Feb 22, 2020 · 1:54 PM

Date 2004
Measurements 362 x 362 x 21 cm (with stage elements 400 x 400 x 50 cm)
Technique/material Glass, aluminum, wood, rubber, stage elements
Credit Collection Museum Haus Konstruktiv
Donated by Barbara and Hans-Ulrich Doerig
Inv. no. SK08292
Carsten Nicolai

Perfect Square

In the early 1990s, Carsten Nicolai (born 1965 in Chemnitz, Germany (then Karl-Marx-Stadt, GDR)) began pursuing an interdisciplinary, science-based approach to art that includes sound, electronics, physics, and mathematics. What has always overlapped in some respects is thus given new treatment in Nicolai’s work in the form of an aesthetically motivated interest in the visualization of hidden principles of order – for example, as they appear in the codes and frequencies of modern technologies and natural phenomena. His research also encompasses chaotic and random structures, faulty or intentionally paradox impulses, system-immanent instabilities, and (not least) procedures and apparatuses for the observation, recording, and imaging of such experiments. In short, Nicolai's art is located at the intersection between form and non-form, at the freezing point where the act of crystallizing is visualized in a model or ideal way.
Seen from this perspective, “Perfect Square” (2004) seems oddly accessible. Coincidentally, its geometric nature also makes it a perfect addition to the Museum Haus Konstruktiv’s collection. The work consists of a plinth of mirrored glass on which square panels of glass are stacked in regular intervals in sequences of up to six panels, the number necessary to create a cube. Their horizontal order follows the scheme of a “perfect squared square,” a self-similar figure whose characterizing feature is that it is constructed out of a subset of squares of different sizes. Nicolai’s method of tiling the squares corresponds to the arrangement with the smallest number of squares known today, which he then made three-dimensional using the least amount of material possible. The arrangement consists of a total of 21 squares and was discovered by the Dutch mathematician A. J. W. Duijvestijn with the help of a computer. Its main feature is that the sum of the minimal length of the squares in each row equals 112, similar to a magic square.* The green-coated glass, which was specially chosen by the artist, creates a light appearance and reminds us of glass fixtures in warehouses, storages facilities, and archives. Seen from above, however, the glass appears opaque, and in its interaction with the multiple reflections, this counters the rational absorption suggested by the mathematical grid and the austere smoothness of the material. The objective and seemingly clear scientific model is thus retranslated into a diffuse, subjective perception.

* Seen from above and with the largest square placed in the upper left, if we group together all the squares whose upper sides are flush in brackets, the notation from top to bottom reads as follows: 1122 = [502+352+272] + [82+192] + [152+172+112] + [62+242] + [292+252+92+22] + [72+182] + [162] + [422] + [42+372] + [332]. For “Perfect Square,” Nicolai increased the smallest factor of 1 to a factor of a little more than 3.

Astrid Näff




With financial support by:

Lotteriefonds Canton of Zurich

Baugarten Stiftung
Ernst Göhner Stiftung
Dr. Adolph Streuli-Stiftung
Stiftung Kunstsammlung Albert und Melanie Rüegg



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Feb 22, 2020
1:45:00 PM CET