Musing on the Impossible: The Holographic Worlds of M.C. Escher at Industry City, Brooklyn NY

In The Menu, Visual Arts by Eva Zanardi1 Comment

Yesterday my brain melted. At ESCHER. The Exhibition & Experience, one of New York’s 2018 must-see exhibitions, the Dutch artist’s perspective-mangling worlds sent my mind spinning. Because of my passion for Op and Kinetic art, I was a kid in a candy store. Thanks to the clever, interactive installations that pepper a flawlessly curated selection of Escher’s works, I got to experience (hence the title) the visionary world of M.C. Escher firsthand. Among other exhilarating experiences, I sat on a Penrose Triangle-like structure, saw my reflection multiplied ad infinitum in the mirrored infinity room, felt simultaneously gigantic and very small in the perspective bending relativity room, and had my picture taken, in lieu of Escher himself, inside the 1935 lithograph “Hand with Reflecting Sphere (Self-Portrait in Spherical Mirror).”

ESCHER. The Exhibition & Experience is the most comprehensive and the largest display of the Dutch artist’s work ever presented in the United States. The exhibition’s American premiere follows its wide success internationally – in cities including Rome, Bologna, Milan, Singapore, Madrid, and Lisbon – where it has been attended by over 1 million visitors.

Organized by Arthemisia, one of Italy’s leading art exhibition producers, the exhibition features over 200 works by the iconic Dutch artist M.C. Escher, and is on view June 8, 2018 through February 3, 2019 at Brooklyn’s Industry City. Curated by Mark Veldhuysen and Federico Giudiceandrea, the showcase focuses on the visitor experience, helping viewers investigate how they see, hear, perceive, and understand the impossible worlds of Escher.

It’s a great opportunity for children to see the Dutch master’s mind bending drawings at close and personal proximity, and to explore several collaborative and interactive installations designed to explain some of his most famous works. To fully implement a kid-friendly viewing experience, Industry City created an “activity room” for children to experiment with Escher’s colors, shapes, and ideas.

M.C. Escher was idolized mainly by mathematicians and scientists, and found global fame only when he came to be considered a pioneer of psychedelic art by the hippy counterculture of the 1960s. His prints adorn albums by Mott the Hoople and the Scaffold, and he was courted unsuccessfully by Mick Jagger for The Stones’ s Let It Bleed album cover and by Stanley Kubrick for his 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Despite the popularity of his fastidious optical illusions, Escher continues to face snobbery within the realm of fine art, where his output is often denigrated as little more than technically accomplished graphic design.

M.C. Escher produced most of his works during the era of Modernism—the era of “reinventing” art. However, Escher did not belong to any movement, but rather created whatever he wanted to. Many of the artist’s works were inspired by his extreme interest in certain aspects of life, such as tessellations (repeating tiles), polyhedron (3-dimensional geometric objects), the shape and logic of space (the relationship between physical objects), and infinity (including the möbius strip and tessellations). Though Escher did not have any formal training or education in mathematics, nearly all of his works use complicated mathematical principals.

ESCHER…is a wonderfully organized exhibition both for its variety, quality, and range of artworks and for its careful and imaginative installation. The exhibition’s playful and educational structure (the “experience”) does not deter the viewer from the show’s main objective: to present a comprehensive and illuminating retrospective designed to shed light of one of the most popular yet mysterious and misunderstood artists of the 20th century.

In Escher’s metamorphosing worlds, shapes fluidly and continually shift: from angels to bat-like demons, from birds to fish, geometrical paradoxes transform snakes into interlocking circles, hexagons into bee hives, squares into buildings. In the Dutch master’s works, as in quantum mechanics, realities coexist and metamorphose into each other. M.C. Escher’s investigations into duality, multiple dimensions, visual perception, and the true fabric of reality make me wonder: are the fundamental particles of which we all—and our experiences of reality—are made of merely manifestations of higher-dimensional phenomena? Do we exist in a plane of reality that is merely a minor substrate of multi-reality? These are some of the thoughts that crossed my mind after I visited ESCHER. The Exhibition & Experience.  That alone makes it more than worth its admission price. Don’t walk, run to see this show!

M.C. Escher, “Flor de Pascua (The Scapegoat)”, 1921, woodcut, Bool 69, 4 3/4 X 3 5/8
Scapegoat demonstrates the duality of black and white images and symmetry much like his tessellation pieces.

M.C. Escher “Rippled Surface”, 1950, linocut in two colors, 10.25 x 12.62 in. (26 x 32.1 cm.)


M.C. Escher, the genius at work.

Escher explores Duality – M.C. Escher, “Circle Limit IV, Heaven and Hell)”, 1960, woodcut, printed from two blocks, Bool 436, 16 3/3 X 16 3/8
Circle Limit IV is based on hyperbolic geometry. Escher claimed to have never have understood the mathematics behind it, but with the help of H.S.M. Coxeter (a Canadian professor) he was able to create hyperbolic graphs and ultimately four Circle Limit tessellations. This final limit woodcut is the most complex of the tessellated figures and is appropriately nicknamed “Angels and Demons”.


