Artist and self-styled experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats is hoping to persuade the art world to join scientists in the Copernican Revolution—nearly 5 centuries late. In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus made the humbling observation that the Earth revolves around the sun. Modern physicists often cite the “Copernican principle” that, as nature’s rules are the same everywhere, the human viewpoint isn’t unique. But the art world, Keats says, is still stubbornly Ptolemaic, in that it emphasizes the “exceptionalism” of humans and centers on stories about ourselves. So, in “The First Copernican Art Manifesto,” an exhibit that opened Thursday at the Modernism gallery in San Francisco, California, Keats will feature art that reflects banal, average truths about the universe.
The pieces don’t assume a human audience or viewpoint—and they don’t aim to appeal to us, either. One canvas is painted a bland tan, the average color of the starlight of all stars measured by astronomers. Hydrogen gas released from glassware suspended above otherwise empty pedestals assumes a form invisible to human eyes. A quarter of the notes in a once-orderly Bach composition are rearranged—reflecting the increasing entropy of the universe since its tidy, pre–big bang singularity.
Although not for humans, the exhibition is aimed at a particular demographic, in a way. “Were the aliens to land and see our show, they wouldn’t say, ‘Now I understand humanity,’” Keats says. “They’d say, ‘Now I have a better understanding of the universe.’” The exhibit runs through the end of November.