Improbable Physics

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Artworks that show figures or objects in states that seem to defy the laws of physics, such as levitation, topsy-turvy orientations, or precarious balance. Religious artworks often depict figures in physically fantastic states of levitation to convey the otherworldly power of the spiritual, as in Correggio’s Assumption of the Virgin (1526–30), or the Ascension of the Buddha. Surrealist artists often created fantastical pictures that stretch the physical laws of matter, as in René Magritte’s The Castle of the Pyrenees (1959), which depicts a castle on a large rock that floats above a choppy sea, or Philippe Halsman’s portrait of Salvador Dalí and his cats. Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang creates sculptural installations that literally defy gravity, as in Head On (2006), in which a pack of wolves is seemingly frozen in midair.

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