High Museum of Art
Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People
Norman Rockwell, an icon-maker and storyteller, created images that helped define America's identity through much of the 20th century. Now, timed to the millennium, a major touring exhibit, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, provides a look at the man whose work helped to forge a sense of national identity and common values in times of crisis and prosperity. The exhibition is scheduled to travel to six American cities from November 1999 through October 2001. Even in today's fast paced technology-driven world, Rockwell's art endures. Norman Rockwell is more than just a well-known artist, to some, his name has become an adjective.
Co-organized by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia and the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People will feature more than seventy of the artist's oil paintings and his 322 Saturday Evening Post covers. Among these representations are some of Rockwell's most beloved images, including The Four Freedoms, The Problem We all Live With, The Marriage License, Girl at Mirror, The Golden Rule, Going and Coming, and New Kids in the Neighborhood. Also featured in the exhibition will be an exploration of his working methods fiom preliminary sketches, photographs, color studies and detailed drawings to the final painting. A chronology of Rockwell's life will also be included.
Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People will begin its tour at the High Museum of Art on November 6, 1999, continuing through January 30, 2000. Subsequent venues and dates are: Chicago Historical Society (February 26 - May 21, 2000); The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (June 17 - September 24, 2000); San Diego Museum of Art (October 28 - December 31, 2000); Phoenix Art Museum (February 24 - May 6, 2001); Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge (June 9 - October 8, 2001), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (November 7, 2001 - February 11, 2002)
The works on view in Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People will be drawn extensively from the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum. Other loans to the show will include The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's Game Called Because of Rain and the Berkshire Museum's Shuffleton's Barbershop. While the exhibit explores the sentimental and humorous aspects of the artist's work, for which he is perhaps best-known, the exhibition also examines how Rockwell's imagery addressed controversial social and political issues. In The Problem We all Live With, for example, Rockwell movingly commemorates the fight for school integration conveying his own deep commitment to the success of the Civil Rights Movement.
Though the works represented in the exhibition will span Rockwell's career, the organization of the show will not follow that of a traditional retrospective. The installation will feature four thematic groupings, which explore how his narrative images helped create a vocabulary for Americans to choose from in describing themselves, their country and their experience in the twentieth century. The four groupings described below are: "Inventing America," "Drawing on the Past," "Celebrating the Commonplace," and "Pledging Allegiance."
Twentieth century America has witnessed the creation of a multitude of customs, practices, new products and rites of passage. Rockwell's pictures bridge the old and the new, creating a sense of comfort with these tremendous changes. In Going and Coming, Rockwell humorously represents how the post-World War II proliferation of automobiles helped to create a new type of family vacation.
Drawing on the Past
As waves of immigrants changed American society and international events pushed the United States to the forefront of world affairs, the need for a national identity and shared heritage for all Americans became compelling. Rockwell's images of colonial days, Dickensian holidays and great leaders of the past participated in the formation of this shared history.
Celebrating the Commonplace
Rockwell had a remarkable ability to focus on ordinary moments and elevate them to a level of new signifrcance. He transformed images of everyday life into potent vignettes of humor and human dignity with universal appeal. The boys "caught in the act' in No Swimming remind viewers of their own childhood pranks, even if they did not involve skinny-dipping!
When social and cultural commentators make reference to "Rockwell's America," they most likely are remembering the images that promoted American values, patriotism and human decency. In portraying momentous developments of the twentieth century such as World Wars I and II, the Civil Rights Movement, and astronauts walking on the moon, Rockwell's images functioned to build public consensus for these events. For example, Rockwell's 1943 paintings of the Four Freedoms presented moving visual testimony to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's important concepts. As the focal point of a traveling exhibition and war bond drive, they resulted in the sale of $132 million dollars worth of war bonds and served as the centerpiece for a major government campaign promoting the Freedoms as "why we fight."
In addition to the four thematic sections of the exhibition, additional areas will be devoted to the exploration of other elements of Rockwell's work and career. One section, "In the Studio," will demonstrate Rockwell's creative process. Using The Art Critic, a Saturday Evening Post cover, the complexity and time-consuming nature of Rockwell's method of working will be tracked, from rough sketches to photographs of models, to pencil and oil studies, to the final painting and then the published magazine cover.
A chronological section tracing Rockwell's life and work will be featured as the exhibition looks at his "Life as an Illustrator." The chronology will incorporate original works of art and family photographs as well as newspaper headlines tracing major political, economic and social events.
The 322 covers Rockwell produced for the Saturday Evening Post over the course of his 47 year career with the magazine will be included in the exhibition. The Saturday Evening Post was the most popular American magazine in the first half of the 20th century. Political cartoons, artwork and everyday objects that have appropriated Rockwell's work will also be shown, in order to engage the viewer in a discussion about the power of the original work of art versus that of the reproduction. Rockwell's influence on radio, TV, film and contemporary advertising will also be considered.
Co-curators for the exhibition are Anne Knutson, Guest Curator, High Museum of Art, and Maureen Hart Hennessey, Chief Curator, The Norman Rockwell Museum, and the High Museum of Art's former Curator of American Art, Judy Larson, Executive Director of the Art Museum of Western Virginia.
A fully illustrated 176-page catalogue will accompany the exhibition and provide a range of voices and perspectives on Rockwell's work rarely explored in print. The essays in the companion book will take a unique interdisciplinary approach to the artist's life and work using visual analysis, cultural history and mass media studies to look critically at Rockwell's role in influencing American perceptions of the twentieth century. In addition, the catalogue will feature 80 high quality color plates and reproductions of archival photographs.
Included among the catalog essayists are: Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Robert Coles, the highly distinguished child psychiatrist and friend of Rockwell; Dave Hickey, a well-known contemporary cultural critic; Neil Harris, a highly acclaimed popular culture historian and author; Wanda Corn, a celebrated American art historian; Karal Arm Marling, author of Norman Rockwell; Steven Heller, senior art director for the New York Times; and Peter Rockwell, sculptor and son of Norman Rockwell.
A biographical essay by Judy L. Larson, director, Art Museum of Western Virginia and Maureen Hart Hennessey, chief curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum will also be included.
Website for Coast-to-Coast Tour of Exhibition
A descriptive and well-presented website has been created in conjunction with the exhibition.
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