Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle


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, and Karl and Patricia Betz. 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 and Sheila Skaff.


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.

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

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

Related Events

Member Exhibition Opening
January 26, 2018, 7:00 PM-9:00 PM

Join us for the exclusive members opening of Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle. 

painting with natural pigments
Adult Workshop: Painting with Natural Pigments
January 27, 2018, 10:00 AM-12:00 PM

Ever wonder how to make your own paint? Tour Alexis Rockman’s “Field Drawings,” which the artist painted using earth, sand, and coal mixed with a binder. Then, learn how to make your own paint from plants, minerals, and spices down in the studio.

painting a fish with mud
Drop-in Studio: Field Drawings
Saturdays in February, 1:00 PM-4:00 PM

Can you paint with mud? How about sand? In his series of “Field Drawings,” artist Alexis Rockman made plant and animal studies using dirt, sand, mud, coal, and leaves he collected from different locations around the Great Lakes. Explore Rockman’s “Field Drawings,” then come down to the studio to make one of your own.

Headshot of middle-aged man wearing glasses
The Great Lakes in the 21st Century: Unprecedented Change, Uncertain Future
February 22, 2018, 7:00 PM-8:00 PM

Learn about the profound ecological changes that have unfolded in the Great Lakes since 2000, with Jeff Alexander, an award-winning author and former environmental journalist who spent two decades covering Great Lakes issues.

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.

Permanent Collection

Permanent Collection

February 24, 2017 – September 12, 2017

As the heart of the Museum, our collection is constantly growing and changing—just like the city it serves. For over 100 years, GRAM’s collection has been cultivated to included a diverse array of American and European prints, paintings, sculptures, and a growing collection in the area of design and modern craft. From a trove of over 6,000 works, this season features exciting changes to the look and layout of the Museum’s permanent collection galleries. New and noteworthy are several recent acquisitions and loans, an expanded focus on Michigan artists, new selections from our ongoing ArtPrize Encore series, and spotlight sections devoted to inspiring themes.

Related Events

Women on tour
GRAM's Collection Drop-In Tour
January 16, 2018, 1:00 PM-2:00 PM

Explore GRAM's collection on this free drop-in tour!

Little girls
Second Saturday Sketching Tour
February 10, 2018, 12:00 PM-1:00 PM

Come on a free-with-admission sketching tour in GRAM's galleries.

Art in Bloom

Art in Bloom

March 24, 2017 – March 26, 2017

Art in Bloom is a bi-annual, one-weekend-only exhibition that celebrates the combined beauty of art and floral design. Come see the first signs of spring at the Museum while touring the galleries and enjoying extravagant floral sculptures. Our region’s most talented floral designers will create thought provoking and elegantly designed arrangements inspired by works from the Museum’s collection. These floral sculptures emphasize, challenge, and build upon elements and concepts within the original work of art, creating an extraordinary dialogue between the two pieces. Visitors will be invited to select the People’s Choice Award Winner by casting a vote for their favorite floral sculpture. This three-day exhibition is a must-see!

View Art in Bloom photos here

Congratulations to our 2017 Jury Award Winners

1st Place
Alyssa Ferguson | Fleurology Designs (#4)
Inspired by: Lady in Opera Cloak (Portrait of Miss C.) by William Merritt Chase
1st Place
Gary Wells AIFD, CFD (#17)
Inspired by: Eight-Fold Screen by Eugene Masselink
2nd Place
Geniene Hourigan-Culp (#6)
Inspired by: Forest by Werner Drewes

Congratulations to our 2017 People’s Choice Award Winners

1st Place
Mari Ignatoski | Ginko Studios Floral Design (#8)
Inspired by: Balcony Railing by Hector Guimard
2nd Place
Alyssa Ferguson | Fleurology Designs (#4)
Inspired by: Lady in Opera Cloak (Portrait of Miss C.) by William Merritt Chase

The Art of Rube Goldberg

Rube Goldberg, Rube Goldberg Inventions United States Postal Service Stamp (included on sheet of “Comic Classics” stamps), date unknown. Sheet of USPS stamps. Artwork Copyright © Rube Goldberg Inc. All Rights Reserved. RUBE GOLDBERG ® is a registered trademark of Rube Goldberg Inc. All materials used with permission. www.rubegoldberg.com

The Art of Rube Goldberg

May 20, 2017 – August 27, 2017

The Art of Rube Goldberg is the first comprehensive survey exhibition in nearly 50 years that demonstrates the artistic talent and endless imagination of the legendary American cartoonist and illustrator, Rube Goldberg (1883-1970). Celebrated for his graphic techniques, enduring characters, and especially for his invention drawings, Goldberg is an American cultural icon whose influence can still be felt today. The Art of Rube Goldberg brings together more than 75 drawings, rare photographs, sketches, and animated films, as well as rare personal photographs and memorabilia from the Goldberg family archives, to bring to life one of 20th century America’s most wildly talented innovators.