M.C. Escher, “Knots”, 1965, woodcut in black, green and brown printed from three blocks, Bool 444,
16.88 x 12.62 in. (42.9 x 32.1 cm.) The set of 59 preliminary drawings for this print is the largest and and most extensive that survives for any of Escher’s prints. The figures, starting from the top right and going counterclockwise, are increasingly complex Moebius knots.


M.C.Escher, “Three Spheres I”, 1945, wood engraving, Bool 336, 11 X 6 58 in.
Escher teaches us that a drawing all the three-dimensional sphere can look like a sphere from one angle only. In some ways, demonstrating the failure of art to represent reality as it can only show us one perspective.


M. C. Escher, “Regular Division of the Plane I”, woodcut in red, Private Collection, USA, All M.C. Escher Works @ 2018 The M.C. Escher Company.


M. C. Escher, “Relativity”, 1953, lithograph, 27.7 cm × 29.2 cm (10.9 in × 11.5 in)
Relativity is a lithograph print by the Dutch artist M. C. Escher, first printed in December 1953.
It depicts a world in which the normal laws of gravity do not apply. The architectural structure seems to be the centre of an idyllic community, with most of its inhabitants casually going about their ordinary business, such as dining. There are windows and doorways leading to park-like outdoor settings. All of the figures are dressed in identical attire and have featureless bulb-shaped heads. Identical characters such as these can be found in many other Escher works.
In the world of Relativity, there are three sources of gravity, each being orthogonal to the two others. Each inhabitant lives in one of the gravity wells, where normal physical laws apply. There are sixteen characters, spread between each gravity source, six in one and five each in the other two. The apparent confusion of the lithograph print comes from the fact that the three gravity sources are depicted in the same space. This is one of Escher’s most popular works and has been used in a variety of ways.


M.C. Escher, “Rind”, 1955, wood engraving and woodcut, Bool 401, 13 5/8 x 9 1/4
Escher commented that this print was inspired by H.G. Wells book “The Invisible Man”. He was not satisfied with the lose ends, and subsequently created “Bond of Union” to make one continuous ribbon.

M. C. Escher, “Hand with Reflecting Sphere”, 1935, Lithograph, 31.8 cm × 21.3 cm (12.5 in × 8.4 in). The piece depicts a hand holding a reflective sphere. In the reflection most of the room around Escher can be seen and the hand holding the sphere is revealed to be Escher’s.
Self-portraits in reflective, spherical surfaces are common in Escher’s work, and this image is the most prominent and famous example. In much of his self-portraiture of this type, Escher is in the act of drawing the sphere, whereas in this image he is seated and gazing into it. On the walls there are several framed pictures, one of which appears to be of an Indonesian shadow puppet. It also contains bookcases, furniture, other pictures, and many other items.


M. C. Escher, “Snakes”, 1969, woodcut, 49.8 cm × 44.7 cm (19.6 in × 17.6 in). Snakes depicts a disc made up of interlocking circles that grow progressively smaller towards the center and towards the edge. There are three snakes laced through the edge of the disc. Snakes has rotational symmetry of order 3, comprising a single wedge-shaped image repeated three times in a circle. This means that it was printed from three blocks that were rotated on a pin to make three impressions each. Close inspection reveals the central mark left by the pin. The image is printed in three colors: green, brown and black. In several earlier works Escher explored the limits of infinitesimal size and infinite number, for example the Circle Limit series, by actually carrying through the rendering of smaller and smaller figures to the smallest possible sizes. By contrast, in Snakes, the infinite diminution of size – and infinite increase in number – is only suggested in the finished work. Nevertheless, the print shows very clearly how this rendering would have been carried out to the limits of human visibility. This was Escher’s last print.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        INSTALLATION VIEWS

Installation view, “ESCHER The Exhibition and Experience” at Industry City, June 8, 2018- February 3rd 2019, Photo by Adam Reich, courtesy of Arthemisia

Installation view, “ESCHER The Exhibition and Experience” at Industry City, June 8, 2018- February 3rd 2019, Photo by Adam Reich, courtesy of Arthemisia

Installation view, “ESCHER The Exhibition and Experience” at Industry City, June 8, 2018- February 3rd 2019, Photo by Adam Reich, courtesy of Arthemisia

Installation view, “ESCHER The Exhibition and Experience” at Industry City, June 8, 2018- February 3rd 2019, Photo by Adam Reich, courtesy of Arthemisia

Installation view, “ESCHER The Exhibition and Experience” at Industry City, June 8, 2018- February 3rd 2019, Photo by Adam Reich, courtesy of Arthemisia

