Thursday, June 17, 2010

Escher Optical Illusions: Mathematics or Art? (The Hague, Netherlands)

Entering the travel wonder of the Escher Museum in The Hague (Den Haag) is to enter a world of optical illusion. As much mathematics as art, M. C. Escher’s works mainly feature lithographs of impossible shapes, metamorphosing figures, imaginary worlds and strange perspectives.

I knew of Escher’s works through a special mathematics display I attended many years ago and was pleased to know that Escher’s treasured works finally went on display in a historic Dutch Palace in the nation’s political capital in 2002 (and only an hour’s travel from Amsterdam).

At first it seemed strange to place such modern and challenging surreal works in a mid-1700s royal palace, but the wide open uncluttered rooms leave plenty of space to enjoy the strange pictures.

The first floor covers his early works of more traditional landscapes but the second floor displays Escher’s finest works. Waterfall features flowing water which drives a watermill wheel where the water impossibly continues to flow downhill. Closer inspection shows that the left tower is one storey higher than the right tower, though both look the same height. In a similar vein, Escher’s Ascending and Descending shows a set of four connecting staircases where people are either permanently walking up the stairs or down the stairs.

My personal favourite is Belvedere where a ladder from inside a building looks natural but is enabling someone to climb to the outside of the same building. Columns connect erratically while a man sits relaxed on a bench idly challenged by a strange cube. Bizarrely the lower floor features a gaol where a prisoner’s pleas fall on deaf ears.

Metamorphosis pictures reveal birds seamlessly changing to fish and back again while another shows horses converting into fish.

The rooms are lit by the graceful addition of fifteen artistic chandeliers designed for the museum by the Dutch sculptor Hans Van Bentem. Shaped as skull and crossbones, umbrella, dolphin, seahorse and more, the chandeliers add a beautiful touch to the abundance of Escher’s drawings.

The third floor is a virtual reality multimedia world where visitors can experience and become part of the art. The Escher Room is setup to have two people standing in opposite corners, one looking gigantic and one looking much smaller. Another area lets visitors frustratingly try to construct an impossible triangle.

Short films effectively add to the display with Escher recording several interviews and videos throughout his life.

Escher in Het Palace
(Escher in the Palace) is a superb tribute to Escher’s fine artworks. Enjoy the works and answer the question: Is Escher a mathematician or artist?

Note: Enjoy more of Escher's art in the picture gallery at his offical site (the latter years are the most interesting).


Heather on her travels said...

What a facinating place - I remember being facinated by Escher's pictures when I was younger, working out how the optical illusions worked

Sherry Ott said...

Only an hour from Amsterdam...yeah...maybe I'll make a trip to see it! I'm there at the end of July! I love that kind of optical illusion art!

Barbara Weibel said...

Interesting. The illusion in some of these pieces of art was immediately visible to me; others took some study before I saw it.

Mark H said...

@heather: They continue to fascinate me. The longer you look at some of them, the more strange things that you see.

@sherry: Probably less than an hour and easy by train. The city has some funky modern architecture too among the government buildings.

@BarbaraW: I love Belvedere and Waterfall as you see more things the longer you look at them. Check the strange way the columns connect up for example.

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Anonymous said...

I was in Blijburg, nice beach-bar, where you can enjoy DJ’music. You will get calm atmosphere. This is best for summer seasons, having live music, night parties at whole summers.

Mark H said...

@anonymous: I am glad that this helped you with your school project.

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