Next week, Crystal Bridges will open up Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome for viewing by the public! The dome, designed by Fuller as a solution to the need for inexpensive, versatile housing in the early 1980s, has been reconstructed on the museum’s north lawn. There’s also a focus exhibition about the creation of the dome in the lower Temporary Exhibition Gallery just past the museum’s new north lobby and elevator tower.
Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller was an inventor, a visionary, and a thinker. He embraced new ideas and new technologies, and strove to find ways to utilize them to benefit all of humanity. Throughout his life, Fuller interacted with dozens of designers, architects, artists, and scientists who were inspired by Bucky’s ideas and his altruism to experiment and innovate for the good of humanity.. Following is a sampling of artworks in our collection by artists Fuller inspired, many on view today.
Josef Albers hired Fuller for the 1948 summer session at Black Mountain College, an experimental arts school in rural North Carolina. Fuller said he was there when Albers first developed his Homage to the Square series: “One Sunday morning in August 1948, when I was fortunate enough to be present, Albers developed his system of simple arrangements of squares within squares as explicit articulations of his color harmonies.” Albers used a generalized set of principles in an almost scientific way to create a universal feeling of harmony that appealed to Fuller’s sensibilities.
Albers called Fuller “a great man,” and they became lifelong friends. Albers’s saying: “Do less in order to get more” mirrors Bucky’s “Use the least to accomplish the most.” Both believed that something important and integral lay in elements of simplicity.
Like Bucky, Asawa played with shapes, forms, and the volume of negative space in her sculptures. Fuller was an influential teacher for Asawa at Black Mountain College. She said he had arrived in the summer of 1948 with “his magical world of mathematical models packed in an aluminum trailer.” He would attempt his first geodesic dome that summer with his students. Constructed of flimsy Venetian blind strips, the structure lacked rigidity and so failed somewhat hilariously, with the students referring to it later as the “Supine Dome.”
In 1948, John Cage visited Black Mountain College for a performance and panel discussion, and then a festival devoted to musician Erik Satie for which he collaborated with Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Merce Cunningham, and Buckminster Fuller. In 1952 he applied this performance to the influence of Marcel Duchamp (who also inspired the artwork above) and the Dada movement. This was seen as the first “happening” or multi-media performance ever staged in America. Cage recited a lecture, Fuller acted, Cunningham danced, and Robert Rauschenberg played records on his old phonograph machine while his paintings flew above the audience.
Cage credited Fuller with expanding holistic and universal thinking. Much later, in 1980, Cage would write a poem for Fuller titled “.”
Fuller and Calder met as early as 1929. They were also good friends with sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Like Fuller, Calder was both an artist and a designer, and was fascinated by the universe: “I felt there was no better model for me to choose than the Universe…Spheres of different sizes, densities, colors, and volumes, floating in space,” he said.
Cunningham, the famous choreographer, traveled with Cage in 1948 to Black Mountain College. He recalls instantly becoming enchanted with Fuller while he gave a lecture: ”It was immediate, I think, with all of us who were there . . . this immediate absolute adoration and love of this man because of his . . . ideas. . . .The grandeur with which he saw things and the way in which he spoke about them and demonstrated them.” Cage, Cunningham, and Fuller would breakfast together every morning and dreamt up their own traveling school that would break down conventions of learning.
Johns was well known for using iconic symbols, like the flag, as imagery in his artworks. In 1967, Fuller created the US Pavilion, a huge geodesic dome, for the 1967 Montreal Expo. At the same event, Jasper Johns proposed a painting based on Fuller’s Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map. He got John Cage involved to get Fuller’s permission. This enormous work became his first and only painting of a world map in twenty-two separate panels. It represented a range of possibilities with no single, fixed viewpoint, aligning with Fuller’s idea of “fluid geography.” In 1971, Merce Cunningham performed Loops at the Museum of Modern Art in front of the Johns painting.
In Lunar Landscape, the spheres of cork suggest hovering satellites, asteroids, moons, or planets, but also part of the human anatomy, thus connecting humanity with the cosmos—an idea Fuller often expounded on. Made during WWII, this artwork can also represent a landscape scared by human violence.
Fuller and Noguchi had a famous creative friendship. The two men met in a New York City dive bar in 1929, and they remained friends until Fuller’s death in 1983. Noguchi made an early bronze head of Fuller and later returned to Fuller’s ideas for inspiration in his art. One such work, Miss Expanding Universe (1932), is a floating metallic sculpture, now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, which was also a dance choreographed with Noguchi’s lover, Ruth Page, based on Fuller’s epiphany to make the world a better place through his contributions.
Leo Villareal’s Buckyball consists of two geodesic spheres, one 10 and one 20 feet in diameter. Each sphere in this sculpture features 180 LED tubes arranged in a series of 12 pentagons and 20 hexagons. Its shape, known as a “Fullerene,” was first identified by scientists in the 1970s as a naturally occurring molecular sphere. The name pays homage to Fuller whose geodesic domes it resembles. Spherical Fullerenes are called “buckyballs,” combining his name with the soccer-ball-like shape. Villareal’s Buckyball, turned into a light-up sculpture, combines science, art, and design with nature and public space. “Buckyball affirms the power of public art to connect people and to create communal experiences all can enjoy,” said Villareal.
Moshe Safdie’s first major architectural project was Habitat ’67, which debuted in Montreal alongside Fuller’s US Pavilion, the 20-story geodesic dome. Habitat ‘67 stacked prefabricated modules in irregular geometric piles. Like Fuller, Safdie wished to give everyone a high quality of life, living in a house of their own rather than an urban high-rise apartment. This idea has only recently caught on in metropolitan areas in .
With Crystal Bridges, Safdie seamlessly unites art, architecture, and nature in a way that complements the vision of the Fly’s Eye Dome right outside. Don’t miss the opportunity to view these structures by two famous visionaries, whose works are side-by-side once again.
“Black Mountain College.” Ruth Asawa. 2016. http://www.ruthasawa.com/life/black-mountain-college/
Feig, Ellen Rosner. “From Happening to Voina: The Influence of Buckminster Fuller on the Works of John Cage.” Academia http://www.academia.edu/1908066/From_Happening_to_Voina_The_Influence_of_Buckminster_Fuller_on_the_Works_of_John_Cage
“Happy Birthday to Leo Villareal!” Crystal Bridges blog. 2017. http://crystalbridges.org/blog/happy-birthday-to-leo-villareal/
Hays, K. Michael and Dana Miller. Buckminster Fuller: Starting With the Universe. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art and Yale University, 2008.
Jacobs, Karrie. “Moshe Safdie and the Revival of Habitat 67.” Architect Magazine. May 12, 2015.http://www.architectmagazine.com/awards/moshe-safdie-and-the-revival-of-habitat-67_o
Saito, Stephen. “SXSW ’15 Interview: Tom Sachs on the Earthly Pleasures of Building “A Space Program.”” The Moveable Fest. April 13, 2015. http://moveablefest.com/moveable_fest/2015/04/tom-sachs-space-program.html