n the legendary contest of artistic ability in ancient Greece

In the legendary contest of artistic ability in ancient Greece, Zeuxis thought he had won a victory when his painted grapes looked so real they attracted birds—that is, until Parrhasius moved to unveil his own painting and revealed the curtain itself to be an illusion. The age-old idea of trompe l’oeil—fooling the eye with astounding realism—has taken on new dimensions among contemporary artists, particularly those sculptors whose work confounds the viewer in shared physical space. Lavishing time and often extraordinary materials on mimetic renditions of the highly ordinary—a garbage bag, an aging man, a suburban kitchen—artists make us look twice and fill us with wonder, bafflement, delight, and discomfort.

“Trompe l’oeil was once a measure of how well an artist could paint, but over the last century skill alone has rarely been enough to make an artwork interesting,” says artist Alison Elizabeth Taylor, who was inspired to learn wood inlay in graduate school after seeing the Duke of Urbino’s Renaissance studiolo, installed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its fantastic trompe l’oeil books and instruments. Taylor adapts the painstaking marquetry technique to render slices of destitution in American life, including a corner piece recently on view at James Cohan Gallery in New York that appears to be layers of peeling linoleum flooring.

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