December 24, 2010

Geometreks in New Orleans

The Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) will be held Jan. 6-9, 2011, in New Orleans, bringing together nearly 6,000 mathematicians. Famous for its French Quarter, jazz, food, and more, the city also has a claim to fame in the realm of public art, some of it mathematical in nature.

River Stones by Terry Weldon.

One noteworthy site is the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The garden is free to the public and well worth visiting.

The largest sculpture in the garden is Kenneth Snelson's tensegrity structure, titled Virlaine Tower. Set in a lagoon and rising 45 feet into the air, this gravity-defying construct consists of stainless steel tubes held together and supported by cables (see "Tensegrity Tower in New Orleans").

Visitors intrigued by curious or striking geometries may also be interested in seeing the following artworks.

Joel Shapiro's untitled work is a striking assemblage of angular blocks that resembles a contorted torso with straining limbs.

Untitled by Joel Shapiro.

In Castle of the Eye, II, Minoru Niizuma created a set of four stacked cubes, with a repeated square-within-square pattern on four sides of each block, to produce a structure reminiscent of a medieval Japanese castle.

Castle of the Eye, II by Minoru Niizuma.

Menashe Kadishman's massive but seemingly unstable sculpture, Open Suspense, features a precariously balanced collection of geometric forms fashioned from distinctively colored Cor-Ten steel.

Open Suspense by Menashe Kadishman.

Sunyatta, by Linda Howard, is made from arrays of aluminum strips fanning out from a central vertical axis to create a grid of light and shadow embodying the transformation of matter into energy (light).

Sunyatta by Linda Howard.

Outside the garden, New Orleans artist Arthur Silverman has based more than 400 sculptures on the tetrahedron, stretching, slicing, skewing, and assembling copies of this form in myriad ways (see "Three Sentinels," "Art of the Tetrahedron," "Art of the Tetrahedron, Revisited," and "Four Corners, Four Faces").

About 20 of Silverman's sculptures are on public display throughout New Orleans, many within walking distance in the downtown portion of the city.

Located at the corner of Poydras and Loyola, Echo consists of a pair of elongated tetrahedra that rise dramatically 60 feet into the air.

Interlocking Boxes, Closed stands outside the front entrance of City Hall. Near the rear entrance, on Poydras Street, another of Silverman's sculptures consists of welded tubing that delineates the edges of stacks of interlocking tetrahedra.

A sculpture near the corner of Poydras and Magazine, titled Painted Trio, consists of three colorful tetrahedra standing on edge.

Painted Trio by Arthur Silverman.

The lobby of a building called Place St. Charles, near Canal Street, features a Silverman sculpture based on the notion of removing tetrahedra from a rectangular block.

The office building at 1555 Poydras Street (directly across from the Superdome) has a large relief on the far wall as you enter. Its basic elements are sections made through a group of tetrahedra attached to each other. A slowly changing light plays over the piece, continually highlighting different areas of the relief.

Further uptown, a streetcar ride away, Silverman has two sculptures on the campus of Tulane University, one in front of the Tulane Law School and another at the A.B. Freeman School of Business. He also created a large outdoor menorah for Temple Sinai, at 6227 St. Charles Avenue.

Sculptor Clement Meadmore is known for his twisted rectangular prisms (see "Bending a Square Prism"). A prime example of his work, titled Out of There, can be found in front of the Hale Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans.

A median park along Diamond Street, near the New Orleans Convention Center, has a number of interesting sculptures. Giro Naito's Diamond is a massive polyhedron with identical facets. Terry Weldon's River Stones features five distorted, intriguingly fingerprinted spheres.

Diamond by Giro Naito.

Looking down as you walk along the streets of New Orleans, you might notice the distinctive tiling of hexagons and rhombuses that decorates local manhole covers.

It's also worth noting the mathematical significance of some curious signs around the city. The Tulane campus has a sign that specifies a speed limit of 23 (a prime number) miles per hour.  If you take the St. Charles streetcar to the end of the line, you'll find an intersection where south meets south. And the warehouse district has a pizza and pasta restaurant that, perhaps inevitably, is named πie.

For those attending JMM, the meeting will itself host a juried exhibition of mathematical art.

Photos by I. Peterson