The Late PBS Painter Bob Ross Is Making His Museum Debut as Part of a Happy Little New Age Art Show

Four works by the artist-turned-internet icon are included in “New Age, New Age: Strategies for Survival,” on view now at the DePaul Art Museum in Chicago.

Bob Ross in The Joy of Painting. Photo via YouTube.

Although the late Bob Ross is beloved as the PBS Joy of Painting host, churning out 30-minute seascapes, forest scenes, and “happy trees,” he has never exactly been embraced by the capital-“A” art world—until now.

Four paintings by Ross are included in the group exhibition “New Age, New Age: Strategies for Survival,” on view now at the DePaul Art Museum in Chicago, marking Ross’s first appearance in a museum exhibition, according to the Art Newspaper.

The show’s curator, Julie Rodrigues Widholm, who is also director of the DePaul Art Museum, said that Ross’s lingering mass-media and commercial popularity is part of what inspired her to include him in the show. The world of Bob Ross-inspired merchandise today is as big and beguiling as the man’s curly, broccoli-stock hair (which, it turns out, was actually a perm). The Bob Ross Company, which manages the artist’s estate and brand, manages licensing for everything from action figures to chia pets to boxer briefs to waffle-makers. Just a couple of weeks ago, the first box of Bob Ross-themed cereal hit the internet, replete with a “lovely little brush.”  

“I’ve been interested in his [cultural] ubiquity yet distance from the art world,” Rodrigues Widholm told the Art Newspaper. “It’s what I might consider expanding the canon.”

A Box of "Bob Ross: The Joy Of Cereal." Courtesy of FYE.

A Box of “Bob Ross: The Joy of Cereal.” Courtesy of FYE.

Rodrigues Widholm’s exhibition brings together late 20th- and 21st-century artists who incorporate the aesthetics and spiritual ideologies of the New Age movement of the 1960s and ‘70s into their work. Included alongside Ross are works by Rashid Johnson, Liz Magic Laser, and Heidi Norton, among others.

New Age, New Age: Strategies for Survival” is on view through August 11, 2019 at the DePaul Art Museum.

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