Published On: May 4, 2013

Escher Creates Impossible at MON

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Some artists are referred to as geniuses, their work admired by millions of people over the centuries. However, in the case of M.C. Escher, the most common label associated with him is “impossible.” Escher was a graphic artist whose creations depict impossible realities. Although he had no training as a mathematician, he took his inspiration from the mysteries of math and once said, “It’s clear to me that mathematics and poetry have the same roots.”

To describe a typical Escher scene that cannot exist in reality is not the best way to appreciate his creations. Rather, I recommend you visit the Oscar Niemeyer Museum here in Curitiba and view Escher’s work. It’s necessary to see for yourself what happens when an amazing graphic artist learns how to play tricks with infinity.

Born in the Netherlands, his life spanning most of the 20th century (1898-1972), Escher’s work focused on creating the impossible by playing with intersecting planes and three-dimensional perspectives that in reality couldn’t exist. He worked primarily in lithographs.

One of Escher’s favorite tricks involves interlocking images where it is impossible to see both images at the same time. You can only see the dark one or the light one because one provides the background for the other.

Another game Escher played in his work was to violate the rules of perspective and the third dimension. For example, in the lithograph “Ascending and Descending”, Escher created two lines of people ascending and descending stairs in an infinite loop on a construction which is impossible to build and possible to draw only by taking advantage of quirks of perception and perspective.

Ascending and Descending

It’s important to remember that not only was Escher self-taught in the realm of mathematics, which was central to his work, but also that his most known works were lithographs. This means that he was not drawing or painting his inventions but created the original design by carving them first in wood or stone and then making prints from the carvings.

In another of his best known lithographs, “Waterfall”, Escher again displays the impossible – a waterfall that powers a wheel, which manages to propel itself through the magic of the impossible. It’s a fantasy dreamed of by many engineers, like a “perpetual motion” machine.


The “Eye Museum” has mounted an outstanding exhibition of Escher’s work, including an Escher Room created by another artist as an homage to Escher. Some of his designs have been copied and expanded onto large backgrounds, including his famous woodcut “Day and Night” which has been reproduced over the Museum elevators.

There are also several exhibits that visitors can walk inside of, creating an interactive atmosphere, which will make this museum visit interesting even for children. The morning I saw the exhibit, there were several groups of school children enjoying Escher’s ability to play tricks on the mind, such as infinitely repeating images in facing mirrors, or animated versions of Escher’s designs created by other artists. A museum guide at the entrance was offering the use of special t-shirts to blend into an optical illusion, and visitors were happily taking their photos in front of the illusion.

As a result, a visit to the Museum is worthwhile simply to enjoy the looks of surprise and glee on the visitors’ faces. As many Brazilians are not familiar with Escher’s work, even adults are engaged by the games of impossible perspectives. Additionally, there is a one-hour film documentary on Escher, for those interested in a deeper investigation of the artist’s life.

Not surprisingly, the Escher exhibit is drawing record numbers of visitors to the Oscar Niemeyer Museum. In the first ten days of the exhibition by the Dutch artist, an estimated 14,000 visitors have come to see the impossible. The show traveled through other Brazilian cities in 2011 and was the world’s most visited exhibition according to The Art Newspaper.

According to the Exhibition curator Pieter Tjabbes, the show’s immense popularity rests on Escher’s ability to be playful and technically brilliant. “Both those who understand and don’t understand art can engage with it.The pieces draw you in,” says the curator, who organized the show with the intent to educate the public with explanations about the artist and his work. Since organizers of the show have encouraged visitors to photograph and share the experience on social networks, many visitors are learning about it via the Internet. “This has had a multipling effect for attendance,” says Tjabbes, much like the multiplying images in Escher’s mirrors.

The large exhibit, occupying two rooms of the Museum is a rare opportunity to see Escher’s original work. The exhibit contains all of his most famous lithographs, including Metamorphosis I & II, which stretches for at least ten meters along one wall. Metamorphosis features Escher’s signature work of interlocking images, each one morphing into a different image using the juxtaposition of black and white. This imagery, known as “tessellation”, was first explored in the study of crystals by scientists in the 1600s. Escher read extensively about crystallography and also spent weeks making sketches of the geometric patterns of the Alhambra, the famous palace in Granada, Spain, which is covered with mosaics in the style of the Moors. The geometry of crystals and the infinite repetition of patterns in the Arab designs became Escher’s inspiration.

Metamorphose II

This exhibit of Escher’s most famous works is owned by the Escher Museum in the Netherlands. A show of Escher’s entire work has never been mounted before, but thanks to the Escher Museum, which has organized the show’s display in cities all over the world, Brazilians are able to meet the man who created the impossible. You’ll have to see it to believe it.

The Magic of Escher (A Magia de Escher)
Oscar Niemeyer Museum (R. Hermes, 999 – Centro Cívico, Curitiba) (41) 3350-4400
Tuesday to Friday, 10 am to 8 pm. Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm.
R$6 and R$3.
Open now through July 21, 2013.

Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba.

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  1. I.M.Levin says:

    Wonderful review! So sorry I can’t be in Curitiba to visit the museum.

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