Bemis Center For Contemporary Arts

The Rainbow Project

Michael Jones McKean | The Rainbow

Photo: Mike Sinclair

Michael Jones McKean | The Rainbow: Certain Principles of Light and Shapes Between Forms
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts | Omaha, Nebraska
June 22–October 28, 2012

Opening Weekend: June 21–23, 2012

  • Public Tour: June 22, 6pm–7pm
  • Panel Discussion: June 23, 5pm–6pm
  • Opening Reception: June 23, 6pm–9pm

Exhibition and Project Tours: Every Thursday, 6pm 
ISC Connects Lecture: July 21

Project Statement
The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts is pleased to present Michael Jones McKean’s The Rainbow: Certain Principles of Light and Shapes Between Forms. The project creates a simple, but phenomenal visual event — a rainbow in the sky. The public artwork will produce temporary rainbows above the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska using the most elemental materials: sunlight and rainwater. This summer, at scheduled times, a rainbow will appear above Bemis Center’s downtown building.

This commissioned artwork and exhibition represents extensive cross-disciplinary collaboration. Irrigation and rainwater harvesting experts from Omaha-based Lindsay Corporation and Watertronics, structural and mechanical engineers, atmospheric scientists, plumbing and electrical experts and Bemis Center staff have joined artist Michael Jones McKean in creating a wholly integrated system for this site-specific, temporary work.

McKean is a former artist-in-residence of the Bemis Center and current professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. Since 2002, he has conducted ongoing experiments leading to the production of this work. McKean’s work will amplify the placeless, celebratory, seductive and elusive qualities of the spectacular event of a rainbow.

The artwork will solely utilize captured rainwater and will be powered with renewable sources. Leading up to the exhibition, extensive modifications to the Bemis Center’s five-story, repurposed industrial warehouse took place — creating a completely self-contained water harvesting and large-scale storage system. Throughout the project cycle, collected and recaptured stormwater will be filtered and stored in six above-ground, 10,500 gallon water tanks. Within the gallery, a custom designed 60-horsepower pump supplies pressurized water to nine nozzles mounted to the 20,000 square foot roof of the Bemis Center. At timed intervals, in the morning and early evening, a dense water-wall will be projected above the building in which a rainbow will emerge. Based on atmospheric conditions, vantage point, available sunlight and the changing angle of the sun in the sky, each rainbow will have a singular character and quality. Depending on the position of the sun, one could see the rainbow from a thousand feet away or seemingly touch it with your hand.

Whether a majestic arch in the sky that appears after a short spring shower or a small, homespun rainbow created with a garden hose on a sunny day, a rainbow operates as an egalitarian visual experience. It is by nature temporary, undetermined, and wonderful. The Rainbow exists somewhere between real and representation, actual and artifice. McKean is deeply interested in the rainbow as a complex form — ephemeral and steeped in mythology — that possesses an out-of-time existence as pure optical phenomena. The image of a rainbow extends through time, surpassing our known and archived histories, and operates as a constant unchanged form. Although the symbol of a rainbow has been co-opted, politicized, branded and commodified, an actual prismatic rainbow still has an ability to jolt us from the everyday. It feels hopeful, yearning, optimistic, ghost-like and meaningful. Whether perceived immediately as an artwork or not, the experience holds the power to connect diverse publics through an intangible, shared encounter.

Extending McKean’s interest in objects and time scales, within Bemis Center’s exhibition space he has grouped artifacts and sculptures and that suggest specific histories, poetics and values. Among these objects are a 110 pound 5,000-year-old Campo de Cielo meteorite, a shell recovered from the deep Pacific Ocean, a Bristlecone pine tree (the oldest living thing on the planet, containing DNA sequencing to outlast all living things) and an American quilt completed in 1880. These objects are paired with a simple glass prism and light source that together cast a small perpetual spectrum. Of these eclectic objects, McKean says, “In tandem with the rainbow, these objects create a single sculpture. The rainbow is a reminder of a constant universal — something forever, simultaneously contemporary and ancient, not fixed in time like the materiality of artifacts and objects, never succumbing to the persistence of time. In the face of our earthbound landscape of shapes and forms, of geologic, evolutionary, archeological times scales, the rainbow is a kind of perfection, our oldest image.”

