More than 50 years ago, an event in Seattle changed the world forever. The 1962 World’s Fair got 10 million visitors excited about science and technology. One of those visitors was Paul Allen, who went on to co-found Microsoft, Vulcan Inc., Stratolaunch Systems, and more.
Allen says the World’s Fair inspired his love of technology and passion for aerospace. Over his lifetime, he’s amassed a vast collection of art and artifacts that celebrate that passion.
Now Allen is putting those artifacts on display, in the hopes of inspiring a new generation. The exhibit, called “Imagined Futures: Science Fiction, Art, and Artifacts from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection,” opens April 7 at Pivot Art + Culture, a concept space in the recently opened Allen Institute building in Seattle’s South Lake Union area.
The gallery opened in December, with an exhibit called “The Figure in Process: de Kooning to Kapoor 1955-2015.” Until recently, no additional art exhibitions had been announced, causing speculation about the space’s uncertain future. Now it appears Pivot Art + Culture will continue to function as an art gallery, at least until this exhibit closes in July.
“Last Fall, we shared that the initial model for Pivot Art + Culture was being evaluated and long-term options other than a gallery space are being considered,” a Vulcan spokesperson told GeekWire. “There may be subsequent exhibitions, or it may be used for something other than a gallery. Paul Allen’s commitment to arts and culture includes exploring different models for elevating and enriching arts in the NW.”
The “Imagined Futures” exhibit features 60 items inspired by Allen’s childhood memories of the space race. GeekWire caught up with the exhibit’s curator, Ben Heywood, to learn more about the project. Continue reading for our edited Q&A.
GW: What is your vision for the exhibit?
Heywood: We’re drawing from the collections the Paul G. Allen family collection but we wanted to look at how artists had, over 60 years or so, envisioned the future. I think one of the great tasks, or one of the exciting things about art and artists, is they help us understand and help us to imagine to envision the unimaginable and the unknown.
What we tried is a combination of technological and engineering envisioning — so the work of someone like Fred Freeman, where he’s working with a rocket engineer like Wernher von Braun, to visualize what America going into space will actually look like. Then compare that with the more contemporary science fiction illustrators like Jim Burns or Chris Foss or Bob Eggleton who try to create images show us what a far future might look like and then also combine that material with more traditional artists — someone like Simon Norfolk or Thomas Ruff who are, again, about envisioning technology or recording technology and showing us what the future looks like.
GW: Can you talk about some of the artifacts and art that will be in the exhibit?
Heywood: Along with the two-dimensional work we have a set of commissioned models that were produced for an exhibition a number of years ago that were looking at these envisionings of the space race. These are models that are based onWernher von Braun, Chelsey Bonestell, Fred Freeman, images of space technology.
We also have quite a rare piece, which is a model — so Chelsey Bonestell, who is a very, very famous artist of the space race — would produce models and then place them in model landscapes and then he would paint those models and those landscapes. So we have a model of his, the Voyager One space probe, placed in this kind of plaster moon landscape and that’s what he would then paint in order to create his images.
What we wanted to do was try and show the breadth of the Paul G. Allen collection and so we have an IBM 360 computer server panel from the Living Computer Museum. That’s dated right around 1968 and is one of the panels that would have been used to run a NASA mission in the late 60s and early 70s. We also have an XLR 99 Rocket Motor from an X-15 NASA hypersonic plane. The X-15 NASA hypersonic plane was a project of Walter Dornberger, who was Wernher Von Braun’s boss in the German Rocket group in WW2. Both immigrated to the US after the war as part of Operation Paperclip, which gave the U.S. an unassailable lead in space exploration research. The X-15 was a rocket plane capable of 4 times the speed of sound. We are exhibiting one of the rocket motors.
In addition to those pieces, we have an installation piece from two contemporary artists, Kristina Estell and David Bowen, who are two artists who live and work in Duluth, Minnesota. They have a project which uses the live data stream from the Voyageur One space probe and it’s about envisioning how we can understand that data in real time. So that data is then turned into fluctuations of light and color from a series of LEDs suspended at the top of the gallery. We’re delighted also to have that piece exhibited in the same place that we have the Chelsey Bonestell Voyager model. Also we have designs from Star Trek, the motion picture, which the Voyager One space probe is an integral part of that particular movie from 1979.
GW: Would you say the exhibit is looking back at the history of space exploration but then also looking at the future?
Heywood: That’s exactly right, in a nutshell. What we’re doing is we’re looking back at the history of imagining various futures but, of course, you look back and it’s back to the future. You’re looking back at something that is trying to imagine what we’re doing now and what we might be doing a hundred, two hundred, five hundred, a thousand years into the future.
We’re very excited also to be able to include some fine artworks in the show as well. We have a piece by René Magritte and Max Ernst, so two surrealist artists from the 30s and 40s. Those works are about exploring an unconscious, imagined, future world, which in some ways, I think, you could also describe as part of modernism — and then obviously surrealism, with one the founding tenants of modernism. And, of course, modernism is what brought us the Space Race in the first place.
GW: Is there anything about the exhibit that is informed by your location here in the Northwest?
Heywood: Well, all of these pieces are from the Paul G. Allen collection. That’s a collection located in Seattle. I think we’re privileged and lucky here in the Northwest to have various initiatives which are about space. Blue Origin is here and obviously, there’s an initiative of Vulcan, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems, Vulcan Aerospace as well. Boeing has been a major player in aerospace over very many years.
Of course the other thing to say as well, is that one of the inspirations for Paul Allen to collect this material is the 1962 World’s Fair, the Space Needle, those are all buildings that still exist here in Seattle and I think a lot of people would say the ’62 World’s Fair, was the World’s Fair that launched the Space Race or the space age in the public imagination.