Boundaries Between Illusion and Reality

Monumental paintings so lifelike they resemble photographs: that is the magic of photorealism. In Focus celebrates the beauty and craftsmanship of this art movement, inviting you to discover the stories behind these exquisite works from both old and new generations of artists.

Een uithangbord aan een gevel in de vorm van een bril, eronder de tekst Vision

United States, late 1960s. A group of young artists rebels against the prevailing fashion of abstract art, focusing instead on precisely painting everyday scenes using photos as their foundation. Thus, photorealism, also known as hyperrealism, is born.

The artists use self-captured photos or images from magazines. Captivated by their photographic view, on their canvases they play with framing, depth of field, and above all, the reflection of light.

Photorealism goes beyond mere replication. With deceptively real depictions of reflective shop windows, gleaming polished cars, and neon signs, the artists create a new reality, questioning the influence of visual culture.

gescihlderde torso van een vrouw, met witte onderbroek, geel kledingstuk op de achtergrond

The initial generation of photorealists is predominantly American, white, and male. The exhibition breaks this canon by featuring works from female, European, and Afro-American artists.

Schilderij gebaseerd op foto die de kunstenares van haar naakte lichaam maakte. Ingezoomd en gekadreerd waardoor niet meteen duidelijk is waar je naar kijkt.

Joan Semmel has been exploring the representation of the female body since the 1970s. Her larger-than-life nude portrait is based on a self-taken photo, criticising the sexualization of the female body through her work.

Een schilderij van een paspoort van een man met een hongaarse tekst eronder.

In Europe, photorealist artists respond to political and societal situations more openly. Hungarian-German artist László Lakner, for example, critices the limited freedom of movement behind the Iron Curtain with his piece Monatskarte von Béla Bartók.

In my painting they have their own luxury adventure that the cruise advertisements at the time excluded them from." - Esiri Erheriene-Essi

Esiri Erheriene-Essi created the painting Main Lounge Drinks on the Queen Mary (Cunard Lines) specially for this exhibition.

Een schilderij van mensen die aan een tafel zitten.

Erheriene-Essi responds to this painting by Malcolm Morley's (1966). Using a broad colour palette, she 'corrects' photos from the 1970s, where the printing technique was set to depict white skin tones.

Digital techniques provide contemporary artists with new possibilities.

Marilyn Minter uses Photoshop to manipulate dozens of photos into a single image that serves as the basis for a painting. Her work embodies the visual language of both pornography and the beauty industry.

Een schilderij van kleurrijke snoepverpakkingen en blikjes.

More than a technique, photorealism is an instrument for artists to respond with maximum impact to the spirit of the times.

The In Focus exhibition not only invites you to look more closely but also to think more critically.

Practical information

In Focus

A Closer Look at Photorealism.

In the late 1960s, a fascinating art movement emerged in America: Photorealism. Young artists rebelled against the prevailing fashion for abstract and conceptual art. They depicted everyday objects and scenes in the minutest detail, usually working in extremely large formats. Using photographs as the source for their enormous canvases, they were among the first artists to explore the impact of visual culture as the subject of their works. Paintings of urban scenes reflected in shop windows, close-ups of glistening cars, neon signs and typically American interiors: these and many more intriguing works can be admired in a major exhibition on Photorealism, opening in February 2024.

Critical Eye

Paintings so detailed and lifelike that you almost think they are photographs: that is the magic of Photorealism, also known as Hyperrealism. But what stories lie behind these astonishing works? And how do contemporary artists relate to this art movement’s visual language? The exhibition In Focus looks at Photorealism with a critical eye. We look beyond the established canon of white, male, American artists to highlight works by women artists, African-American artists, and artists from Western and Eastern Europe. Like the first generation of Photorealists, they use the Photorealist style to express their vision of the world. In Focus celebrates the beauty and craftsmanship of Photorealism and challenges visitors to take a closer look and to question old and new boundaries between illusion and reality.


Enrich your visit with the free MediaGuide. Listen to the stories of Esmee Postma (guest curator); Esiri Erheriene-Essi (artist); Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen (legal historian and media critic); Jaya Pelupessy (artist). They have chosen their favorite works and tell their stories based on personal experience, knowledge, and admiration.

The media guide can be used directly on your smartphone by scanning the QR code. Or open the media guide via this link. Tip: bring your headphones.

qr code to mediaguide

There is a surcharge of €3 for this exhibition.

Our collection

The core of the exhibition draws upon the Centraal Museum’s own extensive collection of American Photorealism, which features iconic works by Don Eddy, Malcolm Morley, Chuck Close, Richard Estes and many others. Around thirty works from this unique and fascinating collection will be on display.


  • Op scherp: Fotorealisme nader bekeken / In Focus: A closer look at photorealism, Hanneke Grootenboer, Esmee Postma, met een bijdrage van Linda Nochlin, WBOOKS, Centraal Museum (Utrecht, 2024), 128 p.
  • Pronken met het banale, door Anna van Leeuwen, (De Volkskrant, 10 februari 2024), p. 28 - 29

Collection in this exhibition

  • No objects from the Centraal Museum collection were shown in this exhibition

Persistent url

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