In recent years, Rockman has focused more explicitly on environmental issues, combining empirical fact with plausible fiction to proffer an apocalyptic vision of the future. This is nowhere more evident than in his masterpiece, Manifest Destiny. While Rockman has always dealt with the fracture between the nature and culture, Manifest Destiny is his first work to confront the climate crisis. The painting comprises four contiguous panels extending twenty-four feet in length, and depicts the Brooklyn waterfront several hundred years in the future. The composition is framed by the ruins of two bridges. On the far left panel a futuristic suspension bridge lies beneath the elevated waters of the East River, where the Manhattan Bridge once stood. The historic Brooklyn Bridge stands in ruinous decay on the far right panel of Rockman’s painting, a victim of its own aging infrastructure. But the end of modern civilization does not mark the end of all life. On the contrary, Manifest Destiny is teeming with organic growth. Rockman uses the image of urban decay to demonstrate the adaptive powers of nature. The presence of local flora and fauna confirms that life, in many forms, will persist even if humanity does not.
This is a seminal painting by Rockman. In addition to being a technical tour-de-force, it represents four years of intensive research and collaboration with engineers, architects, and climatologists. It is a painting steeped in art historical reference, but profoundly forward-looking. The Smithsonian American Art Museum offers an ideal context for such a multivalent work. Not only does it connect to works, like Walton Ford’s Tur, but it also relates to the museum’s collection of nineteenth-century landscape painting. And the Smithsonian-wide emphasis on natural science and biodiversity affords a still richer framework for understanding this work.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2011
- overall: 96 x 288 in. (243.8 x 731.5 cm)
© 2004, Alexis Rockman
- Credit Line
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment
- Mediums Description
- oil and acrylic on wood
- Object Number
- Linked Open Data
- Linked Open Data URI