Object of the Week: We Are All in This Together

The words “we are all in this together” announce themselves in bold, sans-serif force, asserting the urgency and agency of the message. Created by artist Mark Mumford in 2002, the work—whose title is the same as the text—was created in the context of and in response to the protests that took place before the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

As with many artists who work with language, Mumford is interested in the slippages of syntax and the ways in which words carry a multitude of meanings. In the case of We Are All in This Together, the message can be read as either empowering and uplifting, or apathetic and resigned. For the artist, “meaning hovers on the threshold of realization, and where the knotty relationships between seeing and reading, reading and believing, believing and seeing are given a full and lively expression.”

Currently on view in the Brotman Forum, the work transforms the entrance of the Seattle Art Museum into a shared textual experience that is visible from the outside of the museum as well. Though made over 15 years ago, the work carries more political significance than ever. The words especially ring true today—a day designated for climate strikes around the world—when millions of people will march for urgent climate action. As is the case with any issue, we can choose either action or resignation; whichever you choose, there’s no denying that we are all in this together.

Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate

Images: We Are All in This Together, 2002, Mark Mumford, vinyl lettering produced from CD formatted for a MAC with both a FreeHand and an EPS version of the artwork, dimensions variable, Gift of Carlos Garcia and James Harris in honor of Kimberly Richter Shirley, 2003.60 © Mark Mumford. Installation view, Seattle Art Museum, 2019.

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Object of the Week: Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables, After Juan Sanches Cotan

From very far away, one sees the softly rendered image of a still life, complete with various citrus fruits, root vegetables, and leafy greens. Their shapes are loose and open, lacking definition aside from the sharp color contrasts between the bright yellow of the lemon, orange of the carrot, and deep black of the background. As one moves closer to the work, peering intently at it, the fruits and vegetables in the window sill reassert their construction in a pointillist fashion. Each “brushstroke” turns out to be a dot of distinct color, contributing to the ambiguous outlines and shapes.

However, the work is not a painting with layers of dots of color. Rather, Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz created Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables, After Juan Sanches Cotan by layering cut and hole-punched paper scraps from magazines into a collage. To add yet another dimension to the work, Muniz then photographed the collage, which resulted in the final work: an enlarged chromogenic print. This photo is based on a still life by Juan Sanches Cotan, a notable Spanish Baroque painter, known for his austere yet deeply realistic still lifes.

The optical relationship between part and whole has been something that has interested Muniz for many years:

It’s like the fur in Vermeer’s painting of The Woman Reading a Letter at the Frick. You get up close and you can’t see fur anymore, just a blur of brushstrokes. Then you go back and it’s fur again. . . . I think art without pretenses of being more than a visual exercise can indeed be powerful and complete.1

Throughout his career, he has used elements such as sugar to construct portraits of children working on sugar plantations, peanut butter and jelly to recreate the Mona Lisa, and garbage to depict pickers in one of Brazil’s largest garbage dumps. His works connect past and present and create illusions of famous and recognizable works.

Emma Ming Wahl, SAM Curatorial Intern

1 Vik Muniz, “Bomb Magazine: Vik Muniz by Mark Magill.” Vik Muniz. Accessed September 10, 2019. http://vikmuniz.net/library/vik-muniz-by-mark-magill.

Image: Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables, after Juan Sanches Cotan, 2004, Vik Muniz, Chromogenic print, 72 x 99 1/2 in. (182.9 x 252.7cm) Gift of Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Jane Davis, Barney A. Ebsworth, Henry and Mary Ann James, Janet Ketcham, Sally Neukom, Virginia Wright, and Ann Wyckoff in honor of Chiyo Ishikawa, 2004.93.

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Cat Vallejo: Emerging Arts Leader Look at SAM

Very early on in my role as one of SAM’s Emerging Arts Leader Interns, our mentor, David Rue, asked us to write down three personal or professional goals we wished to achieve during our time here at SAM. To be completely honest, I was all over the place during the first few weeks, as I was struggling to find where I fit into the museum to be a successful intern. Despite feeling this way, the one thing that I was certain and hopeful for was to make SAM a place I happily call home: be a part of SAM and SAM be a part me.

As a student at the University of Washington Bothell, being my whole self and feeling at home is what truly made me happier than I ever imagined. In order to feel that same happiness at SAM, I tried to be fully present by having a positive mind and heart. I reminded myself to be my bubbly and kind self and to be comfortable with the people around me. This was way easier said than done.

