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The influence of genetics on contemporary art


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.

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Figure 1: Code Noah by Tony Cragg (1988).
Figure 2: Zoosemiotics: Primates, Frog, Gazelle, Fish [detail] by Suzanne Anker (1993).
Figure 3: Designer Gene by Dennis Ashbaugh (1992).
Figure 4: Portrait of Jeff Koons by Kevin Clarke (1993).
Figure 5: Ecce Homo by Bryan Crockett (2000).
Figure 6: Oz by Frank Moore (2000).


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Many thanks to F. Gillette for his astute and critical reading, and to the artists and galleries who have provided visual materials.

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American Museum of Natural History

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation


Lehmann Maupin Gallery

Marion Goodman Gallery

Mendel Museum of Genetics

National Portrait Gallery, London

Sperone Westwater

The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre

Universal Concepts Unlimited, New York City

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Nelkin, D., Anker, S. The influence of genetics on contemporary art. Nat Rev Genet 3, 967–971 (2002).

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