Pioneers, 2017. Oil and acrylic on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Sperone Westwater, New York.

For Immediate Release

Painter Alexis Rockman Celebrates Global Importance of Great Lakes, Identifies Threat to Ecosystem with New Series

The Great Lakes Cycle’ organized by the Grand Rapids Art Museum debuts Jan. 27 — April 29, 2018

GRAND RAPIDS, MI, November 27, 2017 – A multi-faceted exhibition by New York-based artist Alexis Rockman will examine the forces – past, present and future – shaping the Great Lakes, one of the most emblematic and ecologically significant environments in the world. Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle is organized by the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) and on view Jan. 27- April 29, 2018. The project features all new work by the artist: five mural-sized paintings; six vibrant, large-scale watercolors; and a selection of monochrome field drawings based on his travel, interviews and extensive research in the Great Lakes region.

The Great Lakes Cycle will inform and inspire viewers regarding the history of the Great Lakes, current challenges and threats to the region, and opportunities to positively shape its future,” said GRAM Director and CEO Dana Friis-Hansen, who curated the exhibition. GRAM is committed to fostering dialogue around environmental sustainability. Our proximity to Lake Michigan offers the perfect venue for an exhibition highlighting the majesty and significance of the Lakes while identifying factors – visible and invisible – that threaten the system. The detail and precision of Alexis Rockman’s paintings and works on paper, combined with his rich imagination and narrative gift, will be a delight and a challenge to GRAM’s visitors.”

The Great Lakes – Erie, Huron, Ontario, Michigan and Superior – hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh water and form an interconnected and complex system that provides drinking water for more than 60 million people and habitation for more than 3,500 species of plants, mammals, birds, amphibians and fish. Meanwhile, the Lakes are impacted by massive threats to their preservation, including climate change, globalization, mass agriculture and urban sprawl.

Rockman’s research in the region has yielded his most ambitious body of work to date, anchored by five 6’ x 12’ panoramic paintings exploring themes he uncovered during his Great Lakes expeditions to eight states and provinces in the U.S. and Canada. Each painting is accompanied by a key illustrating and identifying the included species, artifacts and historical references. The paintings capture the physical and ecological transformation of the Lakes through time, beginning with the Pleistocene Era, moving through the centuries to present-day concerns and looking forward to imagine the future.

Ecological history and natural history have often informed my work, so the Great Lakes are an especially fascinating place,” said Rockman. As I have worked on this project for the past five years, the environmental issues facing the Lakes have become even more critical. My expedition in the region, observations of the area and conversations with experts have helped me tell a story that is, I hope, a compelling call for action on behalf of this natural treasure.”

The five massive oil and alkyd paintings are rich in scientific detail, inspired by historic panoramic paintings and 19th-century landscapes, and are enhanced by the artist’s expressive imagination. Pioneers,” which focuses on water and aquatic life, includes the earliest Great Lakes fishes as well as species introduced by either intentional or accidental human action. The painting features an oceangoing freighter, ejecting a dirty cloud of ballast drainage that carries dozens of invasive species from as far away as the Caspian and Black Seas. Cascade” details how human activity such as hunting, fishing, trapping, mining, shipping and recreation have both enriched and threatened the Lakes. Spheres of Influence” considers how the interaction of water with the atmosphere – wind, waves, weather – connects the Lakes to the rest of the world, including massive bird and insect migrations and the history of human transportation.

The fourth painting, Watershed,” focuses on the land and waters around the Lakes, including how rivers and streams can both play a role in keeping the Lakes healthy and refreshed, and adversely affect the interconnected ecosystems with runoff and other side effects of human activity. Finally, Forces of Change” examines the challenges and opportunities of recovery in the post-industrial age, and features an allegorical monster emerging from the depths, representing the struggle between the polluted layers from years of disregard and today’s efforts to conserve and protect the environment.

In addition to the murals, a constellation of six vibrant, 74” x 52” watercolors and a selection of 28 field drawings created exclusively with organic materials collected at various Great Lakes sites enhance the scope and diversity of the exhibition.

