Michigan State University

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Director’s Lecture

“Lives of the Shadow: Between Science and Art”

MSU Museum Annual Director’s Lecture
Mark Auslander
Tuesday, September 10, 2019 at 5:30 pm

Museums are often celebrated as sites of illumination, but they also evoke all manner of shadows, which, paradoxically, give rise to new forms of knowledge and insight.  In his 2019 Annual Lecture, MSU Museum Director Mark Auslander explores the complex meanings of interrupted streams of light in science, literature, philosophy, and art.  Shadows cast by lunar and solar eclipses, once terrifying, have been productive of vital advances in the history of science. Shadows on cave walls, famously detailed in Plato’s Republic, may be among the very oldest forms of art. Shadow puppets in diverse world art traditions hint at realms of existence beyond immediate sense perception.   Cases discussed include Johannes Vermeer’s painting “A Woman Holding a Balance” (c. 1664), Tanizaki’s “In Praise of Shadows,”  Ursula Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea”, the silhouette art work of Kara Walker,  and the cast shadow image at the conclusion of the MSU Museum’s “Finding our Voice” exhibition.  What lessons might this important “shadow work” have for the future of museums, including our forthcoming Science on a Sphere installation here at the MSU Museum?


Past Director’s Lecture

“Museums as Sites of Healing: Empathy, Repair, and Critical Reflection”




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