“The Ritual of Construction” at the Byrdcliffe Guild, Woodstock, New York

The Kleinart/James Center for the Arts at the Byrdcliffe Guild in Woodstock, NY is currently presenting the exhibition “The Ritual of Construction. Curated by Jeanette Fintz, the show features work that has a foundation in geometry. Basic  mathematical  structures like circles, squares, and other polygons have been elevated through ritualistic repetition.

Benigna Chilla, “Crescents” 2013, Vegetable pigments and acrylic on canvas
Picture courtesy of the artist and the gallery

This large unstretched canvas by Benigna Chilla features a grid of circles segmented into squares and rectangles through the use of subtle coloration. An overlying pattern of six crescents incorporate a reflective symmetry. Chilla’s banner-like paintings have the spirit of devotional and meditative mandalas.

Stephen Westfall, “Live for Tomorrow”, 2010, oil and alkyd on canvas
Picture courtesy of the artist and the gallery

Stephen Westfall’s painting “Live for Tomorrow” is a colorful feast of reflective symmetry. The hard edge bands cutting diagonally across the four rectangles form a central square. Part of the interior section of the painting features order-4 rotational symmetry, but Westfall’s use of rectangles does not allow this to carry through the entire structure of the work, creating a kinetic pulse of color. I should probably mention that Stephen Westfall was my professor of Art Theory when I was in graduate school and I have always admired his work.

Laura Battle “Prism” 2016, Graphite on gray Arches paper
Picture courtesy of the artist and the gallery

Laura Battle “Prism” 2016, Graphite on gray Arches paper (Detail)
Picture courtesy of the artist and the gallery

Through the use of an astonishingly detailed repetitive accumulation of straight lines and concentric circles, Laura Battle creates “Prism”. From a distance, the subject of the drawing appears to be the central parallelogram that strategically touches all four edges of the drawing. Upon closer inspection it becomes apparent the real theme is the relationship between the two types of lines straight and curvi-linear lines. The intense process necessary for creating such an intense drawing definitely highlights the ritual aspects of the entire exhibition,
I am always happy to see an art show with a geometric intention. This diverse presentation goes a step further and asks us to go beyond the mathematical logic and think about geometry as a spiritual experience.
Susan Happersett
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Lygia Pape at The MET Breuer

Lygia Pape “A Multitude of Forms” currently on display at the MET Breuer is the first US museum retrospective for the Brazilian artist. A member of both the Grupo Frente and the Neoconcrete movement, both with emphasis on abstraction and geometry during the 1950’s and 1960’s. She continued to work while under dictatorship (1964-1985) broadening her creative practice to include film, performance, poetry and installations.
One of the most impressive works in the exhibition is “Livro du tempo” (“Book of Time’, 1961-1963) which consists of 365 wall sculptures, to represent 365 days in a year. Each of the forms is a variation on a square.
The squares have each had at least one section cut away, recolored and placed back on top of the square.
In the top example an L shaped corner has been cut away from the red square painted white then arranged so that the corner of the section meets the new corner of the red figure. In the bottom example the yellow square has had a smaller square (with sides 1/3 the length of the original) removed from the center of the top edge. Painted white and rotatated 45 degrees the new square is placed centered under the void.
 
The individual sculptural elements can be more complex with multiple identical cut-aways. The myriad of possibilities explored by Pape is what makes this work monumental. Created during the time of the Concrete movement “Livro du tempo”, this work included  an element of viewer interaction: viewers (back then) were allowed to touch the work. By including 365 elements the artist references the time it take for the earth’s rotation, tying the abstract geometry to the natural world.
The MET Breuer has presented a large comprehensive display of Pape’s art. I have only really talked about one work of art, there is so much more to discuss. Anyone in NYC this Spring should definitely plan to go to the museum.
Susan Happersett

Picturing Math at the MET

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is current exhibiting a show titled “Picturing Math: Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints”. The  exhibit features work from the 15th to the 21st Century. It presents  a cornucopia of beautiful work, and it was very difficult for me to choose just a few to discuss in this blog. Some of the most historically significant work was in the form of books that were opened to show prints.

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This first image is a page from Durer’s “Treatise on Measurement” from 1525.  This particular print Is “Construction of a Spiral Line”. Although the aesthetic significance of this work is undeniable, it is a technical diagram complete with measurements.
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This next page is “Dodecahedron and Variants”, from “Perspectiva corporum regularium” (Perspective of Regular Bodies). This is a 1568 treatise by Jost Amman based on the work of Wenzel Jamnitzer.  This work offers a progression of depictions of increasingly complex 3-D solids. Both of these books were created for the purpose of visualizing Mathematics as an expository tool, but because they are such gorgeous images they also highlight the beauty of the Mathematics.

