Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow

November 19, 2010 - May 7, 2011

Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
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Alexis Rockman, The Pelican, 2006, oil on wood, Courtesy Elizabeth Schwartz, New York. © Alexis Rockman. Photo courtesy of the artist

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. Rockman has garnered attention for embracing these issues, as well as for the epic quality of his projects, including several monumentally scaled canvases. His work expresses deep concerns about the world’s fragile ecosystems and the tension between nature and culture, which are communicated through vivid, even apocalyptic, imagery. Rockman 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.

 

Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow is the first major survey of the artist’s work and features 47 paintings and works on paper from private and public collections. 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.

The exhibition is organized by Joanna Marsh, The James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art.

Exhibition Catalogue

Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow

Author
Marsh, Joanna; Avery, Kevin; and Lovejoy, Thomas
Inspired by nineteenth-century landscape painting, science-fiction film, and firsthand study, Rockman’s paintings proffer a vision of the natural world that is equal parts fantasy and empirical fact. Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow is the first major survey of the artist’s work and features forty-seven artworks that trace his career from Pond’s Edge (1986) to The Reef (2009), with its timely reminder of the fragile ecosystems that lie just out of sight but never out of danger. This vividly illustrated volume highlights the artist’s unique synthesis of art and science, along with a meticulous attention to detail and striking use of color. The compelling mix of realism, scientific detail, and environmental polemic results in art that is both a demand for action and an elegy for what has been lost.