Genomic Issue(s): Art and Science

Genomic Issue(s): Art and Science

Survey exhibition probes implications of genetic breakthroughs, and finds beauty in the life process

The Art Gallery of The Graduate Center of The City University of New York will present Genomic Issue(s): Art and Science from February 26 to April 5. (The public is invited to the opening reception on February 25, 5-7 p.m.) The Graduate Center is located at 365 Fifth Avenue/34th Street and the gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. For further information, call 212-817-7394.

The exhibition offers the public an opportunity to see how artists are interpreting the accelerating breakthroughs in present-day genetic research. The international artist roster includes practitioners who aim to image the enormous complexity and visual beauty at the core of life, and those who address the social, political and economic dilemmas that arise from new biotechnological applications in human, animal and plant life. The exhibition includes works by Marc Quinn, Yasumasa Morimura, Bryan Crockett, Steve Miller, Miwa Yanagi, Maiko Koie, Eduardo Kac, Ellen Sandor, Christa Erickson, Ross Bleckner, Frank Moore, Beryl Korot, and Catherine Wagner, plus composers Todd Barton and Steve Reich. There will also be an accompanying series of public programs in March.

Genomic Issue(s) has been organized as part of an international observance of the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. New York City is one of the event capitals: a citywide festival of exhibitions and cultural programs will unfold throughout the city from mid-February to early April.

Nobel Prize-winner Dr. James D. Watson, who with Dr. Francis Crick first comprehended the double-helix structure, says, "We instantly saw the double helix to be a big step forward for genetics if not for all of biology. Neither of us, in early 1953, however, could have imagined how thinking at the DNA level so dominates today's biology and medicine."

"The discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA underpins the accelerated pace of invention and discovery in contemporary genetic research," says Karen Sinsheimer, a curator at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in California and the organizer of Genomic Issue(s). Continues Sinsheimer, "The artists represented in this exhibition are an important part of the scientific dialogue, as they give form to ideas in the open-ended language of artmaking. They are placing some of the most urgent issues of our time into the public sphere." Sinsheimer has organized Genomic Issue(s) in collaboration with the New York-based curator Marvin Heiferman, the co-organizer of the influential art exhibition, Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution, which introduced New York audiences to a range of artworks addressing genetic research in 2000.

Issues and Artists

One of the concerns surrounding genetic advances is the fear of the profound ways in which the cloning of human beings or the creation of engineered identities will affect humankind. Medical science already is able to manipulate the cells of the sperm and embryo to "design" babies. Now society is faced with news announcements of the first successful cloning of a human being. In this exhibition the London-based artist Marc Quinn is represented with a self-portrait consisting of cloned human DNA--his own. In 2001, a similar "portrait" by this artist--of the biologist John Sulston--attracted widespread comment when exhibited in London's National Portrait Gallery alongside several centuries of oil-on-canvas portraits. Also speaking to the issues of cloning and engineered identities is Dolly, a segment from the digital video opera Three Tales by Beryl Korot and Steve Reich, and six photographs that slyly comment on cherished notions of identity and its manufacture in contemporary life by one of Japan's most influential artists, Yasumasa Morimura.

The promise of new medical therapies is acknowledged in Bryan Crockett's Seven Deadly Sins (2002), a group of seven marble statues of rotund rodents with hairless skin in folds, animated facial features, and tiny pink fingers. The display of this homage to man and lab mouse closely follows upon recent news reports that scientists have succeeded in analyzing the complete mouse genome and found it to be incredibly similar to that of people. Hundreds of thousands of passersby will encounter Crockett's series, which will be prominently displayed on Fifth Avenue in the display windows of the former B. Altman's, now The Graduate Center. Working in collaboration with researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Rockefeller University, the artist Steve Miller also explores future therapies. His large-scale silk-screen painting Master Plan (2002) captures with virtuosic, Piranesi-like draftsmanship the formal beauty inherent in the microscopic protein structures that pharmaceutical companies study for potentially lucrative solutions to human disorders.

