press release

Look Back in Time: Russell Crotty and Lick Observatory

The ICA will present a solo exhibition of new work by artist Russell Crotty.

Organized for the ICA by the Institute of the Arts and Sciences (IAS) at UC Santa Cruz, the exhibition premiers a large-scale, site-specific installation by IAS artist-in-residence Russell Crotty, along with a selection of the artist’s previous work based on astronomical observations. Look Back in Time also delves into the history of astronomy, unveiling a rich selection of artifacts from Lick Observatory’s historical collections that provide a singular look into the processes of late 19th and early 20th century observational astronomy. The juxtaposition of contemporary art and historical objects brings the scientific and the aesthetic together in a unique, experimental pairing.

Look Back in Time is the culmination of an unusual, two-year collaboration between the ICA, IAS, University of California Observatories (UCO), the Lick Observatory Historical Collections Project, and Theoretical Astrophysics Santa Cruz, a faculty-working group at UC Santa Cruz. According to Cathy Kimball, ICA’s Executive Director, “This project represents a model partnership between a public university and an urban, non-profit contemporary art space, demonstrating the value of collaborations that leverage the research capacities of higher education in the service of public arts programming.”

According to Tony Misch, the exhibit’s co-curator and director of the Lick Observatory Collections, the exhibit’s title has a dual meaning: “First, it refers to ‘lookback time’—the fact that the light that reaches our telescopes shows us images from the past: the greater the distance the light has traveled, the older the image. Second, the exhibit looks back at the early years of astronomy at Lick.”

Russell Crotty is known internationally for his drawings and sculptures based on astronomical observation, investigating the cosmos and the nature of the universe through art. His works are in major collections throughout the U.S., including MOMA, SFMOMA, the Whitney Museum and LA MOCA. Until a wildfire destroyed it in 2007, Crotty used his own amateur observatory and five telescopes to create a unique body of drawings, sculptures, and artist books that convey the beauty and mystery of the cosmos.

Lick Observatory has been studying the heavens from the summit of Mt. Hamilton, east of San Jose, since 1888. It remains, after more than 125 years, a vibrant research institution. In the course of the years, the observatory has accumulated an extraordinary collection illustrating the history of astronomy since its founding.

Look Back in Time is jointly curated by IAS Director John Weber, Tony Misch and Russell Crotty, in collaboration with the ICA’s Executive Director Cathy Kimball and the ICA staff.