The abstract artist Josef Albers celebrated art as a “swindle,” delighting in its ability to teach us about the chasm between physical facts and our visual perception of them, and to undermine our trust in the information our eyes convey. Although he was primarily focused on demonstrating the relativity of color, Albers also studied how composition and linear design could render his works both illusionistic and enigmatic.
Like Albers, many other twentieth- and twenty-first-century artists worked to depose vision from its historically enshrined role as the “noblest” sense. Some made art in the form of conceptual statements or instructions, circumventing visual sensation entirely. Others asked audiences to privilege different senses in artworks that relied on sound or touch. Given the increased volume and circulation of images made possible by today’s technological advances, it is more urgent than ever to examine how images convey the information that becomes the basis of our shared perception.
The artists included in this exhibition, including Josef Albers, Tauba Auerbach, Robert Barry, Amanda Means, and Kim Tschang-Yeul, have used many different strategies to draw attention to the act of perception and to encourage us to question the truth of our vision. From illusionistic, or trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye), paintings to more ephemeral and conceptual gestures, these artworks challenge what we see and prompt us to appreciate and even enjoy experiences of dissonance. These moments—when we must rely on our minds to test the logic of what we see—teach us to question our confidence in first impressions. This exhibition, drawn from the Albright-Knox’s collection, reminds us that although our experience and knowledge of the world often comes to us through our eyes, seeing should not always be believing.