Press \\ Press Release

Large-scale ecological drama unfolds in PEM’s new exhibition, Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks

Released February 2, 2021

Exhibition opens March 6 and kicks off Climate + Environment Initiative

SALEM, MA – This spring, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents an exhibition of large-scale, hallucinatory paintings that tackle pressing ecological issues. Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks, on view in PEM’s East India Marine Hall from March 6 through May 31, updates and transforms the tradition of maritime painting to create powerful meditations on migration, climate change, and species extinction. Curated by Andrea Grover of Guild Hall in East Hampton, NY, the exhibition kicks off PEM’s new Climate + Environment Initiative which addresses our changing relationship to the natural world in order to encourage reflection, inspire conversation, and spark action. Learn more at

“As 18th-century founders of the East India Marine Society (PEM’s originating organization) well knew, potential disaster loomed large over sea voyages,” said Daniel Finamore, PEM’s Associate Director — Exhibitions and The Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History. “Using narrative drama and an encompassing scale, Rockman grabs the viewer’s attention, compelling us to study the details of historical catastrophes and heed an important ecological warning: disaster is looming and we must proceed with caution.”

Alexis Rockman, The Sinking of the Brig Helen, 2017. Oil on dibond. Courtesy of David Roth and Heifara Rutgers, New York.

Rockman draws upon imagery from historical paintings, like those in PEM’s maritime collection, and reimagines the scenes with compelling compositions that highlight ecological impact. His 2017 painting, The Sinking of the Brig Helen, vividly revives a 19th-century tragedy. After British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace dedicated four years to biological research in the Amazon rainforest, his ship, the brig Helen, caught fire in the middle of the Atlantic on its return to London. While the crew gathered essentials onto lifeboats, flames engulfed Wallace’s extensive animal and plant collections, detailed notes, and scientific drawings. The fire consumed thousands of his specimens—butterflies, moths, beetles, ants, and anteater and manatee skeletons—and several living monkeys, parrots, macaws, and other birds perished.

“The historical catastrophes that Rockman references may have receded in our collective memory, but his works point to how our increasingly interconnected modern world has come to be at the expense of the planet,” says Trevor Smith, Associate Director – Multisensory Experience and Curator of the Present Tense. “By making historical events feel urgent and pressing, Rockman invites us to reflect on how our present day ecological activity will be regarded by those in the future.”

“Through the lens of the shipwreck, Alexis Rockman examines the complexity of the human psyche, the rearrangement of material culture and economies, and the exploitation of life, with its intended and unintended consequences. His paintings awaken imagination to the colossal impact of the Anthropocene, and with any luck inspire better stewardship of the planet,” states Andrea Grover, Executive Director of Guild Hall, where the exhibition will be on view June 13 through July 19, 2021.

The exhibition is accompanied by the catalogue Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks (DelMonico Books, 2021), edited by Andrea Grover, with an Introduction by Daniel Finamore and Trevor Smith, and contributions by Sasha Archibald, Chanda Laine Carey, and Brett Littman.

About the Artist
Alexis Rockman (born 1962) is a contemporary American painter. He studied at the Art Student’s League and the Rhode Island School of Design before earning a BFA at the School of Visual Arts in 1985. He had a mid-career retrospective at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2010. Rockman currently lives and works in New York, NY and Warren, CT.

Climate + Environment
Climate change and environmental crisis directly impacts our community and the lives of millions around the world. As part of a new Climate + Environment Initiative, PEM is hosting special exhibitions and programs about our evolving relationship to the natural world that encourage reflection, inspire conversation, and spark action. We hope you’ll join us as we learn together, exploring topics like sustainable practice, environmental justice, coastal vulnerability, and more. Follow along on social media using #PEMClimate

Exhibition Credit
Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks is organized by Guild Hall of East Hampton, N.Y. and presented by the Peabody Essex Museum. The exhibition is made possible by the Nancy B. Tieken Memorial Fund and supporters of the Present Tense Initiative, including The Jeffrey P. Beale Fund for Contemporary Art and Matthew and Rebekah Gardiner. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation, Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard, James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes, Kate and Ford O'Neil, and Henry and Callie Brauer provided generous support. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum. Support for the Guild Hall exhibition and tour has been provided by Angela Westwater, Sperone Westwater, Fiona and Eric Rudin, Philip Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons, James E. Cottrell and Joseph F. Lovett, and Hall Art Foundation. The catalogue, Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks, is funded in part by the Theo and Catherine Hios Publication Fund.

Media Partner: Art New England

High-resolution images are available upon request.


  • Alexis Rockman, Maelstrom, 2019. Oil on wood. Courtesy of the artist and Sperone Westwater Gallery.
  • Alexis Rockman, The Sinking of the Brig Helen, 2017. Oil on dibond. Courtesy of David Roth and Heifara Rutgers, New York.

The health and safety of PEM’s staff and visitors is our highest priority. PEM has increased its safety protocols, including the frequency and intensity of its sanitation and disinfection efforts across the museum. Face coverings are to be worn at all times. To learn more, visit

Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time — including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic, and African art, as well as one of the nation’s most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. PEM's campus offers a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities and performance spaces. Twenty-two noted historic structures grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States. HOURS: Open Thursdays through Sundays and holiday Mondays, 10 am–5 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. ADMISSION: Adults $20; seniors $18; students $12. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $6 (plus museum admission). Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit

Guild Hall, one of the first multidisciplinary centers in the country to combine a museum, theater, and education space under one roof, was established in 1931 as a gathering place for community where an appreciation for the arts would serve to encourage greater civic participation. For nearly nine decades, Guild Hall has embraced this open-minded vision and provided a welcoming environment for the public to engage with art exhibitions, performances, and educational offerings. Art and artists have long been the engine of Guild Hall’s activities and the institution continues to find innovative ways to support creativity in everyone. Visit

Whitney Van Dyke | Director of Communications | | 978-542-1828
Kristen Levesque | Exhibition Publicist | | 207-329-3090