Contemporary visual artists are incorporating genetic concepts into their work, and this work has become prominently featured in numerous museum and gallery exhibitions. Such art uses visual images that represent the language of genomics, the values affected by genetic understanding of the body and the implications of bioengineering. Here, we present various examples of how artists depict aspects of genetics as cultural icons and symbols; in particular, their focus on DNA as information and on the commercialization of genetics research material.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 print issues and online access
$189.00 per year
only $15.75 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Get just this article for as long as you need it
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Petheridge, D. & Jordanova, L. The Quick and the Dead: Artists and Anatomy (Univ. California Press, Berkeley, 1997).
Anker, S. & Nelkin, D. The Molecular Gaze: Art in the Genetic Age (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, New York, in the press).
Nelkin, D. Molecular metaphors. Nature Rev. Genet. 2, 555–559 (2001).
Schroedinger, I. What is Life? (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1943).
Doyle, R. On Beyond Living: Rhetorical Strategies in the Life Sciences (Stanford Univ. Press, Palo Alto, California, 1997).
Gamow, G. Possible relations between deoxyribonucleic acid and protein structures. Nature 173, 317 (1954).
Kay, L. The Molecular Vision of Life (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1993).
Lumsen, C. J. The gene and the sign: giving structure to post-modernity. Semiotica 62, 191–206 (1986).
Merrell, F. Peirce: Signs and Meanings (Univ. Toronto Press, Toronto, 1997).
Stafford, B. M. & Terpak, F. Devices of Wonder (The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California, 2002).
Andrews, L. & Nelkin, D. Body Bazaar: The Market for Body Tissue in the Biotechnology Age (Crown Press, New York, 2001).
Synnott, A. The Body Social (Routledge, London, 1993).
Monbiot, G. A corporate great blob coalesces. Guardian (London), 20 January 2000.
Miller, L. Catalogue from Art Gallery, Williams Center for the Arts, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, USA (2001).
Moore v. Regents of the University of California, 793 P. 2d 479 (Cal 1990).
Krimsky, S. Biotechnics and Society (Praeger, New York, 1991).
Crockett, B. interviewed in Heiferman, M. & Kismaric, C. Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution Catalogue for Exhibit (The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 2001).
Woodruff, T. interviewing Frank Moore The Scientific Odyssey of an Artist 6–7, 10 (Update, New York Academy of Sciences magazine, 2002).
Kemp, M. DNA = ML × LdaV: thoughts on the Mona Lisa of modern science. Nature (in the press).
Dery, M. The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium (Grove Press, New York, 1999).
Many thanks to F. Gillette for his astute and critical reading, and to the artists and galleries who have provided visual materials.
American Museum of Natural History
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
National Portrait Gallery, London
The Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Nelkin, D., Anker, S. The influence of genetics on contemporary art. Nat Rev Genet 3, 967–971 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrg950
This article is cited by
Nature Reviews Neuroscience (2009)
The Mona Lisa of modern science
The art of the helix
Nature Reviews Genetics (2003)