You are here


Beautifully Complex

Engineers and those who find beauty in technical complexity (I’m not the only one, right?) can currently find three pieces of engineering eye candy on view in temporary exhibitions at the Art Institute.


Civil engineers will delight in Stanley Greenberg: Architecture Under Construction, an exhibition on display in the Modern Wing’s Kurokawa Gallery (286, adjacent to the Balcony Café), which showcases 13 large black and white photographs of buildings under construction. The black and white photos reduce these construction sites to beautiful mazes of exposed beams, scaffolding, concrete, and rope. It’s cool how an intermediate state of construction – which may look nothing like the final structure – can be its own work of art. (The copyright geek in me keeps wondering about if and when construction sites qualify for the legal exception in 17 USC § 120, which permits the free reproduction of pictures of public, constructed buildings.)


Aerospace engineers can find something to love with the Roger Hiorns installation on the Bluhm Family Terrace. The installation consists of two exposed Pratt & Whitney TF33 P9 engines once mounted on a Boeing EC135 Looking Glass long-range surveillance plane. Although Hiorns seems to be less specifically interested in the visual complexity of the engines – with their perplexing networks of pipes, tubes, wires, and other parts – these are still fun to view as stand-alone objects. And, maybe to ponder how the insertion of antidepressant drugs would affect the performance of the engines…

Finally, for all the industrial engineers in the house, In the Vernacular, a photography exhibition in galleries 1-2 until the end of May (hurry if you want to see this one), contains a wonderful array of 12 gelatin silver prints by Bernd & Hilla Becher of the heads of blast furnaces used to produce industrial metal. I love how these fascinating, varied configurations of towers and pipes stand out against the white sky.

I think it is notable that all three of these examples show only parts of the whole. But, even though each object only shows part of an industrial plant, building, or airplane, there is still an amazing diversity of technical details to feast the eyes upon. So, dust off your pocket protectors and come see some art.

Images: Stanley Greenberg, Untitled, Denver, Colorado, 2005.
Roger Hiorns, Untitled (Alliance), 2010.