Skip to main content

Mind-Bending Escher Exhibition at the Currier Museum of Art Reveals Impossible Realities

Posted: 8/14/14

relativity by m.c. escher
M.C. Escher, Relativity, 1953, lithograph, The M.C. Escher Company-The Netherlands. All rights reserved.

Manchester, NH – M.C. Escher’s imagery has appeared in museums worldwide and also on the walls of countless college dorm rooms since the 1960s. His work has been lovingly embraced by popular culture icons The Simpsons, and appears on neckties and in LEGO® re-creations. This fall, you will have the opportunity to see the original works created by one of the best-known draftsmen of the 20th century in M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion, September 20, 2014 through January 5, 2015 at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, N.H. The Currier’s Escher retrospective is one of the largest and most comprehensive ever offered in the United States.

M.C. Escher (1898-1972) is best known for intricate geometric drawings and prints of spaces that can only exist on paper and in the viewer’s mind. His familiar images continue to boggle the eye and the brain, captivating viewers more than 40 years after his death. In Escher’s world, stairways are built upside-down, water runs uphill and every object is reproduced with mathematical precision. This exclusive New England presentation will contain not only his best-known works of art, but also rarely-exhibited early drawings of family members, panoramic drawings of exotic landscapes and historic architecture, original preparatory sketches and mezzotints, and one of the lithographic stones he used to print a later work. “Escher’s work is appealing on so many levels,” said Kurt Sundstrom, exhibition curator. “The images are realistic but visually challenging, accessible but elusive, and entertaining but serious. That’s why his work appeals as much to the general public as it does to art scholars and mathematicians.”

About the Exhibition

M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion includes more than 180 original Escher prints and drawings from throughout his career. The works of art are presented chronologically across three gallery spaces. The first gallery features Escher’s earliest, and perhaps least known, works in a section called Landscapes and Cityscapes. The second gallery showcases Escher’s explorations into tessellation, infinity and depth, and includes his enormous woodcut Metamorphosis (1939-40), which spans 13 1/2 feet in length. The final gallery reveals Escher’s Impossible Worlds, including two of his most popular and recognizable works, Waterfall (1961) and Relativity (1953).

The exhibition features several interactive learning opportunities for the whole family. Visitors can explore how tessellations work, or create perspective-bending, Escher-inspired self-portraits.

About M.C. Escher

Born in Leeuwarden, Holland, Maurits Cornelis Escher was the youngest of five brothers. He loved the arts from an early age and made his first linocuts (designs cut into slabs of linoleum) at the age of 18. Three years later, he made his first woodcuts and by 1922 he provided woodcut illustrations for a friend’s book.

From the early 1920s through 1936, Escher travelled throughout southern Europe drawing landscapes, but his two visits to the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain in 1922 and 1936 proved transformative. The abstract interlocking decorative patterns on the floors and walls in the palace captivated Escher. He decided to exploit that idea, but instead incorporate recognizable human and animal forms in his tessellations.

When he and his family returned to Holland in 1941, his art was much more inspired by ideas in his mind such as: mirror images, multiple dimensions, infinity and impossible constructions. Although he was never trained in science and mathematics, the works of mathematician George Polya and books about crystallography fascinated Escher. He applied these studies to draw worlds of astounding symmetry and complexity. “It is…a pleasure knowingly to mix up two- and three-dimensionalities…to make fun of gravity,” said Escher. “Are you really sure that a floor can’t also be a ceiling? Are you definitely convinced that you will be on a higher plane when you walk up a staircase?"

Escher was heavily influenced by the work of Oscar Reutersvärd, a Swedish artist whose impossible figures were equally mind-bending. However, while Reutersvärd’s subjects were pure shapes, Escher pushed the boundaries further with his inhabited worlds. Drawings such as Relativity (1953), Waterfall (1961) and Ascending and Descending (1960) were clearly inspired by Reutersvärd.

Exhibition Support

The Currier’s presentation of the exhibition and related educational programs are sponsored by TD Charitable Foundation and TD Bank; Dyn; The Badger Fund and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation; and by individual support from Dwight and Susi Churchill and Barbara and Thomas Putnam.

Escher-inspired programs are supported by the Nashua Arts & Sciences Fund and the Ruth and James Ewing Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the Netherland-America Foundation.

The exhibition is from the collection of the Herakleidon Museum, Athens, Greece, One source travelling exhibition organized by: PAN Art Connections Inc.,

Museum Events

Currier After Hours! Invented Realities
Thursday, October 2, 6-9 p.m.

Celebrate the special exhibition M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion. The musical force of nature and steampunk band, Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band, will delight you with their unique sounds. Enjoy tours and videos that help to unravel the mystery of Escher’s art, create your own tessellation and enjoy a cash bar and full menu in the Winter Garden Café. Free with Museum admission, $5 charge to view the exhibition.

ARTalk: Psychology of Perception
Saturday, October 4, 2-3 p.m.

Join New Hampshire Institute of Art Professor Foad Afshar, Psy.D. for a lively explanation of how our minds make meaning from M.C. Escher’s abstract, impossible. Free with Museum admission, $5 charge to view M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion.

Escher Super Saturday: Drama of Design
Saturday, October 11, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Free admission for N.H. residents: 10 a.m.-noon

Come explore inspiring design and architectural elements in M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion. Enjoy a reading of Roberto, The Insect Architect by Nina Laden, build a bug house and more. Big Nazo, an out of this world puppet group, will perform and you can sign up for a NH LEGO League Workshop. Free with Museum admission, $5 charge to view M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion. There is an additional charge for Big Nazo and for the NH LEGO League workshop. See CURRIER.ORG/calendar for more information. The SEE Science Center is partnering with the Currier for Escher Super Saturdays.

ARTiculate Play Reading: Artist Descending a Staircase
Sunday, October 12, 2 p.m.

theatre KAPOW will present a play reading of Artist Descending a Staircase,by Tom Stoppard. This humorous play is an exploration of the meaning and purpose of art and centers on a murder mystery involving an artist who dies after falling down a set of stairs. Following the reading, Dr. Landis K. Magnuson, professor of theater at St. Anselm College, will lead a brief discussion connecting the play to M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion. Free with Museum admission, $5 charge to view the exhibition.

Come early to enjoy Second Sunday Jazz Brunch (11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 603.669.6144, x110). The ARTiculate Playreading Series is supported by the New Hampshire Humanities Council.

Tessellations Workshop
Sunday, October 26, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Have you ever wondered how Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher made his intriguing tessellations?  Escher was not a mathematician, and was, in fact, "math-phobic." Yet he was challenged by a mathematical problem and worked alone to solve it. Join mathematician Doris Schattschneider in this hands-on workshop how diligence and the invention of original patterns yielded both mathematical and artistic wonders. You will leave with a stronger knowledge of Escher, the math involved in creating tessellations and your own unique tessellation drawing. Reservations required. Professional development hours available for educators. Members: $50, Non-Members $55 includes supplies and admission to M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion. Tickets can be purchased at

Storytime in the Gallery
Monday, October 27, 11:30 a.m.

Hear a children's librarian read Switch up the Night by Ray Bradbury, Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon, then create your own work of art! Recommended for ages 2 to 5, but all are welcome. Free with Museum admission, $5 charge to view M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion.

Escher Super Saturday: Patterns and Tessellations
Saturday, November 8, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Free admission for NH residents: 10 a.m. – noon

Come explore patterns and tessellations in M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion. See these amazing methods in action as D.B. Johnson, author of the Escher inspired children’s book Palazzo Inverso, demonstrates his illustration techniques. Join him for a book reading that will bring to life the story of a mischievous apprentice to a master architect and then get a copy of your book signed! Looking for more? Create your own tessellation in a hands-on art activity or sign up for a NH LEGO League Workshop. $5 charge to view M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion. See CURRIER.ORG/calendar for more information on the book reading/signing and the LEGO workshop. The SEE Science Center is partnering with the Currier for Escher Super Saturdays.

Storytime in the Gallery
Monday, November 24, 11:30 a.m.

Hear a children's librarian read Young Frank, Architect, by Frank Viva, then create your own building! Recommended for ages 2 to 5, but all are welcome. Free with Museum admission, $5 charge to view M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion.

Currier After Hours: Build Your Night
Thursday, December 4, 6-9 p.m.

Join us for a night that celebrates architecture, both real and imagined.  Enjoy M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion, rarely seen archives from our Library and live music. You can also take a tour that examines architectural elements of the Museum or build your own structure in a hands-on activity. Be sure to sign up for a Twilight Tour to see the Zimmerman House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house open to the public in New England. A cash bar and full menu are available at the Winter Garden Café. Free with Museum admission, $5 charge to view M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion. 

Science on Tap: Art and Math
December 9, 6 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m. at Shaskeen Pub, 909 Elm St., Manchester)

The Currier has partnered with the SEE Science Center’s Science on Tap program, a monthly informal discussion at the Shaskeen Pub that features scientists and experts who chat about fascinating science topics. In conjunction with M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion, this month’s topic will be math and art and will feature Curator Kurt Sundstrom and contemporary artist Marek Bennett. 

Escher Super Saturday: Magic and Möbius
Saturday, December 13, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Free admission for NH residents: 10 a.m. – noon

Come explore fantasy and illusion in M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion. Join us for a magic show, create your own Möbius strip or learn about M.C. Escher’s process and more. Free with Museum admission, $5 charge to view M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion. See CURRIER.ORG/calendar for more information about the magic show and LEGO workshop. The SEE Science Center is partnering with the Currier for Escher Super Saturdays.

Currier Art Center Related Classes

Visions of Infinity: Teaching the Worlds of M.C. Escher
Friday, October 3, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Join this COMICS WORKSHOP and use Escher's artwork and techniques to explore tessellation, symmetry, pattern, geometrical properties of space and more, with a close look into how his eye-catching “mental images” challenge our intuition and imagination. It’s sure to stimulate discussion! The workshop includes a survey of related comics- and art-based mathematical resources and approaches developed in Art Center Faculty member Marek Bennet's ongoing MathematiComics

Art Center Workshop Drawing Worlds with Escher: From Real to Impossible
Saturdays, October 25 and November 1, 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.

Ages 10-14

Drawing our inspiration from works in the Escher exhibition and the actual architectural spaces of the Currier Museum itself, we'll develop our abilities to render real space through proficiency in one-two- and three-point perspective, as well as creative points of view and surprising fantasy augmentations.  Following Escher’s models, we'll apply these powerful spatial skills to create imaginative spaces that puzzle your eye, challenge (and defy) your sense of logic.

Art Center Workshop, M. C. Escher's Visions of Infinity: A Comic Book Look
Saturdays, November 15 and 22, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Ages 14-18

In his later work, Escher became increasingly occupied with the imaginative mathematical concepts of abstraction and pattern. He explored concepts of infinity through repetition, tessellation and logical puzzles.  Building off Escher's own essay “Approaches to Infinity,” we'll take a look at some of the basic mathematical structures underlying Escher's striking vision, and use them to create our own images of order, chaos and infinity. Drawing from his own MathematiComics series, Art Center Faculty member Marek Bennett will demonstrate the power of sequential images (a.k.a. “comics”) to explore and explain our ideas, and show students how to share their work in a self-published “zine” format.

General Information

The Currier Museum of Art, located at 150 Ash Street, Manchester, N.H., is open every day except Tuesday. It is home to an internationally respected collection of European and American paintings, decorative arts, photographs and sculpture, including works by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and O'Keeffe. Visitors of all ages will enjoy the engaging exhibitions, the dynamic programs ranging from art-making and lectures to music, a Museum Shop, and an airy, light-filled café. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the Museum. The Currier welcomes visitors with disabilities and special needs. We are wheelchair accessible and offer FM headsets for sound amplification at most public programs. For more information, visit or call 603.669.6144, x108.

The Currier Art Center, celebrating its 75th year of operations, offers studio classes, art camps, Master classes and intensive workshops for all ages. The Museum also owns the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Zimmerman House, complete with the original furnishings and the owners' fine art collection.


Escher press release in printable PDF format.