Spiritualism & The Power of Magical Thinking

Spiritualism & The Power of Magical Thinking

Multimedia art by Tony Oursler

Boca Raton Museum of Art’s Newest Exhibition Delves into The Supernatural

By Rachel Galvin

Abracadabra … was a rabbit really pulled out of a hat? Was that woman really sawed in half? Did that person just disappear? A magician makes the viewer believe the unbelievable and never reveals their secrets. The air of mystery surrounding the practice brings magic lovers always back for more.

The power of magical thinking … The desire to pull back the veil and see what lies beyond continues to tempt and tantalize people. The idea of being able to speak to a loved one who has passed on is also enticing, so enticing that some people have taken advantage of this yearning, making a practice out of their deceptions. 

Psychics, mediums and magicians have used their smoke, mirrors and tricks to draw people in and take their money for a long time. This practice really took hold in America in the mid 1800s around the time of the Civil War when this country saw death on a scale never before seen, leaving a grieving nation to search for answers. It also was the time when new technology like photographs could be manipulated to make people see ghosts in the picture. Also, the lack of electric light helped mediums to add to the spooky ambience of a seance and do unseen tricks of the eye to add to the show. As technology progressed, they had a harder time, however. Plus, some skeptics sought to debunk these no good doers. 

The history of Spirtualism, magic and magical thinking are presented in a new exhibition at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, which lasts until May 12. Here, guests can read all about some of the original people involved in the movement and those who were interested in it, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Sherlock Holmes. They can find all about the Amazing Randi and others who sought to bring light to the deception.

It also showcases art from 30 artists, including Urs Fischer, Alfredo Jaar, Jim Shaw, Sarah Charlesworth, Glenn Kaino, Christian Jankowski, Kristin Lucas, Jane Hammond, Gavin Turk, Michael Ray Charles, Faisal Abdu’Allah, Mark Thomas Gibson, Robin Tewes, Jeanette Andrews, Stephen Berkman, Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A.) and Jacob Hicks, among others.

Francesca Panetta and Haley Burgund’s installation “In Event of Moon Disaster,” is a room right out of the 1960s, vintage wallpaper and all, with a TV projecting “the moon landing,” except their version is a little different. In their version, the 1969 moon landing ended in tragedy. Their installation showcases how deep fake technology can be used to manipulate, something that is trending today in a post-truth era in which the issue over AI is on the forefront of the news.

Another part of the exhibit that touches on the same subject is a video showcasing The Yes Men, who go to events impersonating government officials, corporate officers and salesmen in real life events. They also had an inflatable “SurvivaBall,” a ridiculous looking bloated ball-shaped outfit that someone could wear that was a self-contained living unit in case of emergency like surviving disasters caused by Global Warming . Looking at it, it is hard to believe people would think it was a real concept, but they were able to convince some people all in an effort to call attention to the problems in the world.

The exhibition also includes artwork by Jacob Hicks utilizing Chat GPT, and there is another video about deep fakes by the museum team. In addition, they commissioned artist Jeanette Andrews to create a box in which a person could put their hands in in a certain way and manipulate a book, and when flipping the pages in a certain way, they would “magically” alter their appearance. While people waited in line to try this book magic out for themselves, they could look on the wall and see other interesting information, such as how the CIA has used shoelaces to communicate in code. 

Nearby, people were taken aback by a display of playing cards stuck into the wall that when looked at in a certain way suddenly unveiled a face, the face of magician Ricky Jay, who was known for throwing playing cards and piercing things, like a watermelon. Artist Glenn Kaino remembers him by creating this interesting exhibit, which was put together in secret by throwing cards against the wall and puncturing the wall in a similar fashion.

The biggest exhibit was that of Tony Oursler, a multimedia artist who worked with David Bowie on some music videos. His far out and otherworldly art certainly fits the theme. His use of projections makes his art and sculpture come alive, seeming to look at and talk to the guests, leaving them perhaps a bit unsettled.

This magical exhibit, which is called “Smoke and Mirrors: Magical Thinking in Contemporary Art,” is the only exhibition in South Florida and in the entire southeast U.S. to win the prestigious Teiger Foundation 2023 Grant Award for Curator Led Projects. The exhibition was curated by Kathleen Goncharov.

To kick off the exhibition, which opened Nov. 15, the museum held a special private event in the courtyard complete with a woman wearing a huge hoop skirt, looking like a mix between a showgirl and Glenda the Good Witch, greeting people, adding to the festivity, and a curtain filled with mirrors and a bell that when you rang it, a mysterious gloved  hand came out of the back to hand you a glass of champagne. Before entering the museum to get the first look at the exhibit, guests could mingle in the smoky ambience and enjoy crafted cocktails, light bites and beautiful classical music with harp, flute and cello.

For more information, visit www.bocamuseum.org.

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