Medium-Specific Trompe l'Oeil: Notes Toward a General Theory
Noam M. Elcott, Associate Professor of Modern Art and Media, Columbia University
Abstract: Whether the object of praise—as was the case at least since Pliny recounted the famous tale of Zeuxis, Parrhasius, the grapes that fooled the birds, and the curtain the fooled Zeuxis—or scorn, since at least the 18th century, when the term was coined, trompe l’oeil implied the near-complete suppression of the chosen material and medium (generally painting) in favor the illusory real presence of the depicted objects. I would like to chart a parallel history of trompe l’oeil, one in which the material substrate is constitutive of the illusion. Whereas the received wisdom asserts trompe l’oeil as the paradigmatic instance of medium-self-effacement, I chart a counter history of trompe l’oeil as a complex operation of medium-self-advertisement; in short: a media genealogy of medium-specific trompe l’oeil.
Bio: Noam M. Elcott is Associate Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, Chair of Art Humanities, an editor of the journal Grey Room, co-director of the Center for Comparative Media at Columbia University, and co-director of The August Sander Project (MoMA/Columbia). He is the author of Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media (University of Chicago Press, 2016), winner of the 2017 Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship Award, as well as essays on art, film, and media, published in leading journals, anthologies, and exhibition catalogues. His current book project is Art in the First Screen Age: László Moholy-Nagy and the Cinefication of the Arts (University of Chicago Press).