Forty-three years ago today, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. And while there hasn't been an American on the moon in nearly 40 years and the space shuttle program has ended, you can relive the glory and wonder of space (and the Earth) with the new "NASA | ART" exhibit at the Figge Art Museum, Davenport. |
On the museum's third and fourth floors, the 72 works encompass nearly five decades of creations by artists as diverse as Annie Leibovitz, Robert Rauschenberg, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol and William Wegman. Drawn from the collections of NASA and National Air and Space Museum, they include drawings, paintings, photos, sculpture and other art forms and media.
"It's such a varied collection," said Rima Girnius, Figge associate curator. "We have big massive paintings and little ink drawings," including one from singer/artist Moby. She will give a museum talk at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 26, on the artworks.
The traveling exhibit -- which the Figge worked two years to get -- premiered in 2008, celebrating the 50th anniversary of NASA's founding. The works featured date from the start of the NASA Art Program in 1962, when the agency asked painters, musicians and conceptual artists to illustrate and interpret NASA's missions, beginning with the Mercury orbits around Earth.
Through the art program, "artists have been given an inside glimpse into the missions and programs which make up the space agency," said Bert Ulrich, the program's curator at NASA. "Through their imaginations, artists have shared an entirely new interpretation of the NASA story with the public."
Compared to photos, artists "can give a more personal view of things, and engage people differently," said Ms. Girnius (who has a doctorate in art history). "What is it like to be at the launch pad, the full force of that? You can't always capture that on camera. It's the experience of what it was like to be there -- the energy, the feelings."
"NASA | ART" is organized chronologically, including art inspired by the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, and the space shuttle program, as well as a few depictions of Mars. NASA's latest mission, the Curiosity rover, is due to land on Mars on Aug. 5 (it launched Nov. 26, 2011) and investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life.
Idealized images of astronauts can be seen in paintings by Norman Rockwell and a life-size portrait of Gordon Cooper by Mitchell Jamieson, depicting him after his 1963 Mercury flight, "like an angel emerging from the sky," Ms. Girnius said.
Rockwell has two paintings representing the Apollo program. One is of two astronauts preparing, like knights putting on their armor, each with an assistant kneeling beside them. The other shows several people behind the Apollo 11 mission (which landed on the moon July 20, 1969), including astronauts, technicians, engineers, wives and an average citizen (a hotel manager).
"Astronauts were the heroes of the 20th century," Ms. Girnius said. But the epic scale of the program required the cooperation of thousands, she noted.
Robert Rauschenberg's 7-1/2-foot-tall color lithograph here is among a series of 34 he did on Apollo 11, and the largest lithograph ever done at the time, she said. One of the most famous space images is re-imagined in Andy Warhol's "Moonwalk" (a 1987 silkscreen) -- a colorful interpretation of the Apollo 11 photo of Buzz Aldrin on the moon next to the American flag.
It melds those historic steps on the lunar surface "with the unbridled exuberance and flashiness of the 1960s" in Warhol's neon highlights, Ms. Girnius said. "It was the fulfillment of dreams."
The exhibit also captures introspection, tragedy and more human elements that you may not associate with space.
In Henry Caselli's "When Thoughts Turned Inward," the artist captures the serene, spiritual moment before takeoff, when a shuttle astronaut must prepare mentally for a mission. "It's very different from other triumphant images," Ms. Girnius said. "Here it suggests fear, loneliness, a much more human response."
In Chakaia Booker's "Remembering Columbia," the tragedy and pain of the lost shuttle Columbia (2003) and its crew are transformed in the twisting tire remnants preserved from one of the shuttle's earlier missions. A piece next to it honors the 1986 Challenger explosion.
A light-hearted Pop Art painting from 1981, "Strange Encounter for the First Time," shows the space shuttle Enterprise meeting the Starship Enterprise in space.
Ms. Girnius really likes the paintings that reflect normal life on the ground, in the midst of space missions. One by George Weymouth shows the white sandy beach of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
"This is not something we would expect of NASA, but it really explores the relationship between nature and technology, addressing the need to take into account the beauty of this world while we're exploring the next one," she said. "When you're exploring the universe and these other planets, they realized, the conditions we have here on Earth are so rare. It's our responsibility to support that."
A painting by a 19-year-old Jamie Wyeth (son of Andrew Wyeth) shows a bicycle beside a Gemini launch pad. Another has a launch pad empty at sunrise, with no people except for an astronaut preparing on TV monitors. "I love this image," Ms. Girnius said.
The fourth floor also includes the multimedia "Sun Rings," a music video that has strong University of Iowa ties. NASA commissioned this work for string quartet based on the sounds of space collected on spacecraft over 35 years by internationally known researcher Donald Gurnett, a UI space physicist. The piece was written by renowned minimalist composer Terry Riley and premiered by the world-famous Kronos Quartet in Iowa City in 2002.
If you go
"NASA | ART: 50 Years of Exploration" will be on view at the Figge Art Museum, 225 W. 2nd St., Davenport, through Oct. 7.
The exhibit includes a companion display of spaceflight instruments and models designed and built at the University of Iowa's Department of Physics and Astronomy. The UI is considered a pioneer of space research and has received international recognition for the development of spaceflight instruments flown on more than 63 successful missions.
* A looping video installation -- created by artist Bruce Walters -- is being shown in the Figge lobby (and on the western exterior of the building on selected evenings) and includes Hubble Telescope images, local children's drawings of astronauts and rockets, launch sequences and radio telescope images.
* Most Thursdays at 7 p.m. during the exhibit run, related talks will discuss challenges to reaching outer space, explain how telescopes work and the history of the spacesuit, among other topics. The Aug. 9 talk on the spacesuit will be from Cathleen Lewis, curator of international space programs and spacesuits at the National Air and Space Museum.
* A film series also will take place at 2:30 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Oct. 7. In celebration of NASA's 50th anniversary, the Discovery Channel partnered to produce "When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions," a series of six one-hour episodes that chronicle the inside story of NASA's most epic endeavors.
Cost: The exhibit, talks and films are all free for members or included with regular admission ($7 for adults; $6 seniors/students with IDs, $4 children ages 3-12). For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit figgeartmuseum.org.
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