"Four Corners" by Lane Hall and Lisa Moline.
If the world feels a little too chaotic this summer, retreat to the cool order of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Coordinates, which examines the intersection of art and mathematics, two fields often considered opposites.
“Art is about ideas; that’s its core. At its core, math is also about ideas,” says museum director Stephen Fleischman. “We thought it would be interesting to look at how artists work with and against numbers, and how they make order out of chaos.”
Fleischman says the idea for the show grew from a recent Center for the Humanities conference titled “Humanities by the Numbers.”
The works in Coordinates are drawn from the museum’s permanent collection and run the gamut from serene efforts at containment, like Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “Wrapped Automobile,” to Robert Flick’s “East of Lancaster, Along Highway 14, California.” In the latter piece, the artist splits the landscape into a grid of small black-and-white photographs providing “sequential views” of an area. On the entry wall is Donald Lipski’s “Texas Instruments,” a sculpture that reproduces the structure of a calculator — which the company once made — using engineering tools and other ephemera in place of numbers.
The show itself is organized into categories that suggest the functional use of mathematics, such as “To Map,” “To Plot,” “To Measure” and “To Code.” But some of the most interesting work includes art that bleeds into a more spiritual or humanistic realm. There are faces, such as in the digitized portraits of Chuck Close, or objects of religious expression, as in Sam Francis’ abstract mandala. There’s also the scientific whimsy of Sonya Y.S. Clark’s “Wig Series,” five brown fabric caps pulled through with thread to re-create the ordered symmetry of African American hair, based on the Fibonacci Sequence (where each number is the sum of the two numbers before it, a pattern behind certain spirals found in nature).
Curator Rick Axsom’s exhibit provides a unique lens on the museum’s collection and on art in general. “We really hope that people see the range of creativity that artists employ when looking at a particular subject,” Axsom says. “We haven’t just picked out crowd-pleasers, but work by artists that have never been on display [at MMoCA] before.”
Coordinates runs through Aug. 23. As always, admission to the museum is free.