Whether it’s an 18th century Charles D’Agar oil painting or a 3-D printed sculpture, science can be found everywhere in art.
University chemistry professor John Pojman curated the “Polymers in Art through the Centuries” exhibit with the Louisiana Art and Science Museum to highlight several different materials, which chemically react when fused to form art. A polymer consists of long chains of molecules made of repeating units.
“Think of, like, Mardi Gras beads made out of little long beads all stranded together,” Pojman said.
Pojman said there are three different types of polymers: naturally occurring, man-made and synthetic. Naturally occurring polymers include materials like wood and silk, while man-made polymers are created by modifying a naturally occurring polymer. Synthetic polymers are usually derived from petroleum oil and created by scientists and engineers.
Mandonesia Carter, an art gallery guide in the museum, said the exhibit delves into behind-the-scenes work in art, from natural processes to how a 3-D printer prints out pieces of a sculpture, such as the bird sculpture hanging in the exhibit. She said the exhibit looks more into the science side of art.
“I don’t think [people] put that together all the time. I think they just walk in and they see colors, or shapes, or who’s in this or what the subject matter is,” Carter said. “They don’t look and think about the process.”
Pojman said the exhibit gives viewers a different perspective of art. As a scientist, he said he tends to look at art with an interest in how the work was made and what was used. Certain art cannot be created without the presence of chemical reactions and use of materials, he said.
“The theme really is how polymers allow different types of art throughout the centuries to be done by artists, and to look at it not from the point of view of the technique but the material itself from which it is made,” Pojman said.
One of the polymer examples featured in the exhibit is Pojman’s 3P Quickcure clay which he created at the University. According to the website, this clay allows users to curate for as long as they want because it will not harden until heated with a heating gun. Through a chemical reaction that occurs when introduced to heat, the clay will spread out and harden. According to the exhibit, Pojman demonstrated his material to art students. One art student, Shelby Prindaville, who is now a University alumna, tried to use the material for creating textures in art; however, Prindaville suggested the material be used for sculptures instead. The exhibit features some of her sculptures using this material.
Everyone can appreciate the information and art in the exhibit, whether it’s a child or professional chemist, Pojman said.
“It goes from kids who might just be interested … to someone who likes art but never really thought about the chemistry of it, to somebody who really knows chemistry,” Pojman said. “If you want to delve in, there’s lots of information available there — every single chemical reaction and the structures of all of it.”
The exhibition will run until Sept. 3.