Fluid Motions: A Conversation between Art and Physics

From the swirling forms in Ansel Adams’s Water and Foam to the amorphous shapes in Brett Weston’s Untitled (Clouds) and the delicate ridges in Henry Troup’s Wind, Water and Sand series, the abstract patterns on view speak to the infinite possible arrangements found in nature. The idea for the installation Fluid Motions grew out of a conversation I had with graduate students from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Although our different disciplines initially led us to varying interpretations of these works, we quickly found common ground in our admiration of the symmetries and movements we observed. Carefully captured and presented at a standstill for the viewer, the sand striations, liquids, cloud formations, and snowflakes are ephemeral patterns produced by different forces. Each work reveals one distinct configuration, while subtly calling to mind other possibilities that could have been. As the engineer and photographer Harold Edgerton noted of his Milk Drop Coronet, “there is no such thing as . . . a complete study of a phenomenon.”

Veronica White - Curatorial Assistant for Academic Programs

Waves are ubiquitous in nature, especially in fluids. The laws that govern their interactions are simple to state and yet lead to a variety of intricate and beautiful fluid motions. This complex behavior can range from the formation of striking patterns, such as the crown-shaped shock wave produced by dropping milk into cranberry juice, to the raging whirling of a crashing river. At times, turbulence and patterns can intermingle, with chaotic flows weaving themselves through larger-scale structures. Even small-scale turbulence can cause a cloud’s shape to evolve, while the stirring produced by this evolution feeds the turbulence with energy. 

Joshua Burby, Graduate School Class of 2015, postdoctoral fellow, New York University

Vinicius Njaim Duarte, Ph.D. candidate, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Jonathan Squire, Graduate School Class of 2015, postdoctoral fellow, California Institute of Technology

Download checklist

  • 12477
    Ansel Adams, American, 1902–1984
    Clouds, Tucson, Arizona, 1944
    x1971-94
  • 12478
    Ansel Adams, American, 1902–1984
    Clouds, Tucson, Arizona, 1944
    x1971-95
  • 12491
    Ansel Adams, American, 1902–1984
    Landscape near Phoenix, Arizona, 1944
    x1971-96
  • 11580
    Ansel Adams, American, 1902–1984
    Moon and Clouds, 1959, printed 1970
    x1971-207.4
  • 12037
    Brett Weston, American, 1911–1993
    Sand Dune Sculpture, 1934
    x1971-338
  • 12100
    Brett Weston, American, 1911–1993
    Dunes, Oceano, California, 1937
    x1971-339
  • 12107
    Brett Weston, American, 1911–1993
    From Portrero Hill, San Francisco, California, 1939
    x1971-343
  • 12432
    Ansel Adams, American, 1902–1984
    Published by Sierra Club , San Francisco
    Water and Foam, printed 1960
    x1971-564.8
  • 12417
    Ansel Adams, American, 1902–1984
    Published by Sierra Club , San Francisco
    Rushing Water, Merced River, printed 1960
    x1971-564.13
  • 12424
    Ansel Adams, American, 1902–1984
    Published by Sierra Club , San Francisco
    Half Dome, Thunder Cloud, printed 1960
    x1971-564.16
  • 12943
    Brett Weston, American, 1911–1993
    Untitled (Clouds), 1968
    x1974-84
  • 13915
    Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864–1946
    Equivalent – 1924, 1924
    x1977-59
  • 13923
    Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864–1946
    Equivalent – 1925, 1925
    x1977-60
  • 13924
    Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864–1946
    Equivalent – 1926, 1926
    x1977-61
  • 13925
    Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864–1946
    Equivalent – 1926, 1926
    x1977-62
  • 13926
    Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864–1946
    Equivalent – 1927, 1927
    x1977-63
  • 13983
    Vija Celmins, American, born 1939
    Printed by Tracy White at Tamarind Institute
    Untitled (Waves), 1970
    x1978-20
  • 16597
    Harold Eugene Edgerton, American, 1903–1990
    Milk Drop Coronet, 1957, printed 1985
    x1987-20.3
  • 16653
    Harold Eugene Edgerton, American, 1903–1990
    Cranberry Juice into Milk, 1960, printed 1985
    x1987-20.4
  • 16815
    Hiroshi Sugimoto 杉本博司, Japanese, born 1948
    Sea of Japan, Hokkaido I, 1988
    x1988-121