This Spring the Metropolitan Museum of Art expanded its exhibition space into what used to be the Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue and is now called the “MET Breuer”. “Unfinished, Thoughts Left Visible” is one of the two of the inaugural shows. “Unfinished” features art which was never fully completed either by determination of the artist or by chance. On the forth floor of the museum there is a gallery with more abstract work that deals with the concept of infinity. The nature of the infinite creates a continuum in the work, thus alluding completion.
One of best visual interpretations that I have seen of Zeno’s Arrow Paradox is in the form animated video. “La Flecha de Zenon” by Jorge Macchi and David Oubina begins the way many movies begin, with a count down of numerals from ten to one, but, when you think some other action will start after one, the numbers are divided in two and expressed as a decimal. As the numbers get smaller and smaller the length of the decimal gets longer and longer until the digits get so small they seem to disappear. We are left to believe they go on forever and zero is unattainable.
Another artist in the exhibition that has a relationship with infinity is Roman Opalka. Beginning in 1965, he began a series of paintings on which he started to paint the numbers up to infinity. Each set of digits is hand painted in white on a grey background. The artist completed 233 canvases but of course never completed the project.
These examples highlight the way numbers can be used as a tool to express themes of time and infinity and their effects on the human condition.
Pictures courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Every year in May the Metropolitan Museum of Art presents an elaborate fashion exhibit. The Costume Institute at the Museum produces a huge show, not in their usual space in the basement, but instead in transformed rooms in the main galleries. This year the exhibition is titled “MANUSxMACHINA, Fashion in the age of Technology”. It examines the way relationship of couture designer clothing and the use of machines. I was not expecting to see any Mathematical references, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Miyake Design Studio “Flying Saucer” , Dress (flat), 1994
The pleats on “Flying Saucer” Dress by Miyake Design were machine garment-pleated, creating a series of pleated circles. When lying flat it is easy to see the large center circle that create the body of the dress and smaller circles that form sleeves. The center points of the circles are in a straight line.
Miyake Design Studio “Flying Saucer” , Dress (unfolded), 1994
When the dress is opened to show its accordion construction, the body and sleeves become pleated cylinders.
Threeasfour, “Bahai” dress, 2014
The “Bahai” dress by design team Threeasfour features 3-D printed elements by Materialise. The structure of this dress alludes to complex geometries. Here is a quote from Threeasfour from the exhibit’s wall signage:
“Next-generation 3-D modeling programs were used to construct the six degrees of fractal growth where each element operates independently from the rest”.
It is obvious mathematics was an intrinsic tool used to create this garment. As more and more designers have access to advanced technology, there will be great opportunities for them to use Mathematical themes and processes in their work.
In between observations on math art in Manhattan galleries and beyond, a quick shout-out for my own art work. Two of my collaborations with Purgatory Pie Press are now for sale at the new “Paper Project” gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (back of the lobby on the left side when you come in through the main entrance).
Box of Chaos is a series of 4 paper sculptures based on Chaos Theory.
The “Happersett Accordion” is a modified, folded Moebius Strip
When you think about evening gowns, mathematics may not be the first think that comes to mind, but Charles James used geometry and engineering to design his stunning sculptural creations. In 1944, Vogue Magazine referred to his “Mathematical tailoring”.
The Metropolitan Museum has devised an exhibition that celebrates the mathematical structures of James’ work using technology to enhance the viewer experience. Robotic arms with cameras and video recorders present close-up details of structural elements of the gowns. X-rays provide an inside glimpse at the architectural support systems. Computer models provide 360 degree topological maps of the twists, spirals, and folds incorporated into the fashion. Unfortunately it was very dark in the gallery and impossible to take photos but the Metropolitan Museum has a great website with videos and images at metmuseum.org. I have included two of my favorite dresses.
Charles James – Four leaf clover dress
The evening dress “Four Leaf Clover” features a hyperbolic curve for a sweeping skirt.
Charles James – Spiral Dress
The green satin Spiral dress incorporates a spiral of fabric that seems to flow directly back into itself creating an Moebius strip that encircles the wearer.
There are many other examples in the exhibition of the complex geometry utilized to design these creations. Throughout his career James was also involved with teaching other designers to use his mathematical techniques. He invented his own schematic dress forms and mannequins that are also on display at the museum.
The engineering nature of Charles James’ approach to fashion combined with the technologically curated presentation of the Metropolitan Museum creates an exhibition that reveals connections between Mathematics and fashion design.
— Susan Happersett