12-circle sphere
Model like Fuller's, not in the catalogue

About the Whitney exhibit catalogue: Fuller

Here are comments on the catalogue for Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The exhibit has been reviewed extensively. The book is sold as a catalogue at the exhibit, but I call it an art history book. Art history is often little different than history, dealing with events and culture of the time in which the art is produced as well as current context or anything relevant. This is especially valid for Bucky Fuller whose main profession was not "artist". I don't look for or find artistic objects, masterpieces, that would transcend his history, illustrated in the book. The curators in the book call Fuller a "transdisciplinary thinker".

The book has 258 pages, 44 figures, and 175 plates. The parts are: foreword, acknowledgements, introduction, five essay/articles, plates, selected contextual chronology, selected bibliography, exhibition checklist, lenders, and index. The essays are: "Fuller's Geological Engagements with Architecture" (by K. Michael Hays, co-curator), "Thought Patterns: Buckminster Fuller the Scientist-Artist" (by Dana Miller, co-curator), "Fuller's Avatars: a view from the Present" (by Antoine Picon), and "The Comprehensivist: Buckminster Fuller and Contemporary Artists" (by Elizabeth A. T. Smith). A reprint of the 1966 New Yorker magazine article is: "In the Outlaw Area" (by Calvin Tomkins). Some of the illustrations in the book aren't in the exhibit. Also, many things in the exhibit aren't shown or discussed in the book.

The front book cover underneath the dust jacket shows a partial view of a dome with moon.

I learned many things about Fuller in this book. I also learned how he fits into our world, then and now. An essay covers artists that have been influenced by Fuller, showing how his work has a continuing impact. Like the exhibit, the catalogue focuses on his visual output: his designs for cars, structures, cities, books, and how they were built. His views on math and his starting point, the universe, aren't much in sight. It shows where he ended up as of now.

The book gives an idea of the breadth of his heritage. For example, it seems he started out saying the world is not straight lines, it is all circles. There are many examples in the book of models built with spheres. But he came to view all circles as made of straight lines; a round appearance is made of many lines, having a high frequency of segments.

In an interview the exhibit's curator Michael Hays said, "We thought about calling the exhibition "shapes of the universe" because Bucky thought that a geodesic dome was what the universe looked like in some diagrammatic way. And now we know that nanotechnology actually does use that kind of geometry. " (See credits below *)

In his essay Antoine Picon says , "Of course, we no longer believe that the universe obeys at a fundamental level the laws of synergetic geometry." Presented with such widely divergent views I'm forced, as Bucky often recommended, to do my own thinking. And it is deepened reading this book, looking at its many figures and plates, and following its leads as a valuable addition to a library of other Fuller books (both by and about).


At the top of this page is a model I made decades ago. The sphere made of 12 great circles of copper wire soldered together has been bent severely. In the exhibit, Fuller's model like it was of 12 perfect circles but unfortunately is not in the catalogue. Strange, they reproduced four spheres made of circles, with less icosidodecahedronal symmetry (plates 91-94). I wish they had numbered the items in the exhibition checklist.

I paid $50 for the catalog at the museum. It costs considerably less online. I used excerpts from this review on Amazon.com.

* Credits: Michael Hays, Adjunct curator of architecture at the Whitney Museum of American Art, quoted in Metropolis Magazine.

My comments on the exhibit are here. See the Fuller page.

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