• Escher X Nendo at NGV

Art is all about challenging boundaries and questioning reality. But what happens when an artist questions art and space in itself? The latest exhibition at the NGV juxtaposes artist Escher’s work with design from Nendo design house.

Dutch artist, Maurits Cornelis Escher’s (born 1898) is known for challenging concepts of space and reality in his drawings, woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints.

Nendo is a Japanese design studio created in 2002 by Oki Sato, also focused on innovation and optical illusions.

The exhibition includes 160 works by Escher created between 1916 and 1969, with the layout conceived by Nendo.  The pairing of the great artist and design house has created a phenomenal visual display that will have your mind spin as you double take on each reality.

The exhibition is set up with Escher’s early works studying nature, I loved the trees and landscapes and was in awe at how monochrome straight lines could create such momentum and emotion. This is paired with a bench created by Nendo, using the house motif which is the focus for the entire exhibition.

As Escher’s style developed, he began to depict smaller forms of nature.

“I want to find happiness in the tiniest of things, a miniature moss plant, 2cm across on a rock. And I want to try to copy these infinitesimal small things as precisely as possible.” Maths guru, Eddie Woo, quotes Echer on the audio guide (available for hire at the NGV or free to download via the NGV website.

Precise, is indeed the word. Check out the dragonfly and the trees, with incredible detail as you walk through this hallway.

The exhibition then opens up to mirrors and reflections by Escher, followed by a lights display by Nendo, again featuring the house motif. The work is made from metal plates sticking out of the wall, with cut outs placed to perfectly recreate the house motif through light and shadows as the light is shone. At first, I thought it was a projection, but it is much more than this – and like the rest of the exhibition to come, you are forced to double take to see the work in a new way.

Escher's 'Three Spheres II', lithograph 1946

Tessellation is the next focus with continuous patterns which Escher called continuous divisions of the plane. Check out ‘Day and Night’ where there is symmetry and seamless transition between one side and the other. Again, you need to look at this twice to realise the negative versus positive space being inverted.

Escher's 'Day and Night', woodcut 1938

From here you walk down into the houses installation where is opens from white to black – another illusion and test for your mind. The view is different from above to within, but by this stage, you might already be starting to feel your eyes and brain worked.

From the large house installation, you step into a room of paradoxes and optical illusions. These are the drawings that Escher was best known for. This is accompanied by Nendo’s design of hanging metal rods, that form the house motif when viewed from a specific angle.

The house motif is intensified on the penultimate room with a giant installation of many tiny houses forming a giant house (when viewed from the correct angle) changing from light to dark.
The works in this room are detailed, complicated, mathematical, and mostly impossible in three dimensions, creating a visual paradox in two dimensions.

“Two dimensional is just as fictitious as the four dimensional.” Eddie again quotes Escher.

“If you want to draw attention to something that cannot possibly exist, you have to try to fool firstly yourself and then your audience, expressing what you have to say in such a way as to cancel the element of impossibility. There has to be something unfathomable about it, something that is not immediately obvious.”

The Escherian double take is in every viewing from now onwards. This is engaging as well as exhausting, with no doubt that Escher was a totally master of his art form.

Escher X Nendo: Between Two Worlds
National Gallery Victoria
180 St Kilda Road
Melbourne 3006
Showing 2 December 2018 to 7 April 2019
Open 10am to 5pm daily