Space Art

NASA’S MISSIONS MAY BE OVER, BUT ART LIVES FOR ETERNITY.

NASA’S MISSIONS MAY BE OVER, BUT ART LIVES FOR ETERNITY.

By Clara Ritger

COURTESY SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM. LICENSED BY NORMAN ROCKWELL LICENSING, NILES, IL. DO NOT REPRODUCE

In the early 1960s NASA began the space race. It was a foreign concept for many Americans, until 1969 when they watched Neil Armstrong make history.

Torpedo Factory artist James Dean, the founding director of NASA’s art program, helped bring a better public understanding of space exploration through various forms of art. Though it wasn’t the fi rst or last time that art would record history, it gave the government a uniquely American public works project. “NASA had the advantage of being able to pinpoint when and where history would be made,” Dean says, “and thus gave artists a ring-side seat.”

Dean also helped curate “NASA/Art: 50 Years of Exploration,” the traveling exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum through Oct. 9. He has worked with artists representing a wide range of styles, from Robert Rauschenberg to Norman Rockwell. “Rockwell needed a Gemini space suit to complete his painting,” Dean says. “They fi nally sent a technician with the suit, since it was all classifi ed information.” In the end, Rockwell’s painting portrayed not only Gus Grissom and John Young, the Gemini astronauts, but also the technician.

The exhibit only includes 70 pieces instead of the 3,000-plus to date; Dean says he feels they provide a representation of the various art forms and space missions. “The camera could capture the minute detail of change. [The artists are] pu ing the emotion [in] that people feel when they’re watching these historical events take place.”

(September 2011)

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