As people live longer, questions of aging -- will longevity become a basic human right, and for whom? -- and world population are addressed by the Japanese artists Miwa Yanagi and Maiko Koie, among others. The artist, writer, and teacher Eduardo Kac explores the intensity of public apprehension about transgenic experiments by documenting the recent controversy surrounding his GFP Bunny (2000), an artwork taking the form of the creation of a green florescent rabbit named Alba. Stories and items on Alba appeared on front pages and news programs worldwide, devolving into a media frenzy that more often than not distorted the facts about Alba's creation and Kac's intentions as an artist.

The Chicago-based artist collective (art)n, founded by artist Ellen Sandor, is represented by one of the most extraordinary works in Genomic Issue(s), the sculptural installation Telomeres Project on Imminent Immortality (2001), created from a patented technology for imaging invented by the artist, and with this showing seen for the first time in New York. Christa Erickson's Dis-ease (2001-2002), also an interactive work, is a networked installation that holds an ever expanding database on illnesses to which visitors to the exhibition may add their own stories.

Ross Bleckner, Frank Moore and Catherine Wagner are also represented in Genomic Issue(s): Art and Science, as is the composer Todd Barton, who has created a musical work based on an actual genetic code that will be played throughout the day from speakers placed at the entrance to the CUNY Graduate Center on Fifth Avenue.

Public Programs

In conjunction with the exhibition, the CUNY Graduate Center's "Science and the Arts" series, directed by Professor Brian Schwartz, will present the following free programs in the Elebash Recital Hall at The Graduate Center:

Monday, March 10, 6 p.m.

Thread of Life, Rita Nachtmann's new play about the role of Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of the DNA structure. Courtesy of the Ensemble Studio Theatre/ Sloan Project. Performed by Break-A-Leg Productions.

Friday, March 14, 6 p.m.

Artist Discussion: Artists Steve Miller, Eva Sutton and Helen Donis-Keller from Genomic Issue(s), and Adam Bly, editor-in-chief of Seed Magazine, discuss the exhibition's artwork and accompanying issues, moderated by Michael Rush, author of New Media in Late 20th Century America.

Friday March 28, 6 p.m.

"Dance, Music and DNA," an evening that features the Patrick Grant Group performing a musical suite from "GENOME: The Autobiography of a Species in Twenty-Three Movements"; dance/choreographer John Pennington performing a piece he composed in collaboration with a molecular biologist; and Lori Belilove & Company, the resident troupe of the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation, performing a new work commissioned for this event.

The above programs are presented in cooperation with The Graduate Center's Martin E. Segal Theatre Center and Science Center.

Citywide Festival of Events

Genomic Issue(s) is one of six major exhibitions on view in New York City in 2003 as part of the festival of events, The DNAge. The other exhibitions are: from February 13 to April 11, From Code to Commodity: Genetics and Visual Art, New York Academy of Sciences, 2 East 63rd Street; February 22 to March 22, Women in Science (Genomically Yours), Universal Concepts Unlimited, 507 West 24th Street; February 24 to July, Seeking the Secret of Life: DNA in New York, New York Public Library, Science, Industry and Business Library, 188 Madison Avenue; February 28 to June 8, 2003, How Human: Life in the Post-Genome Era, International Center for Photography, 1133 Sixth Avenue; March 1 to March 31, Brave New World, Organization of Independent Artists, 19 Hudson Street.

CUNY Graduate Center

The Graduate Center is the doctorate-granting institution of the City University of New York. The only consortium of its kind in the nation, The Graduate Center draws its faculty of more than 1,600 members mainly from the CUNY senior colleges and cultural and scientific institutions throughout New York City.

Established in 1961, The Graduate Center has grown to an enrollment of about 3,800 students in 31 doctoral programs and six master's degree programs in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The Graduate Center also houses 28 research centers and institutes, administers the CUNY Baccalaureate Program, and offers a wide range of continuing education and cultural programs of interest to the general public.

According to a recent National Research Council report, more than a third of The Graduate Center's rated Ph.D. programs rank among the nation's top 20 at public and private institutions, nearly a quarter are among the top ten when compared to publicly supported institutions alone, and more than half are among the top five programs at publicly supported institutions in the Northeast.


Genomic Issue(s): Art and Science has been made possible with the generous support of The Joy of Giving Something Foundation, Inc.


Submitted on: FEB 26, 2003

Category: James Gallery