The Beautiful Brain is the first North American museum exhibition to present the extraordinary drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934), a Spanish pathologist, histologist and neuroscientist renowned for his discovery of neuron cells and their structure, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1906. Known as the father of modern neuroscience, Cajal was also an exceptional artist and studied as a teenager at the Academy of Arts in Huesca, Spain. He combined scientific and artistic skills to produce arresting drawings with extraordinary scientific and aesthetic qualities. A century after their completion, his drawings are still used in contemporary medical publications to illustrate important neuroscience principles, and continue to fascinate artists and visual art audiences. Eighty of Cajal’s drawings are accompanied by a selection of contemporary neuroscience visualizations by international scientists.
After countless hours at the microscope, Cajal was able to perceive that the brain was made up of individual nerve cells or neurons rather than a tangled single web, which was only decisively proven by electron microscopy in the 1950s and is the basis of neuroscience today. His speculative drawings stemmed from an understanding of aesthetics in their compressed detail and lucid composition, as he laboured to clearly represent matter and processes that could not be seen.
Also presented at the Belkin, Thought Forms is an exhibition of works that includes abstract paintings and drawings by Lawren Harris alongside illustrations from Charles Leadbeater’s The Chakras (1927) and Annie Besant’s Thought Forms (1901). These early twentieth century works sought to visualize states of consciousness as well as explore themes of spirituality and mysticism. In addition, a selection of Robert Wilson’s contemporary works from his Mind/Brain series will be exhibited.
The exhibition considers the emerging field of art and neuroscience and engages with interdisciplinary research of scholars from the sciences and humanities alike. A catalogue published by Abrams accompanies the exhibition, containing reproductions of the exhibition drawings, commentary on each of the works and essays on Cajal’s life and scientific contributions, artistic roots and achievements, as well as contemporary neuroscience imaging techniques.
During the course of the exhibition, Neuroscience graduate students from the University of British Columbia explained selected images from the exhibition. View these responses here.
Once again, we are pleased to welcome the UBC Contemporary Players to the Belkin Art Gallery for a concert inspired by the exhibition The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Led by Directors Corey Hamm and Paolo Bortolussi, this graduate and undergraduate student ensemble from the UBC School of Music will animate the Gallery for an afternoon program celebrating themes from the exhibition.[more]