At the National Air and Space Museum, just upstairs from the bold black-and-white missiles, sounding rockets, and launch vehicles, is a quiet little preview of some fairly amazing works of art. Of course, these pieces could easily be missed among the colossal machines suspended from the ceiling, but the group of seven works by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Annie Leibovitz, and Normal Rockwell is worth a side step off the bustling main corridor.
The collection represents a small sampling from the new SITES exhibition NASA | ART: 50 Years of Exploration. In 1962, NASA (just a few years young at that stage) invited artists to document and interpret the accomplishments, set backs, and sheer excitement of stellar exploration. In those days, the space program was all new and tapped into the infectious post-war belief that anything was possible. Frankly, it still exudes that kind of energy for me. Every time a new satellite, probe, or shuttle is propelled into space, I feel the chills ripple up my spine. Indeed, anything IS possible. What could be a more inspiring launch point for artists?
In oils, acrylics, watercolors, and everything in between, the works in NASA | ART reflect a marriage of science and art, technology and the natural world. Take James Dean's watercolor Shuttle Flowers, for example. It's a small, unassuming piece that shows the Space Shuttle Columbia at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Far in the background, the Shuttle is meticulously painted as is the surrounding launch equipment, but of equal visual importance is the field of wild white daisies in the foreground, a homage to the real-life wildlife refuge that encapsulates the space center. Showing the expressive faces of the Apollo 11 astronauts, their wives, the back-up crew, and scientists, Norman Rockwell's Behind Apollo II is also subtle yet evocative.
Other works, like James Cunningham's Imaging to the Edge of Space and Time, are louder and more boisterous, a celebration of color, light, and the essence of space itself. Whatever your favorite style, NASA | ART has something for you.
The full traveling exhibition will open at the Art League of Bonita Springs in Florida on October 25. Check it out in your neighborhood.