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 in 2010. 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 University and Harvard University.

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

Exhibition support
The Great Lakes Cycle has been made possible by generous support from Wege Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Frey Foundation; LaFontsee Galleries and Framing; Eenhoorn, LLC; Ferris State University; Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University; Wolverine Worldwide Foundation; James and Mary Nelson; Cascade Engineering; Dirk and June Hoffius; Greg and Meg Willit; Robert Daverman, AIA / Grand Rapids Community Foundation; Diana Dopson/D*Lux Travel; Prime, Buchholz & Associates, Inc.; Bill Scarbrough and Kate Kesteloot Scarbrough; and J. Visser Design. Additional funding is provided by the GRAM Exhibition Society.

A fully-illustrated, 128-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition. Essays by Friis-Hansen and award-winning environmental journalist and author Jeff Alexander relate the works in the series to historical and contemporary landscape art and consider the significance of the Great Lakes ecosystem. A short text by writer and artist Thyrza Nichols Goodeve explores Rockman’s process in creating these interconnected works. In addition, Sooper Yooper: Rockman to the Rescue, a publication inspired by the exhibition, is the third in a series of children’s books written and illustrated by Mark Newman to promote the role that everyone can play in protecting the Great Lakes environments.

Affiliated Programs
Several informative programs and presentations will be presented at GRAM in conjunction with the exhibition:

Member Preview Party: The Great Lakes Cycle
Jan. 26, 2018, 7 – 9 p.m.
Join GRAM for an exclusive member preview of Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle. Members enjoy complimentary hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar and live entertainment.

Art Meets Science: The Story of The Great Lakes Cycle
Jan. 27, 2018, 2 p.m.
Cook Auditorium, Free with admission
Long before Alexis Rockman picks up a paint brush, he formulates each painting through rigorous research. On a research trip in 2014, Rockman met Dr. Jill Leonard, Professor of Biology at Northern Michigan University, who would prove to be an incredible asset as he shaped The Great Lakes Cycle. Join us for an informal, frank discussion between artist and scientist, moderated by GRAM Director and CEO and curator of the exhibition, Dana Friis-Hansen, about how The Great Lakes Cycle came to be.

The Great Lakes in the 21st Century: Unprecedented Change, Uncertain Future
Feb. 22, 2018, 7 p.m.
Cook Auditorium, Free
Join us for a presentation by Jeff Alexander, an award-winning author and former environmental journalist who spent two decades covering Great Lakes issues. His 2009 book about invasive species, Pandora’s Locks: The Opening of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway, has been called the definitive history of a Great Lakes tragedy.” Learn about the profound ecological changes that have unfolded in the lakes since 2000, including quagga mussels transforming Lakes Michigan, Huron and Ontario; record- setting toxic algae blooms on Lake Erie; and rising water temperatures that have made Lake Superior one of the fastest warming lakes on the planet.

While tragedy is certainly part of the Great Lakes story, Jeff will also reflect on recent changes – ecological, political and social – that portend a bright future for North America’s freshwater seas.

Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle will subsequently appear at the Chicago Cultural Center from June 2‑Oct. 1, 2018; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, from Oct. 19, 2018, through Jan. 27, 2019; the Haggerty Museum of Art, Milwaukee, Feb. 8‑May 19, 2019; the Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, from Oct. 5, 2019, through Jan. 5, 2020; and the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan, May 9‑Aug. 12, 2020.

Admission to the Grand Rapids Art Museum is $10, which includes entrance to the special exhibition as well as the rest of the museum. Entrance to the exhibition and museum is free for GRAM members.

About the Grand Rapids Art Museum
Connecting people through art, creativity, and design. Established in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, the Art Museum is internationally known for its distinguished design and LEED® Gold certified status. Established in 1910 as the Art Association of Grand Rapids, GRAM has grown to include more than 5,000 works of art, including American and European 19th and 20th century painting and sculpture and more than 3,000 works on paper. Embracing the city’s legacy as a leading center of design and manufacturing, GRAM has a growing collection in the area of design and modern craft.

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