Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe

Reading the accompaniment to the eponymous Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition, it becomes clear why the ideas of this “comprehensive anticipatory design scientist” remain so provocative. The thrust of the lead curator’s essay and the majority of the plates emphasize Fuller’s (1895-1983) architectural and design legacy. Those pages concentrate on his most surreal schemes, such as: “Sketch of Zeppelins dropping bombs and delivering 4D towers to be planted in craters”; his spaceship-reminiscent Dymaxion House; his three-wheeler Dymaxion Car; his Dymaxion Map of the world, and his most identifiable creation, the geodesic dome. The essays that are most revelatory are those that address Fuller’s relationships with an enormous range of artists and innovators who inspired or collaborated with him on status quo–skewering concepts. What a summer back in 1948 at Black Mountain College, where he participated in an Erik Satie production that also involved choreographer Merce Cunningham, composor John Cage, and artists Willem and Elaine de Kooning! One of his great friends from his impecunious Greenwich Village days was the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who worked with Fuller on “4D Transportation Unit” (ca. 1932) and the Dymaxion Car. While this book will expand the public’s appreciation of Fuller’s legacy, it also contains curious omissions. Given that that the most famous geodesic dome in the public consciousness, the Disney Epcot Center (1982), which has a Fuller signature phrase (“Spaceship Earth”) for its name, is not even mentioned seems odd. Nor is I. M. Pei — known for such Fuller-like geometric constructions such as the Louvre Pyramids (1989). Also, as a visit to Fuller’s Wikipedia page will reveal, his associations were also far more diverse than this book would suggest. Perhaps the authors considered it too wacky to mention that he went on several speaking tours (1976-79) with Werner Erhard, himself a controversial utopian and founder of the EST (Erhard Seminars Training) courses, but to omit Erhard and so many other notable talents and eccentrics Fuller cavorted with is to undervalue his omnivorous guileless curiosity, which, arguably was the true secret to his polyphonic genius.