JMM 2018 San Diego – Art Exhibit

Happy New Year!
It is Januar and  that means it is time for the Joint Mathematics Meeting. This year the conference was held at the San Diego convention center and had an attendance of over 5000 participants. The JMM Art Exhibition is always a great way for me to start of the year. There is always a very diverse selection of art on display, featuring many different themes, techniques, and materials. I was not disappointed this year. I will only be able to mention a sampling of the of the great work…but here are a few of my favorites.

James Stasiak – “into the sun” – 38 x 50 cm – Archival glicée print – 2017

Photographer James Stasiak’s print “into the sun” transforms an original photograph into a mandala type abstraction through the use mathematical manipulation. Photo editing software allows Stasiak to carry out his prescribed sequence of rotations and reflections to create symmetrical properties. The result is a dense web of color that draw the viewers eye into the center of the print.

Yvette Kaiser Smith – Excerpts from pi (187-210) (554-580) (685-711)
29 x 45 x 5 cm – Laser-cut acrylic sheet, nylon spacers, capped hardware. Three panels: clear with green edge, 31% light transmission white, and fluorescent green. – 2016

Yvette Kaiser Smith has created a language of shapes to represent digits and then laser-cuts these shapes into colored transparent acrylic sheets. The sequence of these shapes is based on the sequence of particular sets of digits found within the irrational numbers e and pi. Irrational numbers are numbers that cannot be written as a fraction and have never ending, non repeating decimal representation. The work in the exhibit “Excerpts from pi (187-210) (554-580) (685-711)” features three panels The top panel shows the 187th to the 210th digit in the number pi. By layering the panels of different colors with space between them Smith has created a complex arrangement of shape light and color. The irrational numbers and especially pi have a type of mysterious reputation and a history of human fascination. This sculpture examines the number at it’s most finite level and then through technique and material expresses the beauty within.
Susan Happersett

SEEING MATH – Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf College

Math Art Workshop January 6, 2018
Author of this blog post, artist Sarah Stengle will teach a Math Art Workshop from 10 a.m. to 12 noon on January 6, 2018, at the Center for Art and Dance, which is in the same building as the Flaten Art Museum. Everyone is welcome to attend. Further information can be found here

Seeing Math at Flaten Art Museum at St. Olaf College, in Northfield, Minnesota, is a masterfully curated interdisciplinary exhibit featuring six contemporary artists who are clearly comfortable working creatively with mathematical concepts. Curator Taylor Davis selected works by Daniel Dean, Tracy Krumm, Emily Lynch Victory, Ben Moren, Margaret Pezalla-Granlund, and Roman Verostko that span a wide range of media, from video through painting to fiber art. The works incorporate mathematical topics such as algorithms, infinity, geometry, counting systems, and the fourth dimension.

Emily Lynch Victory, P1: Number System Base 16, 2016

Emily Lynch Victory’s P1: Number System Base 16 is a complex set of grids of linear marks that resemble scraffito. At a distance her work appears to be an imposing minimalist painting with a densely worked surface. Upon closer examination the grid turns out to be a visual mapping of numbers expressed in different base systems. Visitors can appreciate the beauty of the accumulated markings with or without unraveling the system of numerical notations that generated the imagery.

Daniel Dean, Infinity, 2015

At first glance, Infinity, by Daniel Dean, also closely resembles a minimalist work of art. The pristine construction and electric blue glow are reminiscent of Donald Judd’s light sculptures. The title Infinity combined with the circular motion of the light can be interpreted as metaphor for the cycle of life. But the image in the lighted panels is a painfully familiar one: the one that appears when our computer gets stuck in processing a task. Dean plays with the sublime notions of infinity and light using an image that is also an everyday symbol of frustration, an image that simultaneously evokes the feeling of things taking “forever” while waiting around in the prosaic realm of electronic dysfunction.

Ben Moren, River Suspension, (Analysis), 2015

Ben Moren’s video installation River Suspension (Analysis) captures multiple images of the artist apparently hovering in mid-air over a river. The effect is starkly surreal. Using a very high-speed camera developed by the military for analyzing the trajectory of ballistic weapons, he instead tracks the trajectory of his own leaping body. The frames are so numerous that motion is nearly frozen, confounding our sense of time and gravity. Usually talk about the trajectory of an artist is in reference to a career path, not the physical body of the artist in motion. Moren elicits a complex emotional response to his fairly simple action, jumping, by modeling his trajectory physically and technically in a context where one expects pure metaphor.

This highly engaging exhibit also includes examples of book art, fiber art, algorithmic art and models of tesseracts (cubes imagined in the fourth dimension). Attendees who linger will be rewarded both by the masterful work exhibited and by the varied depth of information provided. The text panels are unusually well written, and additionally there is a table with an array of enjoyable mathematical puzzles, models, and books.

