Loyola University Chicago

Loyola University Museum of Art



Steve Christensen

New LUMA Exhibition Explores Mathematics in Art

Sacred Geometry and Secular Science on Display July 28 through October 28, 2012

CHICAGO, July 12, 2012 – The Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) presents the exhibition Sacred Geometry and Secular Science, curated by Lynn Gamwell, PhD, from July 28 through October 28, 2012.

Beginning in ancient Greece with thinkers like Pythagoras and Plato, there is a long tradition in Western thought of a conceptual opposition between the material world and a higher, mathematical reality, sometimes called the “world of forms.” The geometric and numerical aspects of the world of forms have since been used by scientists, philosophers, and artists alike to explore the mysteries of the cosmos. In the words of Galileo Galilei, “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.”

Sacred Geometry and Secular Science looks at the application by artists of the numbers, patterns, and mathematical precepts derived from this world of forms as a way to understand and depict reality. The exhibition compares pieces of pre-modern and contemporary art to demonstrate how works from both a sacred and secular context seek to answer similar questions through geometry. The result is a spectacular collection of art from various cultures and time periods, including pieces from the Martin D’Arcy Collection, LUMA’s permanent collection of medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Works in the exhibition range from an Attic Greek pitcher to a video installation by Bill Viola. The exhibition also includes woodcuts by Wassily Kandinsky and Ad Reinhardt’s painting for Brother Thomas Merton.

Artists included in the exhibition are Yan Hua, Robert Irwin, Wassily Kandinsky, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Ad Reinhardt, Giovanni Battista Salvi (Sassoferrato), Keith Tyson, Bill Viola, and Martin Zürn.

Dr. Lynn Gamwell is the author of Exploring the Invisible: Art, Science, and the Spiritual and Madness in America: Cultural and Medical Perceptions of Mental Illness Before 1914. Her companion text to the exhibition, Searching for Certainty: Art, Mathematics, and the Mystical, is forthcoming on Princeton University Press.

Public Programming

All events take place at LUMA, 820 N. Michigan Avenue.

Meet the Curator
Tuesday, July 31, 6 p.m.

Nothing has more profoundly shaped human culture than the cumulative knowledge of the mysterious interplay between pure mathematics and the structure of the natural world, which underlies all science and technology. Join us for a tour of Sacred Geometry and Secular Science by the exhibition's curator, Lynn Gamwell, PhD. In the first gallery, we will discuss examples of humankind's attempts to understand the structure of reality in simple geometric and numerical terms, from antiquity to the modern rise of science and democracy. Then, we will walk through the rest of the exhibition and focus on seven pairs of objects, one from an older sacred context and the other created with a modern scientific, secular outlook. These paired objects embody humankind's ongoing search for the structure of reality. Admission is free.

Mathematics as Form and Substance in Science and Art
Tuesday, September 11, 6 p.m.

Beginning with the Galilean revolution in physics and astronomy, mathematics has provided a uniquely effective language for scientific explanation. At nearly the same time and place, Italian Renaissance painting introduced a more mathematical visual language into visual art as well, exemplified particularly by increased use of geometric perspective. The 20th century witnessed another convergent shift in both science and art as their respective mathematical languages became not merely the form, but the substance of these practices as objects of scientific study and subjects of artistic representation. Join us for this lecture by Dr. James Harrington from Loyola's philosophy department. Admission is $4 and free to LUMA members and Loyola faculty, staff, and students.

Sacred Geometry and the History of Salvation: The Example of Joachim of Fiore
Tuesday, September 18, 6 p.m.

The Calabrian abbot Joachim of Fiore (ca. 1135–1202) was the most influential apocalyptic theologian of the Middle Ages, one whose ideas lived on for centuries. Joachim presented his theology of the Trinitarian structure of history from Adam to the end of time in long and complex biblical commentaries, but as a symbolic thinker, he also realized that his inner vision was best conveyed through the elaborate diagrams (figurae) he used as teaching tools, many of which are geometrical in nature. This lecture by Dr. Bernard McGinn, from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, will explore a few of Joachim's geometrical figurae as examples of figural theology. Admission is $4 and free to LUMA members and Loyola faculty, staff, and students.

From the Physical to the Metaphysical: The Art of Bill Viola
Tuesday, October 2, 6 p.m.

Over the past four decades Bill Viola has taken the medium of video (named for one-half of the television signal) and transformed it into a powerful arena in which the most enduring concerns of Western culture could merge with the art of our time. This talk by Bruce Jenkins, from the School of the Art Institute, will chart Viola's artistic journey from his start as a student intrigued by the electronic arts to his emergence as one of the consummate poets of the moving image. Admission is $4 and free to LUMA members and Loyola faculty, staff, and students.

Image Credit: Giovanni Battista Salvi (Sassoferrato), Madonna and Child with Cherubs, 1640–60, oil on canvas, Martin D’Arcy Collection, Loyola University Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kowar, 80-02.

About LUMA
Opened in 2005, the Loyola University Museum of Art is dedicated to exploring, promoting, and understanding art and artistic expression that illuminates the enduring spiritual questions of all cultures and societies. As a museum with an interest in education and educational programming, LUMA reflects the University’s Jesuit mission and is dedicated to helping people of all creeds explore the roots of their faith and spiritual quests. Located at Loyola University Chicago’s Water Tower Campus, the museum occupies the first three floors of the University’s historic Lewis Towers on Chicago’s famous Michigan Avenue. For more information, visit the museum’s website at LUC.edu/luma.

Art illuminating the spirit!