On top of feeling like a lost intern, I was already struggling with adjusting to a lifestyle that was the exact opposite of what I was used to. I wanted to be a big fish in a little pond that everyone looked up to for guidance. However, being in a new, urban city where nobody really knew me meant this wasn’t the case anymore. I felt lost between the Cat that grew up in California and the adult Cat that lives in Washington. Where would I go? Who am I supposed to be? With all these new changes and heavy feelings, I thought to myself, “I don’t how I’m going to achieve my goal or if I’m even going to get there. Good luck.”

Priya Frank and Seohee Kim are the two mentors I give all my gratitude to for guiding me through my struggles. Talking to them made me realize that I was still a tiny fish in a huge pond that needed to be willing to grow and learn from others. This was a reminder to be humble and to remember that learning and growing never stops, even when you think you’re at the top. Growing only starts when you are uncomfortable, yet willing to feel and embrace that discomfort with an open mind and heart to learn something new. Their kind words of wisdom touched my heart.

After this realization, I started to feel like I could reach my goal. The big project we had the opportunity to do was the My Favorite Things Tour. For this project, I researched different art pieces, connected them to real-life experiences, centered everything around a specific theme, and proudly presented my work to the public. Wow! I will always remember our first practice of walking around and talking about the different artworks we had in mind for our tours. I knew I was on the right track in connecting the art to my personal journeys, but there was much more research and practice that needed to be completed.

After this practice I was motivated to reach out to the curators to learn more about the different art pieces, which was exactly what I did. It was so inspiring getting to hear from and learn from the curators and see how passionate they are. I also learned more on my own by reading books about the artwork and artist. Most importantly, completing all the work would not even be half of what it was without my fellow colleague and friend Lauren Farris, the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern. Working closely with her gave us the space to learn from each other’s personal and professional experiences, all while sharing this internship together. I remember practicing our tours in the galleries, just talking through them while sitting down, and always changing our art pieces and stories every time we practiced. Being by each other’s side allowed us to be vulnerable and really push through to make these tours happen.

When the day finally came, we were there for each other to see all our hard work come to life. That is just so amazing to me because there were so many people and experiences collaborating to create something great. Swimming with the big fish was not so scary after all. As I said during my tour when I was talking about Childe Hassam’s Spring on West 78th Street, “from this painting and my experience with my SAM family, I learned that home is not a place, but a feeling.” Saying these words with my whole heart, showed me that I was able to reach my one and only goal, despite being so lost in everything else. This internship was more than I hoped for and now that it has come to a close I can truly say that I was a part of SAM and SAM will always be a part of me. SAM is a place I happily call home.

Cat Vallejo, SAM 2019 Emerging Arts Intern

Photos: Natali Wiseman
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SAM Connects Students to Art for Free

A new school year often welcomes crisp air, spiral notebooks, and pumpkin deliciousness. This school year brings one other exciting change: Seattle Art Museum school tours will now be free for all public schools at all SAM locations! Bus subsidies are also available for Title 1 schools. Offering free tours for public schools grew out of SAM’s mission and strategic plan to champion access and equity for all. The museum firmly believes every student deserves access to high-quality arts education and creative learning. 

Even though the arts remain a required school subject by Washington State law, arts education is often one of the first programs to be cut. According to ArtsEd Washington, “In Washington State, 75% of elementary students receive only two hours, or less, of arts education each week.” Not only that, but Create Advantage Seattle notes, “Race, family income, and home language are all predictors of a students’ access to arts education in Seattle Public Schools.” 

Research reveals that consistent arts education improves high school graduation rates, empathy, motivation to stay in school, critical thinking, voter turnout, and even raises math scores. Arts Impact says, “Arts-infused learning in reading and math eliminates the achievement gap between children of color and poverty and their white upper/middle-class peers.” Also, SAM’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement, Regan Pro, strongly believes in furthering arts education. “Everyone talks about how they value things like creativity and innovation. If we are saying that but aren’t supporting arts in schools, then how do we expect those muscles to grow?”

Typically, school tours at SAM start with a warm welcome from a trained docent or tour guide and a teaching artist. The docent or tour guide leads the group into SAM’s galleries where students and teachers might stare into the eyes of a giant mouse sculpture, learn the history behind Kwakwaka’wakw house posts, or discover a treasure chest lock in the Porcelain Room. With three locations and art from all over the world, tours can complement and enhance any curriculum.

