A Walk Inside the World of a Genius: M.C. Escher

NYC is well-known for its endless number of museums, art galleries, murals, graffiti, and pop-up exhibitions, and it can certainly be overwhelming trying to decide which place or event to tackle first. You could literally spend each day and every weekend exploring this city and still not see all of the art there is to see here. So, if you’re looking for a little direction, might I suggest that you check out the fantastic M.C. Escher exhibition in Industry City?

I never knew who Escher was until I started dating my husband. I can’t even recall the specific circumstances for how it came up, but I remember him commenting once that something was “Escher-esque” and then he had to whip out Google so he could show me what he meant. And as with anything new you learn, you’ll eventually start hearing more and references of that very thing over time, so imagine my surprise (and delight!) this summer when I saw that an exhibit of Escher’s work was coming to NYC!

Maurits Cornelis (or M.C. for short) Escher was a Dutch graphic artist known for his mathematically-inspired artwork and his use of woodcuts. He is also known for his drawings of stairs where you cannot tell whether people are going up them or down, and perhaps some of his more unique art includes what are called tessellations, where you use one or more objects that are connected with no gaps, often in a repeating pattern. For example, check out this image below which utilizes angels and demons.

Escher Angels and Demons
Repeating patterns of angels intertwined with demons, getting smaller and smaller as the pattern nears the edge of the circle.

I’ll admit that I’m fairly ignorant when it comes to art, and you won’t likely hear me analyzing what I feel an artist’s intentions or plans were when creating a piece of work. For me, it’s pretty straightforward. Is it pretty? Would I want to hang it on the wall and admire it regularly? Or…does it look interesting or different or unique? Interestingly, Escher’s work can fit into all of these categories! Which made this exhibit particularly enjoyable for me.

Escher Puddle
Loved this puddle and its reflections! Made from a woodcut by Escher in 1952.

Running through February 3rd, Escher: The Exhibition and Experience is the largest collection of Escher works ever to be displayed in the U.S. It’s a fairly extensive exhibit, with multiple galleries and more than 200 pieces of Escher’s artwork. In addition, there are also some VERY cool interactive elements that allow you to become part of Escher’s artwork (which is where the “experience” part of its title comes into play).

There is a timed-entry system, so be sure to check their schedule online and buy your tickets in advance if you plan to attend. When you arrive, they have lockers where you can store your belongings and you can either pick up an audio guide from the front desk or download their app to your phone if you want more of a guided experience. And with that, off you’ll go into the wacky and wonderful world of Escher.

Escher Exhibit Hallway
Even the hallways in the exhibit are decked out in Escher designs!

There is a video right as you start, which we watched to get a bit of history about the man himself (and to learn what the M. and the C. in his name actually stood for!) After, there is a great timeline that will give you even more detail about his life and how his artwork progressed, and then you’ll immediately get into viewing his artwork.

At first, you’ll see some very lovely landscapes and beautiful images of nature. His earlier work definitely seemed to lean more to single dimensions and portrayals of natural beauty as though you were looking at the same trees and hillsides as he. Escher traveled a lot to Italy and Spain, and I enjoyed seeing some of these gorgeous countries through his eyes.

Escher Italian Hillside
A lovely image of an Italian village

It was actually his visit to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, and his examination of the lovely tiling there that sparked his interest in tessellation. He made multiple visits there in his lifetime, studying the tiles and their mathematical and geometrical structure, kicking off what I, personally, think is some of his more interesting work.

There are many examples of tessellations at the exhibit, and I just kept marveling at how precise you would have to be to successfully create some of this work. If your dimensions are off even the slightest, you would throw off the entire piece. Everything had to be incredibly accurate, and the level of detail he incorporated into some of his pieces is insane.

Escher Animal Tessellation
I loved all the various creatures he used in this one and how he was able to make them all fit perfectly together.
Escher Fish Tessellation
The level of detail toward the middle of the circles is so crazy!

As you progress more through the exhibit, you’ll see more of his work with the ever-changing stairways and images with parallel but different worlds on the top and bottom. I couldn’t help but think of the “Upside Down” from Stranger Things when we got to this part of the exhibit. (And also, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Mr. Escher might have started dabbling with drugs a bit later in his career, but maybe that’s just me…)

Escher Insects on Stairs
Are they coming up or down the stairs???

All throughout the exhibit, there are also various stations where you can interact with concepts of Escher’s and geek out a bit on science. I wasn’t expecting this, but it was a lot of fun and reminded me a bit of going to the NY Hall of Science where you actually get to touch things and not just look at them. Check out the pictures below to see some of the fun stuff you can play with at the exhibit!

Escher Infinity Room
Standing in the infinity room!
Escher Face in Globe
I’m inside an Escher drawing!
Escher House
See me inside the house???
Escher Ledge
High how off the ground do you think he’s sitting?

And once you near the end, the exhibit wraps up with some pop culture odes to Escher, including video clips from Inception, Labyrinth, and Night at the Museum which used Escher-esque imagery, as well as posters, album covers, and even clothing that were inspired by Escher’s artwork and his genius.

Altogether, our entire visit lasted about an hour and a half, and we were able to see pretty much everything. The interactive portions are definitely more fun if you have a friend to visit the exhibit with you, but if you typically prefer to read all the placards and listen to an audio-guide when you visit museums, you can certainly make a great solo visit out of it as well.

But remember, the exhibit wraps up on February 3rd, so time is running out if you want to check out this super-unique and totally fun experience. There were plenty of people with kids, and they have some kid-centric activities available at the exhibit (as well as on their app), so you can definitely make an awesome visit out of it for the whole family.

Are you a fan of Escher? Have you already been to the exhibit yourself? Let me know what you think!

Plan Your Own Visit

Where to Go

When to Go

  • The exhibit ends on February 3rd, so get there soon if you’re going!
  • They’re open daily from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. On Thursdays, they stay open a bit later until 9:00 pm.

Tips for Visiting

  • Tickets are sold based on a timed entry system. Check online for times and to buy tickets.
  • To download the audio guide in advance, look for “Escher New York” in the Apple Store or Google Play. Or, a handheld audio device can be borrowed at the front desk on the day of your visit.
  • As you walk through the exhibit, look for the placards with a spyglass icon, as these are typically the interactive exhibits. Not all of them were completely obvious and you could easily walk right by.
  • Street parking in Industry City is very tricky. Travel by subway, or if you’re having trouble parking, there is a lot near the exhibit where you can park for a fee.
  • There are a ton of shops, restaurants, breweries, and more in the surrounding buildings. Make a day out of it and explore all the fun stuff in Industry City! I haven’t visited yet, but the new Japan Village looks incredible and is right nearby.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Becky Szabo says:

    Great report! I’d love to see this exhibit since I’ve long been an Escher fan. I guess it’s a math teacher thing: tessellations! I’ve seen books of his works but this exhibit would be awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You would love it. It’s really remarkable. Love the combo of math and science with art! Math is everywhere, right???


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