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Posted on Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 5:08 a.m.

Review: "Middy Potter: Art and Math" exhibit at the WSG Gallery

By John Carlos Cantu

Fused Cones.jpg
Middy Potter’s “Art and Math” at Ann Arbor’s WSG Gallery offers brainy insights hidden in art’s plain view.

Merrily working in a variety of materials, Potter, a local mixed-media specialist, uses mathematics as the basis of his creativity. 

Potter’s plywood, sugar pine, metal and paint “Not a Regular Platonic Solid” gives us entrée into his thinking by contrasting a surreal sculpture of a fish bisecting a triangle against the theory referenced in the title.

Plato’s theory of mathematics — like his metaphysics — rests on the peculiar notion that it is ideas that are real. Essentially, like Rene Magritte’s famed cigar, what’s not real is the fish, nor the sculpture for that matter; but, more so, what’s real is the idea of intersecting geometries: Hence, not a “regular” Platonic “solid.”

This cleverness runs through all of Potter’s art. Thus as he says of his pleasing — if not also somewhat visually busy — “Ornamental Cube,” composed of plywood, wood, plastic, metal and paint: “This is a cube of ornamental proportions, one of the five Platonic Solids that are convex polyhedra with uniform sides. They include the tetrahedron (four equilateral triangles), the octahedron (eight equilateral triangles), the hexahedron aka the cube (six squares), the icosahedron (20 equilateral triangles) and the dodecahedron (12 pentagons).”

Potter, of course, isn’t the first artist to be enamored with mathematics and aesthetics. This fascination dates back to the ancient Egyptians’ architectural attraction to the mathematical golden ratio, vividly depicted in the triangular splendor of the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

From Leonardo da Vinci to M.C. Escher, this sort of rationalized creativity runs straight through to today’s bewilderingly spectacular fractal geometry. Potter just seems to like having this fun house of ideas his way.

A stolidly surreal “Tactile Object,” a wooden box with found fur nestled in its opening, has an interesting oblique relation to Merle Oppenheimer’s famed 1936 fur-covered tea cup, saucer and spoon, “Object (Le Dejeuner en fourrure).” Just like his “Helix” reflects a well-bred admiration for Marcel Duchamp’s far more unruly 1913-14 “3 Standard Stoppages,” where chance meets geometry.

And there’s ample geometry to go around. Potter’s handsome cast concrete, modified stucco and glass rod “Fused Cones” are his way of depicting monumental proportion (where, as he says), “many types of spirals exist.” Potter’s explanation for this oversized sculpture speaks for itself: “A polar equation describes spirals: radius = a times the polar angle raised to the a constant of 1 over N. The constant N (determining) how tightly the spiral is bent around the center point.”

Say what? It looks like a bunch of fused purple striped coils to me.

Maybe it’ll be just enough to make note of the single most graceful artwork on display—Potter’s minimalist “Elliptic Hyperboloid.” This elegant, symmetrically refined brazing rod, silver solder and paint construction consists of top and bottom wire ellipsis linked to a series of undulating diagonal rods fanning upward.

Like the most brilliant of all scientific and aesthetic recipes, Potter’s “Elliptic Hyperboloid” looks fine because of nothing more (and certainly nothing less) than its conceptual simplicity.

John Carlos Cantú is a free-lance writer who reviews art for

“Middy Potter: Art and Math” continues through Sept. 13 at WSG Gallery, 306 S. Main St. Gallery hours are noon-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; noon-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday; and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 734-761-2287.

Image at top of page: "Fused Cones," Cast concrete, modified stucco, glass rod piece by Middy Potter.