The Elegant Universe; Lynchian Beauty

October 14, 2011 Comments Off

Mathematics: A Beautiful Elsewhere Exhibition

“Mathematics is everywhere, from the finite boundaries of material reality to the infinite vastness of conceptual universes. It embraces both the real world and the world of ideas; its protagonists are thus writers, discoverers and inventors.”  -Hervé Chandès, Fondation Cartier

For the first time in Europe, a contemporary art venue is opening its doors to the mathematical community. The Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain – in conjunction with the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES), the European Space Agency (ESA) and in partnership with UNESCO – will be presenting “Mathematics: A Beautiful Elsewhere”, opening the 21st of October, 2011, on view through 18 March, 2012. This will be the first exhibition to reveal to the general public the extraordinary insights and creativity of mathematics by offering internationally renowned mathematicians the chance to collaborate with contemporary artists. 

Michel Cassé, an astrophysicist, and Hervé Chandès, general director of the Fondation Cartier, guided by the mathematician Jean-Pierre Bourguignon who heads the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques, conferred with numerous mathematicians and scientists, and invited six of them to be the exhibition’s overseers: Pierre-Yves Oudeyer, a leading figure in Artificial Intelligence and Social and Developmental Robotics, Misha Gromov, an expert in Analysis, Algebra and mathematical contributions to Biology and Nicole El Karoui, a specialist in Probability and Financial Risk Management, are just some of the mathematicians involved in this vast project.  They are among the most prominent researchers in the world today in fields such as number theory, algebraic geometry, differential geometry, topology, partial differential equations, probability, and mathematics applied to biology among other disciplines. In order to make these researchers feel at home in its spaces, the Fondation Cartier has assembled a group of eight artists, with whom it has previously worked: Jean-Michel Alberola, Raymond Depardon et Claudine Nougaret, Takeshi Kitano, Beatriz Milhaez, Patti Smith, Hiroshi Sugimoto and David Lynch. Chosen for their exceptional ability to listen and observe, as well as for their sense of curiosity, these eminent figures from the worlds of art and cinema worked hand-in-hand with the mathematicians to transform and combine the aesthetic, scientific and educational aspects of mathematics into a tangible experience.

The exhibition invites visitors to journey deep into the heart of mathematical thought, from pure mathematics to applied mathematics, from the discipline itself to the women and men who make it. Inspired by the thoughts and ideas of all of the mathematicians involved in the exhibition, David Lynch has invented a structure in the shape of a zero to house Misha Gromov’s Library of Mysteries. From Archimedes to Poincaré, Descartes to Einstein, this library provides a retrospective of the major events in the history of mathematics and human thought via an audiovisual installation designed by the American filmmaker with the help of Patti Smith. In addition, as a counterpart to this historical, scientific and philosophical perspective, David Lynch has teamed up with Takeshi Kitano and Beatriz Milhazes to create an arrangement of visuals and installations that show the diversity of mathematics and, in particular, its contribution to the most advanced areas of scientific research.

By taking mathematics out of the milieu in which it is usually articulated, by creating an exceptional environment for interaction between artists and mathematicians, as well as between the artists themselves, the Fondation Cartier and the IHÉS are offering the public a chance to experience fragments of mathematical beauty through a geometrical, algebraic, artistic and cinematographic mosaic that is the result of the generosity and open-mindedness of all the participants involved.


David Lynch, The Air Is On Fire exhibition, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, March 2007

David Lynch talking about his art exhibition in Paris at the Fondation Cartier to art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon on The Culture Show, 2007

In March 2007, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain presented the exhibition, “The Air is on Fire.” For the first time, it unveiled a vast collection of artwork dating from the 1960s by the renowned American director, David Lynch, to the general public. In addition to numerous paintings and photographs, many of the artist’s drawings, sketches, and notes spanning a period of forty years were presented. The Fondation Cartier wished to bring together this collection of more than 600 drawings in an exceptional book which was recently published in coedition with Steidl Publishers. Sketches, watercolors, or simple doodles, these works—carefully conserved by David Lynch since his adolescence, and regularly used by him as a source of inspiration—offer a unique perspective on the artist’s creative process.


David Lynch, Works on Paper
Coedition Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris/Steidl, Göttingen
— Hardcover, 30 x 40.5 cm, 532 pages, 630 color reproductions
— Publication date: September 2011
— Distribution outside of France by Steidl

David Lynch, Works on Paper
Limited edition of 50 boxed sets containing the book Works on Paper and a numbered and signed lithograph, specially created by the artist
— Price on demand
— Available in exclusivity at the Fondation Cartier bookshop


David Lynch is the Renaissance male of complicated American filmmaking, a multi-faceted and enormously prolific creative powerhouse, an acclaimed and at large important writer/director as well as radio producer, professor of film, painter, photographer, cartoonist, composer, musician, and striking artisan -furniture designer and the like. Walking the tightrope between the mainstream and the fashionable with conspicuous skill, Lynch brings to the shade a curious, dim and unfortunate perspective of reality, a calamity world punctuated by defining moments of impassioned violence, obscure comedy, magnified realism, and bizarre beauty. More than any alternative arthouse filmmaker of his era, he has enjoyed substantial mass acceptance and has helped to redefine blurb tastes, honing a surrealistic culture so idealist and deeply personal that the word “Lynchian” was coined simply to report it.

For more about his current projects see the website designed and maintained by the director himself David Lynch

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