Science of Art, Art of Science

Bordering the west entrance of campus, the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) stands as a reflective giant. With its metallic silver exterior and outdoor movie screen, it could very well be a template for buildings in the year 4000. This year, the museum will host exhibits, workshops, and lectures that feature work from many different time periods, and even some with a scientific twist.

BAMPFA opened over one year ago with an “Architecture of Life” exhibit, celebrating architecture as a metaphor, concept, and practice. From scientific illustrations to interactive displays, the show included a prominent collection of over 200 works made over the past 2,000 years and explored how structure and architecture can mirror the human experience. The museum also hosted an assortment of sketches by the 19th century biologists Santiago Ramón y Cajal and Ernst Haeckel.

In 1862, Haeckel published a monograph containing elaborate images of single-celled organisms called radiolaria. These tiny organisms grow mineral skeletons that are beautifully detailed in Haeckel’s drawings. BAMPFA Director and Chief Curator Lawrence Rinder says these drawings “ended up being inspirational to Art Nouveau architecture and design,” an ornamental style that often includes curves and organic forms.

Ramón y Cajal, often deemed the founder of modern neuroscience, is known for his meticulous sketches of neural circuitries, or elaborate views into the brain’s microscopic structure. “He was the first person to really understand how neurons operate [and] the function of neural networks in the brain,” says Rinder. In terms of historical impact, “those drawings might have been the most significant drawings in the show,” says Rinder. To this day, Ramón y Cajal’s drawings of nerve cells are printed in neuroscience textbooks as a marvel of discovery and anatomical illustration.

From now until May 21, BAMPFA is hosting “Hippy Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia”, marking the 50th anniversary of the summer of love. The 1967 social phenomenon drew around 100,000 people to San Francisco in the name of antiwar sentiments, art, and more. The show is expected to transcend psychedelics and dip into the role of psychological theories and digital technology in the era.

Entrance to BAMPFA is free for UC Berkeley students, not including special events. More information and an extensive calendar of events can be found at www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.

Feature image: Human Purkinje cell drawing by Ramón y Cajal.


Chloe Lessard is a second year concurrent graduate student in journalism and public health. She reports primarily on epidemiology and women’s health but has an affinity for the arts. In her spare time, she watches sci-fi movies, takes butoh dance classes, and drinks coffee.

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