A shiny new black telescope stands in a gallery run by the School of the Art Institute. Hanging on the walls are ten shiny black rectangular objects. These large Cibachrome photographs–part of a series called “Constellations”–look like obsidian flecked with whitish dots, blobs, and specks. With titles like Perseus and Cygnus, the photos seem obviously to be shots of the night sky.

Not quite. The photographs by Catalonian artist Joan Fontcuberta may be depictions of the sky, but those little white things are not heavenly bodies–they’re insects flattened on his car’s windshield. Fontcuberta photographed the bug-spattered glass against a black backdrop, one more project in his series of pseudofactual fictions.

For a show called “Sputnik” he invented a tale of a cosmonaut lost in space in the 60s named Ivan Istochnikov, assembling a traveling exhibit of artifacts and fake photos about this tragic chapter in space history. “It was astonishing,” said Fontcuberta, who lives in Barcelona. “I received a formal complaint from the Russian embassy when the show appeared in Madrid.” For another project he created photographs that supposedly inspired certain paintings by Picasso. Originally slated to appear in a Spanish museum devoted to the artist, the installation was yanked at the last minute out of concern that it might tarnish that late luminary.

The 43-year-old Fontcuberta was trained early in artifice: he worked in his father’s ad agency for a few years before turning to journalism and photography. An article he wrote for a Spanish newspaper expressed skepticism about a photograph released by the kidnappers of Aldo Moro, the leader of Italy’s Christian Democratic Party; it was later confirmed that the photo had been retouched. When Fontcuberta taught a class at SAIC in 1991, he assigned his students the task of fabricating photographic proof that the Loch Ness monster lived in Lake Michigan.

“I’m not dealing with falsification,” says Fontcuberta. “In an ironical tone I’m trying to distrust authority. I grew up in Franco’s period, so I’m used to censorship and reading between the lines.”

Fontcuberta’s “Constellations” are on display at SAIC’s Exhibition Studies Center, 1926 N. Halsted (773-665-4802), through January 31. They’re part of “Concerning Truth,” a group exhibit at the center, Gallery 400, and the TBA Exhibition Space. The opening reception is Friday from 6 to 9; admission is free.

–Bill Stamets

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): From “Constellations” by Joan Fontcuberta photo by Bill Stamets.