NASA ART; 50 Years of Exploration

NASA ART; 50 Years of Exploration

Tom D. Crouch, NASA Art: 50 years of Exploration, Physics Today. August 2011, p 42

Has any one on this list seen the exhibition NASA Art: 50 years of Exploration ?. It was at
the Washington DC National Air and Space Museum and is travelling to Las Cruces,
New Mexico, Wausau, Wisconsin and Davenport, Iowa. In this brief article in Physics Today,
Tom Crouch provides a brief background the the creation of the NASA art program
Launched in May 1963. The program was started at the request of NASA Administrator
James Webb to “see what NASA could do in the field of the fine arts to commemorate
past historic such as Shepard’s and Glenn’s flights, as well as future historic events that
We know will come to pass”.

Eight artists were dispatched to cover the flight of Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury
Astronaut. Several thousand works of art have been produced and collected by NASA.
The exhibition shows a selection of 73 of there works. Artists whose work is illustrated in the article include Norman Rockwell, Alexander Calder, Robert T McCall, Annie Leibovitz, Chakaia Booker.

It is hard to tell from the illustrated selection of paintings, but the art works seem to be
of the “commemorative’ type as commissioned, many of the paintings are figurative, some ‘illustrative”. Though NASA Art commissioned major artists such as Rauschenberg and Calder,
the approach to commission art strikes one as ‘conventional’. Where NASA led with
innovative engineering and scientific risk taking, the approach to art making seems in
general ‘safe”. Perhaps this is to be expected for art commissioned by a government
agency to ‘commemorate historic events”. Yet JAXA with it’s space art program has been
adventurous with ‘experimental art’ included in the programming. And as readers of this
list know there is exciting art making connected to space going on, through various artists
residencies enabled by cultural organizations.

If anyone has seen the exhibition it would be great to have your comments.

One Comment

  1. I saw the exhibit in DC at the Air & Space Museum while it was up. Since the works are used in the agency’s service, they are definitely in the conservative and illustrative vein. Anne Collins Goodyear, a Smithsonian curator, wrote an article called “NASA and the Political Economy of Art, 1962-1974” in the book The Political Economy of Art: Creating the Modern Nation of Culture (2008). The article explains the reasoning behind their choices of artists and ways they encouraged them to work creatively. It can be read on Google books, if interested.

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