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Indepth Arts News:

"Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People"
2000-06-17 until 2000-09-24
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Washington, DC, USA

The first comprehensive exhibition of the art of Norman Rockwell opened at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on June 17, 2000 and remains on view through September 24, 2000. Exploring Rockwell’s unparalleled role as an American icon-maker and storyteller, Pictures for the American People features approximately 70 of Rockwell’s oil paintings and all 322 of his Saturday Evening Post covers. Also highlighted are Rockwell’s preliminary sketches, photographs, color studies and detailed drawings.

Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People spans more than 60 years of the artist’s career and offers an in-depth look at the artwork of a man who helped forge a sense of American identity.  Many of the works presented are drawn from the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum, including celebrated images such as Four Freedoms (1943), The Marriage License (1955), Girl at Mirror (1954), The Golden Rule (1961), Going and Coming (1947), and New Kids in the Neighborhood (1967).  Also on view are a number of seldom-seen paintings from private collections.

Pictures for the American People organizes Rockwell’s work into four thematic groups  that demonstrate how his images provided Americans with a vocabulary for describing themselves, their country, and their experiences.  The sections also illuminate the relationship between Rockwell and the magazines as well as the advertisers for whom he worked and how they influenced his subject matter.  Within the four groups of images, viewers find the sentimental and humorous pictures for which Rockwell is best-known as well as images such as The Problem We All Live With (1964) in which he movingly addressed complex social and political issues.

The section titled Inventing America demonstrates how Rockwell created pictures that bridged the old and the new, offering Americans a sense of comfort as the 20th century introduced them to a seemingly endless series of changes.  In Going and Coming (1947), for example, Rockwell shows how the proliferation of automobiles after World War II helped to create a new type of family vacation.

Drawing on the Past explores how Rockwell’s work generated a visual encyclopedia of characters and scenes from American history, meeting a palpable need for shared heritage.  Rockwell’s pictures of colonial times, Dickensian holidays, and great leaders in American history (such as Lincoln for the Defense, 1962) provided Americans with shared images of a common past.

Celebrating the Commonplace documents Rockwell’s remarkable ability to focus on everyday moments and elevate them to new significance.  The boys “caught in the act” in No Swimming (1921) become more than characters in an anecdote; they serve as instantly recognizable icons, representing the joys and pitfalls of youthful high spirits.

Finally, in Honoring the American Spirit, the exhibition brings together images that address complex social issues, promote patriotism and examine ideas that were important to American life.  The Four Freedoms (1943), for example, gave visible form to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s concepts, and as such, were the centerpiece for a major government campaign explaining “why we fight.”

A fully illustrated catalogue, published by the Norman Rockwell Museum and the High Museum of Art, accompanies the exhibition. The volume provides an unprecedented range of written perspectives on Rockwell’s work. The essays offer an unusually broad approach to the artist’s life and work, using visual analysis, cultural history, and mass media studies to look critically at Rockwell’s role in influencing American perceptions of the 20th century.  The book features 80 color plates as well as reproductions of archival photographs.  Among the essayists and contributing writers are: Robert Rosenblum, Wanda Corn, Thomas Hoving, Peter Rockwell, Laurie Norton Moffatt, and Ned Rifkin.  It is on sale in the Corcoran Shop for $35. 

Following its presentation at the Corcoran, the exhibition travels to the San Diego Museum of Art (October 28 - December 31, 2000); the Phoenix Art Museum (January 27 - May 6, 2001); The Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge (June 9 - October 8, 2001); and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (November 16, 2001- March 3, 2002). For more information, visit www.rockwelltour.org.                         

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