The exhibition traces Goldberg’s career over a remarkable 72-year period, from a rare early drawing, through his syndicated strips of the 1920s and 30s, to his influential later works. The Pulitzer Prize-winning artist is best known for his invention drawings–complex chain-reaction machines designed to perform simple tasks. These humorous drawings and cartoons were for Goldberg, “a symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.”

From board games and toys to music videos and Hollywood movies, Goldberg has influenced some of the most indelible moments in pop culture. His name is so synonymous with his creations that it was added to the Merriam-Wesbter Dictionary as an adjective that describes the act of complicating a simple task.

Enhancing the exhibition is Peter Fischli and David Weiss’ 30-minute video, The Way Things Go (1986–1987), in which objects such as tires, saws, ladders, and buckets are animated by physics: water, fire, gas, and gravity propelled these objects to collide and react in a chain of events. Rube Goldberg’s invention drawings were a major inspiration for Fischli and Weiss during the two years they spent working on the video.

The Art of Rube Goldberg was conceived by Creighton Michael; developed in cooperation with Heirs of Rube Goldberg, LLC, New York, New York; and curated by Max Weintraub. The tour was organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.

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Selections from GRAM’s Collection

Selections from GRAM’s Collection

November 10, 2016 – January 22, 2017

Due to the scale of Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion, selections from GRAM’s permanent collection have been temporarily relocated to Level II. Stop by to see public favorites like paintings by Mathias Alten, sculptures by Alexander Calder, design by Charles and Ray Eames, and other exciting collection highlights.

Black Waves: The Tattoo Art of Leo Zulueta

Black Waves: The Tattoo Art of Leo Zulueta

February 5, 2017 – August 27, 2017

Tattooing as we know it in Western cultures originated in the Pacific Rim. The word tattoo derives from the Polynesian term, tatau. Leo Zulueta is a pioneer of what is generally called tribal tattooing, a dominant trend of the contemporary tattoo scene that took root in the United States in the late 1970s. With the encouragement of tattoo master Don Ed Hardy, Zulueta immersed himself in the visual designs and cultural significance of Pacific Rim nations, such as Samoa, Micronesia, Borneo, Fiji, and the Marquesas Islands. He began to develop his own designs inspired by these traditional Pacific Rim motifs, and has been tattooing his own clients since 1981.

In Pacific Rim Nations, tattooing exists as much more than simple body adornment. The bold designs hold symbolic significance, with each nation developing their own motifs characterized by stylistic geometric patterning, at times covering all areas of the wearer’s body. Zulueta, Hawaiian born of Filipino heritage, describes his bold, all-black designs as “a style of tattooing that is influenced by the various indigenous tribes that have tattooed over the last thousand years.” Zulueta always creates his own designs that are unique to the individual wearer, considering it “disrespectful to copy traditional designs exactly… without having any personal relationship to these cultures.”

Black Waves: The Tattoo Art of Leo Zulueta is a visual biography of the man largely responsible for the popularization of tribal tattooing. The exhibition’s narrative format draws on Zulueta’s personal and cultural history, as well as the historical cultures that greatly influenced his work. His range of personal imagery and projects are presented in the form of personal photographs, texts, hand-drawn tattoo “flash,” tattoo-inspired drawings, and a large-scale mural created specifically for GRAM’s lobby.


Support for this exhibition is generously provided by:

Steelcase, Inc.

Beusse & Porter Family Foundation

The Jury Foundation

Clark Communications

Additional funding is provided by the GRAM Exhibition Society

Finders Keepers: West Michigan Collects

Finders Keepers: West Michigan Collects

February 5, 2017 – April 30, 2017

What drives the universal human impulse to collect objects? What makes different objects desirable? What are some of the hidden treasures in Grand Rapids and throughout West Michigan? These questions, and others, are addressed and answered by Finders Keepers: West Michigan Collects. From fine art to Victorian jewelry, rare and precious minerals to antique rifles, sneakers to carpet sweepers, decorative glass, and more, Finders Keepers celebrates the passion and drive that fuel the collecting bug. Organized by our curatorial team in collaboration with community scouts, the exhibition includes hundreds of diverse objects drawn from both private and institutional collections in a lively and unique gallery setting.

