Genomic Portrait



Leading genetic scientist Sir John Sulston and prominent "YBA" artist Marc Quinn will unveil an exciting new portrait at the National Portrait Gallery on Tuesday 18 September.

A Genomic Portrait: Sir John Sulston by Marc Quinn is the result of a remarkable collaboration between the artist and the sitter in which Sulston contributed a sample of his DNA to be used by Quinn in the work. The portrait is the first entirely conceptual portrait to be acquired by the Gallery and was commissioned with the support of The Wellcome Trust.

Sir John Sulston is the UK's leading figure in the development of DNA analysis and played a pivotal role in the Human Genome Project, an international effort to produce the genetic "book" of humankind. As former Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre, Cambridge, Sulston led the UK arm of the project to produce a working draft of the human genome which was successfully completed in June 2000.

Quinn has created an intriguing portrait of Sulston which, whilst abstract in the aesthetic sense, provides us with an exact representation of the sitter, and precisely captures what is unique about him. The portrait presents a detail of Sulston's genome - the "recipe" to make him. A highly reflective frame evokes the clinical atmosphere associated with scientific research, and prompts the viewer to consider their own identity and the personal impact of the Human Genome Project.

Marc Quinn (b.1964) first came to prominence in 1991 when he exhibited Self, a cryogenic sculpture, in which the artist's head was cast in his own frozen blood. In 1999 he began a body of work that consists of sculptural portraits of those who have lost limbs - at birth, or through illness or accident - and his life-size cast Catherine Long 2000 recently won the Wollaston prize at the Royal Academy. He has exhibited all over the world with solo exhibitions at the Tate Gallery, London (1995), the Kunsverein, Hannover (1999) and Fondazione Prada, Milan (2000) as well as group shows Sensation, Royal Academy (1997) and, more recently, Spectacular Bodies, Hayward Gallery (2000).

Sir John Sulston said: "The portrait is the result of a standard laboratory procedure, transposed into the setting of the Gallery. Does this change of viewpoint alter our perception of the object, and of the techniques that gave rise to it? The portrait contains a small fraction of my DNA, so it's only a detail of the whole, though there is ample information to identify me. Each spot in the portrait is a colony grown from a single bacterial cell containing a segment of my DNA".

Marc Quinn said: " What I like about my portrait of John Sulston is that, even though in artistic terms it seems to be abstract, in fact it is the most realist portrait in the Portrait Gallery since it carries the actual instructions that led to the creation of John. It is a portrait of his parents, and every ancestor he ever had back to the beginning of Life in the universe. I like that it makes the invisible visible, and brings the inside out. With the mapping of the Human Genome, in which John played such a vital role, we are the first generation to be able to see the instructions for making ourselves. This is a portrait of our shared inheritance and communality as well as of one person."

Dr Charles Saumarez Smith, Director of the National Portrait Gallery said: "One of the great strengths of this work is that it asks the questions 'What is a portrait?' just as, in considering DNA and the Human Genome, one is faced with the question 'What is a person?' Marc's portrait of John Sulston represents the ultimate integration of the sitter's identity, in a genetic sense, with the material of the portrait, allowing for a discussion regarding conceptual art practices."

Dr Ken Arnold, Exhibitions Manager at The Wellcome Trust, said: "This is a unique opportunity to present one of our most talented scientists to the public. Throughout the 1990's, John Sulston dedicated himself to the Human Genome Project and the portrait captures two of the things which have been fundamental to this venture: John Sulston; and human DNA. The Human Genome Project is the Trust's most ambitious scientific venture and we are delighted that our collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery not only enables us to share the genome with the public, but more specifically John's genome. This is a fascinating fusion of science and art."

The portrait is on display from 19 September 2001 - 10 February 2002 and will be supported by photographic portraits of the artist and sitter, taken by Marc Quinn, and a contextual display about the Human Genome Project.

Notes to Editors

The Wellcome Trust is an independent research-funding charity whose mission is to foster and promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health. Website:
The Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre is one of the world's leading genomics centres. Both the Sanger Centre and the Wellcome Trust have been at the forefront of efforts to keep sequence data in the public domain. Founded in 1993, the Sanger Centre currently employs about 600 people at the purpose-built campus at Hinxton. The Centre is a leading partner in the Human Genome Project, provides state-of-the-art analysis of genomes and also contributes to international projects to sequence and interpret the genomes of other species and disease-causing organisms. Website:

National Portrait Gallery opening hours
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Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10am - 9pm
Recorded information: 020 7312 2463
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For further press information please contact:
Hazel Sutherland, Press Office, National Portrait Gallery
Tel 020 7312 2452 Fax 020 7306 0058 email

For further press information about The Wellcome Trust please contact:
Noorece Ahmed, Tel 020 7611 8540 Fax 020 7611 8416 email

For further press information about The Sanger Centre and the Human Genome Project please contact: Don Powell, Tel 01223 494956 Fax 01223 494714 email

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