Finding a reason to celebrate is as easy as pie at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. On March 14th at 9:26:53, calendars and clocks lined up with the first 10 digits of pi—3.14.15 9:26:53, or 3.141592653—a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. The day also happened to be Albert Einstein’s birthday and the opening of the museum’s latest exhibition: “A Gift of Knowing: The Art of Dorothea Rockburne.” To celebrate the trio of events, the museum invited visitors to come eat pie and tour the new exhibit.
Before the clock struck 9:26:53, Bowdoin professor of mathematics Jennifer Taback gave a brief history of Pi. In ancient Greece, one of Pythagoras’ followers came up with a proof suggesting the existence of irrational numbers—that is, numbers that can’t be expressed as fractions. “However,” said Taback, “Pythagoras was really the head of a cult—a cult where you did what he wanted in the way that he wanted.” When Pythagoras’ follower came up with this groundbreaking proof, “it so offended Pythagoras that he threw the guy overboard,” Taback said. “It took a long time for the notion of an irrational number to be accepted by the mainstream.” Today, irrational numbers are universally accepted and some—like Pi—even have cult followings. At the event, in fact, many guests sported t-shirts affirming their love of the mathematical ratio.
After visitors feasted on pie, they filed into the exhibition space. There, Taback and Joachim Homann, the museum’s curator, explained the artwork’s mathematical and topological connections. Though Rockburne was recently featured in a solo exhibition, “Drawing Which Makes Itself,” at the Museum of Modern Art, she reportedly told Homann that the Bowdoin show meant a lot to her. She said she feels that “in some way this is certainly one of the most important exhibitions I’ve ever done. That is because Bowdoin is recognizing the solid math connection that comprises the essence of my work. This and the fact that in a way it is addressed to Bowdoin’s students.”
Rockborne is giving Bowdoin’s Santagata lecture on April 20, 7:30 p.m., in Kresge Auditorium, and will give a gallery talk at the Museum the following afternoon.