The Art of Science: Trachtenbergs’ collection of Einstein memorabilia on display

Most people know Albert Einstein as that guy who developed the theory of relativity, or the formula E = mc2. When associating Einstein with the academic world, he is most closely linked to mathematics and physics rather than any right-side-of-the-brain subjects, such as fine arts.

“Images and Ideas: Centennial Celebration of Einstein’s Miraculous Year,” an exhibit now on display at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, finds a way to merge the mathematical sphere with the artistic. The exhibit features 14 photographs relating to the life of Einstein on loan from the private collection of University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and his wife, Francine Zorn Trachtenberg. Three pieces of his furniture are also on public display for the first time.

Francine Zorn Trachtenberg, an art historian, described a portrait as “a struggle for control between three elements: the artist, the subject and the viewer” last Thursday night at the exhibit’s opening. She suggested that this is why portraits are so easy to personalize – because we are so intimate with the sitter.

Of the 14 works on display, 12 are portraits of the scientist. The most prominent photograph in the collection is a black-and-white print featuring a close up on the face of a 68-year-old Einstein. This photo, which was used on the cover of TIME magazine’s Dec. 31, 1999 “Person of the Century” issue, normally hangs above the stairs in the Trachtenberg’s home.

Because the Trachtenbergs have been collecting these photos for 35 years, their dinner guests have probably picked up on the couple’s admiration for him. Along with the their photos on display in the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, there is also a display case featuring some of the Einstein-related trinkets the Trachtenbergs have received as gifts over the years, including a watch and a small statuette of the physicist.

Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” This exhibit certainly shows another side of the scientist that would be unavailable to us otherwise. Those who go to the Luther Brady Art gallery cannot only see portraits of a genius, but also view the chair where one of the world’s greatest minds would put on his thinking cap. n

“Images and Ideas: Centennial Celebration of Einstein’s Miraculous Year” is on display at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery on the second floor of the School of Media and Public Affairs building until Dec. 16. The gallery is open Tuesday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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