November 19, 2010 - Smithsonian American Art Museum - Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow
November 19, 2010

Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow

Alexis Rockman, “The Pelican,” 2006.
Oil on wood.*

Alexis Rockman
A Fable for Tomorrow

November 19, 2010 – May 8, 2011

Eighth and F Streets N.W.
Washington, D.C.
Open daily 11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Alexis Rockman (b. 1962) has been depicting the natural world with virtuosity and wit for more than two decades. He was one of the first contemporary artists to build his career around exploring environmental issues, from evolutionary biology and genetic engineering to deforestation and climate change. His work expresses deep concerns about the world’s fragile ecosystems and the tension between nature and culture. These concerns are communicated through vivid, even apocalyptic, imagery. Rockman has garnered attention for embracing these issues, as well as for the epic quality of his projects, including several monumentally scaled paintings.

Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow is the first major survey of the artist’s work with 47 paintings and works on paper that trace his career from early works in the mid-1980s to the present. The title of the exhibition is taken from the opening chapter of Rachel Carson’s influential 1962 book Silent Spring. In it, Carson combines two seemingly incompatible literary genres—mythic narrative and factual reportage. Rockman approaches his paintings with a similar intent. He achieves his vision through a synthesis of fantasy and empirical fact, using sources as varied as natural history, botanical illustrations, museum dioramas, science fiction films, realist art traditions dating back to the Renaissance and firsthand field study. The exhibition is organized by Joanna Marsh, The James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art.

Throughout his career, Rockman has developed subjects and themes in series. Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow marks the first time that key paintings from different projects are exhibited together, beginning with the lyrical Pond’s Edge (1986), drawn from the artist’s earliest series exploring the field of natural history, to The Reef (2009), part of his most recent body of work titled Half Life, which combines color-field abstraction and environmental concerns.

The exhibition includes three large-scale paintings that are ambitious turning points in Rockman’s artistic development. Evolution (1992), Rockman’s first mural-sized painting, is a panoramic sweep that owes as much to a pop cinema stylistic sensibility as it does to actual prehistory. Manifest Destiny (2003-2004), commissioned by the Brooklyn Museum of Art, depicts an apocalyptic vision of the Brooklyn waterfront submerged as the result of global warming. South (2008), an epic panorama drawn from the artist’s observations while on a trip to Antarctica, documents every aspect of iceberg geology through simultaneous views above and below the water’s surface.

Exhibition catalogue
The catalogue, co-published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and D Giles Limited, is written by Joanna Marsh with contributions from Thomas Lovejoy, biodiversity chair at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment in Washington, D.C.; and Kevin J. Avery, senior research scholar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book is for sale through the museum’s website and store.

Art and Science Lecture Series
This series features leading environmental scientists and experts in cultural fields who will discuss how scientists and artists are responding to growing concerns about climate change and its impact on the planet. Confirmed speakers include:

Alexis Rockman, artist
Wednesday, January 12, at 7 p.m.

JD Talasek, director of cultural programs at the National Academy of Sciences
Wednesday, February 9, at 7 p.m.

Thomas Lovejoy, biodiversity chair at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment
Wednesday, February 23, at 7 p.m.

After its run in Washington, D.C., the exhibition will be on view at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio from September 24, 2011, through January 1, 2012.

Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, with generous support from the Cowles Charitable Trust, Kara and Wayne Fingerman, Dorothy Tapper Goldman, Barbara and Jonathan Lee, Nion McEvoy, Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr., Holly and Nick Ruffin, Betty A. and Lloyd G. Schermer, Sheila Duignan and Mike Wilkins and an anonymous donor.

*Image above:
Courtesy Elizabeth Schwartz, New York.
© Alexis Rockman.

Smithsonian American Art Museum
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