Tartu Ülikooli muuseumi kogu

The exhibition “Art or Science”

The exhibition “Art or Science” is the first to offer in-depth insight into the relationship between art and science in Estonia. In today’s world, where information is increasingly communicated in visual form and we need, more than ever, an ability to critically interpret images, historical scientific illustrations also deserve a fresh glance.  

The role of images is not just to communicate and illustrate science but also to play an active part in knowledge production.   

The focus of the display is on the visualisation of natural sciences and medicine in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This was an age when these disciplines were closely intertwined with racial theories and colonialism. Images, just like the history of knowledge in general, are inextricably connected with power.  

The exhibition explores the controversial relations between the history of Estonian scientific illustrations and the efforts to control and map the territories of the Russian empire. Looking at the sourcing of materials for scientific collections and museum ethics leads us to ask how to find new ways of exploring and highlighting the issues of inequality and marginalisation embedded in the history of scientific collections.  

Estonian science and art both received strong impetus from the reopening of the University of Tartu in 1802. Along with items from the collections of the University of Tartu, the exhibition shows materials from other Estonian science and memory institutions and showcases scientific illustrators who have been overshadowed by “real” artists and scientists. The exhibition also brings attention to the often-forgotten role of women artists in the history of art and science in Estonia.  

Kristina Norman’s creative research project Comparative Anatomy offers a contemporary commentary on the historical collections. In the University of Tartu Art Museum, as part of the “Art or Science” exhibition, the exposition “Geological Landscapes” is displayed, which examines the mutual influences of geology and landscape painting.  

The collaborative exhibition involves the University of Tartu Museum, the Art Museum of Estonia and the Estonian Academy of Arts.  

The exhibition is open until 29 May 2024.

We would like to thank: the Farm Museum of Carl Robert Jakobson, Estonian History Museum, Estonian Literary Museum, Estonian Museum of Natural History, Estonian Naturalists’ Society, Estonian University of Life Sciences National Library of Estonia, Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design, National Archives of Estonia, Academic Library of Tallinn University, University of Tartu Department of Anatomy,  Tartu Art Museum, University of Tartu Library, University of Tartu Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden, private collections, Mare Isakar, Ulje Natus, Seidi Raid and Moonika Teemus.

Supporters: Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Estonian Research Council, Art Museum of Estonia, Estonian Academy of Arts, Böckler-Mare-Balticum-Stiftung .

Curators: Jaanika Anderson, Linda Kaljundi, Kadi Polli Kristiina Tiideberg and Ken Ird  

Exhibition design and visual identity: Jaanus Samma  

Media graphics design: Külli Kaats  

Coordinator: Külli Lupkin, Magdaleena Maasik 

Educational programmes: Klaus-Peeter Ladva, Triin Veskimäe


  • The exhibition is on the third floor of the University of Tartu Museum, which is accessible via lift.
  • The door to the exhibition hall has a high threshold, which can be crossed with the help of a wooden ramp provided by the visitor guide.


  • The seats in the exhibition hall have no backrest.

Lights and audio

  • The general lighting in the room varies in order to protect historical objects.
  • You can listen to audio on the headphones by the installation in the back of the room.

You can find detailed information about the accessibility of the building here.


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