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Hundreds of paintings were discovered in the 12th century Cambodian temple complex Angkor Wat hiding in plain sight.

Though thousands of people pass through the religious monument every day, nobody had ever noticed the ancient graffiti on the faded walls. Researcher Noel Hidalgo Tan first saw the red and black pigment on the walls of the monument when he visited and decided to investigate, Smithsonian Magazine reports.

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Friday, 03 June 2011 03:47

NASA/Art: 50 Years Of Exploration

It was 1962 when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration first decided to invite artists -- yes, artists -- to interpret the work of the space agency. At the time, James Dean, the program's founding director, remembers thinking, "What do we know about art, right?"

You may be wondering that, too. This is a government agency staffed by people with pocket protectors. What do they traffic in? Only stuff such as human weightlessness, speeds that could rip your skin off, and the power to lift a house-size ship filled with astronauts off the face of the Earth and send them hurtling through space.

Come to think of it, maybe the marriage of art and NASA is not such a crazy idea after all.

"NASA/Art: 50 Years of Exploration" -- a traveling exhibition of more than 70 works created by artists working under the auspices of the NASA Art Program -- opened last weekend at the National Air and Space Museum, supplemented by works from the museum's permanent collection.

Featured artists include Alexander Calder, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Rauschenberg, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol and William Wegman. Look for a 2001 triptych of Wegman's photographs featuring two of the artist's favorite models -- his pet Weimaraners -- posing inside a costume-grade flight suit and a "space station" constructed out of Styrofoam.

Most of the works aren't quite so silly, though the show does include a 3-D Martian-themed gown by designer Stephen Sprouse that requires special glasses, and a cute cartoon view of a Martian man (and his Martian dog) by pop musician Moby.

One of the first images you'll encounter is a heroic, almost life-size 1963 portrait of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper stepping onto the deck of his recovery ship after 22 orbits around Earth. It's by Mitchell Jamieson, who has several works in the show, including another, very different kind of portrait. Jamieson's 1969 "First Look" is a close-up, through the glassy reflection of an astronaut's visor, of a face. Looking for all the world like Keir Dullea in the 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey," the astronaut's expression betrays both wonder and fear. It's as if Jamieson -- and by extension all of us -- is looking at the vastness of the universe through this one man's eyes.

The expression is almost "Munchian," according to Bert Ulrich, who runs the art program today. That willingness to embrace -- or to at least acknowledge -- the dark side of space exploration lends "NASA/Art" a welcome complexity. Two works refer explicitly to the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster (see "The Story Behind the Work").

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