Consider the dichotomies of life: birth and death, night and day, salt and sugar, introverts and extroverts. These polar opposites have things in common too.
I made time for just one museum during a recent trip to New York City. It was not the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, Whitney or 9/11 museum.
Curiosity about life’s contrasts took me to midtown Manhattan – Fifth Avenue and East 26th Street, to be exact – and a door handle with a bright red pi sign at the National Museum of Mathematics. You can call it MoMath, like everybody does there.
“What is it, a room with a book in it?” asked a lippy friend, when I shared my intentions. We laughed, but that wonder – and the introduction of an art exhibit at MoMath – were enticements enough.
MoMath, open since 2012, is within two blocks of the Museum of Sex (another story for another time). Most of the 30-plus exhibits, big on interactivity and colorful design, might be meant for older children but adults were getting wrapped up in the principles of fractals, hyperboloids and geometric puzzles too.
Don’t yawn. This isn’t your eighth-grade algebra teacher talking, and there is no quiz on Friday.
On the museum’s lower level floor is the brightly lit Math Square, whose display – a maze, pattern, game or simulation – changes when feet are detected. On ground level, kids seem to effortlessly ride square-wheeled tricycles over a curvy surface.
The spin of one turntable demonstrates inference. Another demonstrates accordance. Elsewhere is a place to doodle in three dimensions.
Throughout MoMath is room to tinker, challenge, stump and learn. What seems like magic, or a surprising solution, exists here for simple entertainment, a confounding experience or opportunity to analyze and revise. An hour, or two, will pass quickly.
In the gift shop: games of logic, origami kits, puzzle books and cubes, pi-shaped pizza cutters, books on the mathematics of love.
And that art exhibit? It’s called “Venn Pirouettes.” Artist Michael Schultheis of Seattle uses math equations as models for his abstract works, which interpret human relationships and how they overlap.
As math and art intersect, so do “precision and imperfect visions, creating room for metaphor, storytelling and beauty,” an exhibit introduction explains. Schultheis points out that Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician, was also a music theorist and a guy who found ways to connect math principles to life.
Timing and tempo matter in both geometric and interpersonal worlds, Schulteis notes, in a video clip, and his work aims to “translate the language of mathematics” and bridge that world with art.
One of his observations: A symphony can thrill both the trained musician and average, off-the-street listener.
MoMath, 11 E. 26th St., Manhattan, is usually open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $18 (less for children and senior citizens). momath.org
A fine mix of precision and artistry is origami, the Japanese tradition of folding paper into decorative shapes. Up until March 1 at Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, is the exhibit “Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami.”
Complex and three-dimensional sculptures are the work of nine international artists. Their techniques include “dampening, stretching, folding, pleating and twisting” paper, “bridging the realms of art and science.”
Participants are ages 29 to 71: Erik Demaine and Martin Demaine of the United States/Canada/, Vincent Floderer of France, Miri Golan of Israel, Paul Jackson of the United Kingdom/Israel, Robert J. Lang of the U.S., Yuko Nishimura of Japan, Richard Sweeney of the U.K. and Jiangmei Wu of the U.S./China.
The artists also “explore concepts as varied as infinity, sustainable design and world peace,” the museum explains. Six of them are featured in the documentary “Between the Folds,” which won a Peabody Award.
The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission is free. lywam.org
Four quick takes on year-round museums in Wisconsin where science and math skills rule. Each charges admission unless otherwise noted.
Technology and freshwater sciences are key components of Discovery World, Milwaukee, an interactive learning center on the city’s lakefront. Boggle your mind while tinkering with technology for an hour or two, or sign up for a more immersive summer camp. discoveryworld.org
Wisconsin Science Museum, Madison, opened in 2015 and emphasizes the impact of the state’s biotech industry and other Badger State science researchers. In addition to a hall of fame, there are exhibits about lasers, robotics, biomedical imaging and more. Admission is free. Open Wednesday through Saturday. wisconsinsciencemuseum.org
Expect a maze of mental gymnastics at the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory in Wisconsin Dells, open since 1982. The science center began with a little world of robots before hands-on science exhibits, artifacts from outer space travel and a virtual sports center were added. tommybartlett.com
Open about 25 years in downtown Burlington is the Logic Puzzle Museum, whose specialties include mechanical puzzles and brain teasers for ages 5 to adults. For sale in the gift shop are dozens of puzzle games and books. Call before visiting. logicpuzzlemuseum.org