Darwin's Canopy unveils  ceiling artwork proposals

10 March 2008

The 10 shortlisted artists competing for the honour of creating a permanent ceiling artwork at the Natural History Museum reveal their proposals in Darwin's Canopy today.

The free exhibition opens today and shows the artists' proposals for a Charles Darwin-inspired artwork, including those from Turner Prize winners Rachel Whiteread and Mark Wallinger.

The winning work to be incorporated into the Grade I listed Museum will be chosen this summer by a panel of artists, scientists and architect experts.

'Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection revolutionised our understanding of the world,' said project leader Bob Bloomfield. 'The artists have a fantastic blank canvas for a modern-day homage to Darwin's achievements.

Continuing original theme

Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse designed the Museum to be a home to nature, and explored the organisation of the natural world throughout the building. He filled the Central Hall ceiling with plant motifs to suggest a growing canopy, sheltering the many terracotta animal sculptures that can be found around the building. 

'We hope to create a lasting legacy, building on the architect's original intention to show the awe and wonder of the natural world within the fabric and decoration of the building.'

Mirrors on the ceiling

From mirrors on the ceiling, a computer simulation of evolution and 12 painted eyes, each artist has expressed their ideas in their own unique way.

They were given behind-the-scenes access to the Museum's science and library collections to explore Darwin's ideas and their impact.

'It's exciting that artists involved in this project have taken such diverse approaches in exploring Darwinian concepts,' comments Bergit Arends, the Museum's curator of contemporary arts.

'Darwin's bicentenary provides an opportunity to present contemporary artistic probing of his continuing significance within the fabric of this historic building.'


The exhibition showing all the proposals is the first event in a national programme called Darwin200, which celebrates Darwin's ideas and their impact around his 200th birthday. The final commissioned artwork will be revealed as a highlight of the celebrations on Darwin's 200th birthday, 12 February 2009.

The project is supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Darwin's Canopy is open  4 June -14 September 2008