Sunday, June 5, 2011

Edward Tufte's ET Modern Gallery

Many readers of this blog know the work of Edward Tufte. His books, such as The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, are widely regarded for their rigorous pursuit of truth and beauty in data visualization. A recent Washington Monthly profile captures his notoriety well.

Perhaps fewer of you know that Tufte’s main interest these days is sculpture. Or that he has his own gallery, ET Modern, in New York City. Or that he is often there on Saturdays, giving free tours.

Now you know. Be advised, however, that the gallery and tours are primarily about Tufte’s sculptures, which are not data-driven. They are modern art compositions made of metal, light, and space. They reveal different aspects depending on the viewer’s position, the time of day, and other environmental factors. In that sense, they are meant for the viewer’s analysis and interaction—a form of visualization more subtle and open than charts on a page.

Tufte escaping flatland

In his gallery tour, Tufte’s voice is familiar from his books: professorial, authoritative, on a mission. He wants you to understand what he is doing and why. He makes connections to his previous data-visualization work, but just as often he makes distinctions. In the tour I attended, he said he had explored the conceptual territory of data visualization to the point that he is now more a guide than an explorer. For discovery and exploration, he has his art.

So if you visit the gallery with that mindset, and you get the chance to see a Tufte tour, you will be rewarded.

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