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This exhibition also include contemporary art. A great example is Mel Bochner’s 1991 lithographs in the series “Counting Alternatives: The Wittgenstein Illustrations”. This particular print is titled “Eight Branch”. Referencing Bochner’s drawings from the 1970’s, this 1991 portfolio relates to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and his ideas about certainty. The print features two different lines of counting series, both starting with 0 in the top left corner. One line of digits goes horizontally across to the top right corner with 23 and the other goes diagonally across the page to the lower right corner with 33. Both routes end in the bottom left corner with 54.

Unlike the historical texts Bochner’s work is not about presenting mathematical principles to educate. Instead, he is using mathematics to express ideas. This is truly an excellent exhibit it will be up through April and I suggest that if you are in NYC, go see for yourself.

Susan Happersett

James Siena at Pace

James Siena artistic practice incorporates the use of rules to create art. I have written about his type writer work, as well as his sculptures, in earlier posts. Obviously I am a fan, and I was very excited to be able to see some of his recent drawings at the Pace Gallery on 24th st. This exhibition features work from three different series; “Manifolds,”, “Wanderers” , and “Nihilism”. All of the drawings are hand-drawn, geometric studies but the the series I feel that  has the most Mathematical implications is “Manifolds”.
James Siena Manifold X, 2015 No. 61220 Format of original photography: digital Photographer: Tom Barratt

James Siena
Manifold X, 2015
No. 61220
Format of original photography: digital
Photographer: Tom Barratt

“Manifold X” from 2015 addresses the artist’s interest in the field of Topology. Topology studies the properties of surfaces allowing them to change through the manipulations of bending growing and shrinking without being cut or broken or having attachments added. In “Manifold X” the orange, yellow and blue surfaces are homeomorphic, they each have nine holes within their shapes . The green surface is different because it ha sixteen holes. The four surface are woven together but each individual shape does not intersect itself.  Siena has managed to take a fairly complex field in mathematics and develop a system of rules to create work that aesthetically beautiful and also expresses his affinity for the subject matter from which it is derived.
Susan Happersett

Dan Walsh at Paula Cooper Gallery

Dan Walsh is known for his large-scale geometric work. I was introduced to his paintings at the 2014 Whitney Biennial. At his solo exhibition at the Paula Cooper gallery I was immediately drawn to his large scale square paintings. Not only do they feature geometry, they also present the theme of counting. In the painting “Fin” from 2016 the canvas is divided in to four horizontal rows of varying widths.  Thickest on the top with 3 sections divided by black and white parenthesis and narrowest on the bottom divided into six segments.

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Fin – 2016
[copyright] Dan Walsh. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Steven Probert

Since the width of each row is the same the progression 3, 4, 5, 6 segments presents a visual comparison of the fractions 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/6.

“Debut” from  2016 the artist uses the same 3, 4, 5, 6 divisions in horizontal rows but this time groupings of thin lozenge shapes make up the pattern.

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Debut, 2016
[copyright] Dan Walsh. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Steven Probert

There is a stack of 8 lozenges in the rows of three, 6 lozenges in the rows of four, 5 in the rows of five across, and 4 in the rows of six. Instead of having all of the shapes the same base color like in “Fin”, Walsh has created a scale with the more intense blues in the bottom row, grounding the picture space, almost like a landscape.

The painting “Circus”, also from 2106, presents a more architectural form. Working once again with rows of varying width this has seems to have more of a subject and background.

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Circus, 2016
[copyright] Dan Walsh. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Steven Probert

The alternating black and white coloring of the vertical thin lozenge-like strips create a tower. The rows grow from 13 to 15 to 17 to 19. Each row gaining one strip on both the left and the right sides.

Dan Walsh’s painting style is both precise and systematic, but his choice of numerical subject matter that everyone can relate to creates a joyful imagery.

Susan Happersett

A Million

I never planned to use this blog to discuss my political leanings but …

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My sister Laura and I participated in the Woman’s March in Washington this past weekend. The size of the crowd was of a magnitude I have never experienced before. Anyone who has seen my work knows i have a predisposition for counting. Years ago, I developed a system of creating counted mark-making drawings. One project – from 1999 – titled “A Million Markings for the Millennium features 125 prints, each with a 40 by 20 square grid. Each grid square contains 10 markings. The number one million is thrown around freely in rhetoric and dialog, causing it to loose its gravitas. This work is my visual answer to the question “Just How many is a million?”

EPSON MFP image

Standing on Indepence Avenue on Jan 21 I was overwhelmed by the sea of people all walking together. The societal effects of very large number was palatable. I had not planned on discussing these emotions in this forum but when the concept of counting becomes an issue with regards the Presidential inauguration crowd, I could not stop myself.

Artists, even Math artists, do not work in a bubble (although I have attempted to crawl under a rock for the last two months). Objective counting and measuring has become a source of political existential angst. There is really no such thing as “alternative accuracy”. Sometimes numbers speak louder than words.