Seeing Math is on view through January 15, 2018, at Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. It is inspired by works of mathematically themed art acquired with The Arnold Ostebee ’72 and Kay Smith Endowed Fund for Mathematical Art. Established in 2014, this fund supports the acquisition and display of mathematically themed art at St. Olaf College. The museum will be closed during winter break, December 10, 2017 through January 2, 2018.

Sarah Stengle


My Artist’s Statement in the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts

The current (December 2017) issue of the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts (JMA) is introducing a new feature, highlighting individual artists through their statements. The fist artist covered is yours truly.

Publisher Taylor & Francis is making the article available to everyone. You can read it here. The accompanying picture is also on the cover of JMA this issue.

Happy Holidays!

Kelsey Brookes at the Jacob Lewis Gallery

Kelsey Brookes current solo exhibition at the Jacob Lewis gallery is titled ” The Mathematics Underlying Art”. I was so happy to see that the Fibonacci Sequence is a major theme for these large scale paintings. Each square canvas is divided into thirteen (13 is a Fibonacci Number) wedges radiating from the center point. Then dots are made along each dividing line at intervals that correspond to the Fibonacci Sequence.

”1.618 ( Golden Ratio) Indigo”, 2017

An intricate concentric pattern is painted around each dot, filling the surface.  The waves and undulations in this detailed work allude to the fact that Brookes is also microbiologist.

”1.618 ( Golden Ratio) Indigo”, 2017 (detail)

There are two sets of systems at work in this series. There is the overall predetermined structure, which features order 13 rotational symmetry and the uses the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio to place each circle. Within this architecture,when you look more closely at the paintings you see the freer, expressive style . The mathematical structure creates a sense of order to contain the movement of the patterns.

“1.618 (Golden ratio) Red” 2017

Susan Happersett

Rita McBride at Dia:Chelsea

“Particulates” is Rita MacBride’s new site-specific installation commissioned by Dia for their Chelsea location. McBride has used industrial high-intensity light to define the space formed by a hyperbola rotated around an axis.
The bright green laser beams create the lines for this 3-D drawing. The atmospheric properties of the airflow in the gallery create a sense of motion. Dust and other particulates are caught in the blast of lasers and become dancing reflections of light. This results in an otherworldly experience for the viewer.
Susan Happersett

Eva Mantell: Finding Structural Beauty in the Ephemeral

by Sarah Stengle

Artist Eva Mantell applies meticulous attention to materials that are on the verge of being discarded. The resulting artwork is complex, highly ordered and the humble materials are lent a poetic weightlessness. The organizing principles that generate her constructs are deceptively simple. She sets rules or parameters, which when followed or repeated, produce complex results. Her studio production is process-driven in that the final result is not known at the start, but rather produced by intuitively following the simple rules she sets out for herself.

Turing Patterns taken from David A. Young’s Article, A local Activator-Inhibitor Model of Vertebrate Skin Patterns, Mathematical Biosciences, Volume 72 issue 1, November 1984, page 51.

She likened her approach to art to Alan Turing’s approach to understanding the morphogenesis of flowers. Posing the question “How does a flower know how to become a flower?” Turing spent the last years of his mathematical career looking closely at ordinary flowers. His mathematical inquiry into biological morphogenesis worked with simple pairings of activators and inhibitors that behaved in predictable ways but produced complex results as they interacted over time. Similarly Ms. Mantell observes ordinary things, applies simple parameters to generate conceptually and aesthetically complex results in her artwork.

Cloud Map, torn magazine page, wax, 8 x 10″ 2017

With Cloud Map, Ms. Mantell started with a cigarette advertisement from a magazine. She imposed the restriction of using only her bare hands to create a drawing; no tools or other materials were used. Then she set out to remove as much material as possible while still retaining the structural integrity of the original sheet of paper.  The results closely resemble Turing patterns. A torn hole could never be too large or the integrity of the underlying image would be destroyed; neither could the supporting matrix remain too thick or the challenge of removing as much material as possible would not have been met.  Although the holes were torn in an intuitive manner, one could imagine that “completeness” was the inhibitor and “removing” was the activator.

There is an emotional quality to the act of removing. The substrate, already disposable, moves towards fragility. Being damaged while remaining recognizably whole has parallels with being ill or wounded and yet continuing to live. The sense of vulnerability is underscored by leaving only the nicotine warning intact and legible.

The touch of the hand is key to understanding the artwork. At first glance Nicotine appears to be a perforated and colorful lattice.  Closer examination reveals the nearly disposable substrate and the patience evident in the handwork. The careful attention and repeated touching of the material elevates the sheet of paper out of the realm of rubbish into the realm of a carefully realized work of art. In this sense Ms. Mantell’s work is transformative, use mundane materials to reflect on the nature of transience.

