The Sinking Ship:
Alexis Rockman and Trevor Smith on Art and The Environment

The Art Students League is pleased to host renowned artist and League alum Alexis Rockman in a virtual conversation with Trevor Smith, Associate Director–Multisensory Experience and Curator of the Present Tense at the Peabody Essex Museum, in a conversation on Tuesday, October 26, 6–7 pm. For three decades, Rockman has produced oil paintings and watercolors that reckon with the impact of climate change and environmental catastrophe, creating startling images of our near future as a result. His recent series Shipwrecks was exhibited this year to great acclaim in the historical East India Marine Hall at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA and at the Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York. The talk will explore this catalytic intersection of representation and speculation in Rockman’s work, the history of artists addressing environmental concerns, and the depiction of environmental disasters more broadly.

Rockman deployed his characteristic virtuoso realist technique to create speculative depictions of historical shipwrecks for which there are few or no evidentiary images from the historical record. Like his images of our imminent future, Rockman’s recent seemingly realist paintings are acts of imagination built up from close study of the specific ecological, scientific, and historical narratives that swirled around each of these maritime disasters. The interdependence of speculation and representation that haunts Rockman’s artistic works also underpins scientific attempts to explain our climate present, and future, such as the dire call to action found in the Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released this August, as well as the five preceding reports released since 1990.  How such productions, cultural as well as scientific, get categorized as speculative versus realistic has profound implications on how such works are received and whether their messages are taken up, or not.

Alexis Rockman, born in 1962 and raised in New York City, has exhibited extensively worldwide since 1985. He has been the subject of many international solo and group exhibitions, including a major retrospective organized at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. His work is also included in public and private collections around the world, and he has held a number of teaching posts at prestigious institutions, such as Columbia and Harvard.

Solo museum exhibitions including Dioramas at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (1996); Alexis Rockman: A Recent History of the World at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield (1999); Manifest Destiny at the Brooklyn Museum (2005; traveling to the Rhode Island School of Design; Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover; Grand Arts, Kansas City); and a mid-career survey Alexis Rockman A Fable for Tomorrow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC (2010; traveling to the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus); Alexis Rockman: The Weight of Air at the Rose Art Museum. East End Field Drawings at the Parrish Museum of Art in Water Mill, NY (2015). The Great Lakes Cycle, Grand Rapids Art Museum; Chicago Cultural Center; Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis; Flint Institute of Art, MI; The Haggerty Museum, Milwaukee Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland (2018-20) His work is represented in public and private collections, including the Brooklyn Museum, New York; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.

From 2009-12, Rockman collaborated with director Ang Lee on the prize-winning film “Life of Pi,” serving as “Inspirational Artist” and created one of Pi’s most captivating sequences – “Tigervision” in which Pi discovers the world through the tiger eyes while journeying to the bottom of the ocean.

His recent exhibition Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks was organized by Guild Hall of East Hampton, N.Y. and presented by the Peabody Essex Museum, featuring new large-scale paintings and works on paper that depict the world’s waterways as a network by which all of world history has traveled. The exhibition catalog is published by DelMonico/DAP.

He has been the subject of many exhibition catalogues and monographic publications including Alexis Rockman, published by Monacelli Press in 2003. His forthcoming monograph, Alexis Rockman: Works on Paper will be published by Damiani in 2021. Rockman lives and works in Warren, CT.

Trevor Smith is Associate Director–Multisensory Experience and Curator of the Present Tense at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. He leads an initiative that collaborates with contemporary artists across the breadth of the museum’s activities to illuminate how creativity and cultural change emerge at the intersections of cultures, disciplines, or technologies.

Since arriving at PEM Smith has commissioned works and curated exhibitions with Carlos Garaicoa, Kimsooja, Candice Breitz, Michael Lin, Charles Sandison, Nick Cave, Susan Philipsz, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, and Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests. In 2018 he curated a major exhibition exploring the shifting role of play in contemporary art and culture.

Previous exhibitions include the Singapore Biennial 2011, Wrestle and Martin Creed: Feelings for the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College; Andrea Zittel: Critical Space and Brian Jungen for the New Museum, and The Divine Comedy: Francisco Goya, Buster Keaton, and William Kentridge for the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the Perth International Arts Festival. He has produced over seventy exhibitions and has published widely in exhibition catalogues and journals in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.

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