I guess I will always be a Nasty Number Geek

Susan Happersett

Carmen Herrera at the Whitney

The Whitney Museum is currently presenting “Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight”. This outstanding exhibition examines work from 1948-1978. Born in Cuba and educated in Havana, New York and Paris, Herrera developed a distinctive hard-edge geometric style. This is a large show and would require more than one blog post to discuss in fill. I have decided to limit this post to paintings Herrera created in NY after she returned from studying in Paris (1952-1965).

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“Black and White”, 1962
Picture courtesy of the Whitney Museum

“Black and White” from 1962 is an excellent example from this time period. The shape of the actual canvas is an important element in the architecture of the work. By rotating the square there are no horizontal or vertical lines, this immediately disrupts the visual experience. Herrera limited her color pallet to two colors creating a dynamic tension of positive and negative space. In this work the thicker white strips are the same width as the thicker black strips but in the gallery there is an optical illusion where the white seems wider. The alternating of black and white parallel lines on the isosceles right triangles creates an order-2 rotational symmetry.

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“Horizontal”, 1965
Picture courtesy of the Whitney Museum

“Horizontal” from 1965 also features two colors and a square. This painting again relies on the shape of the canvas to define its structure, but in this case a circular format. The thin horizontal wedges amplify the push and pull of the red and blue triangles and circle segments, formed by the edge of the canvas (arc) and the sides of the squares (chords).

“Lines of Sight” is a long overdue solo museum exhibition for Carmen Herrera It is a welcome opportunity to appreciate the artist’s exciting use of geometry.

Susan Happersett

Anila Quayyum Agha at The Peabody Essex Museum

Anila Quayyum Agha’s installation titled “Intersections” is inspired by the intricate decorative elements she encountered in religious buildings as a child in Pakistan. The work consists of a laser cut steel cube lit from within. The lines of the lattice work on the cube are projected unto the painted walls, floor and ceiling of the gallery.

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The open work design is based on the geometric properties of Islamic patterning. Each side of the cube features a figure with 8-fold rotational symmetry inscribed with in a circle.

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These symmetries get disrupted in the projection onto the gallery surfaces. Especially along the lines where the walls and floor meet. The geometry on the cube is precise but the shadows must bend to fit within the boundaries of the gallery.

Susan Happersett

Math Art in Finland

Last week the Bridges organization held their annual conference in Jyväskylä, Finland. This international conference features lectures and workshops that highlight the connections between mathematics, music, art, architecture, education and culture. My favorite part of the five day event is the art exhibition. This year there was a wide range of styles, techniques and mediums on display. it is difficult to select only a few for this blog but I will try.

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Sharol Nau

Sharol Nau repurposes unwanted hard cover books to create sculptures that contain parabolas. A parabola is a curve with reflective symmetry, in which each point on the curve is the same distance from a fixed focus point and a fixed line. The artist  carefully measures and folds each page to the common focus point. The resulting portable sculpture preserves the exterior shape of the book but creates a new visual story for the interior.

 

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Nithikul Nimkulrat – “Black & White Striped Knots” – Knotted paper – 2015

Nithikul Nimkulrat hand-knots sculptures using paper string. Inspired by mathematical knot diagrams, the artist employs two colors of string to better indicate the positions of each stand within the knot structures.”Black & White Striped Knots”examines properties of knotted textiles.

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Nithikul Nimkulrat – “Black & White Striped Knots” – Knotted paper – 2015 (Detail)

Looking closely at the work, the circular patterns emerge. Overlapping circles cross to form four equal arcs. This creates a series of monotone circles with the arcs of adjacent circles forming a pattern with order-4 rotational symmetry. Nimkulrat’s intricate structure is a wonderful exploration of the mathematical possibilities in textile and fiber art.

Susan Happersett

“But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise” at The Guggenheim

I am always looking for exhibitions that reference the sociological implications of Mathematics in art. As I walked into this exhibition at the Guggenheim and read the introductory wall text I was immediately intrigued.  Here is a portion of that text written by Sara Raza, (UBS MAP Curator, Middle East and North Africa):

But a Storm is blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa, which is presented on Tower Levels 4 and 5, focuses on geometry as a tool for the illumination of creative historical and philosophical inquiry. While rooted in the mathematical “thinking sciences” geometry is used here as a conduit for theories around logic and the origin of meaning.

The artists in this exhibition have referenced social issues through a geometric perspective.

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This  2011 stainless steel and rubber installation by Nadia Kaabi-Linke titled “Flying Carpets” is based on the rectangular dimensions of carpets used by illegal street vendors to display and quickly carry away the wares they are selling to tourists in Venice Italy. Many of the vendors came from Africa and the Middle East and have traveled to Europe for a better, safer life. The title alludes to this exotic notion of travel on a Flying Carpet. Although the visual aesthetic is a complex geometric abstraction, it is merely the vehicle to express the plight of refugees.

Susan Happersett