After the tour, SAM’s teaching artists facilitate an art-making experience based on the works that students just saw in the galleries. Students walk away holding their own work of art, such as a three-dimensional sculpture, a two-point perspective painting, or a self-designed family crest. Plus, teaching artists provide students with an opportunity to view potential career paths in the arts.

“Being in the art museum was a new experience for many of my students. They were intrigued and, to my surprise, were able to connect with some artists. I feared they would find the museum too “high-brow,” but the variety of art allowed most to connect in some way.”

– Educator

In addition to free school tours, SAM has continued to develop school partnerships. One of those partnerships, called “Drawing from Nature,” is now in its fourth year. Through this partnership, SAM offers all second graders in Highline School District a chance to explore the Olympic Sculpture Park. Building off these field trips, SAM provides lesson plans and professional development sessions to teachers. Furthermore, SAM is partnering with Seattle Public Schools on a new program at the Seattle Asian Art Museum when it reopens in early 2020. This partnership supports third through fifth-grade teachers as they build connections between art and social studies.

“This was an amazing experience and many of the themes were continued to talk about and apply in other subject areas.”

– Educator

SAM’s Senior Manager of School & Educator Programs, Anna Allegro, says school partnerships provide students with a sense of ownership of SAM. “We’ll work with a school for five years, the kids will come every year, and they just have this sense of ownership and comfort. It’s so different from when they first walked in where SAM might have felt like an intimidating kind of space. Our goal is that students know they can be seen and heard here.”

With SAM’s partnerships and free school tours, the museum is honored to support arts education and creative learning for all young people whilst continuing the goal to promote equity and access for all. As much as art museums play a role in advancing arts education, this mission extends beyond our four walls to everyone in the community.

“Everyone can be an advocate for arts education. If you’re a parent, talk to your principal. Talk to your PSA. Ask them how they are supporting the arts. How is that a part of their classroom? If you’re a grandparent or if you live in a neighborhood, understand what the public school is in your neighborhood and how you can help support it.”

– Regan Pro

Learn more and book a free school tour at SAM before they fill up!

– Lauren Farris, SAM’s 2019 Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Photos: Robert Wade
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Art Zodiac: Hail the Virgos

Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness would have been the perfect subject for Leo season, but despite that, I am focusing on one of Muholi’s photographs for Virgo season instead. Their (Muholi identifies as they/them) work titled, Bester IV, shows Muholi against a geometric-patterned background with a scarf over their head like the Virgin Mary. Virgos rule detailed work like the complex patterning of material which requires patience, steadiness, and routine rigor to perform. I picked this work for Virgo season because the root of the word Virgo is virgin, and this photograph alludes to the most famous one, the Virgin Mother Mary.  Most astrologers prefer to interpret the virginal representation of Virgo as the love of the unadulterated or the purity of essence rather than the religious or sexual overtones it signifies.   

Zanele Muholi: Somnayma Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness features 76 black-and-white self-portraits, making the artist very prevalent in this body of work. The time of Muholi’s birth is unknown, but according to Wikipedia, they were born on July 9, a Cancer—the archetype of the mother in astrology. The only planet that Muholi has in Virgo is Pluto, which makes a lovely sextile (a 60-degree angle) to their Cancer sun. In evolutionary astrology, Pluto represents the soul, its incarnations and the karmic gifts brought into this lifetime. Muholi, like others born between roughly 1956 and 1972, has a Virgo soul structure and it melds well with their Cancer ego structure (the sun). This is another reason why I chose this photograph as it mimics this aspect in their natal astrology chart.

via GIPHY

Virgo is the 6th sign of the zodiac and the sun transits Virgo from August 23 to September 30 each year. Virgos are meticulous, but Pluto-in-Virgos take the details of an issue to a staggering profound depth and breadth. You can see it in the entanglement of multiple themes and the pure (virginal) qualities in Muholi’s photographs. There is obviously an incredible amount of thought and planning that went into each image so the viewer could understand the difficult and powerful, sometimes in-your-face themes communicated through their body of work. This, along with the simplicity of how the sitter is framed and the exacting ruthlessness of the proportions, takes you on an internal journey into the shadow side (Pluto) of society and your own psyche. But the quality that shines the most in Virgos is ‘service to others’ and that is what I ultimately see Muholi doing with their work. They portray images of the plight of workers, maids, miners, and members of disenfranchised communities, in order to serve the greater good, forcefully demanding recognition and integration. 

