Cool vintage space and sci-fi art at Pivot Art + Culture

Some of the most visionary space and science fiction art from the 1950s and ‘60s is on display at Pivot Art + Culture. The exhibit, Imagined Futures: Science Fiction, Art, and Artifacts from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, will be on view through July 10 at the gallery on the ground level of the Allen Institute Building on Westlake Avenue in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle.

Even if you didn’t grow up in the decades before the exploration of space became a reality, you’ve probably seen a lot of these pieces, which were featured in such magazines as Colliers, The Week, and Life, and often graced the covers of sci-fi books of the time.

The exhibit relies heavily on the works of two giants of the genre, Chesley Bonestell and Fred Freeman, but also features the works of more than two dozen artists from both the early decades and more recent times. Bonestell and Freeman weren’t entirely making up their images. Both worked closely with Wernher von Braun, who had significant input into the future of space and rocketry, and one of the great aspects of the exhibit is that it includes some preliminary artist sketches of the works with handwritten commentary from von Braun.

Separation of the Third Stage

Separation of the Third Stage of the Manned Ferry Rocket 40 Miles Above the Pacific Ocean, a 1952 painting by Chesley Bonestell, is part of the Imagined Futures exhibit on display at Pivot Art + Culture in Seattle. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

One of the most iconic pieces in the exhibit is Bonestell’s Separation of the Third Stage of the Manned Ferry Rocket 40 Miles Above the Pacific Ocean, painted in 1952. It’s likely a familiar image to many space cadets. It was used on the posters advertising the exhibit, and was first used as a cover for the series, “Man Will Conquer Space Soon,” published by Colliers in March 1953. While the painting is not precisely prescient, von Braun’s notion of a multi-stage launch vehicle eventually became a reality as the Saturn V, and the reusable space plane was a precursor of the space shuttle. The exhibit includes not just the painting and the sketches that informed it, but a 1:48 scale model of the space vehicle that was produced for a 1955 Disney show Man and the Moon as well.

Movies and TV are represented in the exhibit, which includes vintage movie posters from Destination Moon and War of the Worlds, MGM stills from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a model of the agridome that was used in the film Silent Running as well as in the original 1970s version of the television series Battlestar Gallactica.

With a lot of cool stuff in the gallery, one piece does its darndest to grab all of the attention. That is a huge charcoal sketch of Saturn by Robert Longo that is around five feet tall and ten feet wide.

The exhibit also features an X-15 engine and an IBM System 360 computer.

The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and stays open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Admission is just $5. Curator Ben Heywood leads tours of the exhibit beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. It’s cool stuff and well worth a look for space and sci-fi buffs.

Our Flickr slideshow from the exhibit: