“…one of the most unusual, ravishing exhibitions of the season.”
— Roberta Smith, The New York Times
Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s drawings of the brain are both aesthetically astonishing and scientifically significant. The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal is the first museum exhibition to present these amazing works within their historical context.
Scientists throughout the world know Cajal (1852–1934) as the father of the study of the structure and function of the brain—i.e. modern neuroscience. One of his most important discoveries was that individual cells called neurons make up the brain (most late-19th century scientists believed that the brain was a continuous, interconnected network). All research on the brain and brain-related diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are based on Cajal’s concept of the structure of the brain. Neuroscientists consider Cajal as crucial to their discipline as Albert Einstein is to physics. In 1906, Cajal was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on brain structure.
Cajal did not set out to be a scientist. He wanted to be an artist, but such a career path was not considered an appropriate ambition in rural Spain where he grew up. In his research, Cajal produced more than 3,000 drawings of the brain, and these detailed studies are as relevant today as they were a century ago. Their clarity and ability to express fundamental concepts about the brain have never been equaled. Cajal’s drawings are also informed by his training as an artist—he made choices and aesthetic decisions, arranging forms on paper in intentional ways and highlighting certain features for emphasis.
The centerpiece of The Beautiful Brain is 80 original drawings by Cajal lent by the Cajal Institute in Madrid, Spain. Contemporary neuroscience imagery provides a context for these remarkable works.
The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal was organized by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota with the Cajal Institute, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Madrid, Spain.
The Ackland presentation of this exhibition has been made possible in part by generous support from Betsy Blackwell & John Watson and the UNC Neuroscience Center at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine.
Friends’ First Look at The Beautiful Brain
24 January 2019, 5:30-7:30 PM
Members and invited guests only
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Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Spanish, 1852-1934: Epitelio y neuroglia primitivos de ratón (Glial cells of the mouse spinal cord), 1899, ink and pencil on paper. Courtesy of Instituto Cajal (CSIC).