The Outer Limits

The Outer Limits

George Nelson, Star-Shaped Clock

George Nelson, star-shaped clock. Photo: Andreas Sütterlin, © Vitra Collections AG

An infinite universe is an endless inspiration. Vincent van Gogh knew it; Carl Sagan did, too. We’re all sharing the same night sky, as we have for millennia. What lies beyond that sky, however, brings to mind great adventure, progress, the heavens, and, of course, our role in all of it.

Rik Allen’s futuristic sculptures are a mesmerizing blend of glass and metal. “Building my work often brings me to the very outer worlds away from us,” says the artist, who lives in Washington state. “Mostly, as an explorer, I just want to build a vessel to sit down in, strap in, and see where this damn thing takes me.”

Sputnik, Mercury, and Gemini: Space was part of post-World War II consciousness, and space-themed goods abounded, perhaps none more famous and imitated than designer George Nelson’s star-shaped clocks. Today’s nostalgia for midcentury chic was yesterday’s symbol of the future.

Gravity (2006), a one-week installation in London’s Roundhouse by Aleksandra Mir, used the 65-foot rocket’s familiar shape and sheer size to examine themes of space travel, manufacturing, material reuse, and the yearning for freedom.

Recycled electronics and junk parts are turned into ray guns (fortunately, nonfunctional) by this Michigan-based artist. Andy Hill thinks “robots, ray guns, and spaceships that came from our imaginations in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s are way cooler-looking than what the harsh slap of science gives us.”

Tom Sachs takes bricolage to the next level. In 2012, the New York-based sculptor turned the Park Avenue Armory’s 55,000-square-foot exhibition space into the set of an imagined Mars surface landing for “Space Program 2.0: Mars,” including a mission control full of old TVs and a very realistic-looking lander, all built from found products and run-of-the-mill building materials.

The travels of an intergalactic deliveryman inspire these hand-appliquéd, hand-quilted creations. Brooklyn-based Jimmy McBride’s alter ego collects scraps of fabric and stitches them together to make images of skies, nebulae, and distant galaxies.

Famed midcentury sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi came of age in a world of scientific advances. His famous Akari lamps had an otherworldly feel, and his Red Lunar Fist (1944) brings to mind an imagined Martian landscape in pre-Mars Rover America.

Much of Björn Weckström’s silver and gold jewelry is space-inspired, with modern shapes and lines. But perhaps you’ve seen the Finnish artist’s most famous work, the silver Planetoid Valleys necklace, produced by jewelry manufacturer Lapponia Jewelry, in the original 1977 Star Wars. Princess Leia sports the necklace at the end of the movie as she bestows the medal of Yavin on Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.