Advanced Geometry Tours Sol Lewitt Exhibit
The placard next to wall drawing #852 reads, “A wall divided from the upper left to the lower right by a curvy line; left: glossy yellow; right: glossy purple.” On Monday, April 15th, Mr. Turner’s Advanced Geometry classes explored the intersection of art and math at Mass MoCA’s Sol Lewitt exhibit.
Before immersing ourselves in Lewitt’s work, Karen, our tour guide, took us to building #5 to introduce two crucial concepts of contemporary art: its temporal existence and each installation’s inimitability. Xu Bing’s modern interpretation of a pastoral scene from an ancient Chinese scroll was a perfect example. Using material found near North Adams, MA, Bing strategically placed these objects behind a semi-opaque piece of glass to recreate the scene. Viewed from the front, it appeared as though he’d used a black brush to paint a replica of the scroll onto a large piece of paper. However, visible behind the installation were the pine branches, trash, and plastic bags he’d transformed to become the hut, trees, and clouds in the scene. This iteration of the piece will only exist as long as Bing’s exhibit is on display at Mass MoCA.
Bing, one of the most renowned Chinese contemporary artists, derived some of his inspiration from Lewitt. With that segue, we headed into the 27,000 square-foot building housing the museum’s Lewitt collection until 2033. Renowned for separating the concept behind his art and the work itself, Lewitt’s instructions described different geometric forms to be interpreted and drawn by draftsmen. Fourth former Austin Hovey was impressed by his focus on the idea of his art rather than the implementation. “He made the directions for his work but let others draw the actual art.” As we traversed the three floors divided into Lewitt’s early, mid, and late career work, Karen asked students to identify the patterns in each piece. Third former Max Hofman was “surprised that he used math to create formulas to describe pieces of art that seem very complex. He was very creative.” Most impressive, his instructions were often only two to three sentences in length.
“My favorite piece was the one with two cubes. They were both shaded grey…At first it seemed as if the small cube sunk into the larger one but as I shifted my eyes across the drawing, the small cube popped out at me. He created an optical illusion,” stated third former Josiah Tolvo. Karen pointed out Lewitt’s impressive understanding of how our brain interprets images and how he liked to trick the viewer’s mind. Third former Savanna Fortgang said, “As you looked longer at his work, you would observe more and more details.”
As we progressed through the museum, third former Sophie Needles “was surprised by how much his minimalist style changed throughout his career. It went from very mathematically inspired diagrams to brightly colored images with no pattern.” Karen used this observation to provide some brief insight into color theory and we spent our time on the third floor shielding our eyes from some eye-popping pieces. We finished the day with a visit to Xu Bing’s 2 twenty-eight meter long and twelve ton phoenixes suspended from the ceiling.
It was exciting for students to see math outside the geometry classroom and think of art in terms of formulas. Math department chair and guest chaperone Kurt Schleunes was especially excited about Lewitt’s use of sine curves and his exploration of topology. Students returned to Berkshire ready to create their own Sol Lewitt inspired artwork and these will be on display around campus shortly.
-- Jasper Turner, Math teacher and Pro Vita Director