On the historic campus of Union College, past the glorious Nott Memorial and the statue of Chester Arthur, in a place where aspiring computer scientists and engineers think deep thoughts about the universe, a new art space has quietly come into the world.
It’s called the Castrucci Gallery, and it was born last year, when the Peter Irving Wold Center opened its doors as a state-of-the-art science and engineering building where science could intersect with the liberal arts.
While the gallery occupies only about 100 of the 35,000 square feet of labs and electronic classrooms, the glass-front space is highly visible to anyone who walks into the ground floor of the building and up its grand staircase. At the top of that staircase, one can see an orrery, a moving model of solar system that was purchased for Union in 1795, the year it was founded.
“There are students in here every day. We have a lot to gain by having this dialogue,” says Adrienne Klein, a New York City artist, art teacher, independent curator and former Schenectadian who is well-known in the Capital Region. From 1988 to 1992, she was the director of the Rathbone Gallery at the Sage Colleges in Albany.
Klein, who has a potent interest in science and champions its role in art, is the guest curator for the Castrucci Gallery.
For “Mineral,” the inaugural exhibit, she quizzed science professors and probed campus geological collections.
The mineral theme honors the Wold family. Peter Irving Wold was chairman of Union’s physics department from 1919 to 1945. His son, John, a 1938 Union grad and major college benefactor, is a geologist, a former U.S. congressman from Wyoming and president of Wold Minerals Co.
The gallery is named for St. Johnsville native Paul Castrucci, a 1956 alum and retired IBM engineer, and his wife, Margaret.
In keeping with the art-science mash-up that is the gallery’s mission, Klein came up with seven fascinating objects.
Instead of the “emotional response” that one expects when viewing artwork, there can be a “quantitative response,” she says.
In the black-and-white photograph “Metal Shaving from Wold Center Construction,” we see a bulbous, organic-looking shape.
“It’s a very tiny shard of steel,” says Klein.
The construction scrap was enlarged 325 times by an electron microscope and then photographed.
Three show-stoppers hang on the most spacious wall.
They are ultra-thin slices of minerals that were photographed using cross-spectrum lighting. For scientists, the idea is to better see details; for those with an eye for art, the process transforms the images of these minerals from their natural brown, black or colorless into a mosaic of brilliant colors.
And Klein heightens the effect by presenting the prints on LED lightboxes. “It looks like stained glass,” she says.
And the minerals?
In one specimen, the minerals — garnet, quartz and hornblende — appear in a metamorphic rock from Massachusetts.
The second one features crystals from Greenland.
“And this one is from the moon,” Klein says, pointing to the most colorful image.
When she selected the prints, she had no idea what minerals they were or where they were from. “It was purely by aesthetics,” she says.
In a vitrine, close to the window of the gallery, there is a curious coral-like form that’s dark-colored and less than 2 feet tall.
Believe it or not, this “sculpture” is a vein of copper from Upper Michigan, a specimen borrowed from the college’s geology department.
The other sculptural form in the show is a silicon wafer that was given to Union by IBM. Standing on its edge, it’s as big as a dinner plate and its surface dazzles with the rainbow colors of a prism.
“Silicon may be the most important mineral of our time,” says Klein.
Hanging next to the wafer is “Contingency,” a mixed-media piece by Dove Bradshaw, the New York City artist who pioneered “interminacy,” in which paint is replaced with materials that react with the environment.
In this piece, activated in 1990, sulfur was applied to silver and aluminum leaf and mounted on handmade paper.
“Dove starts chemical reactions and lets them play out,” explains Klein. “It continues to evolve as we look at it.”
The next exhibit in the Castrucci opens in January, but Klein won’t say what it will be about.
But its mission will be the same as “Mineral,” to open the minds of the students who pass through the halls of the Wold Center.
“Science requires an unbridled mind. You should think thoughts that no one has thought before,” says Klein. “That’s a mandate in science and the arts.”