This Little Palace, cut paper cup, wax, 8 x 8 x 5″ 2017

Another body of work was the project transforming discarded paper coffee cups into space filling sculptural objects. She set herself the challenge of making the cup occupy as much volumes as possible without either adding or removing materials. Many of the artist’s solution approach surface filling curves before being expanded into a elaborate brambles resembling tumbleweeds or feathers. Starting with a familiar object on the brink of its own extinction, she expands it to occupy more time, in the form of her careful attention to it, and space.

By exploring simple principles with a meditative and deeply human eye, Eva Mantell explores pattern in nature using materials that refer to our everyday lives. The patience and care with which she attends to disposable objects makes us question our relationship to the human detritus our culture thoughtlessly produces. Her work gently but clearly underscores the importance of noticing the overlooked and finding structure and beauty in the ephemeral.

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Eva Mantell:  lives in Princeton, NJ and has exhibited her sculpture, painting and video at the Monmouth Museum, the Hunterdon Museum, the Bernstein Gallery at Princeton University, the Abington Art Center, the Jersey City Museum and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. She has a BA from Penn and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in NYC. She curates, teaches and speaks about art including the recent Art as Activism, at the exhibit Fight or Flight at The Painting Center, NYC. She has a special interest in arts engagement and community outreach and her teaching has been included in Designing and Delivering Arts Programs for Older Adult Learners, published by the National Center for Creative Aging in Washington, DC. In January 2018, her work will be on view in a group exhibit in Brooklyn, NY at Eva’s website is


Delirious at The MET Breuer: “Excess”

The MET Breuer’s current exhibition Delirious includes about two dozen art works that are related to Mathematics. The Section of the show titled “Excess” features work that involves repetitive series.
Here is Francois Morellet’s rule based painting “4 Grids 0° – 22.5° – 45° – 67.5°”  from 1958. Morellet has layered a series of four square grids rotated by the prescribed number of degrees. Like an interference pattern, the white sections pop in the intricate web of black lines.
Hanna Darboven manipulates the digits in calendar dates in her serial drawing “00-99=No1-2K-20K” from 1969-70:
Darboven’s work involves the repetition of predetermined arithmetic operations. To me it functions as a type of visual number poetry.
Delirious is really an amazing exhibit. I have only offered a brief sampling of the work on display. There is even a showcase with some of Sol Lewitt’s note books! If you are in NYC in the next few months I strongly recommend taking some time to have a look. If you can not make it to the museum, there are some images on their website and they have published a nice catalog.
Susan Happersett

Delirious – Vertigo at the MET Breuer

When I heard the title “Delirious” of the current exhibition at the MET Breuer I did not immediately think Math Art. This show explores art from the 1950-1980 period that was in reaction to the tumultuous time after WWII. It includes a broad range of styles and themes. Two sections in particular feature work with mathematical implications :”Vertigo” and “Excess”. The introductory wall signage even mentions the artists’ use of mathematics and geometry.
There were so many pieces in this show that I would like to discuss that I will talk about it in two blog posts
One of the sections in the show is called “Vertigo”. Displayed in this area is work that warps the viewer’s perspective of space.
The 1965 painting  “Snap Roll” by Dean Fleming uses flat isosceles triangles, trapezoids, and a single central parallelogram to produce the illusion of a 3-D form simultaneously pushing out of the plane of the canvas, and retreating into the same plane. This disorienting phenomenon disputes Euclidean Geometry.
Robert Smithson’s Untitled (Model) from 1967 consists of a square grid of plastic panels. Carving away layers to reveal a diagonal step pattern, Smithson creates reflective symmetry. Although all of the ends of the elements retain their square shape along each column and row, the openings appear to stretch and warp. This sculpture questions the way space changes when we go from a 2-D flat plane into 3-D object.
There were just so many wonderful examples of mathematically inspired art in this exhibit, it is hard to do it justice in a blog format. Next time I will write about the section titled “Excess”.
Susan Happersett

Mario Merz in Arte Povera at Hausser & Wirth

The exhibit “Arte Povera” curated by Ingvild Goetz at the Hausser & Wirth Gallery celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Italian artistic movement. Curator Germano Celant came up with the name “Arte Povera” which translates to “Poor Art”.  Although the artists in the group had different  practices, they were united in their rejection of the commercial leanings of Western art and chose to use everyday or “poor” materials in there work. Although a number of the artists made mathematically influenced work, Mario Merz offers the most direct connections. Merz created a large body of work over many years based on the Fibonacci Sequence.
This large wall installation from 1991 titled “Crocodilus Fibonacci” features the sequence’s digits in neon lights.
 Here are some examples from a portfolio of lithographs based on the Fibonacci sequence and the growth patterns of plants  “Da un erbario raccolto nel 1979 in Woga-Woga, Australia” (From an herbarium gathered in 1979 in Woga-Woga, Australia) .
All pictures courtesy of the gallery.
Susan Happersett