The Rockwell Museum Opens a Modern and Contemporary Gallery

On Saturday, March 12, The Rockwell Museum will open another reimagined gallery as part of the 40th anniversary transformation project.  Opening on the third floor, next to the Visions of America gallery, a first-ever Modern and Contemporary gallery will be on display at The Rockwell.

The new gallery includes examples of modernism, abstraction, and pop art.  New artistic movements such as Social Realism and Expressionism are also featured, including some recent acquisitions purchased in 2015.  The space itself is a fresh canvas for display – floor to ceiling snowy white paint covers the 14’ walls – a divergent from the intensely warm Southwestern tones of The Rockwell’s infamous gallery palette.

“A fresh approach to the permanent galleries at The Rockwell stems from the expansion of our mission statement – Art about the American Experience – in an effort to contextualize the core collection of American Western art.  Each exhibition is inspired by our vision to challenge our visitor’s perspectives – to provoke curiosity – and to reflect and engage with art about America,” says Kristin Swain, Executive Director.

The Rockwell’s first conceptual sculpture is prominently featured in the new space — a bronze tumbleweed by American artist Bale Creek Allen.  Allen is a conceptual artist who is proficient in a variety of media including bronze, oil, neon, wood, photography, and spoken word. The Tumbleweeds series is one of Allen’s most celebrated bodies of work, blending representational shapes found in nature with unnatural man-made patinated finishes. This sculpture was created by taking actual Texas tumbleweed, casting it in bronze, and finishing it with a dark red patina. This contemporary sculpture enhances the existing collection of art of the American west, and enables organic transitions between that traditional genre and conceptual art of the 21st century.

Also featured in the new Modern and Contemporary gallery is another first for The Rockwell collection – major acquisition of pure abstract art from this American art movement.  Indian Ceremonial, by Emil Bisttram, is a brilliantly colored canvas that depicts the energy and movement implicit in an Indian ceremonial dance, rather than a direct representation of the event itself. Bisttram is one of the most well-known modernist painters working in the Taos artist colony in the early and mid-twentieth century.   This acquisition strategically marks the progression of the art colonies of the southwest towards modernism in the early to mid-twentieth century.

Visitors already have begun seeing new displays including some never-before-seen objects from collections storage as well as new acquisitions.  The Southwest Lodge, formerly the Remington and Russell Lodge, opened in May 2015 and is now dedicated to the works of the Taos School of Artists, the Santa Fe School, and the native Pueblo artists of this dynamic region. Works by famed western artists, Remington and Russell, are now prominently displayed among other American masterworks on the third floor.   In another new focus gallery, bookending a historic firearms exhibit, is the newly installed Wildlife Gallery.  Featuring masterworks by historic American artists like Goodwin, Audobon and Rungius, this display captures the natural beauty of the American landscape.

This project is an outcome of a strategic shift to place the core collections of Western and Native American art into the broader interpretive context of American art.  A Native American gallery and an Iroquois gallery are slated to open in 2017.

About the Modern and Contemporary Gallery

While American painters continued to be influenced by the landscape they saw around them, themes of social commentary and individual perspective became more prevalent in the twentieth century. New modernist movements such as Realism, Abstraction, and Expressionism emerged to challenge the definition of art, those allowed to create it, and its role within society.

The drastically changing world of the early twentieth century sparked the need for a new visual vocabulary that could express the American experience in the context of the modern age. The academic paintings of the previous century were no longer accurate reflections of this post-Victorian era. The majority of Americans now lived in cities rather than rural areas. A popular song of the time lamented this rural exodus with the refrain “…how you gonna keep ‘em on the farm?” The crush and rush of city life universally impacted our national identity and cultural expression.

In 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art was held in New York City and forever altered the topography of American art. Commonly known as the Armory Show, the exhibition scandalized the public and critics alike as it introduced Modernism to an American audience. Featured were works of Social Realism that depicted the gritty realities of urban life such as poverty and overcrowding. Included as well was Abstraction, a movement that distilled forms and captured movement to create non-representational compositions. Each of these revolutionary art movements were the result of artists striving to process modern life, represent their individual perspective, and challenge the academic definition of high art.

About The Rockwell Museum

 The Rockwell Museum, in association with the Smithsonian Institution, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2016.  The diverse collection includes a mix of contemporary American art with traditional bronze sculptures, landscape paintings and other works that embody the American experience. Housed in the beautifully restored 19th century Old City Hall building, The Rockwell is active in the local community and holds special events and educational programming with area public schools. The Rockwell is an evolving community center, showcasing the best of America through compelling exhibitions and imaginative programs.  The Rockwell provokes curiosity, engagement and reflection about art and the American experience.

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