“Magic Angle” Shadow Sculptures By “John V. Muntean” Combine LEGO And Light Into Art

Artist John V. Muntean constructs bulky objects that spin on a single axis that when paired with a light source reveal a multitude of projected shadow images. This particular piece is made from Lego plates and can be viewed as a butterfly, jet or even a dragon! It all comes down to the angle you choose.

Magic Angle shadow sculptures by John V. Muntean combine LEGO and light into art


John V. Muntean has a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Chicago, a B.S. from Trinity College, Hartford CT, and is a high school dropout. His 1990 thesis, Quantitative Aspects of Solid-State Carbon-13 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, led to Magic Angle Sculptures. He has been a research scientist for the Department of Energy and private industry and Professor of Organic Chemistry. He is currently a spectroscopist at Argonne National Laboratory. He lives near Chicago, Illinois USA.

Artist Statement

As a scientist and artist, I am interested in the how perception influences our theory of the universe. A Magic Angle Sculpture appears to be nothing more than an abstract wooden carving, skewered with a rod and mounted on a base. However, when lit from above and rotated at the magic angle (54.74º) it will cast three alternating shadows. Every 120º of rotation, the amorphous shadows evolve into independent forms. Our scientific interpretation of nature often depends upon our point of view. Perspective matters.

Science of Magic Angle Sculpture

John V. Muntean was inspired to create the Magic Angle Sculptures through his work with magic angle sample spinning, a scientific technique that mechanically simulates a molecule tumbling through space. The effect is to rapidly interchange the three axes of the Cartesian coordinates (x, y, and z). A complex observable phenomenon in three-dimensional space (such as the nuclear magnetic moments of a static molecule) can be represented by 3 x 3 tensors or sets of nine numbers; spinning at the magic angle simplifies that quantity to single isotropic values.

Philosophy of Magic Angle Sculpture

The artist encourages the viewer to imagine two scenarios and series of questions.

1. You are a two-dimensional being living in the plane below a sculpture. Would you be able to visualize the three-dimensional object by watching only the shadows change with time? From your current vantage, (in three dimensions) note that there is no slice through the object that contains the whole image that is projected below. So the shadow at any moment is both less and more complete than the whole object. The shadow’s form does not exist in the object but is rather implied from the complete integration through three-dimensions. No understanding of the object or shadow could be complete if you are limited to two-dimensions.

2. You are a three-dimensional being, locked into four-dimensional space-time. Are you observing a universe that is casting shadows from a higher dimension? If so, are you a projection that does not exist in any one ‘slice’ through space-time? How does this effect your perception of locality? Are you like the prisoner in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, watching shadows and convinced you are observing the universe as it is? Is it possible to break free and see the truth as the prisoner does? Would you recognize the true forms or would they appear as foreign as a Magic Angle Sculpture?

3. The magic angle in three-dimensions is also know as the identity function, x=y=z for all values. The magic angle in two-dimensions also the identity function, x=y, or 45 degrees from the each axes. What is the magic angle for higher dimensions?

Links: Jvmuntean.com


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