Seeing Truth: Art, Science, and Making Knowledge (1750-2023)
Principal Investigator and Coordinator: Alexis L. Boylan
Co-Principal Investigator: Michael Patrick Lynch
Generously funded by the Luce Foundation
Seeing Truth: Art, Science, and Making Knowledge (1750-2023) seeks to challenge audiences to see art, science, and truth anew at a political moment when the very concepts of truth and facticity are under attack. Through innovative curation, critical dialogue, an invitation to engage new and diverse voices, and a new perspective on how to construct a socially just and environmentally sustainable traveling exhibition, the hope is that Seeing Truth will speak to the public and museum spaces in new ways to wrestle with important questions concerning truth and knowledge-making.
Unlike other exhibitions that attempt to highlight a single geographic or temporal aspect of the intersection of art and science, this show offers a definitive meta-analysis—a philosophical thesis and a disruption of authority in exhibition form. Seeing Truth will address these aims by bringing together scientific instruments, photographs, educational props, textbooks, paintings, taxidermy, expedition materials, and maps, among other objects, to prompt audiences to confront the languages of knowledge. As a result, the show will challenge notions of what counts as a “scientific” object or as “art,” which, in turn, will disrupt the assumption that there is only one way of understanding and valuing truth and knowledge.
Likewise, Seeing Truth aims to reimagine the impact of traveling exhibitions in our fragile ecosystem and across diverse social contexts, particularly through critical dialogues with local communities, histories, and biospheres. The traditional traveling exhibition is comprised of a group of objects and ideas prepackaged at one location and then sent—at great expense and using tremendously wasteful packing materials and resources—to a new location to plant this “expert” knowledge. The concept is hierarchical, unidirectional, and rigid, premised as it is on the authority of prepackaged “truths.”
Seeing Truth models a new kind of traveling exhibition. A core of “instigator” objects pulled from the vast archival collections of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (AMNH), will be photographed, researched, and made available for loans. As instigator objects, these pieces will be presented as problems, inquiries, and places from which to incite a dialogue rather than encourage the stability of expert authority. Each host location will consider their own collections, their own historical locations, and their own communities to build a unique, bespoke show and programming prompted by and in dialogue with the instigator objects. In other words, each exhibition mounted will instigate its own inquiry into truths about art and science, speak its own questions, and engage its diverse communities. Each exhibition will join a wider conversation by reusing, recycling, and reimagining the ideas and programming from other venues.
Seeing Truth looks to imagine new routes of knowledge between art and science and new truths that are generative, capacious, changeable, sustainable, and just.
Beginning Our Inquiry
The images below from the William Benton Museum of Art will be part of the opening exhibition of Seeing Truth. Swiveling between empirical, cultural, statistical, geographical, and aesthetic modes of representing and creating knowledge, these images at times flatter what our observations reveal to us about the world and, at other times, draw attention to the limits of our perspectives. But taken together, they begin our inquiry into the complex processes of knowledge-making at the heart of Seeing Truth.
Enrique Chagoya, Road Map (2003). Lithograph, 22 x 30”. William Benton Museum of Art, Contemporary World Art Fund.
Todd Gray, Don’t Fade Me Out #2 (1 out of 4 Black men under 25 are incarcerated) (1996). Chromogenic print with ink, 24 x 20”. William Benton Museum of Art, Louise Crombie Beach Memorial Fund.
Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Stereograph from a western survey (1880-1889). Albumen stereograph, 4 x 9 9/16”. William Benton Museum of Art, Gift of Samuel Charters and Ann Charters.
Thomas Moran, Bridge in the Pass of Glencoe, Scotland (1888). Etching and mezzotint, 9 3/16 x 11 5/8”. William Benton Museum of Art, Museum Purchase.
James Gillray, Siege de la Colonne de Ponpée—Science in the Pillory (1799). Etching, 24 7/8 x 18 7/8”. William Benton Museum of Art, Gift of Frank Maslan and Roslyne Eisenberg Rosenfield Maslan.
James Smillie, after F.A. Bridgman, A Lady of Cairo Visiting (1881). Etching, 9 ¼ x 7 ¾”. William Benton Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Norman Zlotsky.