Humans have accumulated objects for centuries—and before Museums existed—ambitious individuals assembled impressive private collections of objects from nature, culture, and history. Many of today’s museums developed from the collections of multiple individuals, essentially forming collections of collections. Beyond whatever fuels the urge to collect, the items collectors assemble reveal aspects of who they are. The objects in Finders Keepers shine light on the different disciplines or subcultures with which the collectors align themselves. Individuals often are, or become, experts in the histories of their collected objects. Serious collectors will travel great distances to procure a certain item, while some simply enjoy exploring, socializing, and trading with collectors who have similar interests.

Among the hundreds of objects on display are geodes, amethysts, quartz crystals, and other rocks and minerals from the collection of self-described “rock hound” Roger King, who has assembled an astounding array over a span of 60 years. Harry L. Rinker’s diverse and eccentric collections are represented by selections of wooden jigsaws, mid-century German ceramics, and cat-themed sheet music. A selection of the Public Museum’s collection of more than 1,500 carpet sweepers–a gift from the Bissell Company–will be on view illustrating design innovation from the past century. Embroidered samplers from Ann Kelly’s collection are a window into the lives of young 19th century British girls, for whom decorative embroidery was part of their domestic education. In partnership with the Grand Rapids Public Library Youth Services, the exhibition will also include a selection of objects collected by young people, revealing that collecting can start early in life.

In its array of objects, Finders Keepers reflects the myriad interests of West Michiganders and celebrates our region’s creativity and uniqueness.

Exhibition Videos

Prints and Processes

Mark di Suvero (American, b. 1933) Afterstudy for Marianne Moore, 1976. Lithograph on paper. Grand Rapids Art Museum, Gift of Miner S. and Mary Ann Keeler, 2016.13

Prints and Processes

January 24, 2017 – June 25, 2017

Drawn entirely from GRAM’s collection, this thematic exhibition reveals the depth and quality of the Museum’s holding of prints; a collection that spans the 16th century to the present. Works by well-known artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, William Blake, Mary Cassatt, and Andy Warhol are organized by printmaking method. Each section of the exhibition provides information about the different methods, tools, and materials that go into the production of the most common print forms, including woodcuts, lithographs, etchings, screen-prints, and monoprints.

Mirror Memory

Mirror Memory

May 30, 2016 – August 21, 2016

Since its invention in the mid-19th century, photography has been crucial to how we see ourselves and the world we live in. Drawn entirely from GRAM’s permanent collection, Mirror Memory surveys two centuries of photographic landscapes, portraits, novelties, and experimental works, including examples of early daguerreotypes and tintypes, classic black and white images, and large-scale digital prints in bold color. Among the photographers represented are Berenice Abbott, Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Frank, and Edward Steichen– some of the medium’s most prominent names. Mirror Memory refers to the term “the mirror with a memory,” which was coined to describe photography’s uncanny ability to capture and keep an image for all time. As this exhibition amply demonstrates, photography still has the power to fascinate, move, and challenge viewers.

Whistler and his Circle: Etchings from the Permanent Collection

Whistler and his Circle: Etchings from the Permanent Collection

May 22, 2016 – August 14, 2016

James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) was an international artist, one of the 19th century’s true masters. He was born in America, spent his childhood in Russia and young adulthood in Paris, and settled into a professional life in London. His early paintings and prints were rooted in European Realism of the past and present, and his etching style in particular drew inspiration from seventeenth-century Dutch artists such as Rembrandt. Whistler soon turned away from Realism toward a more expressive style, creating paintings, pastels, and prints of people and landscapes drawn with poetic suggestiveness rather than visual accuracy. The sketchy quality of his mature work was sometimes seen in a negative light, with critics accusing him of showing unfinished work. The lack of finish and detail in his work had much in common with the art of the French Impressionists, who were then coming into prominence.

Whistler had a full social and artistic life interacting with an extensive community of artists. He regularly worked alongside other artists when sketching out of doors, or when printing proofs of his etchings in the studio. This exhibition focuses on five of the artists who worked alongside him in this way: Otto Bacher, Frank Duveneck, Francis Seymour Haden, Alphonse Legros, and Mortimer Menpes, as well as other artists who knew Whistler personally, including Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, and James Tissot. All of the prints in the exhibition were created during Whistler’s lifetime, giving the viewer a unique window into the artistic world surrounding this remarkable artist.