BUCKYBALL: How Art Meets Math in NYC

If you walked by a towering 30-foot carbon molecule situated in a small but crowded New York City park, would you recognize it as such? Leo Villareal hopes so, he’s the artist behind BUCKYBALL, the latest art installation showcased in Madison Square Park. It first opened on October 25th, a warm autumn evening, and will remain on view through February 2013.

The impressive art installation is infused with geometric and mathematical relationships. BUCKYBALL is comprised of 180 LED tubes that are arranged in a series of pentagons and hexagons, which when illuminated create the shape of a fullerene, or carbon 60 molecule. Any molecule composed entirely of carbon is called a fullerene.

Artist Leo Villareal, who holds a BA in sculpture from Yale University and is a graduate of the NYC Tisch School of the Arts, states, “I am thrilled to be presenting BUCKYBALL in Madison Square Park. My new light sculpture takes the form of a Carbon 60 molecule and expands it to monumental scale. It also explores self-similarity through the use of two identical nested spheres, the outer at 20 feet in diameter and the inner at 10 feet. Lined with LED tubes, these structures are activated through sequenced light driven by custom software. This public artwork reinterprets many of the traditional elements found in the Park such as seating and historic monuments in a fresh and exciting way.”

For example, BUCKYBALL’s surrounding zero-gravity couches allow viewers to recline underneath the sculpture. Both, the couches and the pedestal on which the structure rests are created to emulate support structures found within the park and the surrounding architecture. The idea behind BUCKEYBALL is to create an appreciation of the connections and patterns that exist within our environments.

The result is spectacular. The light sequences create random and beautiful compositions of fluctuating colors and effects causing the spectator to guess patterns and resemblances found in nature as well as our man made environments. The man who inspired the installation is Richard Buckminster Fuller (July 12, 1895 – July 1, 1983), an American architect, engineer, author, designer, inventor and futurist, otherwise known as Bucky.

Fuller gained popularity for patenting his most famous creation, the geodesic dome. It’s a spherical structure covered in curved discs resembling shells – geodesics – that are placed on the surface of a sphere. When these discs intersect, they create a support structure, acting as reinforcements to ensure that the dome is not overwhelmed by it’s own weight. Similar to a keystone in a classic arch. There is some debate as to whether or not Bucky deserved the patent; the geodesic dome was already in existence 30 years prior to Fuller thanks to Dr. Walther Bauersfeld.

BUCKYBALL is a unique, smart and researched piece of art that triggers our innate curiosity and attraction about the environment. While most observers are not aware of the actual mathematical and scientific basis of the artwork, it may still strike an emotional chord and generate intrigue towards the distinct sculpture. -Liz Belilovskaya


  1. Actually, I feel this art is both spiritual and putting forward a view. What better way to appreciate natural beauty, nature being spiritual some would argue, than to enlarge the unseen world for the public to ponder?

    I often marvel at the natural patterns seen through an electron microscope, and I think some artists may have dreamed these configurations, informing their work. Some say dreams can be a direct connection to “All That Is.” Einstein, Mendeleev, and either Crick or Watson all dreamed the answers to the questions they were trying to answer.

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