Space, Time, and the Fourth Dimension in 1913 and Beyond

Linda Dalrymple Henderson
1913: The Shape of Time talks series
23rd January 2013

Peter Forakis
'Magic Box'

Courtesy of Carson Hall, Dallas, TX

In the year 1913 the 'shape of time' did not include its identification with the 'fourth dimension.'  For the public, that linkage would come only in late 1919 after an eclipse expedition confirmed one of the postulates of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and catapulted him to instant celebrity.  From 1919 onward time would generally be understood as the fourth dimension, linked inextricably to the three dimensions of space in a four-dimensional space-time continuum, and would be incorporated into sculpture as kinetic motion.

For most of the first two decades of the century, however, the term fourth dimension signified a higher, unseen dimension of space.  Often linked as well to the ether of space, the fourth dimension served as a creative stimulus for painters and sculptors working in many modern styles, beginning with French Cubism and Italian Futurism.  Marcel Duchamp was particularly engaged with the fourth dimension at the same time he playfully explored the irregularly curved spaces of non-Euclidean geometry in his 3 Standard Stoppages of 1913.

Although the spatial fourth dimension was largely overshadowed during the 1920s-1950s by the popularization of Einstein and Relativity Theory, the concept began to reemerge in culture in the later 1950s and 1960s.  This lecture will conclude with a look at the artists of the Park Place Gallery (1963-1967), who explored the by-then multivalent fourth dimension in all of its identities - from geometry (Peter Forakis) and associations with higher consciousness to the world of space-time (Mark di Suvero).

Linda Dalrymple Henderson is the David Bruton, Jr. Centennial Professor in Art History and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin.  In addition to numerous essays, she is the author of The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (1983), with a new enlarged edition to be published in February 2013; and Duchamp in Context: Science and Technology in the Large Glass and Related Works (1998).  With literature scholar Bruce Clarke she co-edited the anthology From Energy to Information: Representation in Science and Technology, Art, and Literature (Stanford University Press, 2002).  The guest curator for the exhibition Reimagining Space: The Park Place Gallery Group in 1960s New York (Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas, 2008), she is currently at work on book projects titled The Fourth Dimension in Art and Culture Through the 20th Century and The Energies of Modernism: Early 20th-Century Art and Science.

An audio recording of this event is available in the Henry Moore Institute Research Library.