The Rainbow: Certain Principles of Light and Shapes Between Forms is McKean’s largest project to date. McKean’s work connects seemingly disparate cultural histories to specific form. He constructs spaces of uncanny scale — failed epics, specific objects that serve as synecdoche for expansive narratives, or condensed moments of universal phenomena. He is known for operatic, epic sculptural installations and delicate tableaus alike. In both, he builds dense narrative spaces composed of real and represented cultural talismans that stretch to encompass the fullness of meaning and human sentiment.

Through a specific, yet eclectic use of materials and techniques — spanning ancient meteorites and vintage boom boxes, to papier-mâché and auto body finishes — his work roams in the margins of theater, folklore, science, architecture, mysticism and sculpture-making itself. For McKean, the “gaps between these coordinates become poetically charged spaces, momentarily bonding disparate objects in crystalline unison. The results of this process form a psychic bridge allowing entrance to a world flickering across meaning, complexity, representation, and materiality.”

The Rainbow is a work of significant logistical complexity that realizes a silent, delicate and temporary visual experience. The work provides a direct and momentous experience of art, science, ecology and wonder.

A series of weekly tours and dialogues about the project will be free and open to the public. Additionally the concepts of the work will be explored in a series of focused panel discussions and events planned in conjunction with the project.

The Bemis Center will publish an exhibition and project catalogue, including essays that further illuminate these ideas. The exhibition catalogue, along with a project website, are designed by Project Projects. An iPhone and Android mobile app has been developed for the project by Mobile Roadie.

The Rainbow: Certain Principles of Light and Shapes Between Forms is curated by Hesse McGraw, Bemis Center chief curator.

About the Artist
Michael Jones McKean (Truk Island, Micronesia, 1976) is an internationally recognized American artist. He is the recipient of numerous awards, most recently a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Nancy Graves Foundation Award and an Artadia Award. McKean has been in residence at The Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; The International Studio and Curatorial Program, New York City; The Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center; the Bemis Center; The Archie Bray Foundation, Helena, Montana; and ThreeWalls, Chicago, Illinois.

McKean’s work has been shown extensively nationally and internationally including recent exhibitions at Parisian Laundry, Montreal, Canada; the Quebec City Biennial, Quebec, Canada; Grand Arts, Kansas City, Missouri; DiverseWorks, Houston, Texas; Horton Gallery, New York, New York; Project Gentili, Prato, Italy; Gentili Apri, Berlin, Germany; Shenkar University, Tel Aviv, Israel; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; and Three Walls, Chicago, Illinois.

McKean’s work is represented by Horton Gallery in New York City and Gentili Apri in Berlin, Germany. He is an Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University where he
has taught in the Sculpture and Extended Media Department since 2006.

Project History
Beginning in 2002, McKean began a series of rainbow experiments, initially using off the shelf equipment and gradually increasing scale to commercial irrigation equipment. Intensive research on the logistics of presenting the project at the Bemis Center began in 2008, leading to a 1/6-scale test in Richmond, Virginia in 2009 and a partial scale test at the Bemis Center in August of 2010. The project was tested at full scale in October 2011 in partnership with Lindsay Corporation. The project’s public launch will commence in early June 2012, once the storage tanks have filled.

Engineering, rainwater harvesting and lead sponsorship of The Rainbow is provided by Omaha-based Lindsay Corporation, an irrigation and water management system provider and Lindsay’s subsidiary, Watertronics, which manufacturers SkyHarvester water harvesting systems. Additional major engineering and planning support has been provided by Rybin Plumbing & Heating, Snyder Industries, Inc., Professor Joseph A. Zehnder, Davis Erection and Crane Rental & Rigging, Education Power | Robert Webber, North Sea Films, Inc., Mobile Roadie, and Tyler Austin.

For further information or print resolution images contact Andrew Hershey at or 402.341.7130 x 14. |

Artist Makes Rainbow Machine | | 5.18.11
Artist Builds Rainbow-Making Machine | | 2.21.2011
Va. Professor to Debut Rainbow Machine | Kathy Banks, | 2.21.2011
Public Art Rainbows Have Nothing to Hide | | 1.4.2011
The Man-Made Rainbow Machine | Swiss Miss | 12.30.2010
Professor Invents a Solar-Powered Rainbow Machine | Stephen Messenger, | 12.26.2010
The Man-Made Rainbow Machine | Kyle VanHemert, | 12.23.2010
Rainbows on Demand | | 12.22.2010