Installation view, “ESCHER The Exhibition and Experience” at Industry City, June 8, 2018- February 3rd 2019, Photo by Adam Reich, courtesy of Arthemisia

Installation view, “ESCHER The Exhibition and Experience” at Industry City, June 8, 2018- February 3rd 2019, Photo by Adam Reich, courtesy of Arthemisia

Installation view, “ESCHER The Exhibition and Experience” at Industry City, June 8, 2018- February 3rd 2019, Photo by Adam Reich, courtesy of Arthemisia

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION (from the official press release)

The exhibition highlights Escher’s journey as an artist – from his earlier works of nature and landscape in the 1920s and 1930s, to the figurative and abstract art developed in the late 1930s, through the 1960s when he sought to explore infinity. Some of his works are instantly recognizable, and have lent inspiration to the popular culture of our time. The last gallery of the exhibition is dedicated to artists, designers, fashion designers, singers and film directors who have been inspired by Escher’s work.

Included in the exhibition are some of Escher’s most iconic and recognizable masterpieces, including Hand with Reflecting SphereRelativityBelvedereEyeMetamorphosisDay and Night and Waterfall.

In addition to the Escher works on display, the exhibition includes scientific experiments, play areas and educational resources that will help visitors of all ages to understand the impossible perspectives, disquieting images and seemingly irreconcilable universes which Escher combined to create a unique artistic dimension. Among these special installations will be immersive photo booths constructed to emulate Escher’s hypnotic environments. Visitors will be able to photograph themselves “inside” the worlds of M.C. Escher, the Relativity Room, which turns normal size and scale on its head, and the “Infinity Room,” in which visitors can see their reflection repeated, seemingly, into infinity.

ESCHER. The Exhibition & Experience is divided into seven thematic sections:

  • Early period and Italy
  • Tessellation
  • Structure of space
  • Metamorphosis
  • Geometrical paradoxes
  • Commissioned work
  • “Eschermania”

Early period and Italy

This first section highlights Escher’s rapport with Art Nouveau. The link between the future engraver – a student at the time – and this important international current was his teacher, Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita. The influence from Art Nouveau is one of the distinguishing features of Escher’s early style and it also sparked his future interest in tessellation, or the regular division of the plane.

Additionally, in this section, Escher’s close relationship with Italy – a country where the artist spent much of his life between 1921 and 1935 – is dealt with in depth.


The crucial turning point in Maurits Cornelis Escher’s artistic development was his second visit to the Alhambra and Cordoba in 1936. While the artist had already developed a considerable interest in tessellation through his Art Nouveau training, this second visit to the Alhambra led him to embark on a meticulous study of the patterns used to decorate the extraordinary Moorish palace. He then became passionate about tessellations: geometric decorations in which triangles, stars or squares repeat like tiles to cover a plane without leaving any gaps.

Structure of space

Escher was always fascinated by reflective surfaces. His first self-portrait on curved mirrors dates from 1921. The sphere reflecting rays from all directions shows the whole surrounding area. Hence the eyes of the viewer are always at the center; the viewer comes to perceive the self at the center of the universe. Thus, the Self (as Escher himself writes) is the undisputed protagonist at the center of the world, which revolves around it.

Yet we find more than just spheres in this section: two-dimensional shapes are juxtaposed with solids through the tessellating of space according to an endless range of possible compositions, as in the 1955 work Depth, which seems to reproduce the disposition of atoms in the element iron (Fe). Escher was keenly interested in metals and crystals, and he studied all the laws governing their molecular arrangement in space.


This section takes its title from Metamorphosis, one of Escher’s greatest masterpieces. The work depicts a whirl of transformations based on different forms of tessellation and logical and formal resemblances, culminating with a view of Atrani, a village on the Amalfi coast that the artist was very fond, of and where he spent his honeymoon. Escher depicted Atrani in 1931; By comparing the two engravings visitors will realize that the landscapes in Escher’s ‘conceptual’ works after 1936, the year he left Italy, are – with few exceptions – Italian. It is as though, deprived of the landscape that inspired him, Escher found inspiration in inner mental structures that were rooted in his memories of the time spent in Italy.

Geometric paradoxes

This section focuses on two scientific domains that are of crucial importance to Escher’s art: mathematics and geometry. Between Escher and the mathematicians of his day ran a thin yet crucial line; the attraction between them, however, was a mutual and fruitful one. The Dutch genius was capable of turning his fantasies into images and this captured scientists’ attention, leading to a dialogue with the world of science that continued even beyond the artist’s death.

Print Gallery (1956) is a refined version of the “image within the image,” also known as the Droste Effect (a name that derives from the tin of the famous Dutch cocoa). This effect spawned a scientific debate which raged on for forty-seven years, as scientists grappled with a problem that seemed unsolvable on account of its enigmatic complexity – a mystery on which Escher himself attempted to shed light through his work.

