In honor of NASA's 50th anniversary, the Smithsonian Institute put together a national tour titled NASA ART 50 Years of Exploration. It is currently on exhibit at our Huntsville Museum of Art, so Jeff and I took one last afternoon off (before he begins teaching classes next week) to go see it this past Tuesday.
We accidentally wandered into the last exhibit hall first and were initially rather disappointed. It was all very modern and "forward thinking", but not exactly to our taste. It didn't seem to be art that took much talent, just an odd way of thinking on the part of the artist (and the viewer, for that matter). But we quickly realized where the beginning was and found some great works we really enjoyed.
NASA had commissioned established and renowned talent from the very start of the space program to document its progress with fine art. The art was grouped in exhibit halls by the stages of the NASA program; first Mercury, then Gemini, Apollo, the Space Shuttles, etc. We had started in the more futuristic Mars exhibit that looked forward to the NASA missions to come; hence the less concrete, more abstract works. But we loved the acrylics, watercolors, pen sketches, and oil pieces in the exhibits from the 60's and 70's.
My favorites were several of Paul Calle's works. Here is a photo of one of the actual canvases we saw, The Power to Go; in person, the texture and colors are amazing. You can almost feel the heat and energy. Jeff remarked how well the artist had superimposed the color variations of an intense flame, with the white-hot heat in the center and the darkening glow on the perimeter. It was even more personal to realize this was an interpretation of the 7.5 million pounds of thrust produced by the Saturn V rocket, the very same rocket model I drive by in Huntsville on a regular basis.
Paul Calle's "The Power to Go"
Jeff was drawn to a lesser-known Norman Rockwell work called Behind Apollo 11. The bright, talented faces looking upward are so reminiscent of a time when the whole world watched in anticipation of our success. I love that Rockwell included the wives and launch pad workers, who surely worked as tirelessly behind the scenes as the more prominent scientists and administrators did in the public eye.