Carnegie Mellon University

Current Exhibit

Steps to Avert a Crisis of Imagination

Exhibit by Matt Prindible
On display Dec. 6, 2019 - May 30, 2020

Many things can dramatically alter the world: the wooly mammoth could shape entire landscapes simply by wandering about, a tornado can raze a neighborhood in a matter of seconds. But we humans seem to be particularly unique as one of the few things that can reshape the world based on images in our minds.

The human imagination has endowed us with tremendous evolutionary, biological, and cognitive advantages. But, according to the late Ursula K Le Guin, imagination is often something we relegate to children: “There’s a tendency in American culture to leave the imagination to kids. They’ll grow out of it and grow up to be good businessmen or politicians.” What happens when we stop taking imagination seriously?

The exhibition opens with a first edition of Francis Bacon’s Instauratio Magna from the Posner Memorial Collection. The rigorous process of reducing natural phenomena to its constituent parts—what we now know as the scientific method—has been a tremendous force for breakthrough and discovery. But if we take apart the world, can we still put it back together in meaningful ways? The answers come through a kaleidoscope of speculations, dreams, and wrong turns, featuring works from Kepler, Verne, Jung, Colonna, Schedel, a rare Third Folio from William Shakespeare, and a first translation of Ptolemy’s Almagest.