Art Watch

The shipping muse

Some 50 years ago North Carolina trucker Malcolm McLean first conceived of containerized shipping. Today his 8-by-8-by-20-foot steel boxes are in every port on the planet. In bold colors and often piled four or five high, they are the Legolike luggage of 21st-century global commerce.

They have also become an unlikely inspiration for a number of architects, designers, and artists—none more than German photographer Frank Breuer. "I was drawn to the sculptural quality of the stacks—their form, color, logos," says Breuer, who shot the above image in Antwerp, Belgium, in 2004. "The container is the universal box. It is also random sculpture," he says. "I like to play with scale and color. Containers are sorted by computer according to logistical needs and bar codes, and the visual order is very arbitrary. For me it is interesting to see what happens by accident."