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Crushed cars at the Guggenheim, costumed self-portraits at MoMA, site-specific installations in the Brooklyn Museum's period rooms and a gallery show that is all about nudes. It's a hopping week in New York. Here's what we're looking at:

John Chamberlain, Choices, at the Guggenheim Museum Crushed hoods, dismembered fenders and shredded van roofs. Beginning in the late 1950s — and right up until his death at the end of last year — Chamberlain was known for producing sculptures crafted out of welded car parts: supremely macho forms that reconfigured America’s favorite icon into flamboyant ribbons of steel. His pieces were explosive, yet simple. They employed color at a time when sculpture was all about monochromatic palettes. The museum will now showcase approximately 100 of his works from throughout his career, including some of his other experimentations, with materials such as foam and Plexiglas. Should be a smashing good time. Opens Friday on the Upper East Side.

Cindy Sherman at the Museum of Modern Art This much-awaited retrospective tracks the career of one of the most influential photographers of the late 20th century, a prolific figure who has turned the idea of the costumed portrait into a career-long conceit — one which regularly examines the roles of women in front of (and behind) the camera. On view at MoMA will be roughly 180 key works, including the series that pretty much launched Sherman’s career: the complete ‘Untitled Film Stills’ from the late 1970s, in which the photographer casts herself as prototypical female characters in invented films. (To be clear: Sherman isn’t the first to do this, but it’s been her pieces that have had the most impact on the work of others.) The show will include other series, too: including the maligned (for good reason) clown portraits, her humorous riffs on historic painting and her most recent work, in which she depicts herself as ladies of a certain age. Opens Sunday in Midtown.

Playing House at the Brooklyn Museum In the children’s book "From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," a pair of siblings run away from home and take up residence in the period rooms at the Met. The Brooklyn Museum is now inviting various contemporary artists do virtually the same: create installations for the museum’s period rooms as a way to consider the history of these spaces. Tucked into a plantation dining room and John D. Rockefeller’s late 19th century smoking room, among other spots, will be fabric sculptures, drawings and video installations produced by Ann Agee, Anne Chu, Betty Woodman and Mary Lucier. A good opportunity to see old spaces anew. Opens Friday in Brooklyn.

Dan Flavin, Drawing, at the Morgan Library The artist best known for his buzzing installations comprised of fluorescent light tubes was also an avid illustrator, not only sketching out ideas for his sculptures, but more pastoral motifs, like sailboats. He was a noted collector, too. The exhibit will include sketches from his archive by Hudson River School painters, Piet Mondrian, Donald Judd and Sol Lewitt. Through July 1.

Ellen Harvey, The Nudist Museum Gift Shop, at Dodge Gallery Riffing on the idea of the nude, Harvey takes over a portion of this Lower East Side space with an installation that explores the ways in which painters have historically employed nekkid people — be it for beauty, titillation or simple anatomical representation. Opens Thursday at 6 P.M., on the Lower East Side.

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  • 05/20/12--21:00: The Perfect Yellow
  • Jad and Robert wonder if maybe they could add to their color pallet. Jay Neitz wondered the same thing, sort of. Take a monkey that can't see red, for example. Couldn't you just give them the red cones they were missing? So he took the human gene for red cones, figured out a way to inject it into the eyes of a group of squirrel monkeys, and he started doing vision tests. Day after a day for weeks. Until something remarkable happened.

    And that got us thinking. Could you take Jay's experiment even further? Could add whole new cones to see a whole new universe of wavelenghts? According to Jay, we might not need to. Because it just so happens, there are already people walking around with an extra cone. Producer Tim Howard tracked down a real-life tetrachromat named Susan Hogan, then drove out to Pittsburgh to meet her and Jason LaCroix ...and administer a quick vision test that made it clear that who sees what is anything but black and white.

    Next, Victoria Finlay introduces us to special strain of yellow goop: Gamboge. Raw gamboge It's a particular kind of tree sap, from the border area between Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand.  It takes years to collect a big enough blob to sell to paint suppliers. And in the course of those years, the sap collects a souvenirs of the things happening around it. Robert and producer Sean Cole headed to Kremer Pigments in NYC to take a look at a lump of the stuff, and Ian Garrett, the former technical director of the art supply store Winsor & Newton, tells us how the sap revealed the horrors of the Cambodian killing fields.

    Bullets found in raw gamboge

    Photo courtesy of Ian Garrett, Winsor & Newton.

