Where Art and Science Meet

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On display at the Mead Art Museum

Art and science are two different streams which rise from the same creative source and flow into the same ocean of the common culture, but the currents of these two streams flow in different beds.” Naum Gabo

People like to think of art and science as opposites. Art is traditionally regarded as the representation of forms, while science is the medium for building knowledge about the functions and forms of the universe. Scientists exist in the world of laws, ideas, and experiments, and artists lay claim to creative expression and exploration of the representation of forms, feelings, and moments in time. But art and science are also connected, and Constructivist art in the twentieth century developed this connection in innovative and significant ways.

In the essay “Art and the Scientist” J. D. Bernal argues that the modern art movement was connected to and stimulated by scientific and mathematical discoveries through a study of the forms that Constructivist artists in particular developed. Naum Gabo (1890–1977), Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975), and Henry Moore (1898–1986) are some of the artists from this period whose work expresses this connection between art and science. Without the influence of scientific and mathematical ideas of the time, their art — and sculpture in particular — would not have marked a groundbreaking change in modern art. The works of art by these artists currently on display at the Mead are examples of this influence and connection.

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On holilday at Happisburgh, Norfolk, 1931: (left to right) Ivon Hitchens, Irina Moore, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Mary Jenkins, whose husband Douglas took the picture.

Gabo, Hepworth, and Moore were friends who frequently worked together and shared ideas about art and sculpture. As a result of their personal relationships and the fact that they were all making art in the same period, their works explored similar forms and concepts of space and expressing movement. A recent reinstallation of the Mead’s galleries placed related works by these artists together: Gabo’s Vertical Construction No. 2, Hepworth’s Project for Wood and Strings, Trezion II, and Moore’s Stringed Figure. What they have in common is the interplay of interior and exterior spaces and the way this relationship parallels the mathematical concept of negative curvature.

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Naum Gabo (American, 1890-1977), Vertical Construction No.2 (The Waterfall),1965-66, bronze with stainless steel spring wire, Gift of the Julia A. Whitney Foundation, AC 2001.600

Gabo’s study of mathematical models resulted in sculptures that explore relationships between space, structure, and natural rhythms and forms. In Vertical Construction No. 2, which is attached to a slowly rotating motor, an inner space is cut out from curvilinear planes of metal, and metallic strings create tension between the core and the exterior.

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Barbara Hepworth (British, 1903-1975), Project for Wood and Strings, Trezion II, 1959, oil, gesso, pencil on board, Gift of Richard S. Zeisler, AC 1960.1

The drawing by Hepworth, Project for Wood and Strings, Trezion II, probably a preparatory sketch for a sculpture, creates a tension between spaces similar to Gabo’s. Hepworth in particular was fascinated by the idea of piercing space in her sculptures, and in this drawing creates an interior surface with a web of thin, intersecting lines that are accentuated by the smear of bright blue in the center. Whereas Gabo’s sculpture emphasizes separation of space using metallic surfaces, Hepworth employs color. Hepworth’s thin lines are related to the wires that Gabo uses to connect each part of the sculpture, and they serve to express the unity of interior and exterior surfaces and the complex curves present in nature.

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Henry Moore (British, 1898-1986), Stringed Figure, designed 1938, cast 1960, bronze, Gift of Bertram H. Bloch, Class of 1933, AC 1972.55

The use of curvature and strings cutting across different planes is also embodied in Moore’s sculpture Stringed Figure. In Circle, the important 1937 art book that Moore, Gabo, and Hepworth all contributed to, Moore states that sculpture is the best medium to attempt freely “the exploration of the world of pure form” (Circle 118). Moore, like Gabo, was fascinated by mathematical models and this interest informed his sculptures. The white strings that meet in the middle of the arc and pull together the two curving sides, create a taut connection between the gaping interior space and the polished exterior. Undulating planes in the sculpture’s interior generate interplay between light and shadow that recalls the natural forms Moore wanted to convey in his art.

Written by Catherine Rose O’Brien, Class of 2017

 

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Exhibitions: Timelines by Sandra Matthews

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Photographer Sandra Matthews started her ongoing portrait project – Timelines – in 1989. She writes, “I began a portrait project in which I photographed individual women – family, friends and acquaintances – against a backdrop of collaged newspaper.  Eighteen years later I returned to this project, making new backdrops, re-photographing some of the original subjects and adding new ones. The focus of the work shifted to the passage of time itself. I photographed not only individuals over time, but also generations alongside each other.”

The Mead currently has two of Matthews’ portraits on view (through June 29). The first is Amira and Nancy 1989 / Amira and Samari 2008 (above), which depicts a mother, Nancy, and her daughter, Amira, on the left, and grown-up Amira and her own daughter, Samari, on the right. The second is Ibi 1989/ Ibi 2007 (below), two portraits of one woman taken eighteen years apart.

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Matthews continues: “While the individuals I have photographed are drawn from my own circle of personal relationships, their lives are shaped by global factors. Collectively, they have experienced illness, violence, disability and loss, and also have grown, survived, met challenges and thrived. Taken together, the ‘Timelines’ allow me to engage more fully with my own historical moment.”

To see more of Matthews Timelines, visit her website.

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From the Collection: Prints by Katja Oxman

The following prints by German-born American artist Katja Oxman joined the collection just last year and are currently on display in the Mead’s New Arrivals exhibition (on view through June 29).

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This beautiful triptych, titled Sound of Water Over Rock, is a meticulously arranged still life. The title, taken from a passage in T. S. Eliot’s 1922 poem “The Waste Land” in which the speaker longs to hear the sound of water over a rock, subtly alludes to the diversity of forms in the print. Similar to Eliot’s complex and excursive poem, Oxman’s print is a mélange of the traditional and the modern, the soft and the sharply cut, the flat and the three-dimensional, the geometric and the impressionistic. Notice, for instance, the contrasts between the rug’s pattern, the renditions of Japanese prints, and Monet’s water lilies.

2013-109This print – In Yellow Hewn takes its title from nineteenth-century Amherst-born poet Emily Dickinson, who wrote, “Of Yellow was the outer Sky / In Yellower Yellow hewn / Till Saffron in Vermilion slid / Whose seam could not be shewn.” Within the print, one finds the connotation of “hewn” in the way two thin streaks of blue and yellow mirror each other over the mountains, as if indicating that the yellow sky is raggedly dissolving into the approaching night clouds. The window faces west; the table is already sunk in the hues of “Saffron” and “Vermillion.” Colorful postcards depicting well-known artworks on the tabletop and the flowering orchid curving over the scene aesthetically complement the distant sky. Although indicative of Oxman’s customary fondness for strictly structured shapes and her lack of shadows, this mountainous vista nevertheless betrays a pensive depth and hints at a great expanse beyond the confines of the room and the frame of the window.

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