The National Academies of Sciences

National Academy of Sciences


Health of the Planet

August 1 – January 31, 2017

NAS Building, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W.


Known as the “lungs of the planet,” the Amazon rainforest absorbs an enormous amount of the world’s carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. In recent decades, large swaths of the rainforest have been deforested for timber, urbanization, cattle ranching, and plant extracts. Today, roughly one fifth of the Amazon is gone, and scientists cite this deforestation as a major contributing factor to global climate change. Artist Steve Miller explores the impact of deforestation on the Brazilian Amazon rainforest in this exhibition.

On a trip to Brazil in 2005, fascinated by the beauty, biodiversity, and environmental challenges facing the country’s tropical environment, Miller began to conceptualize much of the artwork featured in this exhibition. On subsequent visits, he created x-rays of rainforest flora and fauna, with which he is giving the “lungs of the planet” a metaphorical check up. He incorporates these x-rays into an unconventional range of media including paintings, prints, glass sculptures, and surfboards. Surfboards are an iconic symbol of Brazilian culture and by printing x-rays of fauna onto them he has created an “eco-trophy” to replace the classic, environmentally-depleting taxidermy trophy. His paintings also include satellite remote sensing imagery of land use and deforestation in the Amazon which he obtained from Woods Hole Research Center on Cape Cod.

Through the juxtaposition of the x-rays and land use imagery, Miller reveals the inner structure and beauty of animals at risk and gives a broader perspective on their dwindling habitats. With his bright colors, energetic painting style, and scientific imagery, Miller wants to enable us to acknowledge our place in the natural world and consequential interactions with it.

Based in New York, Miller is recognized as an early pioneer of the “sciart” (science-based art) movement. He has been exploring scientific concepts and experimenting with new technologies in his artwork since the 1970s. In 2013, the NAS mounted his exhibition Crossing the Line, featuring paintings based on his collaboration with neurobiologist Rod MacKinnon, who studied the movement of ions across cell membranes. Miller has presented more than 30 solo exhibitions at major venues in the United States, China, France, and Germany.

Image at left: Forces at Play, August 2015, acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 79 x 78 inches

Watch a short video about the exhibition.

Link to the National Academy of Sciences website