The Scientist appreciates Art

A few days ago, I went to the Museum of Modern Art with some friends and had a fantabulous time! I’ve known these two since we were froshies in college. One majored in theatre, the other in art and marketing. So the scientist was among people of culture, and I love learning from them. (The poop jokes are great, too, but that’s a different story.)

First of all, if you are going to MoMA, and there’s a special exhibit, get tickets in advance! We couldn’t get into the special “Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night” exhibit since all the tickets were gone. It’s the holidays, what can you expect. That would have been especially fun with my art-geek friend* who knows quite a bit about Van Gogh. She did, however, take me on a breathtaking tour of the Impressionist movement in one wing, and the works of Jackson Pollock in another. I think I’m slowly starting to get the point of impressionism, in addition to just appreciating the aesthetics of the paintings. We briefly touched on pointillism, which of course got the lyrics to brainsbodyboth stuck in my head.

We moved onto Picasso and cubism, and how that influenced her favorite artist, Jackson Pollock. I can’t possibly go into the whole explanation here, as I will muck it up, but Pollock basically deconstructed objects in his paintings, and later removed objects all together, just working with the colors, the light vs. dark, and the paint. He even removed the artists brush strokes entirely from the art. Suddenly, as she taught me, paintings that before would have looked like silly, abstract paint blobs took on actual technique and beauty and movement. Something like Full Fathom Five really drew me in…

Oh, but you bet I found the little bit of astronomy that was there! Well, my buddy had to point it out to me with, “hey, there’s a galaxy or something over there.” There were pictures of the Orion Nebula in the photography section, so he was close.**

First, a drawing of the Orion Nebula, and boy can you see that seeing! The Third Earl of Rosse made this drawing with a six-foot reflector (really?!) in the 1840s.


Next is a black and white photograph from the 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory. Long exposures mean more light collected, therefore a much better view than with the eye.


Below that was a vintage Sky and Telescope cover which I thought was freaking cool! This featured a color photograph of the Orion Nebula.


Finally, what fooled me into thinking it was a high quality digital photograph was actually a gorgeous color film print of the nebula taken in 1999 by David Malin.


In another section, the works of Jasper Johns were explored, specifically the trashed test versions of his prints which led to his final masterpieces, with all of their various themes and colors. Imagine being so revered that even your “junk” gets hung in a museum? Anyway, one work, labeled “Untitled,” included a galaxy that is some incarnations looks incredibly like M51. (Update 9/29 – More on Jasper Johns)

I encourage you to browse the many incarnations of this print from the museum.

And here, made with the 31-inch telescope at UVa’s Fan Mountain in the infrared, is M51:


Minus the companion, it looks strikingly similar! Maybe that’s just me, since my class took that photo for our final project. So I’m biased towards the Whirlpool. Which grand-design spiral do you think it looks like? Probably more importantly, how does it all fit together in the artist’s work? I was too busy going “ooo pretty galaxy” to really get that part.

So we’re trying to make a biannual thing out of this. In the summer, it was the American Museum of Natural History, this time it was MoMA. What NYC museum or cultural site should we city kids visit next?

* Yes, darling, you are a geek and I love you for it!
** Space Camp my ass! You are losing geek cred.

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