June 1, 2010

Limits of Infinity

The campus of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is home to a tall, propeller-shaped object mounted within an elliptical ring. Created by John Safer and titled Limits of Infinity III, this bronze sculpture rises to a height of 15 feet.

"I carved the interior shape while groping . . . for a shape which would seem fulfilling, internally harmonious, and perhaps inspiring," Safer explains. "When that part of the sculpture was complete, I realized that it was a three-dimensional rendition of the symbol for infinity."

Safer chose to orient his sculpture vertically rather than horizontally and mounted it within an elliptical frame—in effect, containing infinity.

The sculpture rises from a large granite block, which serves not just as a resting place but as a solid, finite base from which we can contemplate infinity. The central piece, hanging within its bronze enclosure, seems to float in space.

In his book To Infinity and Beyond, Eli Maor describes an encounter with the sculpture when it was originally installed on the sidewalk in front of an office building along Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C. Believing that the elongated object within the ring was meant to turn freely, Maor gently touched it. Instead of motion, his action triggered a shrill alarm. "After my initial shock was gone," Maor recounts, "I could hear an inner voice in me saying: 'Thou shalt not touch infinity!'"

Safer did three versions of Limits of Infinity. One is in his own gallery. Another was given in 1972 to King Juan Carlos of Spain by President Ford as a gift of state.

John Safer designed the Web of Space trophy, presented annually by the National Air and Space Museum to honor significant achievements in air and space technology. He also created Ascent, a polished steel sculpture that soars 70 feet into the air at the museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located near Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia.


Boyne, W.J. 1991. Art in Flight: The Sculpture of John Safer. Hudson Hills Press.

Getlein, F. 1982. John Safer. Joseph J. Binns.

Maor, E. 1991. To Infinity and Beyond: A Cultural History of the Infinite. Princeton University Press.

Peterson, I. 2001. Fragments of Infinity: A Kaleidoscope of Math and Art. Wiley.

Safer, J. (interviewed by F. Getlein). 1984. A shaping hand. Harvard Business Review (July-August):67-75.

Photos by I. Peterson

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