Optical illusions are at the very core of pictorial art that over the thirty centuries of its existence has always been, in one way or another, ‘deceiving’ the eye of the viewer. Our exhibition Focusfest organized at the outdoor space along the left façade of the Manege Central Exhibition Hall presents some of the most remarkable pieces of the art of illusion.
The selected eight episodes from the history of art communicate the techniques of illusion-making created by various artists and the significance of these techniques. In a way, our exhibition is a shortened summary of the research on one of the main themes of the arts: ‘what is reality?’ From Ancient painters whose names did not survive to today to the present day art students this theme has been of greatest concern to the artist; while reality and illusion have always been deeply mutually-intertwined. The art of circus and all kinds of travesty shows seem to preserve the art of visual illusions at their best, as their audience are particularly open to the emotional effect such illusions might provoke. Centuries ago, cave painters achieved the incredibly lifelike effect in the depiction of wild animals, but it had been centuries before the first ‘realistic’ image, created according to the rules of the realistic art of the 19th century, appeared. Ancient Greek and Roman painters made a great leap towards the ‘realistic’ rendering of fruits and birds on the walls of their villas and have been highly praised for this achievement ever since. Renaissance period saw the ‘lifelike’ rendering of the objects as one of the most praiseworthy qualities of an artwork, an accomplishment every artist should tend to. Russian artists joined in the ‘discussion’ only some three hundred years ago. Classical Russian still-lives represent the objects most truthfully, depicting every little detail of the fabric, and were, in a way, too conventional and viewer-oriented; at least they never intended to play on the viewer’s reaction. The 20th century saw the radical development of the arts and a fundamental shift from the classical tradition of representing, or mimicking the object to calling the object itself a piece of art.
The viewer’s eye is pivotal to the creation of an artwork. It is its key recipient, it evolves with the art and is educated by the development of the art. A classical pictorial illusion known to everyone from early age is the fireplace with a pot at Papa Carlo’s house from The Adventures of Buratino by Alexey Tolstoy. The fireplace only appears to be real, while in fact it conceals a tiny secret passage to the other marvellous reality. Just as Buratino, a contemporary art viewer holds the ‘golden key’ to artistic illusions. Yet, in the world that produces myriads of images per second, the viewer has no resource to reality check all of them, and today, this function is performed by the contemporary art.