    A squirrel monkey named Dalton performing a vision test after receiving Jay Neitz's gene therapy:

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    We tear into this show with a dark scene from 1665. A young Isaac Newton, hoping to ride out the plague by heading to the country to puzzle over the deep mysteries of the universe, finds himself wondering about light. And vision. He wants to get to the bottom of where color comes from--is it a physical property in the outside world, or something created back inside your eyeball somewhere? James Gleick explains how Newton unlocked the mystery of the rainbow. And, as Victoria Finlay tells us, sucked the poetry out of the heavens.

    Jonah Lehrer restores some of the lost magic by way of Goethe--who turned a simple observation into a deep thought: even though color starts in the physical world, it is finished in our minds.

    Which, thanks to Mark Changizi, brings us to a very serious question: what do dogs see when they look at the rainbow? We humans see seven colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet (ROYGBiV!). But as Thomas Cronin and Jay Neitz--two guys who study vision--explain, that's just a sliver of the spectrum. Along the way, we get some help imagining the rainbow from a choir, and we meet this little sea creature, who with 16 color receptors, blows the rest of us earthlings out of the water:

    Mantis shrimp

    Mantis shrimp, photo by ursanate/flickr-CC-BY-2.0

    Read more:

    James Gleick, Issac Newton

    Victoria Finlay, Color: A Natural History of the Palette

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  • 05/20/12--21:00: Colors
  • Our world is saturated in color, from soft hues to violent stains. How does something so intangible pack such a visceral punch? This hour, in the name of science and poetry, Jad and Robert tear the rainbow to pieces.


    To what extent is color a physical thing in the physical world, and to what extent is it created in our minds? We start with Sir Isaac Newton, who was so eager to solve this very mystery, he stuck a knife in his eye to pinpoint the answer. Then, we meet a sea creature that sees a rainbow way beyond anything humans can experience, and we track down a woman who we're pretty sure can see thousands (maybe even millions) more colors than the rest of us. And we end with an age-old question, that, it turns out, never even occurred to most humans until very recently: why is the sky blue?

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    Amtrak released an updated "vision" report for the Northeast corridor high-speed rail plan on Monday. Compared to the last vision report in 2010, capital cost projections are lower, ridership projections are higher and the highlight remains fast travel times: by 2040 2030, you'll be able to go from NYC to Philadelphia in 37 minutes and to Washington, D.C. in 94 minutes. We'll have more on all that soon, including why the cost projections changed (hint: it has to do with more rail ridership).

    In the meantime, here's what the eventual NYC Amtrak hub, Moynihan Station, will look like.

    From the report:

    "The new Moynihan intercity passenger rail station will extend the present terminal across 8th Avenue into the historic Farley Post Office Building to create a new signature station in New York. The Moyhnihan/Penn Station complex will create a consolidated Amtrak operation on Manhattan's west side and the high level of service and connectivity required for NextGen HSR."


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    You know Carl Linnaeus, right? The great Swedish naturalist who categorized plants and animals in the 1750s? He was a singular figure in botany. But when he got a headache, he stopped being singular. He doubled, from one Carl to two.

    Charles Michelet for NPR

    Linnaeus suffered from migraine attacks, and according to neurologist Macdonald Critchley, when his headaches came on, he'd hallucinate. A second, phantom Carl Linnaeus would often appear — seen only by the first — and would float about, doing whatever Real Carl was doing. So Linnaeus would be in his garden, checking out a plant or plucking a flower, and he could see, at a respectful distance, the Other Carl stooping and plucking the same way at the same time. Linnaeus didn't fear his phantom; in fact he got used to it.

    Charles Michelet for NPR

    As Critchley describes it, the phantom might sit in Linnaeus' seat at his library desk, and Real Linnaeus, would, presumably, ignore him. One time, Professor Linnaeus was lecturing at his university and decided to run down to his office to fetch a specimen to show the class, and Critchley says, he got to his office, "He opened the door rapidly, intending to enter, but pulled up at once saying, 'Oh! I'm there already.' "

    What a strange condition — to be visited by your perfect double, your doppelganger. Dr. Oliver Sacks, in his new book on hallucinations, calls these episodes "autoscopic doubles," and he cites a number of cases from medical history.

    August Strindberg, the Swedish playwright (is there something about Swedes that invites multiplication?) wrote an autobiographical novel where he, too, is followed by an "unknown man" who never says anything, but relentlessly copies his moves. Strindberg's phantom was not hostile, more annoying; "it was odd that he should push back his chair every time I moved mine."

    Autoscopic doubles obey certain rules. "The autoscopic double is literally a mirror image of oneself, with right transposed to left and vice versa, mirroring one's positions and actions," says Dr. Sacks. This feels like that famous Marx brothers scene from Duck Soup, where Groucho breaks a mirror, but somehow the mirror keeps mirroring. Groucho looks at it, and there's his double — it's his brother Harpo — who does everything he does ... except for ... well, if you've never seen this, this is your chance ...

