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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Scientific Art

Nucleus-to-Nucleus Head-on
Collision of Gold
As artists, sometimes we get the vaunted idea that we have a lock on creativity. I mean, who else would drip paint all over a drop cloth then stretch it and sell it in an art gallery?  Who else would adapt elephant dung to artistic purposes, or paint a triple portrait of Marilyn Monroe with three different colors for her blond hair, or paint a pile of leaves then add some real ones just in case anyone had doubts as to the subject matter? It's a fallacy, of course. Writers create; cooks create; musicians create; architects create; and all, in doing so, deserve to share the name "artist." The stylish PaineWebber Art Gallery (now UBS Art Gallery) in New York once showcased the creative endeavors of a group of people we would normally not cast as artists, even in the broadest sense of the term as we are accustomed to applying it today.  Titles such as Staphylococcus Epidermidis (below, left) or Nucleus-to-Nucleus Head-on Collision of Gold (above, right) adorn the work, but as with so many titles applied to works of modern art, they give only a slight clue as to what the artist has chosen to depict.

Staphylococcus Epidermidis
Ascorbic Acid

The work is big and it's beautiful. They're not paintings. Most are photographs, actually. They're all the more stunning because the artists are also scientists. And their art, while very much on a par with what you might find today in dozens of other New York galleries, is merely a byproduct of what they do. The name of their game is not art but research, and every one of the PaineWebber works has been a vital, expository cog in that effort. Some of it is reminiscent of Op Art. Some of it has an ancient quality to it. Not surprisingly, some of it looks celestial and some of it looks microscopic. Who ever would have considered an electron microscope as an artist's tool? Ever wonder what ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) really looks like (above, right). If not, you best not take a look at the Staphylococcus Epidermidis (above, left, common skin bacteria) unless you sleep very soundly at night.

Life Cycle of HIV
There was a piece that looks like a 1960s amalgamation of Lucite bubbles and globules. It's titled Life Cycle of HIV (right). Most works had never been seen out from behind the closed doors of research labs, though one of the most striking, did once make the pages of Life Magazine. It's a photo of a sperm romancing an ovum (bottom). A pundit might call it "conceptual art." Whatever it is, it's not traditional art. But then, in today's art world, that amounts to very high praise. And by the same token, its creators are not traditional artists. Though they might very often stand back and admire the beauty of their creations, most of the scientists and researchers have never considered themselves artists in any sense--traditional or otherwise. It is left for the viewer to see them as art, and to award the designation "artist" to their creators. Yes, the process is different, cold, more calculating, more objective than subjective, but then very many artists working in drafty New York painting lofts might have the same said of their creative processes too.
Sperm Romancing Ovum

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