Travels in hyperreality

Thyssen looks at our endless fascination with photorealism

A woman takes a photo of Clive Head's 'Leaving the Underground.'
A woman takes a photo of Clive Head's 'Leaving the Underground.'CLAUDIO ÁLVAREZ

Audrey Flack was the only female artist to be associated with the photorealism movement, which emerged in the United States in the mid-1960s before crossing the Atlantic to be rechristened "hyperrealism." As the New York art scene was busy swooning over conceptual art and the abstract expressionist works of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, she bravely struck out in the opposite direction, embracing the artistic style most maniacally faithful to reality.

Now in her eighties, Flack could well have been right. Hyperrealism has ended up becoming the most popular movement of both this century and the last. One of her most famous works, the still-life Queen (1976), is among the highlights of the Thyssen's new exhibition Hyperrealism 1967-2012, where it sits alongside over 60 pieces by other names associated with the movement, including Richard Estes, John Baeder, Robert Bechtle, Tom Blackwell, Chuck Close and Robert Cottingham.

Organized by the Institut für Kulturaustausch (German Cultural Exchange Institute) and curated by its director Otto Letze, this traveling exhibition aims to place hyperrealism beyond the received view of it as an anachronistic and academic movement.

Close's portraits, Ralph Goings' still-lifes, Blackwell's Harley Davidson and Estes' phone booths shine so sharply in the Thyssen that they serve as definitive proof that the artists achieved what they set out to do: gorge on reality.

It was gallery owner and collector Louis K. Meisel who gave the group its name and served as its mentor, but it wasn't until it participated in the Kassel Documenta of 1972 that it achieved international recognition. The organizer of the event, Harald Szeemann, recognized the intellectual weight of the artists, transforming them from mere contemplators of the sheen of capitalist merchandise to authors of complex work.

Both before and after Szeemann, this "authentically American" iconography had been helping these artists venture to the extremes of visual experience. The metallic glint of consumer objects sparkles in the foregrounds and on the enlarged details of the bodywork of the cars and motorbikes crossing the great prairies like promises of the future. Dashboards, mud guards and handlebars "appeal to the fascination for illusions, for tricks of the eye," says Thyssen artistic director Guillermo Solana.

"When the viewer stands in front of one of these paintings, they dream of stepping into them," he says.

Hiperrealismo 1967-2012 . Until June 9 at at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Paseo del Prado 8, Madrid.

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