In Which We'd Like to Use 'MONOHEX' in a Sentence
Monday, August 11, 2008 at 11:08AM

Buckminster Fuller at the Whitney

by Molly Young

at the Whitney through Sept. 21

Imagine life as a sequence of epiphanies that morph into schemes and end up as Building Plans. This is every kid's dream. It is also the way that Buckminster Fuller happened to arrange his life.

Accordingly, the current exhibit at the Whitney is full of little boys. I see one of them lean close to an architectural diagram and make a farting noise. "Three times three is nine-thousand," he says to himself. He has been staring at the picture much longer than I am willing to stare.

new yorker account of fuller

A collection of Buckminster Fuller paraphernalia is set up as though the galleries were pre-school classrooms, with different stations of activity arranged in every zone. There are models, magazines, video screens, projections and a giant cardboard structure. There are lots of colors and shapes - things that a baby would play with if you put mini-versions in front of him. It is a nicely installed show and suited to the Whitney, which feels a bit like a laboratory anyway.

Everything Fuller produced (no matter how polished its final presentation) carried a sense of the innocent noodling that inspired it. Perhaps this explains the interest of the little boys. At any rate, this fact is one of two things that contribute to the charm of the works on display. The other is Fuller’s sense of the Future as an exciting beacon towards which to march. His inventions are cute in the way that all futuristic conceptions of past eras become cute (monorails, household apes, silver v-suits) over time.

As you’d expect, there are many diagrams of geodesic structures. These have a technical loveliness which exists in the fact that they are impossible for the layperson to understand. They radiate, also, the pleasure of seeing a 3D object rendered in two dimensions. It's the same effect we aimed for when we doodled cubes or barns in our science notebooks.

A like joy is inspired by the spectacle of giant things rendered very teensily: a mini-dome, a number of dioramas, maps of all kinds. The young boys roaming the exhibit tended to cluster around these displays. "Dad, wouldn't the floating city be moving? Oh my god, Dad, what happens when waves come? Dad, what is a time-space principle?"

Fuller's mode of experimentation seems to have dribbled down two floors of the museum to an exhibit titled PROGRESS, which displays items from the permanent collection of the Whitney. "This presentation," a placard says, "examines the topic of progress, which has captured the human imagination for centuries." Hehe! It is time to build a baking-soda volcano and make some oobleck out of cornstarch.

Molly Young is the contributing editor to This Recording. She lives in Manhattan. Her tumblr is here. Her website is here.

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