Project Partners
Lindsay Corporation | Engineering, rainwater harvesting
Snyder Industries, Inc. | Water Storage
Rybin Plumbing & Heating | Plumbing
Davis Erection and Crane Rental & Rigging | Structural engineering, rigging
Joseph A. Zehnder, professor and chair, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, Creighton University | Atmospheric science
Mobile Roadie | Mobile app development
North Sea Films, Inc. | Documentation
Education Power | Robert Webber | Electrical
Warren Distribution
Tyler Austin | 3D Modeling
Project Projects | Website and publication design

The Rainbow Lead Sponsor: Lindsay Corporation
The Rainbow Sponsors: Carol Gendler | Marathon Realty, Todd and Betiana Simon Foundation, Snyder Industries, Inc., Rybin Plumbing & Heating, Davis Erection and Crane Rental & Rigging, Mobile Roadie, Education Power | Robert Webber, North Sea Films, Inc., America First Foundation, Annette and Paul Smith
The Rainbow Contributors: Ashlee and Hal Koch, Warren Distribution, Darlynn and Tom Fellman, Joan Gibson and Don Wurster, Esther and Dan Brabec, Fran and Rich Juro, Alexander Payne, Upstream Brewing Company
The Rainbow Supporters: Diny and Jim Landen, Old Omaha Association, Jane and Ky Rohman, Connie Ryan, Richard Holland, Kathleen and Roger Weitz, Sylvia "Babe" Cohn, Mary and Tom Bernstein, Carol and Michael LaCroix, Carol and Steve Bloch, Jan Buckingham and Lauren Ronald, Eunie and Norm Deneberg, Hayla and Ayman El MohandesCatherine and Terry Ferguson, Joanna and Michael French, Nancy Friedland, Julie and David Herzog, Jonna and Tim Holland, Richard Jacobson, Mary and Hal Daub, Sandy Matthews, Nancy Noddle, Barbara and Mike Platt, Denise and Hobson Powell, Barbara Schlott, Martha and David Slosburg, Ellen and Richard Slosburg, Judith Stoewe, Dorothy Tuma Studio, Judy Vann, Pat and Judd Wagner, Cookie and Jerry Hoberman, Joan and Max Lomont, Kim and Jim Simon, Molline and Frederick Cassman, Judy and Jim Farber, Dana Freeman, Nancy Hornstein, Helen and Dick Kelley, Mary and Charles Maxwell, Richard Jacobson, Sydney and Regina Osten, Barbara and Marshall Kushner, Bernie and Linda Janssen, Kini and Donald Polsky, Delores Anderson

Bemis Center Exhibitions Presenting Sponsor: Omaha Steaks
Bemis Center Exhibitions Sponsors: Amber M. Allen, Justin V. Allen Design + Development, Clark Creative Group, Davis Erection and Crane Rental & Rigging, Echo Tech, Education Power | Robert Webber, Larry Gawel Photography, Chris Headley |, Min | Day, Nebraska Arts Council, Nebraska Cultural Endowment, Quail Distributing, Recycling Rudy | Grandma M, Roots & Wings, Rybin Plumbing & Heating, Sherwin Williams, Upstream Brewing Company, Visions Custom Framing, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Warren Distribution

The Bemis Center would like to acknowledge the extensive efforts of its board of directors, staff and interns in realizing this project. The organization would particularly like to thank Todd Simon, vice-president and fundraising chair; Alex Priest, exhibitions assistant; Logan Seacrest, communications and events manager; Andrew Hershey, media director; Christina Vogel, development manager; Matt Lowe, chief preparator; Kenny Adkins and Brad Crabtree, facilities; and Mark Masuoka, our executive director.

The Rainbow Project

2010 Test

August 2010 test. photo: Chris Machian

The Rainbow Project

The Rainbow Project

August 15 2010. photo: Chris Machian | minorwhite studios

October 28 2011

over the building

tank installation

Axonometric Rendering

The Rainbow system rendering. Image: Tyler Austin

2012 Installation

photo: Larry Gawel

September 07 2012

The Rainbow Project

June 24 2012

August 03 2012

August 02 2012

September 14 2012

June 21 2012

photo: Chris Machiain | minorwhite studios

Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
724 South 12th Street
Omaha, NE 68102
Admission and Parking: FREE
Phone:: 402.341.7130