Human Folly and the Natural World Intersect in Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks, on View at the Princeton University Art Museum

Exhibition opens September 24 at the Museum’s downtown gallery space Art@Bainbridge

A ship sinking in the distance with an animal watching in the foreground.PRINCETON, N.J. – The Princeton University Art Museum presents Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks, an exhibition of new paintings and works on paper that depict contemporary interpretations of historical shipwrecks while confronting current environmental crises, on view at Art@Bainbridge from September 24 to November 27, 2022.

Rockman’s vibrant paintings are filled with intricate details that illustrate the impact of human migration, trade, and colonialism on the natural world. Perhaps surprisingly, the artist downplays the presence of people in these narratives, instead focusing our attention on the aftermath of human actions and their implications for nonhuman life. 

“Alexis Rockman's paintings evoke the grandeur of such nineteenth-century Romantic painters as Caspar David Friedrich and J. M. W. Turner while presenting a uniquely contemporary perspective,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director. “They invite us to consider the interconnectedness of human and animal life against the backdrop of a vast natural world imperiled by human behavior.”

Throughout the exhibition, large oil paintings and intimate watercolors heighten the urgency of addressing the ecological damage wrought by human overdevelopment. Described as an “eco-warrior,” Rockman has a vast knowledge of the natural sciences and a deep passion for environmental activism, both of which inform and enliven the visual language of his work.

Distinctively, Rockman’s paintings consider the perspectives of all life-forms. In Lusitania, based on the sinking of the British ocean liner by a German torpedo during World War I, he foregrounds a variety of animal life as collateral victims of human affairs. Another work, Luxborough Galley, recalls the notorious incident when the ship of that name caught fire while transporting rum from the Americas to England as part of the triangular slave trade; the artist interprets this event from the perspective of the sea creatures beneath the waves. Rockman’s dramatic representations of maritime history serve as metaphors for the complexities of human hubris, capitalist exploitation, and the effects of each on the wider world.

Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks is organized by Guild Hall of East Hampton, New York, and presented by the Princeton University Art Museum.

Art@Bainbridge is made possible through the generous support of the Virginia and Bagley Wright, Class of 1946, Program Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art; the Kathleen C. Sherrerd Program Fund for American Art; Joshua R. Slocum, Class of 1998, and Sara Slocum; Barbara and Gerald Essig; and Rachelle Belfer Malkin, Class of 1986, and Anthony E. Malkin. Additional support is provided by Sueyun and Gene Locks, Class of 1959; the Humanities Council; and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative at Princeton (NAISIP).

About the Princeton University Art Museum

With a collecting history that extends back to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, with collections that have grown to include more than 113,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe. Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum also serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world.

The main Museum building is currently closed for the construction of a bold and welcoming new building, designed by Sir David Adjaye and slated to open in late 2024.

Art@Bainbridge is located in downtown Princeton at 158 Nassau Street. Art@Bainbridge hours are Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Art on Hulfish, the Museum’s photo-focused gallery located at 11 Hulfish Street in Palmer Square, also in downtown Princeton, is open daily. Admission to both galleries is free.

Please visit the Museum’s website for digital access to the collections, a diverse portfolio of programs, and details on visiting our downtown galleries. The Museum Store in Palmer Square, located at 56 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton, is open daily, or shop online at 

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Media Contacts:

Princeton University Art Museum
Gabrielle Langholtz

María Huiza
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