Jensen’s Great Pyramid

February 2nd, 2012

A painting by Alfred Jensen, reproduced in the catalog for his 2001–2002 Concordance exhibition at the Dia Center for the Arts.

In an article from the catalog, Professor Michael Newman writes, “Jensen’s elaborate diagrams are drawn from various cosmological systems, including the Mayan calendar, the I Ching and other Chinese mathematical systems, the Egyptian number system, Pythagorean mathematics and geometry, and ancient Greek systems of proportion. [For example,] The Great Pyramid (1980) [below] has numbers written in an ancient Egyptian notation, in which a bar stands for the number 1 and a horseshoe for 10, on a pattern that suggests rectangular pyramids seen from above. The panels are set in a progression such that the sum of the top and bottom number of each pair is 13; each contains an even number at the top and an odd one at the bottom—this kind of opposition, echoed in the use of black and white at the cores and edges, is reminiscent of the I Ching” (p78).

The Great Pyramid, 1980, 90 x 360 inches (insert), rotated 90° clockwise to fit this blog’s format. Click for larger, horizontal version.

Critic Peter Schjeldahl writes, “Jensen’s works can be called ‘diagrams’, not because they explicate ideas, but because they delineate them; they are fields united by the purpose of signifying. His is a gesture of communication, rather than of conveyance” (p44).

Asks Newman, “[Jensen] puts the viewer in a position of conflict in relation to the painting: Are we to decipher, turning to books to help us, or are we to look?” (p88).