Project Description

A major show of the work of one of the 20th century’s most popular artists, MC Escher: Seeing the Unseen, was on view at Berkshire Museum from January 22 to May 22, 2011. The exhibition, conceived and curated by Berkshire Museum staff, offered a fresh perspective on an iconic artist, one who innovatively brought together graphic design, fine art, and an interest in natural history. MC Escher: Seeing the Unseen probed deeply into the real-world inspirations that guided the artist as he explored the outer reaches of his imagination—whether choosing lizards, swans and insects as his subjects, or creating mind-bending imagery reflecting universal laws found in mathematics. An immersive experience, it included hands-on interactive stations providing the chance for visitors to find the fun in Escher’s technique and explore his innovation in a personal way.

MC Escher: Seeing the Unseen comprised 120 original prints, woodcuts, drawings and sketches by Escher, including a major loan of 57 pieces from the collection of Boston Public Library, and other hard-to-find prints on loan from major Escher collectors and dealers. MC Escher: Seeing the Unseen was sponsored by TD Bank.

Escher’s technical wizardry placed him in the tradition of the greatest European printmakers; his meticulously conceived and masterfully executed images prove endlessly appealing to the casual viewer and to students of all ages, while offering ample layers of detail and technique for the aficionado to appreciate. His eminently accessible work, full of eye-popping imagery and fantastical scenarios, permeated popular culture to an extent virtually unheard of for living artists. Many of his iconic images were borrowed from and alluded to on everything from playing cards to dorm room posters, from the cover of a 2010 issue of The New Yorker to Mott the Hoople’s 1969 debut album.

MC Escher: Seeing the Unseen included many of the artist’s best-loved pieces, including Reptiles, Belvedere, Three Worlds, Self Portrait in Spherical Mirror, Sky and Water I, and Waterfall. It placed these unforgettable images in the context of other prints—many, like the epic scrolls Metamorphosis II and Metamorphosis III, rarely on public view—in which he worked out their key ideas. The exhibition traced Escher’s progress from obsessively detailed Italian cityscapes to his discovery of the tightly interlocking shapes found in Spanish mosaics, which became the inspiration for the repeating images of birds, reptiles and fish that populate some of his most famous images. Obsessed with exploring precise ways of dividing the two-dimensional plane, and whimsically including self-conscious “clues” to the viewer that betray his awareness of the essential illusions at play, Escher pursued his vision with work that displays both an exacting sense of perfectionism and a wry sense of humor.

MC Escher: Seeing the Unseen offered a priceless look at Escher’s creative process, including some rare preparatory drawings on view alongside the finished work, as well as hand-cut woodblocks used by the artist to make prints. The exhibition even included some of Escher’s original pencils, pencil case, and drawing triangle. MC Escher: Seeing the Unseen also looked at Escher’s impact on popular culture, with fun ephemera ranging from an issue of LIFE Magazine from 1961 to a small gallery of black light posters.