What Merits a Lasker Award?
This past summer, two of the world's great art institutionsthe Royal Academy of Arts in London and The Louvre in Parisheld exhibitions in which the highlight was the depiction of a tree. Artists have long been fascinated with trees, which are Nature's only living elements that link Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld. The tree at the Royal Academya paintingand the tree at The Louvrea sculptureexemplify two different routes to artistic greatnessone involving creation and the other revelation.
As in art, creation (through invention) and revelation (through discovery) can serve as two different routes to advancement in the biomedical sciences. The words "creation" and "revelation" are usually uttered at Bible classes rather than at Lasker luncheons. But, as you'll hear in a moment, this year's Lasker Clinical Award (for the invention of prosthetic cardiac valves) is an example of advancement through creation; the Basic Award (for the discovery of the immune system's dendritic cells) exemplifies advancement through revelation. And the Public Service Award recognizes a lifelong career devoted to both creativity and discovery.
The tree at London's Royal Academy was the centerpiece of a painting by the Los Angeles-based British artist David Hockney. Hockney's painting is a massive mural, measuring 40-feet wide by 15-feet high. In size, it is a close second to the largest oil painting ever done, Tintoretto's Paradiso in the Doge's Palace in Venice. Hockney's painting depicts an ordinary English countryside with a gigantic sycamore and its immense complex network of spreading and intertwining branches. The painting is so enormous that it literally engulfs the viewer in a way that one feels like one is actually standing in front of a real tree.
Hockney's biggest hurdle in executing this on-the-spot landscape was to overcome the difficulty of stepping back so as to view what he was doing in one part of the work in order to relate it to another part. He solved this perspective problem by an inventive computer-tracking method involving digital photography. This allowed him to paint 50 identically-sized smaller canvases that were then assembled into the final mural. Once Hockney conceived his strategy, he and one assistant completed the painting in a three-week sprinta tour de force of artistic invention and creation.
The tree at The Louvre was a sculpture by the Italian artist, Giuseppe Penonea leading conceptual artist who focuses on elements derived from nature. The Louvre invited Penone to select one of his contemporary sculptures that would engage in a dialogue with the monumental 18th century French garden statuary in the courtyard of the Richelieu wing of The Louvre.
|Figure 2 The 10-meter Tree. 1989. Wood. Tree 1, 16.5 x 1.5 x 1.6 feet; tree 2, 16.5 x 1.5 x 1.6 feet. Giuseppe Penone's revelation of a tree is shown in the Cour Puget courtyard of the Louvre, in juxtaposition with the gallery's eighteenth century French garden statuary. The sculpture was on display at the Louvre's Counterpoint III exhibition in Paris, 5 April25 June 2007.|
In the same way that Michelangelo chiseled out and revealed the statue of David that preexisted in his block of Carrara marble, Penone discovered and revealed The 10-meter Tree by taking matter away from his block of timber. This "revelation" technique of removing matter is a fundamentally different approach to art than the "creation" approach of Hockney, who produced a tree by adding matter to his 50 canvases.
After lunch, our Awards presentations will proceed in reverse Biblical order. I'll begin with a story of revelation and discovery, telling you about this year's Basic Science Award. Mike Brown will then tell you about the Clinical Award, an example of creation and invention. And the last presentation will be made by Harvey Fineberg, who will tell you about the Public Service Awardthe Big Bang of the day.