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Weisman Art Museum reveals international exhibit that blends art and science
Installation view.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN.- The Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota presents The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (January 28, 2017 - May 21, 2017). The exhibition is the first to present and contextualize neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s drawings of the brain and brain cells. Considered the father of modern neuroscience, Cajal (1852-1934) attended an art academy in his early years and was an accomplished artist. He combined scientific and artistic skills to produce exceedingly detailed drawings to prove his theory that the brain is composed of individual cells rather than a single tangled web, which is the basis of neuroscience today. His theories were later proved through electron microscopy in the 1950s.

As a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1906, neuroscientists consider Cajal as important to their discipline as Einstein is to physics. Cajal developed his view of the physical brain primarily by examining thin slices of the organ under a microscope. Though he studied dead tissues, Cajal constantly searched for new ways to explain movement, life, and energy. He even utilized stereoscopic photography to obtain three-dimensional images of nerve cells. The drawings in the exhibition are presented in four categories: Cells of the Brain, Sensory Systems, Neuronal Pathways, and Development and Pathology.

Cajal’s drawings, many appearing for the first time, will be accompanied by a selection of contemporary visualizations of the brain, photographs, historic books, and scientific tools. The historical books, all containing anatomical illustrations, and the contemporary neuroscience imagery provide historical context for the drawings. The contemporary neuroscience visualization and animations range from reconstructed MRI acquisitions to various micrographs (images taken from microscopic lenses)—showing the evolution of Cajal’s early hypothesis to modern day science.

WAM’s exhibition seeks to reveal the interconnected relationship between art and science. This traveling exhibition was curated in collaboration with WAM’s Director and Chief Curator Lyndel King and Drs. Alfonso Araque, Janet Dubinsky, and Eric Newman, neuroscientists at the University of Minnesota and leaders in the field of neuroscience. Dr. Araque was formerly at the Instituto Cajal in Madrid, where Cajal worked and where his drawings are housed. The resulting exhibition demonstrates the ways in which a university art museum can work with university faculty and researchers across disciplines, to utilize diverse collections and archives and create a compelling experience that relates and connects to the lives and interests of a diverse audience.

After the debut at WAM, the exhibition will travel to university galleries and museums throughout the United States and Canada. This exhibition was organized by the Frederick R. W eisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in collaboration with the Instituto Cajal, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) in Madrid, Spain.

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