Aura: Art and Authenticity
May 14, 2020–Ongoing
A Mellon Curatorial Research Assistantship Project
What makes a work of art authentic or not? In 1935 the critic Walter Benjamin posited that art’s authenticity was inextricable from its “aura,” or the perception of its original presence:
Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership. . . . The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity.
Questions about authenticity become puzzling, however, when we consider how some works of art change over time, or when they do not fit neatly into categories such as “ancient,” “modern,” “original,” “copy,” “genuine,” and “fake.” Some objects also come from cultural contexts where originality cannot be the litmus test of their charismatic presence. Aura: Art and Authenticity features several such works—as well as a few outright fakes—to explore the notion of authenticity in art.
This exhibition and accompanying publication and webpage are organized by Erik Yingling, Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Curatorial Research Assistant, Cantor Arts Center, and Cantor Arts Center staff. Erik is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art & Art History at Stanford University. We gratefully acknowledge support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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The Cantor Arts Center is located at the intersection of Museum Way and Lomita Drive in the heart of the arts district on the Stanford campus. The Cantor faces the Bing Concert Hall across Palm Drive, northwest of The Oval and the Main Quad.