Angel of the West (2008), commissioned as the signature piece of the new Scripps Research Institute's campus in Jupiter, Florida, is a large-scale sculpture based on the structure of the human immune system's key molecule, the antibody. As a former quantum physicist, I produced this piece as part of my ongoing quest to create novel sculpture inspired by the molecules of life.
Like tiny guardian angels, legions of antibodies constantly protect us from ill and disease. Their ability to bind to specific molecules makes them a valuable tool in Western academic medicine, crucial for understanding the machinery of life and developing vaccinations and novel pharmaceuticals.
The sculpture plays on the striking similarity of both proportion and function of the antibody molecule and the human body. A representation of the antibody molecule, in a style I developed, is surrounded by a 12-foot-diameter ring evocative of Leonardo da Vinci's Renaissance icon, “Vitruvian Man” (1490). Where man's arms reach up to touch the circle with his hands, the molecule's flexible “arms”—ending in highly specific handlike regions—hold on to the ring. The antibody's “hands” function to hold on to an intruder, for example, a virus, thus tagging it for destruction through the immune system. Reminiscent of spiritual imagery, a set of rays in the sculpture emanates from the spot where the center of the human head would be located in Leonardo's drawing. My intention is that a sculpture like Angel of the West will help reestablish the Renaissance notion that the natural sciences constitute an integral part of culture.
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The antibody structural data used in the sculpture were published by Eduardo A. Padlan.1
Julian Voss-Andreae, Dipl Phys BFA
1 Padlan EA. Anatomy of the antibody molecule. Mol Immunol. 1994;31:169–217.