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After 45 years of science-based art, Esther Klein Gallery winds down

People going to work in the 3600 Market Street building in University City may encounter any number of unusual things in the lobby.

There might be abstract paintings based on the rate of community COVID infections, or an artist’s exploration of the gut microbiome. The space had been an early adopter of augmented reality. The air in the lobby was once infused with experimental scents.

For decades, the corner of the lobby has served as the home of Esther Klein Gallery, featuring these kinds of science-based artwork.

Right now, the lobby features pigs. Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg has created an operatic documentary about xenotransplantation, exploring the ethics of genetically engineering pigs so their hearts can be harvested for people.

“It’s like a new strain of pig,” says Dewey-Hagborg in the film’s voiceover narration. “It’s called Pig 3.0.”

Her lines are repeated and augmented by opera singers. The artist asked
composer Bethany Barrett to set the film to music. Selected phrases
culled from interviews with scientists serve as the libretto.

“Hybrid: an Interspecies Opera” is having its premiere at the Esther Klein Gallery. The approximately 20-minute film is screening on a loop inside a darkened room built into the lobby of 3600 Market. It can be viewed anytime during gallery hours, which are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

It is one part of a small retrospective of Dewey-Hagborg’s work, “Closer Than Your Family,” which also includes a love virus that can replicate the hormonal chemicals generated by being in love (an actual engineered virus, but never tested on a person), and 3D printings of people’s faces based on the genetic information in their DNA.

“Closer Than Your Family” is the final exhibition in 3600 Market. After the show closes Dec. 16, the Esther Klein Gallery will be gone.

Since 1976, the gallery, named after its original benefactor and founding director Esther Klein, has driven the art programs of the University City Science Center, a hub for science innovation and entrepreneurship spread across several buildings. The gallery moved into 3600 Market shortly after it was built in 1989.

Curator Angela McQuillan said the art program of the Science Center will re-establish itself in 2024 under a different, still undetermined name, across the street at 3675 Market Street, a newer building finished in 2018 with a larger ground-floor community space called the Quorum.

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Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing