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Happy birthday Darwin

On Tuesday 12 February, Charles Darwin’s 199th birthday, we announce that Rachel Whiteread, Mark Wallinger and Dorothy Cross are among artists involved in two new programmes responding to Darwin’s ideas and to the islands that inspired his theory of evolution.

Darwin inspires artists in London and the Galapagos

The Natural History Museum is working on a one-off project to commission a permanent artwork that will be installed in its iconic building in London. On the other side of the world, the Galapagos Conservation Trust is establishing an artists’ research residency programme for British artists to spend time exploring both the natural wonders and current challenges of the Galapagos. Both projects have been made possible by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which has awarded significant grants to each.

The ceiling to be reinstated.

The ceiling to be reinstated.

Darwin’s Canopy

Ten short-listed artists will work with the Museum on their proposals for Darwin’s Canopy, a permanent artwork inspired by Charles Darwin’s ideas and what they mean for our understanding of nature and our place within it today. One proposal will be selected and will become part of the ceiling of an inner gallery in the Grade I listed Museum.

The short-listed artists are: Christine Borland, Dorothy Cross, Mark Fairnington, Tania Kovat, Alison Turnbull, UnitedVisualArtists (Matt Clark and Chris Bird), Mark Wallinger, Richard Woods, Richard Wentworth and Rachel Whiteread.

Initial sketches, drawings and scale mock-ups that illustrate each of the proposals will go on public display at the Museum from 4 June for three months and will be judged by a panel of art critics and curators. The judge’s selected artist will be announced later in June and the artwork will be unveiled on Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, 12 February 2009. The project is part of the Museum’s ongoing contemporary arts programme, enabling artists to develop their ideas through access to scientists and collections, complementing its world-leading scientific research.

Gulbenkian Galapagos Artists’ Residencies

The Gulbenkian Galapagos Artists’ Residencies will enable up to 12 leading artists to spend time in the Galapagos archipelago to reflect on its unique nature, its historic value and current importance, and the human and conservation challenges it faces. The rare wildlife and dramatic habitats of the islands, their historical role in shaping Darwin’s ideas and their pristine nature have made them a double World Heritage Site. Artists will be invited to engage with the Galapagos on their own terms, to mix with both the local and scientific communities on the islands, feel inspired to make work connected to their experiences and encouraged to share it with a wide audience.

The residency programme will initially run for three years. It is being managed in conjunction with the Charles Darwin Foundation, the trust’s key partner in the islands and curated by Greg Hilty of Plus Equals. Dorothy Cross and Fiona Shaw have already visited the archipelago as a pilot for the programme, and Jyll Bradley is due to visit later this year. The Galapagos Conservation Trust will also explore opportunities to display work that arises from the artists’ visits.


‘There is grandeur in this view of life... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.’ Charles Darwin