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Blunt End: Apr 1, 2003


Photos of James Watson are a dime a dozen these days. But a genetic portrait of the scientist sells for $60,000. New York artist Kevin Clarke says he created the six 27-by-10-foot panels shown here to “commemorate Watson’s brilliant understanding of a structure.” They depict metal shelving that Clarke photographed in various stages of construction using time-lapse photography and five-by-seven-inch film. Captured in the stages of a helical movement, Clarke says the structure’s motion imitates the hand gesture of a master of ceremonies exclaiming, “Ta da!” Watson’s own DNA sequence, generated with Watson’s consent by the Cold Spring Harbor Lab for Clarke, was aligned digitally onto the photographs. Watson’s As, Ts, Cs, and Gs run across the top of the structure in frame #1, and an electropherogram of his sequence is in the others. When Clarke exhibited the piece in New York in 2000, Eric Lander showed up. Lander used his cell phone to read the letters off the portrait to someone back in his lab and, says Clarke, “about 10 minutes later they were able to give a very precise reading of [what part of Watson’s genome] it was from.”

—Adrienne Burke


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