    What those guys are doing is not what it was like for Linnaeus. Because, with autoscopic doubles, there's no silliness, no shared joke, no wink — just a dull, implacable sameness.

    Says Dr. Sacks, "The double is a purely visual phenomenon, with no identity or intentionality of its own. It has no desires and takes no initiatives; it is passive and neutral.

    Autoscopic doubles are not good company. They can also be evidence that things aren't exactly right in your brain. They come with migraines, epilepsy, post-traumatic disorders, encephalosis of schizophrenia — so you don't want them around, and you are probably happy when they go.

    But while they're there, hanging around, it must be strange, even slightly fascinating, to have a second you always nearby, making your moves, not because it wants to, but because you made it. You're the boss. It's your slave. And nobody chose this. Not you. Not it. It's like you're both in a prison of someone else's making. So, like prisoners everywhere, you both surrender.

    It Had A Constant Sad Expression

    I like this gentle case, described in 1955 by Kenneth Dewhurst and John Pearson. Their patient is a schoolteacher, who, says Dr. Sacks, "at the start of a subarachnoid hemorrhage, saw an autoscopic 'double' for four days":

    It appeared quite solid as if seen in a mirror, dressed exactly as he was. It accompanied him everywhere; at meal times it stood behind his chair and did not reappear till he had finished eating. At night it would undress and lie down on the table or couch in the next room of his flat. The double never said anything to him or made any sign, but only repeated his actions; it had a constant sad expression. It was obvious to the patient that this was all a hallucination, but nevertheless it had become sufficiently a part of himself for the patient to draw a chair up for his double when he first visited his private doctor.

    "Here," he doesn't say to the other one who doesn't speak. "This is for you."

    Oliver Sacks' new book on hallucinations is called, simply, Hallucinations. In it, he describes people who think they see things, think they hear things, think they smell things, think they feel things — in spooky and delicious detail. And being Oliver Sacks, he's often the one being spooked.Our illustrations come from Charles Michelet, a regular contributor to Radiolab's stage shows; he's designed some of our animations, and gave us one of the best posters we ever had.

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    Several good government groups and local politicians are taking on the New York City Board of Elections over their decision to use a tiny font on the ballot for the general election next month.

    Citing concerns that the six-point font is not readable, Manhattan Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Liz Krueger, Councilwoman Gale Brewer and groups including Common Cause New York and Citizens Union are calling on the board to print the names in a larger size.

    A six point font looks like this.

    In a press release, Senator Liz Krueger said "We may be stating the obvious, but to have an election, you need ballots that the voters can read.”

    Dr. Richard Soden is an optometrist and the Vice President for Clinical Affairs at SUNY College of Optometry. He says a six-point font is the size you usually see in phone books and classified ads.

    "Anybody who does not wear their appropriate glasses or who has any type of eye disease such as cataracts, macular degeneration, or perhaps diabetes may have some trouble seeing that," he said.

    Dr. Soden also pointed out that the lighting in voting booths is often less-than optimal.

    The board says the city has to use the smaller font to get all the required languages onto the single-page ballot.

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    As some Lakota make an annual pilgrimage on horseback to Wounded Knee in memory of Sitting Bull's death, we'll pull out some of the lesser known threads of the legacy of this complex leader and American icon. And we'll explore why his spiritual character

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    As some Lakota make an annual pilgrimage on horseback to Wounded Knee in memory of Sitting Bull's death, we'll pull out some of the lesser known threads of the legacy of this complex leader and American icon. And we'll explore why his spiritual character

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    As some Lakota make an annual pilgrimage on horseback to Wounded Knee in memory of Sitting Bull's death, we'll pull out some of the lesser known threads of the legacy of this complex leader and American icon. And we'll explore why his spiritual character

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    As some Lakota make an annual pilgrimage on horseback to Wounded Knee in memory of Sitting Bull's death, we'll pull out some of the lesser known threads of the legacy of this complex leader and American icon. And we'll explore why his spiritual character

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    DEVO co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh talks about his new visual art exhibition, "Myopia."

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    Many more public school students will get free vision screenings as well as free glasses donated by the New York-based company Warby Parker, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday.

    It's part of the city's investment in 130 community schools, which offer more social and health services than traditional schools.

    "Over the next four years every, every community school student, every student in all 130 community schools will get a free eye exam," the mayor announced at P.S. 50 in East Harlem, which is among the participating schools.

