The Museum of Illusions: Optical Tricks in Art

Review by Nadia Tahoun




This isn’t a small novel filled with pencilings and scribbled notes that you shove into your purse or back pocket whilst waiting for the train.


This is an art book.


It’s big and someone visiting your apartment will probably flip through it at one point. It hangs pendulously, impossibly, beautifully on the cover. One of Magritte’s masterpieces, the painting’s exemplary for this compendium of master illusionists, optical tricksters, and generally artful surrealism.


After the cover, the introduction: “works of art that depend on illusion generate an uncertain pleasure because they make us their victims.”


A guide of a kind, each two page entry sports an image and explanatory text. Ranging from trompe l’oeil in Roman and Greek antiquity to contemporary artists like Anish Kapoor and Yayoi Kusama, this book, in the way it’s curated and titled is it’s own museum. Instead of listing artists in chronological order Delavaux groups them in five conceptual departments, Trompe l’oeil, Hidden Meanings, The [in]human body, Optical Challenges, and Beyond Reality. Trompe l’oeil groups artist who work with forced perspective from the walls of Pompeii to Banksy. While Beyond Reality hangs on the masters Rene Magritte and M.C. Escher.


An art book.

Dutifully heavy, easily laid out, and ripe for idle perusal, it beckons for the waiting guest from its slot on the coffee table, to be flipped through and dazzle whilst waiting for their host to finish this or that. We all liked to be tricked after all.


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Céline Delavaux, The Museum of Illusions: Optical Tricks in Art, (Prestel, 2013)
Images: Cover and interior images from The Museum of Illusions: Optical Tricks in Art