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The Art of Innovation: a new partnership between BBC Radio 4 and the Science Museum Group

This September, BBC Radio 4 and the Science Museum Group will embark on an exciting new partnership exploring the relationship between art and science over the past 250 years in The Art of Innovation: From Enlightenment to Dark Matter. 

Sir Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, and Dr Tilly Blyth, Head of Collections & Principal Curator at the Science Museum, will present a 20-part BBC Radio 4 series starting on 23 September 2019 and the Science Museum’s major free exhibition runs from 25 September 2019 – 26 January 2020 to accompany the series. 

In the radio series Sir Ian and Dr Blyth will redefine the relationship between art and science, presenting technological and scientific change through the lens of culture. They will show how science and art are not only in continual dialogue but have been symbiotic and antagonistic in their relationship to revolutionary ideas and progress. The radio series will show how art is crucial in helping us understand our scientific legacy. Together, art and science help us to interpret, study and explore the world around us.

The series begins with an examination of the artist as recorder of scientific progress with Joseph Wright’s A Philosopher Giving A Lecture On The Orrery from 1766, recorded on site at Derby Museum. Wright’s work celebrates the relationship between astronomical science and a religious understanding of the cosmos, unique in its time. Elsewhere in the series, Dr Blyth travels to Ironbridge in Shropshire to discover how this crucible for the Industrial Revolution attracted artists from all over Britain and shaped another work in the series, de Loutherbourg’s Coalbrookdale by Night. At Crossrail’s Paddington Station audiences hear how capturing cloud formations (such as in Spencer Finch’s new cloudscape canopy for the station) has changed as meteorologists’ understanding has evolved. And in front of Roy Nockold’s Supersonic Sir Ian examines how art depicts travelling faster than the speed of sound.

The Art of Innovation exhibition will expand on the radio series themes, showing that just as scientists typically think visually and use visual practice, artists have been inspired by the ideas of science. The exhibition will showcase the breadth of the Science Museum Group Collection, with iconic artworks and objects of scientific discovery displayed alongside major loans from international institutions and artists including works by Boccioni, Hepworth, Hockney, Lowry, Constable, Turner and more. 

An accompanying book will be published by Transworld in September 2019.

Gwyneth Williams, Controller of Radio 4 said: “Radio 4 aims to break down borders and boundaries – in subject areas, geography and culture. This approach draws connections in the minds and imaginations of listeners, opening up the world to greater understanding and emphasising our common humanity. I am extremely pleased to launch this collaborative series with the glorious Science Museum in which the creative and inspiring relationship between science and art is explored through collections and great works of art.”

Sir Ian Blatchford, Director, Science Museum Group said: “This bold project with the BBC is a timely exploration of the ways that artists and scientists have been driven by curiosity to make sense of what they see around them. Bringing important artworks and internationally significant loans together with our own collections, we will bring new insights to science and innovation.”

Dr Tilly Blyth, Head of Collections and Principal Curator, Science Museum said: “Only by studying artistic and scientific endeavour today, and seeing them as part of the same culture, can we reveal the creativity and imagination that is essential for humankind to aspire to be better, to understand more, and to dream.”

Offering a different perspective to the radio series, the exhibition will develop the twenty stories of interaction between art and science, within four themes. The first section looks at the interaction between scientific progress and social change. Highlights from this section include David Hockney’s Sun on the Pool, Los Angeles from 1982, on loan from the artist’s studio. This work, by one of the most renowned names in contemporary art, will be displayed alongside objects from the Polaroid Corporation in the Science Museum Group Collection. Polaroid Corporation’s ability to provide an instant image created a revolution in personal photography and influenced the work of many contemporary artists. 

How machinery has both enhanced and threatened the human body is explored in the second section, featuring L.S Lowry’s A Manufacturing Town alongside a Moorees form board used to test packing skills at Rowntrees chocolate factory in the 1920s and 1930s both from the Science Museum Group Collection. An early 1890s Singer safety bicycle, that ushered in a new age of social mobility, will be displayed alongside Umberto Boccioni’s Dynamism of a Cyclist, a loan from the Estorick Collection, exploring how the Futurist movement responded to this technology. 

The third section discovers how both art and science have been used as tools for appreciating, studying and changing the landscape around us. On display will be a model steam locomotive of the same train J. M. W. Turner travelled on when he was inspired to create Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway, on loan from the National Gallery. This section will also see a huge, intricate painting by James Nasmyth of the face of the Moon from the Science Museum Group Collection. On public display for the first time since the Great Exhibition in 1851, this image alongside Nasmyth’s ground breaking drawings, models and photographs changed how scientists saw lunar imagery. 

The final section looks at the tools for thinking about the world and capturing the unseen. Dame Barbara Hepworth’s Sculpture with Colour and String (1961), on loan from the Ingram Collection, will show how mathematical string models from the 1870s inspired British Constructivist artists in the interwar period. Meteorologist Luke Howard’s ethereal sketches of cloud formations on long-term loan to the Science Museum Group Collection, used to name the clouds, sits alongside John Constable’s Study of sky and trees, on loan from the V&A, demonstrating the artist’s commitment to studying nature.

The Art of Innovation: From Enlightenment to Dark Matter will TX on BBC Radio 4 from 23 September and will be available on BBC Sounds. 

The Art of Innovation exhibition will open at the Science Museum on 25 September 2019. Entry is free but ticketed.

The book will supplement both the radio series and exhibition and be available from September 2019. 

Part of the Science Museum Group