    Several community schools, including P.S. 50, already offer vision screenings. But city officials said an additional 65,000 students will get them through this expanded service. Vision problems can often lead to difficulty at school and there are estimates that 20,000 students at the 130 community schools (about 20 percent) may need glasses in the next four years, but many of them don't realize it and families sometimes can't afford them.

    The city will spend $10 million over four years on basic screenings plus more thorough eye exams. Warby Parker will donate a pair of glasses to each child who needs them. The high-tech eyeglass company already offered free glasses to some schools in low-income communities when city officials asked for help with the community schools.

    "If this program is successful, which we hope it will be, our hope is to expand it to all students in need in New York City," said co-founder and co-C.E.O. Neil Blumenthal.

    Students, like regular customers, will be allowed to pick out their own frames. Both the mayor and Chancellor Carmen Fariña saluted the company for making glasses that look cool enough for kids to wear.

    "For many of our kids, it could be a stigma if it's not done right," said Fariña, who gamely tried on a red pair of frames.

    The de Blasio administration increased the budget for its 130 community schools, which include 94 struggling schools that are also taking part in the Renewal program. In addition to the health care and social services they will get by becoming community schools, Renewal schools will also have a longer school day starting this fall and more professional development.

    When asked about  the increase for both Renewal and community schools, de Blasio cited their importance to his vision for schools citywide. "We obviously believe they are central elements to our approach to education, and we intend for them both to succeed."

    De Blasio appeared cheerful at the Wednesday event, and declined to answer reporters' questions about the decision by Albany leaders on Tuesday to grant him only a one-year renewal of control over the city schools.

    "I'll have plenty to say when the session is over," he said, adding that he wanted to wait until legislators were finished dealing with rent and housing issues.

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    Can looking at Monet's "Water Lilies" really improve your communication skills? Art historian Amy Herman explains how in Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life. The book is based on a seminar she developed called “The Art of Perception,” which teaches professional in various fields including law enforcement, business, medicine and education how to improve their perception and communication skills by analyzing works of art. 

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    How would you describe the physical feeling of a color? Warm? Cold? Slippery? Coarse? Sticky? Would you be able to distinguish between colored objects without looking at them? This 1960s episode of Science and Engineering reported that several young women in the Soviet Union were able to correctly identify colors based on touch alone, a phenomenon called “dermo-optical perception.”

    Science and Engineering was a production of Radio Moscow’s English language news service and the program with perhaps the best theme music. Typical of Cold War era nationalist grandstanding, the 10-minute news feature boasted Soviet advancements in the Space Race, medical treatments, and infrastructure projects. This episode treats reports of dermo-optical perception as breaking news, acknowledging the skeptics, but countering with a multitude of research studies which posit that the subjects couldn’t possibly have cheated and that the phenomenon is “an established fact.”

    A particular test subject, 22-year-old Rosa Kuleshova, allegedly exhibited this ability while blindfolded, with a finger placed over the eyepiece of an anomaloscope, a device used to verify color blindness. The narrator (most likely Joe Adamov) announces triumphantly, “[Kuleshova] was able to determine the colors as precisely as the average person does with his eyes; the fingers of her right hand gave the correct answers in all six tests.”  News of Kuleshova’s ability reached American press and even earned her a 1964 profile in Life Magazine.1

    The author Albert Rosenfeld and Life Magazine Correspondent Bob Brigham also seemed convinced of Kuleshova’s ability and described similar research conducted by American psychologists. Dr. Richard P. Youtz, a professor of psychology at Barnard College, claimed that he identified a 42-year-old housewife in Flint Michigan who possessed the ability. Rosenfeld reported that “She [Patricia Stanley] had been tested for some 60 hours and Dr. Youtz was quite certain that his test conditions were rigorous enough to rule out any possibility of a hoax.” Dr. Gregory Razran, a psychologist at Queens College participated in experiments in the Soviet Union and became an enthusiastic believer in this supposed scientific breakthrough. He claims that he observed a Russian scientist who could teach the ability to one student for every six that tried. Rosenfeld writes,

    Yellow, they said, felt slippery, soft and lightweight. Blue, while not so slippery as yellow, was smoother and the hand could move more freely over it. Red was sticky and clinging. Green was stickier than red but not so course. Indigo was very sticky but harder than red and green. Orange was hard and rough, and inhibited movement. Violet was even rougher and more inhibiting than orange. Black was very inhibiting and clinging, almost gluey, while white was quite smooth, though coarser than Yellow.

