Model Theories is a summer group show up now at fordPROJECT, the midtown penthouse art gallery above the Ford Models agency. Model Theories is curated by two mathematicians, Philip Ording and Helena Kauppila. Helena Kauppila is a math professor at Columbia and an artist. Philip Ording is a CUNY math professor and geometry consultant to Richard Serra; he also curated Proofs and Refutations last year at David Zwirner Gallery with his wife, Alexandra Whitney, the gallery’s Director of Research & Exhibitions.
Mary Ellen Carrol, John Duff in "Model Theories" at fordPROJECT
Proofs and Refutations looped around five coordinates:
1. Playing with axiomatic systems and what mathematician Hermann Weyl termed the “range of indeterminacy” made available by logical deduction.
2. Quoting Imre Lakatos: “Mathematics, the product of human activity, alienates itself’ from the human activity which has been producing it. It becomes a living, growing organism, that acquires a certain autonomy from the activity which has produced it; it develops its own autonomous laws of growth, its own dialectic.” The certain autonomy of mathematics results in unexpected forms and structures.
3. Despite its abstraction, mathematics is a human activity and it cannot be entirely insulated from political and psychological forces.
4. The intrinsic limitations of mathematical logic are points of departure for two artists in the exhibition.
5. Artists who employ arithmetic or geometry with such a degree of personal awareness that mathematics operates more as poetics than science.
To each of these premises, I’ll propose a very contemporary artist: for #1, Xylor Jane; for #2, Sam Lewitt for his ferrofluid installation at the 2012 Whitney Biennial or Frank Benson for his Human Statue (Jessie); for #3, Liz Deschenes for her Tilt / Swing (360° field of vision, version 1); for #4, Christian Marclay for The Clock; and for #5, Sam Gordon for his recent Tromple L’Oeil solo show. All of these are debatable, of course.
Liz Deschenes, "Tilt / Swing (360° field of vision, version 1," 2009
Model Theories feels like an elaboration of the third premise. Maybe a concise illumination comes from Peter Coffin’s page on the Ford website. It reads, “His artwork often integrates an informal objectivity with the subjective to generate a dynamic between the two.” In form, his two sculptures in the show, from way back in 1998, are highly rational but available for visitors’ play; we are invited to rearrange them at will. (I didn’t. For me, the permission is enough.)
Adding scale to this exploration of autonomous abstraction versus inevitable human presence are two entries from Haus-Rucker-Co, an Austrian architecture group active from 1967-1992. Air Unit is an habitable bubble extended from the facade of a building, quite similar to Oasis Nr. 7, which actually appeared for Documenta 5 at the Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel, and later in exhibitions at the V&A Museum, London, and the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg. In contemporary Manhattan life, I’m envisioning a dialogue about penetrating layers of private access, and then ending up in a publicly visible container. I’m also recalling The B-Thing, Gelitin’s bandit balcony at The World Trade Center.
Haus-Rucker-Co, "Air Unit (Projekt documenta 5)," 1972
Allen Glatter produces calligraphic drawings from a customized pendulum that swings above the drawing surface. From the drawings, he has manufactured an aluminum sculpture that looks like a jungle gym or giant paper clip. Although a mathematician might explore the statistical possibilities of reproducibility, fluid mechanics, or the interaction between stylus and surface, these drawings seem to depart from the dialogue about subjectivity.* In fact, “the certain autonomy of mathematics results in unexpected forms and structures,” describes Glatter’s drawings and sculptures alike.
Allen Glatter at fordPROJECT
Allen Glatter, "Walk On By;" Mary Ellen Carroll, "100 German Men," 1997
Mary Ellen Carroll’s series, How to make painting disappear, parallels the Glatter drawings in their apparent disembodiment. On plywood and formica, they include silkscreen and hand painting, but appear machine-made. Two are populated with repeating patterns, but one, In the UK – HSBC + NatWest, appears random. It reminds me of aerial views of crowds, or maybe time-lapse documentation of a radar hard at work. As a model of population, leveling, and demographics, this painting in particular corresponds to her 100 German Men, the result of quick interviews with men in Germany.
Mary Ellen Carroll, "How to make painting disappear (In the UK - HSBC + NatWest)" 2012; Wayne Gonzales, "Grey Pentagon" (2005)
Mathematicians curating art shows! More, please. How about molecular biologists or particle physicists? Post-Higgs Boson paradigm? Scientists talking art, artists talking science. Take the press release, for example, from Dawn Kasper’s new show, “Fuel for the Fire.” It reads:
“…FUEL FOR THE FIRE In the 1980s, physicist Alan Guth offered an enhanced version of the big-bang theory, called inflationary cosmology… The centerpiece of the proposal is a hypothetical cosmic fuel that, if concentrated in a tiny region, would drive a brief but stupendous outward rush of space, a bang, and a big one at that… mathematical analysis also revealed (and here’s where the multiverse enters) that as space expands the cosmic fuel replenishes itself, and so efficiently that it is virtually impossible to use it all up. Which means that the big bang would likely not be a unique event. Instead, the fuel would not only power the bang giving rise to our expanding realm, but it would power countless other bangs, too, each yielding its own separate, expanding universe…”
Filament fractals: fordPROJECT's stairwell chandelier
*Even though the artist engineered the drawing apparatus and provides the catalytic gesture, he is no more causally responsible for the ensuing image as a beachcombing ant is responsible for drawing Winston Churchill.