The Space-Inspired Works Of 8 Artists, From Rosenquist To Rauschenberg

In Space Age, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac’s Armory Show, eight contemporary artists look to the sky for inspiration.

“Ever since the Tower of Babel, there has always been the urge to go up,” gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac told the New York Times in September. “But ’69 changed everything.”


Ropac, the owner of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac—based in Paris and Salzburg, Austria—was of course referring to the year that Apollo 11 sent the first human beings to the moon. The magnitude of that feat and the sense of curiosity and ambition that it inspired were reflected in all aspects of society, from literature to business to art. For its Space Age show, the gallery explores the contemporary artists for whom space became a subject to explore here on Earth.

Nagshead Summer Glut Sketch, 1987, Robert Rauschenberg

Space Age, which originally exhibited in one of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac’s Paris galleries in September, came to the Armory Show this past weekend with a selection of eight works. The show represents a variety of ways that contemporary artists have responded to the allure of the cosmos and the obsession with progress during the Space Race. Pop art icon James Rosenquist’s long fascination with the U.S. space program, for example, is reflected in paintings of brightly colored geometric galaxies. The painter and sculptor Robert Longo, who has recently been working on a series of drawings of female astronauts, depicted the Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, in a piece for the show. And Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury’s glittery pink fiberglass rocket coyly plays up the phallic object as mainly a male obsession.

For most of us—including the artists in the show—the seduction of space is that it is a blank canvas for our imaginations. We’ve never visited it, and we probably never will. Robert Rauschenberg, however, has gotten close: In 1960, he was invited by NASA to witness the Apollo 11 launch, and in 1984, he visited Discovery. Two years later, he traveled to Houston to assemble the neglected industrial materials that make up his famous Gluts series. The show exhibits his Nagshead Summer Glut Sketch, a wall sculpture built with airplane parts that Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac calls “a souvenir without nostalgia influenced by one of the consequences of the industrial and spatial race: the oil crisis.”

See all eight of the pieces in Space Age in the gallery above.

All Photos: Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.