    A 1966 article by Martin Gardner in Science, explains this supposed ability is a simple magic trick that trained mentalists have been performing for decades: a peek down the nose.2 According to Gardner, there is no way to fully block a person’s sight with a blindfold. There will always be a small gap to peek through, especially if the person lifts their head in a “sniff posture.” Without divulging all the secrets of the performance, Gardner says that,

    Practiced performers avoid the sniff posture by tilting the head slightly under cover of some gesture, such as nodding in reply to a question, scratching the neck, and other common gestures. One of the great secrets of successful blindfold work is to obtain a peek in advance, covered by a gesture, quickly memorize whatever information is in view, then later-perhaps many minutes later-to exploit this information under the pretense that it is just then being obtained. Who could expect observers to remember exactly what happened 5 minutes earlier? Indeed, only a trained mentalist, serving as an observer, would know exactly what to look for.

    He describes the initial tests conducted by Dr. Youtz with Patricia Stanley as "so poorly designed to eliminate visual clues that they cannot be taken seriously." According to a New York Times reporter who witnessed the tests, Mrs. Stanley needed several minutes to provide an answer and kept “a steady flow of conversation” with Youtz, asking for hints on her performance.3,4 After Youtz consulted with Gardner for a second, more rigorous round of tests, her odds of correctly identifying colors and patterns on cards was just above that of chance.5 According to Gardner, Soviet Scientists experienced the same drop in results with Rosa, and her equally hyped contemporary Nina Kulagina, when more precautions were taken to account for mentalist tricks. Scientific inquiry into the alleged phenomenon waned after the 1960s.

    In 2007 Paranormal investigator Joe Nickell wrote, "To date, no one has demonstrated convincingly, under suitably controlled conditions, the existence of X-ray sight or any other form of clairvoyance or ESP."6 However, if you suspect you may possess the ability, Rosa Kuleshova insisted in her Life Magazine article, “Anyone who really tries can do it.”


    Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

    WNYC archives id: 150287
    Municipal archives id: T4057

    [1] Rosenfeld, Albert. Seeing Color with the Fingers. Life Magazine. Vol. 56 No. 24. 12 June 1964, pp. 102-113.

    [2] Gardner, Martin. Dermo-optical Perception: A Peek Down the Nose. Science. 11 February 1966: Vol. 151, Issue 3711, pp. 654-657.

    [3] Plumb, Robert K. "Woman Who Tells Colors by Touch Mystifies Psychologist." New York Times, 8 January 1964.

    [4] Plumb, Robert K. "6th Sense Is Hinted in Ability to 'See' With Fingers." New York Times, 26 January 1964.

    [5] "Housewife Is Unable to Repeat Color 'Readings' With Fingers." New York Times, 2 February 1964.

    [6] Nickell, Joe. "Second Sight: The Phenomenon of Eyeless Vision." Adventures in Paranormal Investigation. 2007. University Press of Kentucky, pp. 211-218.


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    One of our most popular episodes of all time was our Colors episode, where we introduced you to a sea creature that could see a rainbow far beyond what humans can experience.

    Peacock mantis shrimps are as extraordinary as they are strange and boast what may well be the most complicated visual system in the world. They each have 16 photoreceptors compared to our measly three. But recently researchers in Australia put the mantis shrimps’ eyes to the test only to discover that sure, they can SEE lots of colors, but that doesn't mean they can tell them apart.

    In fact, when two colors are close together - like yellow and yellow-y green - they can’t seem to tell them apart at all.  


    MORE ON COLORS: There was a time -- between the flickery black-and-white films of yore and the hi-def color-corrected movies we watch today -- when color was in flux. Check out this blog post on how colors made it to the big screen from our director of research, Latif Nasser. 

    Our original episode was produced by Tim Howard and Pat Walters. This update was produced by Amanda Aronczyk.

    Special thanks to Chris Martin of Creative Aquarium Nation, Phil Weissman, David Gebel and Kate Hinds for lending us their colorful garments. Also thanks to Michael Kerschner, Elisa Nikoloulias and the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, as well as Chase Culpon and The Greene Space team.

    Support Radiolab today at

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    Two stories: What if there were an app for blind people that could describe to them what they can’t see? Not just directions like a GPS, but descriptions of objects that paint a picture. It doesn’t exist quite like that yet, but we wrote a story that imagines it does. After that, we’ll hear a second story about a personal GPS that gets very personal.

    Visible: Performed by Russell G. Jones, Rachel Hamilton, Ann Carr, and Kerry Kastin. Written by Louis Kornfeld with help from Diana McCorry, and produced by Jonathan Mitchell.

    Drive Straight Ahead: Written by Jeremy Goldstein and Mira Burt-Wintonick. Produced by Jonathan Goldstein, Mira Burt-Wintonick, and Cristal Duhaime. Originally produced for CBC’s Wiretap.