SIAM News Blog

Man Ray – Human Equations

A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare

By Mark Green

As mathematicians, we tend to forget how extraordinary are the objects we study. This exhibit, on view at the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, through May 10, gives a glimpse of the surrealist photographer and painter Man Ray’s reaction when he encountered models of some of these objects at the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris. The exhibit brings together for the first time, as with the examples shown here, actual models, Man Ray’s photographs of them, and a series of paintings he based on the photographs. A section of the catalogue is devoted to explanations of the mathematical importance of the models, written by mathematicians, who were involved in conceptualizing the exhibit from its early stages. The exhibit is supplemented by a wonderful exhibit by MoMath, in which museum-goers can manipulate the coefficients of various algebraic surfaces and see on a screen how their geometry changes. This is an extraordinary opportunity for outreach to the general public, with excellent scholarship on both the mathematical and art history axes.

Mark Green is a professor emeritus in the UCLA Department of Mathematics and consultant for the Phillips exhibit.

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