University Museums

Title: G-Nomes and DNA Double Helix
Name: Sculpture
Date: 1991
Medium: Terra-cotta and brick
Dimensions: 144 x 84 in. (365.8 x 213.4 cm)
Classification: Sculpture
Credit Line: An Iowa Art in State Buildings Project for Molecular Biology Building. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Location: Iowa State University, Molecular Biology, Roof
Object Number: U91.71a-h
More Information
The G-Nomes are the twelve-foot tall terra-cotta sculptures that stand atop each corner of the Molecular Biology Building. In each hand the figures hold X and Y chromosome rods. The stylized black and white coats worn by the G-Nomes are symbolic references to the black suits worn by business people and the white lab coats worn by scientists. Together, these two professions will lead the molecular biology program at Iowa State University. The black and white squares also bring to mind crossword puzzles and the challenge of solving games. In this building, molecular biologists are trying to solve the genetic code of life. The symbolic black and white checks are repeated throughout much of the art. The G-Nome figures may also be interpreted as "sacred guardians" of the Molecular Biology Building. Running up each side of the building beneath the G-Nomes is a twining pattern of ceramic tiles that represents strands of replicating DNA. Wrapped around each corner of the building, these strands symbolically hold the secrets of life that are being discovered inside. They also symbolize the fact that DNA strands contain the secret of life within themselves.

The G-Nome Project fully integrates art and architecture into the Molecular Biology Building. Since the artist, Andrew Leicester, was selected at the start of the project, he was able to work with the architectural firm Hansen Lind Meyer, Inc. to incorporate the art into the building's design. As a result, Iowa State University has gained a striking example of the successful merging of art and architecture, as well as a building rich in meaning and function.

When Leicester was commissioned by Iowa State to create this public art, he began to research the kinds of activities that would take place there. He found information at conferences, by attending lectures, by reading books, and through conversation with scientists and students. He kept a sketchbook of ideas and drawings on the subject. It became clear to him that the most debated area of current investigation in the field of molecular biology was transgenetic animal research with both the academic community and the public expressing their opinions. Philosophers, sociologists, animal scientists, and economists were among the many who were discussing the potential legal and economic implications of genetic research.