– Amy Domres, SAM’s Director of Admissions 
Amy is also a Psychospiritual Evolutionary Astrologer and Healer at Emerald City Astrology

Images: Installation view Zanele Muholi: Somnayma Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness at Seattle Art Museum, 2019, photos: Natali Wiseman.
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Muse/News: Hot arts fall, recycled art, and the long climb of Betye

SAM News

Every week, Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger looks closely at one artwork that’s “Currently Hanging.” Last week, she focused on Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) by Lucian Freud, now on view at SAM as part of an iterative single-painting show honoring Paul Allen, A Cultural Legacy.

“There’s a stiltedness to the scene, a sense of uneasiness between the figures, that betrays a certain uncomfortable and strange family dynamic.” 

Out goes hot girl summer, in comes hot arts fall. Seattle Magazine’s fall arts preview recommends Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum, the “throbbingly dramatic” major exhibition opening October 17.

Local News

Gallery watch! Jasmyne Keimig shares the good news on Slog: the J. Rinehart Gallery officially has “a physical space, baby.”

Real Change’s Lisa Edge talks with Osa Elaiho, whose work is included in a group show at Columbia City Gallery. Music and family are what inspire the artist’s mixed-media paintings.

What a dump: Crosscut’s Brangien Davis visits the Recology CleanScapes recycling facility and meets its two current artists-in-residence.

“Just as WALL-E surfs the garbage heaps for treasures to take home — a bobblehead dog toy, a golden trophy, a hinged ring box — artists in residence roam the space with an eye out for intriguing items — a toy gun, a set of new knives, the detritus from an entire bachelorette party.”

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Taylor Defoe profiles Ivory Coast-based artist Laetitia Ky, who “makes unbelievably inventive sculptures with her hair.”

Following the devastation of Hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas, the Pérez Art Museum Miami and partners are collecting urgently needed supplies.

The New York Times’ Holland Cotter on the long, viable career—and sudden spotlight, with two major museum solo shows this fall—of Betye Saar.

“Because it’s about time!” she says. “I’ve had to wait till I’m practically 100.”

And Finally

Here’s a way to donate to those affected by Hurricane Dorian.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau), 1981–1983, Lucian Freud, British, 1922–2011, oil on canvas, 73 x 78 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection, © The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images.
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Birdcage

Object of the Week: Birdcage

In a scene from the 2008 Disney animated movie, Mulan, Mulan’s grandmother holds a caged cricket, closes her eyes, and crosses a bustling street in China. Like the pet cricket in Mulan, the practice of domesticating and keeping animals in cages such as crickets and birds traces back to China’s earliest records.

This birdcage in SAM’s collection, pictured here, was likely created during the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) or Republican period (1850-1920). In China, a pronounced appreciation for bird keeping arose during the Qing dynasty. During this period, the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) particularly enjoyed raising pet birds, and the emperor’s fascination subsequently permeated China. As aviculture spread throughout the country, many men would stroll through the early morning streets, swinging their birdcages back and forth like a pendulum. To this day, Chinese bird keepers swing cages to encourage birds to grip to their perch, an exercise which prevents birds’ feathers from falling off.

As much as aviculturists value their birds, they equally value the craftsmanship of the birdcages. The maker of this birdcage remains unknown. Crafted from hardwood, ivory, and metal, intricate carvings and patterns are etched into the wood. Ivory insets depict beautiful landscapes, evoking scenes of the world where the bird once flew free. Also notable is the cage’s design, which reflects recognizable architectural features of a pagoda, such as steps trailing up to the door and the two-storied structure. Pagodas originated as sacred places to preserve Buddhist relics, and this distinct structure can be found throughout China’s built environment.

While intricately handcrafted birdcages have diminished recently due to industrialization, the cage markets in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong continue to thrive, allowing this rich artistic tradition to live on. See this work on view at SAM in Pure Amusements: Wealth, Leisure, and Culture in Late Imperial China.

Lauren Farris, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Image: Birdcage, 1850-1920, Chinese, wood, metal, ivory, 26 x 12 1/2 x 12 1/2in., Gift of Henry and Mary Ann James, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.11.
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Gardner Center goes down the Silk Roads of History

What is it about Silk Roads history and art that interests so many people? In the late 19th century, German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen coined the term ‘Silk Road’ or ‘Silk Routes’ as part of his map-making efforts. After all, better maps of travel routes had commercial value for access to coal or building railroads, for instance. In the early 20th century, several spectacular “discoveries” (ie, new to the West) of magnificent troves of art and manuscripts in Central Asia and western China fueled the fascination.

