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New AAAS Art Exhibit Features Science Covers, Sculptures by Local Artists
The cover of Science's 25 June 2004 special issue on HIV/AIDS in Asia
A woman wearing a lavender-colored, floral print sari sits on a grass mat. Her left palm pressed against her right eye, she cries. Switching focus from the beautiful sari, the viewer takes in the woman's surroundings: a corridor in a hospital that sees the most HIV-infected patients of any hospital in Asia. The photograph appeared on the cover of Science's 25 June 2004 special issue on HIV/AIDS in Asia. The cover, along with 22 other Science covers, are part of the new AAAS art exhibit.
A Science cover, like any other magazine's cover, aims to intrigue and draw in the reader. But unlike other magazines, the journal's covers rarely feature photos of people. "It's not frequent that people are on the cover, but when it happens it can be powerful," said Yael Kats, art director at Science, citing the photograph of the HIV/AIDS patient taken by Science photographer Malcolm Linton as an example.
"At first you see the beautiful floral print, and secondly you see a woman in such distress," Kats said. "It's dramatic and powerful." Kats, who began her Science job in August, and her team of Science illustrators selected the covers for the AAAS art exhibit, which has a public opening reception Wednesday 15 October from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibit runs through 9 January 2009.
"We take great pride in consistently creating covers that showcase the artistic beauty of scientific results," said Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science. "We are told that scientists often make a game out of guessing what is depicted on the cover prior to reading the caption, and often are fooled by the scale and orientation of the image."
In choosing the covers for the AAAS exhibit, the art staff at Science wanted to showcase covers that were visually striking and compelling. They also wanted to show a variety of topics and demonstrate science subjects on the macroscopic and microscopic levels.
On the macro-level, for instance, is the 6 April 2007 cover of a black Chihuahua walking on a gravel road next to a white and black speckled Great Dane. With a body mass differing by an order of 50, the two canines illustrated a research report explaining a gene's role in body size diversity among dog breeds. "It's dramatic, but in a whimsical way," Kats said of the cover.
In the AAAS exhibit, the talents of Christopher Bickel, a technical illustrator at Science since 2005, will be highlighted. Last spring, Bickel's Science covers won a prestigious EXCEL award and were exhibited in the D.C. Illustrators Club Exhibition. Bickel specializes in illustrations that appear three-dimensional, such as proteins, molecules and planets. "Chris has a strong science background and a strong artistic ability—an unusual combination," Kats said. "His illustrations are incredibly artistic. They're not purely informational."
Seven of the 23 Science covers in the AAAS exhibit are by Bickel. One of his first covers for Science appeared on the 2 December 2005 special issue on protein and ion transport across cell membranes. The cover shows submarine-shaped bacteria with stringy, purple flagella and purplish-blue squiggles of DNA inside. Bickel drew donut-like pores on the bacteria, secreting iridescent purple ions and proteins. "It's a little sci-fi with the cloud of chemicals coming out of the pores," he said.
The 18 July 2008 cover of Science, displaying an artist's conception of drug resistance
On the 18 July 2008 cover, Bickel rendered an artist's conception of drug resistance. A stream of rod-shaped bacteria with sprouting tens of flagella appears on a midnight blue background. In the cover's upper corner, a capsule of penicillin empties its globular, red contents. Bickel illustrated drug resistance by having the bacteria and penicillin simply coexist and not interact with each other. He pictured the two floating together, not binding to each other.
Although the cover is his conception of resistance, Bickel did not rely entirely on his own imagination and knowledge. "A liver can be drawn 100 different ways," he quipped. "But it's more important to be accurate in depicting chemical compounds."
His illustration drew from of an online protein database of mathematically-accurate models of proteins and a computer program that creates an image of how of the protein—and other molecules—appears in space. Few artists use the database, Bickel said, but scientists are always updating it.
In addition to the Science covers in the AAAS atrium, a concurrent exhibit in the AAAS Gallery will feature works by 13 DC-area sculptors. The artists have other sculptures featured in the Foggy Bottom Outdoor Sculpture Exhibit, which runs through 25 October in the front yards of private residences in Washington's Foggy Bottom Historic District.
In the AAAS "Small Sculptures and Drawings" exhibit, the artists provided sketches related to their work. "The idea behind the sketches was to show how artists think about making art," said Shirley Koller, AAAS curator since 1997. A sculptor herself, Koller said that sketches can be a way that artists experiment and develop artwork. "Some artists make sketches of their work after the piece is finished, and some artists doodle and get ideas along the way," she said.
Sam Noto is among the 13 sculptors in the AAAS exhibit. In his piece, metal plates and rods point upward. Noto used six primary and secondary colors—from a deep purple to a golden yellow—to spray paint layers of colors onto the metal pieces. He specializes in large, outdoor sculptures and uses his garden as a studio showroom. The paint on his easy-to-manage pieces, which you can "hose off," can last 20 years, he said.
"Application is important," Noto said. He has tried various ways to apply paint to his sculptures, and his tinkering led him to a successful—unless on a particularly humid days—method. With a can of different color paint in each hand, Noto sprays the paints into the air where they mix and then stick to the sculpture. The process creates "a serendipitous collage of overlapping hues," he explained in his AAAS artist's statement.
And just as serendipity can yield scientific breakthroughs, the paint mixtures surprised Noto by not creating the expected grays.
"Timeslot" by Nancy Frankel
Sculptor Nancy Frankel uses a lot of geometry in her pieces. "Timeslot," on display at AAAS, includes two rods of manmade, light gray stone angled toward each other and connected to a dark green marble base. Wedged between the stone rods are two molded spheres, one smaller than the other and both with a bronze patina. The spheres appear to travel through the rods, as if they are being repelled or attracted to the marble base.
"I'm interested in balance and proportion and space," said Frankel, who also has artwork on display at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. In "Timeslot," Frankel shows how the spheres may be suspended in space but appear to move through it.
"The 'Small Sculptures and Drawings' exhibit shows our support for local artists," said Virginia Stern, director of the AAAS Art of Science and Technology program. Usually the program, established in 1985, showcases art about science, art by scientists, or art the employs a new or original technology or technique. Stern says that the "Small Sculptures and Drawings" exhibit goes beyond this theme. "This exhibit is also about a community connection," Stern said.
The AAAS Gallery is located at 12th and H streets, N.W., in Washington, D.C. It is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
10 October 2008