The Big Idea

The Unreliable Narrator
Big Idea
The Big Idea

The Unreliable Narrator

September 1 - November 14, 2017

Every story has a narrator—a story-teller who guides the reader, listener or viewer from beginning to end. The narrator determines the pace at which a story unfolds, the order in which we learn about events, what details we’re given and what gets left out. The narrator shapes our experience of a story.

This BIG IDEA project considers the power of the narrator—a storyteller who shapes our experience of a story by determining the pace at which it unfolds, the order in which we learn about events, what details we’re given and what gets omitted. Sometimes narrators aren’t completely reliable, and their accounts can’t be implicitly trusted. They may lie (either directly or by omission) or perhaps misunderstand and misrepresent the events that occur in a story. An unreliable narrator may ask readers (or listeners, or viewers) to fill in the blanks, to question and to construct their own narrative structure as they read a book, watch a play or film, or view a work of art.

Sun Valley Museum of Arts’ exhibition for The Unreliable Narrator features art that invites viewers to question the story they are being told: What parts of the storyline can we believe? What don’t we know? What information do we need to fill in? Each of the exhibition’s six featured artists encourages us to engage with their artwork to complete its story.

View Exhibition Photo Gallery


The exhibition features works that invite the view-er to question the story they are being told. What can we believe? What don’t we know? What do we need to fill in? Viewers are asked to engage with the artwork to complete its story.

Participating artists:

Portland-based photographer Holly Andres is known for creating compelling narratives through carefully constructed images. Placing figures into elaborate sets, Andres makes photographs that unfold like a movie, with gaps in the story that she invites viewers to complete with their imaginations. Sun Valley Museum of Art commissioned Andres to create a new body of work for this exhibition during a residency at the Hailey House, which is also the birthplace of the iconic poet Ezra Pound.

Internationally known artist Mark Dion works in a variety of media, from drawing to sculpture, installation, photography and film. He regularly borrows the language, presentation formats and methods of science. Whether pursuing projects that mimic early 20th-century archaeology or the carefully constructed curiosity cabinet of the 16th century, Dion asks viewers to consider the idea of authenticity in art and in science.

Simon Evans™ is the artistic collaboration between Simon Evans and Sarah Lannan. Together, they create works on paper, often very funny, that combine text and image in explorations of everything from catalogues of their personal belongings to ideas for new continents. This exhibition includes two sculptural works, both made from paper, that consider what happens when viewers or readers can’t access the entirety of a text and thus must choose to believe—or not—an author or an artist.

As the artist-in-residence for the Natural Resources Defense Council, artist Jenny Kendler has developed a practice that draws attention to challenges facing the environment. Her project, Nabokov’s (Invented) Butterflies, marries her focus on the environment with her love of literature. Vladimir Nabokov, who regularly employed unreliable narrators in his own fiction, was also an amateur lepidopterist. His own invented butterfly species appear throughout his short stories and novels. Kendler has created a series of watercolor paintings based on Nabokov’s descriptions of these fictitious species.

New Orleans artist Gina Phillips works with fabric, thread, ink and paint to create works that weave together narrative strands drawn from history, folklore and myth. She pulls from sources as varied as the legends she heard grow-ing up in Kentucky, stories of early European settlers in the south and the indigenous peoples they encountered, and propaganda used to lure laborers to the Delta in the early 20th century. Combining personal, regional and national his-tories, Phillips presents her works in installations that offer multiple narrative  possibilities.

Chicago-based artist Deb Sokolow combines drawing and text in elaborate narrative works that use real historical figures as the starting point for dark but hilarious stories. From a failed CIA plot involving the minimalist sculptor Donald Judd to tales of interior designers who double as surveillance experts, Sokolow’s narratives combine conspiracy, humor and complex storylines in works that leave viewers wondering if just maybe the stories they tell could be true.

Special thanks to Jennifer E. Wilson for underwriting Holly Andres’s visual arts residency and project.