The Droste Effect makes this work appear incomplete, because of the difficulty of joining it at the center. Escher placed his signature in the empty space that remained. The mystery of this ‘hole’ left by Escher and of whether it is possible to fill it was solved by Hendrik Lenstra, a mathematician from Leiden University, in 2003.

Commissioned work

This section illustrates Escher’s ‘everyday’ activity, with works intended to meet clients’ requirements more than the goals of his own personal artistic research. However, this does not make the works in question any less notable. Like all great artists, in creating bookplates and visiting cards for various clients, Escher never betrayed his own art, but rather adopted an original and immediately recognizable approach. Indeed, these projects offered Escher valuable opportunities to experiment with solutions that he would later use for his masterpieces.


Escher’s art left the confines of the studio and was transformed into gift boxes, postage stamps and greeting cards; it entered the world of comics and cartoons and ended up on the LP sleeves of famous bands like Pink Floyd; it even found its way into television advertisements and feature films. This section of ESCHER. The Exhibition & Experience explores the vast impact that M.C. Escher’s unmistakable and iconic work has had on entertainment, consumer goods, and popular culture through the present day.


Mark Veldhuysen

Mark Veldhuysen is the CEO of the M.C. Escher Company, and has been the curator of the M.C. Escher Foundation Collection for over thirty years. One of the world’s leading experts on Escher, he is close friends with the artist’s sons and has led joint lectures with George Escher, the artist’s eldest son.

Federico Giudiceandrea

Federico Giudiceandrea is one of the world’s foremost collectors of the works of M.C. Escher. He has lent works toward and curated M.C. Escher exhibitions in Italy, Singapore, Spain, and Portugal, among others. He is also the CEO of MiCROTEC, based in Italy.


Industry City is a 6 million-square-foot mixed-use complex comprised of 16 buildings spanning 35 acres on the waterfront in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The property’s ownership – led by Belvedere Capital, Jamestown and Angelo Gordon & Co. – is transforming the complex, while cultivating a diverse tenant mix that fuses today’s burgeoning innovation economy with traditional manufacturing and artisanal craft. To date, the transformation has included over $250 million of infrastructure improvements, the addition of destination courtyards, experience-driven dining, retail and other amenitization and event programing. This work is paving the way toward a vibrant and diverse community of forward-thinking companies that support good-paying jobs for workers across skill and experience levels. Since the new partnership was forged in August 2013, businesses based at Industry city have grown by an average of 100 jobs per month, increasing employment from 1,900 jobs in 2013 to more than 6,500 jobs today.


Arthemisia is Italy’s leading company for the production, organization, and staging of art exhibitions. Arthemisia has introduced and consolidated a new way of creating exhibitions, and is now a national and international point of reference for the organization and production of high quality art events. Since 2000, Arthemisia has produced more than 500 exhibitions, many of which have launched innovative trends in exhibition organization.


Corrado Anselmi

The Corrado Anselmi Studio, based in Milan, Italy, works mainly in the recovery of historical contexts and is specialized in the design of permanent and temporary museum displays. Previous exhibition designs include: “Inside Caravaggio” at Palazzo Reale, Milan; “Picasso. Capolavori dal Museo Picasso, Parigi” at Palazzo Ducale Genoa; “Rembrandt and His Time. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection” at National Museum of China, Bejing; “Basquait” at MUDEC Milan, and “Leonardo Da Vinci 1452-1519” at Palazzo Reale, Milan.

General exhibition details:


Industry City (34 34th Street, Building 6), Brooklyn, NY

Preferred subway route: Take the D, N, or R train to the 36th Street (Brooklyn) stop


Public opening dates:

June 08th, 2018 – February 03rd, 2019

Opening Times:

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday Sunday from 10.00 am to 7.00 pm

Thursday 10.00 am to 9.00 pm

(The ticket office closes an hour before closing time)


Full $20 (18-64)

Reduced $15 (seniors 65+, military personnel)

Students with ID $15 (18-26)

Youths $13 (12-17)

Children $6 (5-11)

Adult groups $15 (min. 15 max. 30 – booking required – microphone system included in the price)

School groups $6 K-17 (min. 15 max. 30 – booking required – microphone system included in the price)

“University” Monday $12 every Monday with Student ID

Partner school students $12

Skip the line $25

Exhibition audio guide is complimentary

Exhibition website:



The author and one of the interactive installations at ESCHER. The Exhibition & Experience

The author and one of the interactive installations at ESCHER. The Exhibition & Experience

The author and one of the interactive installations at ESCHER. The Exhibition & Experience

The author and one of the interactive installations at ESCHER. The Exhibition & Experience


  1. As a physicist and Escher lover, I find your concluding quantum mechanics metaphor contains a surprising amount of reality that you have wonderfully captured.

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