June 6, 2015 to August 23, 2015

Coordinates draws upon the museum’s permanent collection to examine the use of number in modern and contemporary art. The word “coordinates” refers to a set of numbers that locates a point on a plane or in space. Its function is determinative. Numbers are for counting, measuring, labeling, coding, and theorizing on reality. Galileo, the father of modern physics, famously declared that “Nature is writ in number.” Components of larger systems, numbers had their origin in ancient Mesopotamia and become foundational elements in mathematics and its various branches, including arithmetic and geometry. They have been critical to the symbolic languages of philosophy, religion, and the sciences that attempt to describe the underlying, often mystical, nature of reality. Numbers have also had a major place in the history art. They have shaped proportional systems for renderings of the human figure, architectural designs, and the world around us—both visible and invisible.

This tradition continues in modern and contemporary art, as evidenced in the works of artists in the exhibition, including those of Alice Aycock, Jennifer Bartlett, John Cage, Al Held, Sol Le Witt, Donald Lipski, and Robert Mangold, among others. By incorporating grids, perspective systems, mappings, diagrams, and randomness (which speaks to the impossibility of finding true position or location), many modern and contemporary artists continue to create works of art poeticized by numbers.

Coordinates is being organized on the occasion of the eighth annual Public Humanities Conference sponsored by the Center for the Humanities in Madison, Wisconsin. This year’s theme, “Humanities by the Numbers,” provides an entry point to discuss the variety of ways in which numbers have a place in the humanities.

Generous support for Coordinates was provided by The DeAtley Family Foundation; Nancy and Tom Mohs; Sara Guyer and Scott Straus; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.


Gallery Talk

David Griffeath on Mathematics and the Visual Arts
Thursday, June 25 · 12:30–1 pm · Main galleries
Whether mathematics, which has developed systematically over the past few thousand years, is an art or a science remains a subject of debate. However, there is no question that math has been a significant inspiration for both theory and practice in the visual arts. The exhibition Coordinates explores this impact on contemporary art in terms of geometry, pattern, and number. Drawing on selected works from the exhibition, David Griffeath will illustrate aspects of the history of mathematical influences on the visual arts, contrasting aesthetics of math and art, and the impact of recent directions in math and science on contemporary art.

David Griffeath is a retired mathematician who specialized in probability and complex spatial dynamics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, chairing the Department of Mathematics from 2002 to 2005. His research included the study of pattern formation in physical and social systems such as spontaneous spiral nucleation, snow crystal growth, and emergence of traffic jams.


Learning Center
Learning Centers offers museum visitors of all ages a variety of resources for exploring MMoCA's exhibitions. Families can explore concepts such as perspective, mapping, and the use of grids to create art, among other activities found in the learning center for Coordinates.

MMoCAkids ArtPack
Stop by the reception desk in the lobby and ask for the MMoCAkids ArtPack, the museum’s hands-on discovery kit for exploring art. The ArtPack is filled with activities that tap into thoughts and feelings about a work of art, or encourage close looking at artists' creative decisions. Also included are drawing set, interactive tools for use in the galleries or rooftop sculpture garden, and a special take-home activity related to Untitled Mandala by Sam Francis. 

Let’s look
These interactive gallery guides help parents talk about art with their children, encouraging them to think imaginatively about what they see while learning about art and artists. Use Let's look to explore five sculptures by Sonya Y.S. Clark that express the mathematical Fibonacci sequence and evoke African and African-American hairstyles.