Smoke and Mirrors: Magical Thinking in Contemporary Art

Two white-gloved hands floating in space with fire erupting from the fingers.

Sarah Charlesworth, "Trial by Fire," 1992-93, Cibachrome with lacquered wood frame. Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery

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Wed - Fri - Sat - Sun: 11:00 am - 6:00 pm

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The exhibition’s title refers both to performative magic and to the “magical thinking” in today’s culture rife with disinformation, conspiracy theories, and “alternative facts.” In essence, the theme of the show is lying, whether it’s stage magic where the audience is in on the deception or hoaxes perpetrated for financial or political gain. The show includes artists who are inspired by stage magic or creators of deep fakes that, when exposed, reveal a greater truth.

The inspiration for the exhibition is the life and career of the late Amazing Randi, a Florida resident and legendary stage magician who was a relentless debunker of charlatans.  Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A.), an artist who has exhibited at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, was Randi’s lifelong partner. He began his career as a performance artist in the 1980s when the two collaborated on an international project exposing spirit channelers.

This exhibition is especially timely. There are parallels between our day and the early 20th century with its deadly flu and world war that spawned an epidemic of fake mediums as well as the golden age of stage magic. The trauma of our own pandemic, climate disasters, and rampant violence have seen an explosive increase in supernatural characters in popular culture as well as dangerous hoaxes that have proved difficult to discredit.

Curated by Senior Curator Kathleen Goncharov


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Additional Sponsor Text

This exhibition has been made possible by the Museum's Leadership Donors.