Innovative Exhibit Connects Art and Science Through X-ray Light

A new exhibition connecting art and science opens May 12th outdoors in the garden of the John Nicholas Brown Center at Brown University in Providence, RI. The exhibition features X-ray images of the cosmos from NASA’s orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, X-ray images of paintings from the Harvard Art Museum, as well as pieces by artist Roxanne Crocker of the Rhode Island School of Design. Entitled "Sight Lines: Looking Back, Seeing Through," the exhibition is free and open to the public during daylight hours from May 12 through May 31, 2010.

Art and Science

"X-rays from the cosmos allow scientists to investigate extreme domains invisible to the most powerful optical telescopes, regions where matter has been heated to millions of degrees near black holes and neutron stars, supernova shock waves, and galactic explosions," said Wallace Tucker, astrophysicist from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

"Sight Lines" provides students, artists, scientists, and the public an opportunity to explore the gap between understandings of research processes used by art conservators, astrophysicists, and visual artists. The methods utilized by scientists and artists require rigorous, often exploratory, investigation and attention to aesthetic details.

"It's a question of scale. If a painting is your universe, X-rays might show you how it evolved, revealing unseen underlying compositions,” commented Teri Hensick, conservator of paintings at the Harvard Art Museum’s Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. “They can reveal the distribution of heavier elements (like lead, as in lead white, or mercury, as in vermilion) across its surface. They can show you details about its construction: the pattern of the wood, the weave of the canvas, the presence of losses. X-rays can highlight characteristic brushwork or expose anomalies."

To access the exhibit if you are not in the Rhode Island or greater New England area, users may visit the web site at

-Kim Arcand, CXC

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