Santagata Lecturer Dorothea Rockburne: Materializing Mathematical Concepts into Visual Art

Artist Dorothea Rockburne spoke at Bowdoin Monday, April 20, for the springtime Santagata Lecture.

When Rockburne first began making her paintings and works on paper in the 1950s, she never thought that her pieces would be viewed in an exhibition context, both because she was a woman, and because her mathematics-inspired paintings didn’t fit neatly into Abstract Expressionism or subsequently Minimalism. Consequently, she believed she would never be able to show her work. Her assumptions, of course, proved to be false.

Rockburne not only exhibited, but she did so widely. When the big museums and galleries first started showing female artists in the late 1960s, they were looking for formed work; she was there right at the beginning of the feminist art movement. Since then and throughout her artistic career, Rockburne has created shapes that reflect her profound understanding of mathematical theory. Learning from the legendary mathematician Max Dehn as a student at Black Mountain College, and nurtured by friendships with experimental artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage, she found compelling ways to apply the creativity of mathematics to painting.

Rockburne was born in Canada and received her initial training in Montreal. She holds a doctorate of fine arts and is a long-time member of the New York art scene. A traveling retrospective, Dorothea Rockburne: In My Mind’s Eye, was organized by the Parrish Museum, Southampton, New York in 2011. According to Frieze magazine, it “reaffirmed Rockburne’s claim to a central position in the American avant-garde.” When the Museum of Modern Art in New York dedicated an exhibition to her work in the winter of 2013-2014, a New York Times reviewer commented, “Ms. Rockburne’s work can be as physical as it is heady, turning math into a kind of dance or a form of Process Art.”

The talk was sponsored by the Kenneth V. Santagata Memorial Fund.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *