Fisher Scientific International/CHF Collections
Chemical Heritage Foundation
From the stereotype of the evil genius to fans of the truth-seeking geeks of MythBusters, there's always been a range of public responses to the work of scientists — mad or not. Marjorie Gapp, curator of art and images at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, was drawn to materials that documented early uses of quantum chemistry for practical technical problems; she liked the connection between quantum chemistry and alchemy and the myriad ways people have understood science for centuries. So the wheels started turning for "Marvels + Ciphers: A Look Inside the Flask," an exhibition of paintings, photos, books and cartoons. "Like changes in taste and style, in artistic preferences, or political swings from left leaning to right, public opinion and perception of science is in constant flux," says Gapp. "As science continually tries to better describe and understand the material world, people naturally judge its success, leading to a great range of responses: excitement, awe, skepticism and ridicule." The works include a 1618 book of verse, music and images about alchemical theory; the 1952-53 research notebook of quantum chemist Sir John Pople; and two computer-imaging modules created for the show, one dealing with the molecular basis of vision and the other with creating Viagra. Particularly interesting are the political cartoons, from 18th-century British satire to The New Yorker. One of Gapp's favorites is a small panel painting from 1632 called Rijcke-Armoede [Rich Poverty]. She says, "It is not obviously a showy piece — but artistically it is fantastic. ... The artist paints a mysteriously illuminated laboratory that describes a story of obsession with science — here, alchemy — in the midst of poverty." Gapp thinks viewers may take away, besides the inevitable opinions, some understanding about quantum science and alchemical practice. "In its time," she says, "alchemy was not some whacko-pseudo-science but a serious investigation into the workings of the material world." Nerdy fun! Opening Fri., March 5, 5-8 p.m., free, through December, 315 Chestnut St., 215-925-2222, chemheritage.org.
Since its launch by Josh MacPhee in 1998, artists' cooperative Justseeds has been working to support artists and social movements through its Web site, a sort of information station for radical art and culture. Now, in an independent project of Philagrafika, it presents "Bring Down the Walls!" They've appropriately chosen venues in West Philly for this tribute to radically minded movements. "Voices from Outside: Artists Against the Prison-Industrial Complex," at A-Space, attacks the issue of incarceration and considers alternatives; at Studio 34, Justseeds members' work addresses issues from the environmental to the personal. Check Philagrafika's Web site for info on related opening celebrations, workshops and readings. A-Space, 4722 Baltimore Ave.; Studio 34, 4522 Baltimore Ave., philagrafika2010.org.