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Past Exhibition

Look Back in Time

Nov. 12, 2016 - February 26, 2017

Institute of the Arts and Sciences Artist- in – Residence Russell Crotty’s innovative, interdisciplinary exhibition at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art runs from November 13, 2016 to February 26, 2017.


Sunday, November 13, 2016 to Sunday, February 26, 2017

Artifacts and books pictured in an art exhibit.

About the Exhibit

Look Back in Time: Russell Crotty and Lick Observatory, the first traveling exhibition of the UC Santa Cruz Institute of the Arts and Sciences (IAS), showed at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (SJICA) from November 12, 2016- February 26, 2017. Organized for the SJICA by the IAS, the exhibition premiered a major new installation by IAS artist-in-residence Russell Crotty, along with a selection of the artist’s previous work based on astronomical observations. The exhibition also featured an extensive selection of never-before-exhibited objects from the Lick Observatory historical collection, selected and displayed in an installation created by Tony Misch, the Observatory’s collections director.

A Two Year Collaboration

The exhibition is the culmination of an innovative two-year collaboration between the IAS, ICA, 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, executive director of the ICA, “This is perfect for all of us. It’s curatorially innovative and educational, with a great group of institutional partners and a groundbreaking artist.” Look Back in Time is curated by John Weber, IAS founding director, Tony Misch, and Russell Crotty, in consultation with Kimball and the ICA. 

Lookback Time (Tab to skip section.)
A black and white drawing

Lookback Time

The title of the exhibition refers to an essential condition of astronomical observation known as “lookback time.” Light reaching our telescopes has traveled from the depths of space and hence shows us images from the past: the greater the distance the light has traveled, the older the image. Through the presentation of artifacts from the Lick archives, the exhibition also looks back in historical time to the emergence of astrophysics in the first decades of the observatory’s operation. Finally, the show also looks back at Crotty’s career, offering a retrospective view of his work along with his new installation, created in response to his IAS residency. ​

The archival portion of the exhibition draws on Lick’s exceptional collection of historical materials from the dawn of astrophysics in the late 19th-century, when the observatory began operation as part of the University of California. Its history spans the transition from an astronomy based on direct observation, measuring and drawing at the eyepiece, to today’s computer-based, digitized, robotic science, unimaginable a century ago.

Look Back in Time focuses on the first three decades of this transition. Astronomers’ logbooks will display 19th-century pencil drawings of planets and other celestial objects observed through the Great 36-inch Refractor telescope at Lick. Historical glass photographic plates of the Milky Way, the Moon, planets, and comets, and examples of the tiny but crucially important early photographic spectrograms will also be on view, along with meticulous records, hand calculations, and data reductions that represent the labor of the astronomy of the time.

The exhibition and associated residency are funded by grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the McEvoy Family Fund of the IAS, UC Santa Cruz’s Arts Division, and annual donors to the IAS and the ICA.