Courtesy of the Dunhuang Academy, photo: Wu Jian. 

Now the plural ‘Silk Roads’ is used to better describe the many complex historic trade routes through the Eurasian continent. The idea of commercial exchange across a continent that involved interactions of many cultures, languages, religions, and arts can be such an appealing picture of cosmopolitan societies—in contrast to present-day tensions at home and abroad. “Silk Road nostalgia” refers to interpreting this history in the imagination as a time of tolerance and international understanding as well as prosperity, rooted in hope for peaceful and respectful global exchange in future.

The Jewel of Muscat, a reconstructed replica of a ninth century Omani trading ship, sails into the harbour of Galle, 116 km (72 miles) south of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, on April 19, 2010. The ship, built in a traditional design without nails and sewn together with coconut fibers, left Oman on February 15 to re-enact the old trade routes used by Arab traders, with its final port of call in Singapore, according to the organizers of the voyage. AFP PHOTO/ Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI. (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)

The fall Saturday University Lecture Series, Silk Roads Past and Present: From Ancient Afghan Treasure to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, presents current understandings in seven lectures. Beginning with a talk on the Begram Hoard excavated in Afghanistan, we consider how these storerooms from the first century CE could contain Roman glass, Chinese lacquer, and extraordinarily carved ivories from India. A talk on Maritime Silk Roads explores the shipping that actually transported more goods than overland routes, despite the persistent image of camel caravans.

Bodhisattva leading a lady to the Pure Land (detail), Chinese, Tang dynasty, c. 851–900 CE, Hanging scroll, Ink and colors on silk, Height: 80.5 centimetres, Width: 53.8 centimetres, ©️Trustees of the British Museum. 

The Silk Roads also saw the spread of Buddhism, and two speakers explore Buddhist art in China. Two lesser-known religions are introduced in a talk on Zoroastrian and Manichaean arts. And what about silk? Find out about silk and fashion in Tang Dynasty China, as trade made new textile technologies, colors, and patterns available.  The series concludes with a talk on China’s current international initiative also referred to as the New Silk Road. Please join us!

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Image: Mogao Cave 237. Image courtesy of the Dunhuang Academy, photo: Zhang Weiwen. 
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SAM Gallery Artist Kellie Talbot Travels for Art

SAM Gallery artist Kellie Talbot travels across the country with her husband, cat, and duck, in a truck pulling her mobile studio, an Airstream trailer they named Mr. Salsa. Kellie Talbot’s America on view at SAM Gallery September 4–29, showcases some of her newest works. Talbot has established a national reputation for her oil paintings of the neon signs scattered across America. In the last two years, her family has driven 36,000 miles, through 29 states, in pursuit of source material for her paintings. She plans her route, knowing where certain signs are located, but is always open to possibilities and unexpected opportunities. Some of her favorite signs and memories come from happening upon them. One unexpected ice storm led them to Vaughn, NM (population 446), where Talbot found one neon sign after another.  She was out in the snow, climbing on her Airstream trailer to get photographs for future paintings. When she’s traveling the country, Talbot says “I photograph almost every sign I come across because when I am in collecting mode I don’t want to pass up any potential. Sometimes it’s more obvious. Some of those obvious ones have an iconic shape or beautiful neon that just demands to be painted.”

Once Talbot returns to her studio in Seattle or New Orleans, she relies on reference photos from her trip, to paint photorealist paintings of the signs that represent the landscape of American artifacts, craftsmanship, and history. Talbot describes how “once I am in my studio I spend a lot of time with my reference material planning out a body of work. I like to have a balance of close-ups mixed with landscapes. I like there to be a push and pull of sorts. Some signs are small but I paint them big while others I can enlarge just portions. Almost every sign has the potential to be painted. I just have to find the aspect of that sign I want to paint.”  Talbot is often drawn to a particular letter or shadows from a sign. Focusing on a smaller portion of the sign allows the viewer to enjoy the shapes, shadows, and colors in a new way. Talbot intentionally includes the rust and decay in the neon signs she paints. These details aren’t negatives to the artist, they are signs of time and experience, both an elegy and a hope.

Meet the artist at the opening reception on Thursday, September 5, 6–7:30 pm at SAM Gallery.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Coordinator

Image: Courtesy of the artist.
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