by Anna Rathman
Nicholas Frank’s “Reality, whatever that is” examines the body of his work through excerpts from his biography. The pages on display cover projects such as his Hermetic Archive, “Super Bowl Symphony”, and videos like “The Secret”. The only problem is it is unclear which of these projects actually exist, and to what extent the artist is tricking his audience.
In a page from his biography, Frank explains his interest in the “realness of fake events.” This, perhaps, is the key to understanding “Reality, whatever it is”. The show is constructed to make fact and fiction unintelligible, and make fake events realities. As the 25¢ postcard “At the Imperial Palace, the Making of the Next Emperor, with Audience” explains, the show is rooted in a Chinese literary tradition, in which the narrator acts as historian and is free to blend reality and fiction.
The mechanisms of display are what give Frank’s work substance. There are only 13 pages from Nicholas Frank Biography on display; however, the pages are selected from different points of the book, with page 282 being the highest. The pages on display allude to their inclusion in a much larger work, which is never physically presented. To legitimize some of the books claims, Frank includes text-paintings that are also documented in the biography. Their physical presence makes the existence of other works and projects more believable, and helps obscure the artist’s bluff. Most of the other works discussed are supposedly a part of the Hermetic Archive, thus explaining their absence from the show. It is never quite clear what is true in “Reality, whatever that is”, but the presence of deception is engaging and telling of human nature.
While it would seem a majority of the viewer’s focus would be on deciphering fact from fiction, the show never feels bogged down by the concept. Once the viewer suspends determining what is real and fake, then the show can be appreciated as both. Frank is both clever and humorous in his accounts. He satirizes art texts and biographies by writing about his own work in a grandiose way, but in a mass-market paperback format with several editions. The content and its presentation make reading about art in a gallery, rather than looking at art objects, a justifiable endeavor.