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Art & Design

  • Alexis Rockman: Manifest Destiny

    Contemporary Art

    June 17 –September 18, 2005

  • Artists have long been inspired by natural beauty and by utopian visions of the future.Blending realism, fantasy, and science fiction, Alexis Rockman creates an apocalyptic vision of the Brooklyn waterfront 3,000 years from now in his monumental painting Manifest Destiny. As a result of unchecked global warming, Rockman’s hauntingly detailed but ruined city is submerged under the sea. This eerie cityscape is devoid of human beings, but populated by a variety of plant and animal species. Some have survived from our own time (harbor seals, jellyfish, and a lone cockroach, for example), but they are joined by new and mutant forms of life. Diagrammatic images of deadly viruses, including HIV, West Nile, and SARS, float on the surface of the water.In order to achieve scientific accuracy as well as visual impact, the mural is based on painstaking research with architects, ecologists, archeologists, paleontologists, and climatologists.

    Rockman is, however, equally interested in the traditions of landscape painting and, in particular, the 19th-century American examples that he encountered at the Museum when he was a student at RISD in the early 1980s. In Manifest Destiny, the artist cautions us about the effects of current policy on future survival, in marked contrast to the earlier representations of the natural environment depicted in a more optimistic era.

    Manifest Destiny was commissioned by the Brooklyn Museum and made possible by grants from Tim Nye-the MAT Charitable Foundation & Foundation 2021; the Dorothea Leonhardt Fund of the Communities Foundation of Texas; and Grand Arts, Kansas City, Missouri.

    Alexis Rockman: Manifest Destiny When Alexis Rockman was a student at RISD in the early 1980s, he was deeply impressed by the 19th-century American landscape paintings at the Museum, a number of which are hanging in this gallery and in Pendleton House. He discovered an appreciation for the study of art history through these paintings, which have had a great influence on his artistic development - both for their subject matter and for their aesthetic qualities.Rockman’s monumental painting entitled Manifest Destiny, which depicts the Brooklyn waterfront as it may look 3,000 years from now, is currently on view in the Museum’s Lower Farago Gallery. Two landscape paintings that have been hanging in the Main Gallery - one by Winslow Homer and one by Martin Johnson Heade - have been moved to the Lower Farago Gallery in order to be juxtaposed with Rockman’s Manifest Destiny.

    In addition, a recent painting by Rockman depicting New York’s Washington Square, also submerged, has been placed here to underscore connections between his painting and its precedents. The Museum’s 19th-century American landscapes represent the young country’s nationalistic and triumphal break from its debt to Europe, often demonstrated in art by the celebration of scenic wonders and new frontiers in the Western Hemisphere.”Manifest Destiny” was a patriotic phrase first used by leaders and politicians in the 1840s to justify and promote the United States’s territorial expansion across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Rockman recognizes in this aggressive policy a painful irony and connection to our current situation. The opening of the American West and the concurrent technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution caused considerable damage to the natural environment - to some of the same landscapes that were glorified in the 19th century. As a result of burning coal, the emission of greenhouse gasses, and reckless energy and conservation policies, the artist sees today’s “Manifest Destiny” as a bleak future for humankind, under threat from global warming.


Selected objects from Alexis Rockman: Manifest Destiny