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Daily Menu, Biosphere 2, Oracle, Arizona, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"

A work made of chromogenic print.

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  • A work made of chromogenic print.


July 2000


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

About this artwork


Currently Off View


Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


Daily Menu, Biosphere 2, Oracle, Arizona, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Made 2000


Chromogenic print


No markings recto or verso Biosphere 2 was built to serve as a model for a human colony on the moon or Mars. Its $150 million cost was bankrolled by Texas oil billionaire Edward P. Bass. His partner in thought, John Allen, also known as Johnny Dolphin, was a new age visionary with a Harvard MBA, whom he had met at a Santa Fe commune after dropping out of Yale. Biosphere 2 is a 7.2-million-square-foot facility that includes seven distinct biomes: a human habitat, a tropical rainforest, a savanna, a marsh, a desert and a million-gallon ocean. Before moving into the biosphere, eight crew members (four men and four women) traveled the world to collect thirty-eight hundred species of plants and animals to inhabit the experiment, including a small lemur-like creature called a galagos, suggested by Mr. Allen’s friend, William S. Burroughs. Unfortunately 1991, the year that the Biospherians were sealed inside the dome for their two-year stay, coincided with an El Niño effect, an eastward shifting of warm Pacific Ocean waters that causes an increase in storm activity over the Gulf states. The reduced sunshine slowed photosynthesis in the Biosphere’s oxygen-generating plants. When hummingbirds and bees began to die, plants were not pollinated and expected crops were not produced. The pigs raided the vegetable garden, until they too died. Screeching galagos kept the Biospherians awake at night. Chickens laid only 256 eggs the first year. It wasn’t until they were fed a richer diet of cockroaches, which were ubiquitous, that they produced more. The Biospherians lost significant amounts of weight, and oxygen levels in the domes began to dip to a point that made it difficult for them to complete daily tasks. Oxygen was secretly pumped into the facility—a transgression that irretrievably tarnished the project’s credibility. As conditions worsened in Biosphere 2, tensions mounted among the crew. On the first anniversary of the experiment, Jane Goodall visited to observe the inhabitants. Allegations of food hoarding and food stealing abounded, and the Biospherians had splintered into two antagonistic camps. Though most had televisions in their apartments, they reportedly found it too torturous to watch them because of McDonald’s advertisements. Following the unhappy dissolution of the first experiment, a second one was initiated, only to be terminated after six months. The term “biosphere” was coined by Russian scientist Vladimir Vernadsky in 1929. It means the living sphere in which life survives. Biosphere 2 is so named because the original biosphere is the Earth itself. Biosphere 2 is currently for sale. From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005


Image: 26.5 × 33.2 cm (10 7/16 × 13 1/8 in.); Paper: 27.9 × 35.5 cm (11 × 14 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

Reference Number


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