Cascade, 2015. Oil and alkyd on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches. Commissioned by Grand Rapids Art Museum with funds provided by Peter Wege, Jim and Mary Nelson, John and Muriel Halick, Mary B. Loupee, Karl and Patricia Betz, and general accessions funds. Grand Rapids Art Museum, 2015.19

Wood Frog, 2017. Sand from Pictured Rocks and acrylic polymer on paper, 9 x 12 ½ inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Sperone Westwater, New York.

Upper Peninsula, 2017. Watercolor, ink, and acrylic on paper, 74 x 52 inches. Collection of Jonathan O’Hara Gallery.

Korvis Blue Butterfly, 2017. Sand from Manistee and acrylic polymer on paper, 9 x 12 ½ inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Sperone Westwater, New York.

Chimera, 2017. Watercolor, ink, and acrylic on paper, 73 3/8 x 52 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Sperone Westwater, New York.

Zebra Mussel, 2017. Sand from Saugatuck and acrylic polymer on paper, 12 ½ x 9 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Sperone Westwater, New York.

Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle

January 27, 2018 – April 29, 2018

Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle explores the past, present, and future of North America’s Great Lakes–one of the world’s most emblematic and ecologically significant ecosystems.

This multifaceted project was initiated in 2013 when artist Alexis Rockman embarked on a research tour of the Great Lakes region. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a suite of five mural-sized paintings which explore separate themes that emerged during Rockman’s travels. These are accompanied by several large-scale watercolors and field drawings–monochromatic animal and plant studies made from site-sourced organic material such as mud, sand, coal, and leaves.

One of the world’s great natural treasures, the Great Lakes—Erie, Huron, Ontario, Michigan, and Superior—form an interconnected system that is among the most beautiful, economically important, and ecologically complex regions on the planet. The Great Lakes, which hold over 20% of the world’s fresh water, contain some of the most precious resources for the future of humankind and life on earth. Rockman’s series celebrates the natural majesty and global importance of the Great Lakes while exploring how they are threatened by factors including climate change, globalization, invasive species, mass agriculture and urban sprawl. While there has been some success in reversing these trends, the exhibition of these dramatic works will serve to inspire wider understanding and draw greater attention to the urgency of these issues. For information on Great Lakes conservation and how you can protect the lakes click here.

Accompanying the exhibition is a catalogue published by the Grand Rapids Art Museum in association with Michigan State University Press. The catalogue was written by Dana Friis-Hansen, with contributions by Jeff Alexander and Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, and a forward by Mark Van Putten, CEO of Wege Foundation. It is available in the Museum Store and online.

Another way to dive deeper into The Great Lakes Cycle is with the online course developed by Northern Michigan University. The course consists of essays, videos, illustrations, and interactive images which focus on Rockman’s five mural-sized paintings and their contents. NMU biology professor Jill Leonard, art and design professors Taimur Cleary and Daric Christian, along with a team of undergraduate students, developed the course with the idea that approaching the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) through the arts may increase the engagement and understanding of students with a broad range of interests.

About the Artist

Born in 1962 and raised in New York City, Rockman 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.

Rockman synthesizes human history, natural science, and landscape painting to create visual vistas that reveal unexpected relationships across time and space. Since the mid-1980s, he has created a dramatic and distinct body of epic-scale paintings and works on paper that draw from his deft artistic skills, rich visual inventiveness, deep scientific awareness, broad art historical knowledge, and a passionate concern about the Earth’s ecological future.

The son of an Australian jazz musician and American urban archeologist, Rockman spent his childhood exploring Central Park, studying natural history guide books, watching nature documentary films, frequenting the Museum of Natural History dioramas and creating his own vivariums, all experiences that have shaped The Great Lakes Cycle.

Exhibition Touring Schedule

Following its debut in Grand Rapids, Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle will travel to the following venues:

Chicago Cultural Center – June 2 through October 1, 2018

Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland – October 19, 2018 through January 27, 2019

Haggerty Museum of Art of Marquette University, Milwaukee – February 8 to May 19, 2019

Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis – October 5, 2019 through January 5, 2020

Flint Institute of Arts – May 9 to August 16, 2020

Related Events

Headshot of woman with copper colored hair and red lipstick

Fatal Crossing: The Mysterious Disappearance of NWA Flight 2501
March 22, 2018, 7:00 PM-8:15 PM

Join us as underwater explorer and author Valerie van Heest uncovers the story behind just one of the many historical references in The Great Lakes Cycle paintings–the disappearance of Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 which was lost over Lake Michigan on June 23, 1950.

Baby and Me Tour

Baby and Me Tour
March 27, 2018, 11:00 AM-12:00 PM

Moms, dads, caregivers, and grandparents are invited to join us for an interactive tour and discussion inspired by our latest exhibition, Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle.

painting with watercolor

Drop-in Studio: Saturated Scenes
Saturdays in April, 1:00 PM-4:00 PM

Alexis Rockman takes advantage of watercolor’s fluidity and spontaneity in his series of vibrant aquatic paintings. Experiment with different watercolor techniques in GRAM Studio to create underwater scenes full of aquatic life and intense color.

Lunch & Learn: Field Drawings
April 24, 2018, 12:00 PM-1:00 PM

Can you paint with mud? How about sand? Join us during your lunch hour a hands-on art making experience in GRAM Studio.

sewing together beanie babies

Creativity Uncorked: Future Fauna Lab
April 26, 2018, 6:45 PM-9:45 PM

What will animals look like in a toxic future landscape? Choose specimens from our collection of beanie babies to dissect, reconfigure, and suture back together as models of future fauna during an evening you won’t soon forget.