STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. -- A landmark exhibition that sheds new light on Norman Rockwell’s art and artistry will open on Nov. 7 at the Norman Rockwell Museum. "Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera" is the first exhibition to explore in depth Rockwell’s richly detailed study photographs, created by the artist as references for his iconic paintings. Organized with author and guest curator Ron Schick, whose companion book of the same name is being released in October by Little, Brown and Company, the exhibition (and publication) reveals a rarely seen yet fundamental aspect of Rockwell’s creative process, and unveils a significant new body of Rockwell imagery in an unexpected medium.
"Norman Rockwell was a natural storyteller with an unerring eye for detail," says Stephanie Haboush Plunkett, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of Norman Rockwell Museum. "This ground-breaking exhibition shows how that narrative instinct found its first expression in the artist’s meticulously composed photographs."
"Behind the Camera" brings together approximately 120 prints of Rockwell’s study photographs and 25 original paintings and drawings linked to the photographic documentation on display. In addition to original art from the Museum’s collections, several significant artworks have been borrowed from other institutions, and are being exhibited at Norman Rockwell Museum for the first time.
The result is a fascinating frame-by-frame view of the development of some of Rockwell’s most indelible images. At the same time, the photographs themselves -- painstakingly staged by Rockwell and involving an array of models, costumes, props, and settings -- are fully realized works of art in their own right.
Guest curator Ron Schick is the first researcher to undertake a comprehensive study of Norman Rockwell Museum’s newly digitized photography archives. This repository of nearly 20,000 images encapsulates Rockwell’s use of photography over four decades. The fragile acetate negative originals were prioritized for digitization under ProjectNORMAN, the Museum’s long-term digital preservation project, and the just-completed work was made possible by a grant from "Save America’s Treasures."
"We are thrilled to welcome independent scholars and curators to work in the Rockwell archive" noted Museum Director/CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt. "Ron Schick’s groundbreaking scholarship has been made possible as hidden treasures in the collection become increasingly accessible in digital format due to our steady progress on ProjectNORMAN."
"Behind the Camera" is the final major exhibition of Norman Rockwell Museum’s 40th anniversary year. It complements the summer’s homecoming of "American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell," the Museum’s traveling retrospective of Rockwell’s career, and "A Day in the Life: Norman Rockwell’s Stockbridge Studio," a precise recreation of the artist’s studio at a pivotal moment in Rockwell’s life, to complete a cycle of exhibitions that offer fresh insights into Rockwell’s artistic process and evolution. On view at Norman Rockwell Museum through May 31, 2010, "Behind the Camera" will travel to Brooklyn Museum in 2011.
Early in his career, Rockwell hired professional models to pose for the characters in his paintings. Beginning in the mid-1930s, however, the evolving naturalism of his work led him to embrace photography, which had increasingly come in vogue as a useful tool for fine artists and a natural ally of commercial illustrators working on tight deadlines. For Rockwell, already known as "the kid with the camera eye," photography was more than an artist’s aid. The camera brought a new flesh-and-blood realism to his work, and opened a window to the keenly observed authenticity that defines his art. Working with friends and neighbors rather than professional models fired Rockwell’s imagination by providing a wide array of everyday faces, while the camera’s ability to capture a fleeting expression or freeze a difficult pose gave him free reign in imagining and constructing his visual narratives and catching (sometimes serendipitously) the nuances of character for which he is beloved.
"Photography has been a benevolent tool for artists from Thomas Eakins and Edgar Degas to David Hockney," notes Schick. "But the thousands of photographs Norman Rockwell created as studies for his iconic images are a case apart." Exceptional in scope and detail, these study photographs are distinguished by Rockwell’s gift for character and narrative. And for viewers today, says Schick, they elicit "a haunting sense of déjà vu, mirroring his masterworks in a tangible parallel universe."
Before committing his ideas to canvas, Rockwell brought them fully to life in studio sessions. He carefully orchestrated each element of his design for the camera, selecting props and locations, choosing and directing his models, even getting in on the action to pose and perform. (In fact, Rockwell’s photographic archive reveals that the artist himself is his most frequently captured model.) Rockwell staged his photographs much as a film director works with a cinematographer, instructing his cameramen when to shoot, and never personally firing the shutter. He created dozens or hundreds of photographs for each new subject, sometimes capturing complete compositions and other times jigsawing together separate pictures of individual elements.
Photography brought all the essential elements of Rockwell’s art completely under his direct control. For an artist with a "camera eye," narrative genius, and commitment to painstaking perfectionism, no better tool can be imagined.
Norman Rockwell Museum is located on 36 park-like acres in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Rockwell’s hometown for the last 25 years of his life. The Museum is open year-round. From May through October, hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; from November through April, hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekdays, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Rockwell’s studio is open May through October, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (not wheelchair accessible).
Museum admission is $15 for adults, $10 for students, and $13.50 for seniors. Children and teens 18 and under are admitted free year-round through Kids Free Every Day, a gift to families from Country Curtains, Blantyre, and The Red Lion Inn. Visit the Museum online at http://www.nrm.org.