Art & Development

Artist Tauba Auerbach on the natural bases of grids

A COMMON CRITICAL READING of the grid casts it as the essential symbol of technology and human contrivance—the signal structure of modernism—cold, impersonal, and famously called “anti-natural” by Rosalind Krauss in her 1978 essay “Grids.” In my view, however, the grid could not be closer to nature; it is the direct and rebellious offspring of gravity. The first relationship between the grid and gravity is one of accordance. By pulling perpendicular to the surface of the earth, gravity installs the right angle as a cardinal feature of our physical world. Perpendicular relationships are naturally recurrent and omnipresent. A basic grid is an accretion of these relationships, intersections of horizontal and vertical lines—like those formed by a liquid’s surface drawn level by gravity and the path of a falling object, respectively: Materials succumbing to the force create x- and y-axes.

The second relationship is one that weds rebellion and submission, a fleeting union, as the rebellions are only ever temporarily successful. A tree most efficiently resists the force of gravity by growing straight upward—at a ninety-degree angle to the horizon. The vertical charge of life is in fact the act of fleeing an inevitable state of horizontality, death. The leveling force of gravity literally ages us, drawing us down until we cannot go down any farther. Here gravity and its opposition trace the axes.

The third relationship is one in which the grid itself is the opposition to gravity. In this broader case, the definition of grid should be expanded, as it is in Grid Index, to include tilings—coverings of the plane in which there is no excess of space or overlap between constituent shapes. The entropic event of ice melting, for instance, sets geometric tiling against gravity’s pull toward decay and disorder, taking the gridded (albeit inconsistent) crystalline structure and rendering it an amorphous molecular soup. Similarly, but in the reverse order, crystal structures grow more consistently and easily in zero gravity—even forming in unlikely substances like plasmas—without their entropic enemy. If gravity is a protagonist in the plot of entropy, then the order of the grid is its natural and valiant, although doomed, antagonist.

—Tauba Auerbach, “Out of Order” Book review of Grid Index by Cartsen Nicolai (Berlin: Gestalten, 2009), Artforum, 2010
[To see the article, visit, register or log-in, and search for Auerbach.]

Art & Development

water towers, sunset strip and donuts

Prepping for tonight’s Sketchbook Mixed Media Class at ASUC Berkeley, I pulled together sample taxonomies:

The Bescher’s water towers
(though I would have loved to get a picture of SFMOMA’s print of superimposed water towers)

Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on Sunset Strip

And made a mock of a sample grid, with lifted pics of donuts.

Donuts on a grid! Hi-larious.

This grid allowed me to talk about margins, columns and gutters, as well as introduce real-life uses of algebra :

How does one determine column widths?
Say our page is 12 inches, our margins 0.5 inches, that leaves us an 11-inch wide art area.
column widths = A
gutter widths = B
4a x 3b = 11 inches
Assigning B a width of 0.25 inches, A = 5.125 or 5–1/8 inches

Most 7th graders don’t take trips from Zurich to Paris. Then again, most don’t make grids to draw taxonomies, either, but for a nerdy art kid like me this would have been great!

[ADDENDUM: A week later, Linda Yablonsky blogged about a grid of donuts by ___ as part of the Miami art fairs festivities (“Art Basel Miami Beach: The Pre-Game Show,” New York Times Magazine, Dec. 2, 2009). Something’s in the air, and I think it smells like donuts.]