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The late Dutch artist M.C. Escher is perhaps best known for his tessellations that fool the eye, like “Sky and Water I,” where birds in the air trade off negative space with fish underwater. But there are 200 lithographs, woodcuts and drawings on display in the biggest-ever U.S. exhibit of Escher’s work at Brooklyn’s Industry City. Hari Sreenivasan went on a tour with the exhibit's manager, Johanna Guttmann.
You may not know his name, but you likely have seen his iconic art.
M.C. Escher, the late Dutch master of lithographs and woodcuts, filled his work with mind-bending illusions and impossible geometric patterns. Remarkably, he did it all by hand. Now, his career and legacy is on display in the largest-ever exhibition of Escher works in the U.S.
And the viewer at home thinks I'm really a tiny person.
This is the "Relativity Room," which plays a visual trick on those looking from the outside. The tilted floor and tiles make the person standing on the left look much smaller than the person on the right.
So this is all just to try to drive home to people that our eyes can deceive us. It's really about your perspective.
It's how our brain organizes the information that it sees and tha,t how we can play tricks on our brain.
And this is what Escher knew, inherently, that we could fool ourselves into thinking.
The "Relativity Room" is an interactive part of a major exhibition of the work of Dutch artist M.C. Escher.
Escher is perhaps most famous for his optical illusions that show seemingly logical scenes that are actually impossible, but he is also known for his intricate pattern work of animals and objects.
Over six decades, until his death in 1972, Escher created 448 lithographs, woodcuts and engravings and more than 2,000 drawings and sketches.
The Italian art exhibitor Arthemisia, in collaboration with the M.C. Escher Foundation, produced and organized this presentation of 200 of his works from international collections at Brooklyn's Industry City. It's the largest M.C. Escher exhibition ever shown in the United States.
I remember seeing a Pink Floyd album jacket with an M.C. Escher work in it. I had no idea that was him.
Well, actually, more people are familiar with him than they think they are.
Johanna Guttmann is the exhibition's manager.
They don't necessarily make the connections with artwork, artwork that's very iconic. It's when they come here that they see all those references throughout pop culture, whether it's the sleeves for the albums, or whether it's advertising, film, fashion. It's absolutely everywhere.
Even though he had no formal training in mathematics, in 1954, the International Congress of Mathematicians held an Escher exhibition, which sparked correspondence between Escher and mathematicians who admired his work.
It doesn't seem that his intent was mathematical, but there was so much math involved in what he was creating.
His intent was not necessarily mathematical, though he is exploring concepts such as infinity very much so throughout his career. However, it's only in the 1950s when he starts this dialogue with mathematicians, and they're reaching out to him and they are inviting him to those international conferences.
And he speaks their language.
Absolutely. He can put on paper what they're speaking of in very abstract terms.
Escher's later work often has "impossible" architectural elements. In this lithograph called "Belvedere," look at the columns of this structure: they can't be architecturally sound. And in "Ascending, Descending" the figures are going up and down an "impossible staircase." That staircase makes an appearance in the 2010 sci-fi film "Inception."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur: "Like the Penrose steps, the infinite staircase, see.."
Even the bench that we are sitting on for this interview illustrates an "impossible" object.
It's an Impossible Triangle. So it's a triangle that doesn't actually work. It doesn't close properly. But there is an illusion here that if you're on top of it from that angle where we have the camera up on top it appears as if you're sitting on top of a very tall triangle. If you want to sit back to back to me, it would be better because the camera's actually that way, you want to look at the camera.
That way they can see your face.
Oh wow. Now we look like we're on top of a giant tri- ( laughs)
In this piece, the water feeding the waterfall seems to defy gravity.
There is the Penrose triangle, or the Impossible Triangle.
So he gives us these cues — the elevated path.
Right .I think he's giving his cues but I think he wants us to play with it. He wants us to see, you know it's not what you think it is.
Escher was also inspired by the geometric patterns of Moorish architecture on a trip to Spain in the 1930s, where he studied the intricate motifs at the Alhambra Palace. One of Escher's masterpieces is the 12-foot long "Metamorphosis II." It is made from 20 woodcut block prints.
Here's some sort of reptiles.
Wow. And then all of a sudden we're back to squares again.
You see you almost don't see the transformation.
So he's tessellating, but tessellating with animate and inanimate objects.
What's the tessellation mean?
The way we have the repetitive patterns. But here how they fit so perfectly into each other like puzzle pieces.
Also on display, Escher's lithograph "Hand with Reflecting Sphere" shows his playful use of mirrored surface. It's a piece that Guttmann uses to start a conversation with younger visitors.
I like to call it the original selfie, the way he puts his hand out and he's using a reflective sphere the same way that we use our phones today.
And for those visitors who want a "selfie" to look like Escher's, the exhibit has a moment for that, too.
You put yourself into his selfie–.
And that's really a sense of the entire exhibition, that you can immerse yourself in his world.
"Escher: The Exhibition & Experience" is on display until next month.
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Hari Sreenivasan joined the PBS NewsHour in 2009. He is the Anchor of PBS NewsHour Weekend and a Senior Correspondent for the nightly program.
Laura Fong shoots and produces stories for PBS NewsHour Weekend on a wide range of topics, including U.S. politics, education, the arts and urban transit. She also covers breaking news for the Saturday and Sunday broadcasts. Before joining NewsHour Weekend, Laura worked on the first three seasons of the CNN documentary series "Inside Man" with Morgan Spurlock. Through Teach for America, Laura taught first grade for two years in Houston. She has a B.A. in electronic media from the University of Oregon.
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