Photography: Jon Bolton