Particle physics art

Engineering-steeped art: Tauba Auerbach Comes Home for SFMOMA Investigation Show


View of the exhibition: “Tauba Auerbach – S v Z” at SFMOMA with the mural “2020” along the curved wall. Photo: Matthew Millman Photography

Thinking back to the roots of their practice, multidisciplinary artist Tauba Auerbach sees several recurring themes that date back to their childhood in San Francisco. In addition to painting, sculpture and installation, creating books is a long-standing passion of the artist, who created the Diagonal Press in 2013. They are also fascinated by the spiral shape of the artist. ‘Helix.

These interests – along with the artist’s explorations of visual perception, structure, and concepts related to geometry and physics – are highlighted in “Tauba Auerbach – S v Z”, their first investigative show. which opens at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Saturday, December 18 and is on view until May 1.

In the Marina neighborhood home they grew up in while preparing for the show, Auerbach, who now lives in New York City with partner Lele Saveri, discovered an early creation that predicted some of the work now at the museum.

“My mom had pulled out a bunch of artwork, photos and other stuff from when I was a kid – one of the things she pulled out was a book,” says Auerbach. “It’s a book bound with recycled jewelry, these rings that are small helices. And then it’s done with one of those pens that has a motor in it to vibrate when you draw. It’s just a bunch of little reel designs.

Recipient of the 2008 SECA Award from SFMOMA, which honors emerging artists from the Bay Area, Auerbach has been acclaimed for his interdisciplinary approach; critics sometimes admit to being “sent into a rabbit hole of unknown mathematical and scientific terms,” ​​as Rachel Churner wrote in a March 2016 review in Artforum. Auerbach attributes some of these interests to growing up near the former Exploratorium of the Palace of Fine Arts, as well as a fundamental curiosity about the way things are done.

But despite the work’s links to mathematics, science and advanced concepts of dimensionality, Auerbach believes that training in these subjects is not a prerequisite.

“I don’t want to present people with equations,” says the 40-year-old, who earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Stanford University after a year of studying mechanical engineering. “I want to present them with something that maybe looks like a relationship between two colors that vibrate in a particular way.”

For exhibition co-curators Joseph Becker, associate curator of architecture and design at SFMOMA, and Jenny Gheith, associate curator of painting and sculpture, the confluence of ideas seen in “S v Z” n not only touched their areas of interest, but widened their research.

“I think Tauba’s curiosity is really contagious,” Gheith says. “They are very, very generous at breaking down very complicated theories and methods and have this way of opening them up and making them available.”

New York musician Cameron Mesirow (aka Glasser), friend of the artist and collaborator on an interactive piece called the Auerglass Organ, says Auerbach is “a very deeply principled person who is constantly looking for a way. truer and deeper ”.

Auerbach was heavily involved in the design of the San Francisco exhibit, which includes black walls positioned in “rotational symmetry,” Becker explains, as well as the typeface of the exhibit text. Auerbach admits that he first found the prospect of a poll at such a young age “both unbelievable and bizarre.”

“Originally, when this was planned (in 2020), I was really like, ‘Oh, I’m not quite ready for this. “In fact, I resisted it for several years because I felt it was too early to look back,” they recall. “It was also very educational to have to just be invited to shape the whole, whatever the whole thing.”

With the show’s completion, Auerbach is now looking forward to what they see as the next step in their career. One of the hopes is that people can move beyond the concern about the need for basic knowledge in relation to their work.

“I think I started in a really analytical place, and now I’m in a more sensitive place,” says Auerbach. “I don’t just want the work of art to hit you in the mind, I want it to hit you in the body and everywhere.”

Here are some of the concepts and individual works from the exhibition.

“Letters ZS (3D)”, 2015. Photo: SFMOMA


The spiral shape is a recurring shape in Auerbach’s paintings, weavings and sculptures.

“We know the shape, and I would even say that I think we feel that shape a lot, even if it is not consciously,” says Auerbach.

Becker points out that the shapes of the letters S and Z in the show’s title are reminiscent of the shape. “The connection with the helix (in Auerbach’s work) also connects to the fascia, which is connective tissue,” says Gheith.

Throughout the show, viewers will find iterations of the form, making the helix a metaphorical connective tissue to Auerbach’s 17 years of work on the bill.

“7S, 7Z, 1S, 2Z” on view at SFMOMA in “Tauba Auerbach – S v Z.” Photo: Matthew Millman Photography

‘7S, 7Z, 1S, 2Z’

This kinetic sculpture installation consists of steel cables made up of seven groups of seven strands twisted in a helix, then twisted around each other in the opposite direction. The structure is then opened and closed by motors which allow the formation of a circular film of soap, like a bubble, between the cables. This comes from a mixture continuously pumped through the structure, with the liquid accumulating at the bottom and pumping upwards.

Auerbach says the idea for the work was prompted by thinking about “what makes something come alive?” Said Auerbach.

The coin continues to evolve as preservatives learn how it reacts over time and what the best soap mixture is for the desired results.

“There is daily maintenance to maintain the most elasticity and iridescence in the soap,” says Becker.

“Type Specimen Posters”, 2006-in progress, by Tauba Auerbach.


Auerbach’s interest in letters and symbols dates back to a childhood fascination with writing. All typography used in the exhibition and catalog is designed by Auerbach.

While living in San Francisco, Auerbach notably worked as a painter at New Bohemian Signs. Studying graffiti was also a component of their education, says Auerbach, in terms of “what are the most important structures for each letter. In graffiti, they are pushed to the limit of readability.

“Auerglass Organ” (2009) was produced by Tauba Auerbach in collaboration with Cameron Mesirow, alias Glasser Photo: Matthew Millman Photography

Glass organ

The Auerglass is a pump organ created by Auerbach and Mesirow in 2009 that cannot be played by one person. Two players each have a keyboard with alternating notes on a four-octave scale, and each depends on the other to pump the wind needed to allow the other’s notes.

“The organ really followed the concept that we wanted to make an interdependent instrument,” says Auerbach. “However, there is a third character in the equation, and that is the organ. It feels nonlinear, the pitches bend and aren’t fully consistent, and there are little crackles, crackles and hisses and some notes that sound like a different color from the others.

Organ performances are scheduled throughout the exhibition, with a special program to be announced for February 3.

“Tauba Auerbach – S against Z”: 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; 10 am-5pm from Friday to Monday. Until May 1st. $ 19- $ 25. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., SF 415-357-4000.