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Gerard Caris: Beşgencilik/Pentagonism

by Ayşe Orhun Gültekin, Editor
Kuad Gallery, Süleyman Seba Caddesi, Beşiktaş, Istanbul 2012
128 pp., illus. colour & b/w.  Paper, N/A


Reviewed by Rob Harle


I first became acquainted with Caris' artwork in 2007 when I reviewed the associated books and exhibition catalogue for his major show at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (Leonardo Reviews, January 2008).

Since that time Caris' work has had both an inspiring and disquieting influence on me. I could never neatly label or categorise his art, this current book has helped me understand why this is so. As Laura Marks notes, Islamic muqarnas, with which Caris' work has similarities, are both rational and baffling. “Sometimes this gives rise to calm contemplation, a sense that we can come to understand the emerging complexity of geometrical relationships. Sometimes they baffle and disturb, giving rise not to knowledge but to doubt” (p. 91).

Beşgencilik/Pentagonism is both an excellent presentation of Caris' work over the years together with six stimulating, informative critical essays, and also the publication that accompanies Caris' exhibition at the Kuad Gallery in Istanbul (www.kuadgallery.com). “The exhibition aims to present a section of his lifelong work to Istanbul art scene on the occasion of 400 years of diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and Turkey. The remarkable similarity of his work to the Islamic decorative arts of intricate geometrical and mathematical motives marks the artistic and cultural link of this relation” (p. 9).

Repeating what I said in my previous review, Caris' work will be of interest to the Leonardo community as his work crosses the boundaries of science and art, producing a unique body of artwork based on mathematical and scientific exploration. His work for over 40 years has exclusively involved the nature and properties of the pentagon and regular dodecahedron. This study has led to new discoveries in mathematics and created aesthetically beautiful artworks concerning the dodecahedron that many regard as having an almost mystical nature.

The book is beautifully produced with numerous high quality colour and black & white photos, drawings and diagrams. All text is bilingual in both Turkish and English. The essays are followed by a Biography, Exhibition List, Bibliography and brief biographies of the contributors. The book would make an excellent addition to the library of art lovers, critics and art-history theorists alike. The essays are as follows:
1 – Gerard Caris: Artist and Scientist by Beral Madra
2 – Five Points on Pentagonism by Francis Halsall
3 – Creativity Patterns and the Brain: Abstraction, Extraction, and Figuration in the Art of Gerard Caris by Julien Bogousslavsky
4 – What's Behind Caris' Work? A Neuroarthistorical View by John Onians
5 – An Embodied Geometry: Living Forms in the Work of Gerard Caris and Islamic Art by Laura U. Marks
6 – Paradoxes of Pentagonism: Gerard Caris and the History of Art by Mark A. Cheetham

Caris very much “marches to the beat of his own drum” and has never compromised his unique vision by pandering to the transient trends that characterise the global art scene. This aesthetic has had the effect of marginalising his work and making it less known than it should be. However, as is the case with many great artists — and Caris is surely one — time will tell. Caris' standing within the history of modern art is discussed in detail in Cheetham's essay and to a lesser extent in the essays by Halsall, Onians and Marks. The inclusion of an essay by Marks was essential in this publication given the similarity of Caris' work too much of the art in Islamic mosques. Marks is an expert in Islamic art which is revealed in her recent book, Enfoldment and Infinity that I had the pleasure of reviewing not long ago (Leonardo Reviews, December 2010).

There are a number of reasons why Caris' works are difficult to characterise or pigeonhole as well as those already mentioned. Firstly, as Halsall notes, “[T]here is something alluringly alien about them. They too arrest time. They sit outside histories, both natural and art historical. They hover somewhere between animate and inanimate; art and science; life and artifice. Time “leaks” from them to.” (p. 17). Secondly, “The objects of geometry float free from the culturally and historically specific particularities of both language and personal experience” (p. 19). Thirdly, in a comparison with crystals, “[We] return again and again in seduced fascination. Seduced by something alien, something occult. Something that will continually escape our attempts to systematize it” (p. 21).

Now I can simply be seduced by the alluring beauty of Caris' work and go where ever it takes me without the necessity and almost compulsive need to lock it into some artificial classification, which as this book has shown, is not possible.

Last Updated 1 December 2012

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