On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the Moon. This event is widely regarded as one of the most important advancements in the history of human civilization—and consciousness—a significant technological and scientific achievement toward a better understanding of the universe and humanity’s place therein. For in the end, in reaching the Moon, we also discovered planet Earth and a greater sense of ourselves.
This is perhaps most evident in the story around Earthrise, a photograph taken by astronaut William Anders as part of the Apollo 8 mission on December 24, 1968. Featured in this exhibition, it captures a partial view of Earth rising up above the lunar surface, floating in the black, murky waters of space. In that turbulent year, the image presented the sobering reality that all humans are joined in our responsibilities to each other and to the planet, cultivating a sense of hope and togetherness in an otherwise fractious historical moment. As a result, the photograph is now recognized as a primary inspiration behind the modern environmental movement.
Honoring these historic moments and taking place around the fiftieth anniversary of the Moon landing, this exhibition tells some of the incredible stories of how space exploration has been intertwined with artistic imagination and visual culture. It features advancements in camera technologies that allowed early astronauts to capture stunning photographs of the lunar landscape, as well as stories about key figures like Carl Sagan, Frank Drake, and Linda Salzman Sagan, who together designed visual and audio forms of communication for encounters with extraterrestrials. More recently, the artist Trevor Paglen has embarked on similar projects, creating an archive of representative images of life on Earth that will remain in orbit for billions of years.
While not intended to be comprehensive, A Brief History of Art in Space nonetheless reveals some ways in which art and science have been and continue to be entangled in illuminating the many mysteries of the universe—and the human mind.
A Brief History of Art in Space is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and curated by Steven L. Bridges, Associate Curator. Support for this exhibition is provided by the Alan and Rebecca Ross endowed exhibition fund.