Located on the third floor, next to the Visions of America gallery, the new gallery includes examples of modernism, abstraction, and pop art. New artistic movements such as Social Realism and Expressionism are also featured, including artworks acquired as recently as 2015. The space itself is a fresh canvas for display – floor to ceiling snowy white paint covers the 14’ walls – a divergent from the brilliantly warm Southwestern tones of The Rockwell’s infamous gallery palette.
The Rockwell’s first conceptual sculpture is prominently featured in the new space — a bronze tumbleweed by American artist Bale Creek Allen. Allen is a conceptual artist who is proficient in a variety of media including bronze, oil, neon, wood, photography, and spoken word. The Tumbleweeds series is one of Allen’s most celebrated bodies of work, blending representational shapes found in nature with unnatural man-made patinated finishes. This sculpture was created by taking actual Texas tumbleweed, casting it in bronze, and finishing it with a dark red patina. This contemporary sculpture enhances the existing collection of art of the American west, and enables organic transitions between that traditional genre and conceptual art of the 21st century.
Also featured in the new Modern and Contemporary gallery is another first for The Rockwell collection – major acquisition of pure abstract art from this American art movement. Indian Ceremonial, by Emil Bisttram, is a brilliantly colored canvas that depicts the energy and movement implicit in an Indian ceremonial dance, rather than a direct representation of the event itself. Bisttram is one of the most well-known modernist painters working in the Taos artist colony in the early and mid-twentieth century. This acquisition strategically marks the progression of the art colonies of the southwest towards modernism in the early to mid-twentieth century.
While American painters continued to be influenced by the landscape they saw around them, themes of social commentary and individual perspective became more prevalent in the twentieth century. New modernist movements such as Realism, Abstraction, and Expressionism emerged to challenge the definition of art, those allowed to create it, and its role within society.
The drastically changing world of the early twentieth century sparked the need for a new visual vocabulary that could express the American experience in the context of the modern age. The academic paintings of the previous century were no longer accurate reflections of this post-Victorian era. The majority of Americans now lived in cities rather than rural areas. A popular song of the time lamented this rural exodus with the refrain “…how you gonna keep ‘em on the farm?” The crush and rush of city life universally impacted our national identity and cultural expression.
In 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art was held in New York City and forever altered the topography of American art. Commonly known as the Armory Show, the exhibition scandalized the public and critics alike as it introduced Modernism to an American audience. Featured were works of Social Realism that depicted the gritty realities of urban life such as poverty and overcrowding. Included as well was Abstraction, a movement that distilled forms and captured movement to create non-representational compositions. Each of these revolutionary art movements were the result of artists striving to process modern life, represent their individual perspective, and challenge the academic definition of high art.
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