Todd McCarthy‘s 7.9 Indiewire column about visiting the just-opened Norman Rockwell exhibit as the Smithsonian Museum with his 12 year-old son Nick didn’t quite ring my bell — sorry. McCarthy attended the 7.2 opening because he’d been hired to write the catalogue notes, and because he’s chummy with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who lent their 57 Rockwell originals for the show (which will go until 1.2.11).
But I love the photo of Nick and Spielberg. Nick could almost be a Rockwell kid out of a 1930s painting, and Spielberg (who has stubby-looking fingers) gives off a kindly paternal vibe. I don’t recall Rockwell having ever painted older Jewish guys with beards — he had a very white-picket-fence view of American culture. But squint your eyes and Spielberg could be one of Rockwell’s drug-store managers or small-town rabbis or haberdashers.
I’ve never been a Rockwell fan, and I don’t take kindly to worshippings of the man. He’s as much an illustrator of small-town schmaltz — more Frank Capra than Capra himself — as John Ford was a chronicler of Irish sentimentality among men of action. Rockwell was a talented artist with a lazy, status-quo mind. He’s today considered a sentimental scene-painter of a long-gone, dead-and-buried America that was probably half-phony to begin with. And McCarthy’s story is basically about a couple of lazy, multi-millionaire filmmakers coming to Washington, D.C., to pay tribute to themselves.
Rockwell’s America is “a vision of America that may have had some ties to actual 1950s culture (i.e., when Spielberg and Lucas grew up) but which really came out of the 1920s and ’30s,” I wrote a couple of months ago. “It had actually begun to die in the wake of World War II, primarily from (a) the psychological post-war shocks that brought a certain dark undercurrent to the lives of returned veterans, (b) the corporate tract-home construction and bland suburbanization of Middle America, and (c) the various ’50s be-bop influences (Ginsberg-Kerouac-Cassady-Burroughs, rock ‘n’ roll, Little Richard, Elvis Presley‘s hips) that began to change the way Americans saw themselves and behaved.”