Given our current landscape of fake news, alternative facts, and all manner of misinformation and paranoia, it seems alarmingly prescient for it to only have been 2010 when curator Doug Eklund first brought up the possibility of curating a show on art and conspiracy with the late iconoclast Mike Kelley. Inspired by a 1991 conversation between Kelley and fellow abjectionist John Miller discussing the lack of serious dialogue on the subject, the current exhibition "Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy" on the fourth floor of the Met Breuer is in some ways, largely curated by Kelley himself. Using a list of artists mentioned in that initial conversation as its jumping off point, the current show features 70 works by 30 artists, including Kelley and his contemporaries Jim Shaw, Raymond Pettibon, Sue Williams, and Tony Oursler, as well as recent additions like Trevor Paglen, Jenny Holzer, and Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck.
Setting its start date at 1969, this exhibition is the first to survey what is clearly a cultural zeitgeist—one whose distinctly American flavor finds itself deeply rooted in the counter-cultural brew of Watergate, Vietnam, moon landings, and Helter Skelter. Co-curated by Ian Alteveer at the Met's department of Modern and Contemporary art (Eklund and Alteveer joke about their good cop, bad cop dynamic), "Everything is Connected" shows two sides of the conspiratorial coin. There's certainly the expected gratification of some freaky, area 51 stuff—we're talking Free Mason gnomes, aliens, ancient civilizations contacting their secret society of progeny thru symbols in rocks, and all other manner of creatures from black lagoons. What's most striking about the show, however, are the moments in which we see how the term "conspiracy" has been used as a blanket to obfuscate the works of activists and marginalized communities looking to seek out their own truths beyond the ones that seek to oppress them. In other words, the moments in which conspiracy theory reveals itself to maybe, possibly be truth.