Object of the Week: Untitled, Divinity

This image by Catherine Opie contains within it a number of seemingly oppositional elements: freedom and constriction, embellishment and erasure, intensity and ease, pain and restraint. The subject of the portrait, Divinity Fudge (born Darryl Carlton), stands with confidence, gracefully—if not stoically—lifting the opulent purple fabric that drapes his body, chandelier crystals embedded in his skin.

Over the course of her thirty-year career, Opie has photographed a number of American individuals and communities—most notably her lesbian and S&M leather community—and Untitled, Divinity is one of a larger series of photographic works by the artist, created in 2000 for the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS. Conceived in 1991 by the Alliance for the Arts in New York, Estate Project was established as an advocacy effort aimed at addressing “the protection of America’s cultural heritage during the AIDS crisis.”[1] Opie was among a number of artists commissioned by the organization to create artwork for the cause, and the result was her Polaroids series. The 13-Polaroid series, dedicated to her friend and artist Ron Athey, benefited the Estate Project organization, and half of the proceeds went to an artist living with AIDS. For Opie, “The whole project was a tribute to Ron and his S/M performance work.”[2]

In his performance practice, Athey employs S&M techniques and body modification to explore pain, trauma, transformation, and “allegorize the experience of survival, anger, and loss during the first decades of the AIDS crisis.”[3] Divinity, who is featured in two other photographs in the Polaroids series, appeared frequently in Athey’s work, such as the 1994 performance at the Walker Art Center—Four Scenes in a Harsh Life—which gained much national attention and notoriety. In a scene titled “Human Printing Press,” Athey cut 1 1/2 inch patterns into Divinity’s back. Impressions of Divinity’s wound were poetically transformed into prints on paper towels, which were then placed on a clothesline pulley and extended over the audience.[4]

In the Opie’s own words, “The 13 images in the series work as a journey through the ideas, actions and personas in [Ron Athey’s] performances, little vignettes from larger parts of Ron’s work. . . . The whole cast is not there, but the relationship with Divinity Fudge, who has performed with Ron for the past decade, is represented. There are images that I make in the series that have nothing to do with the performances, but act as pauses, offstage for a moment.”[5] Untitled, Divinity is one such offstage beat.

A master at capturing subjects as diverse as high school football players, lesbian families, surfers, freeways, and mini-malls, Opie has redefined American photography. Dedicated to expanding notions of queer identity—especially its subcultures that are too often misunderstood and overlooked—Opie’s project aims to highlight the beauty of this community as well as the importance of our individual differences.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Images: Untitled, Divinity, 2000, Catherine Opie, photograph, 103 x 43 in., Gift of the Collectors’ Forum, 2000.114 © Artist or Artist’s EstateRon Athey blots blood from the back of Divinity Fudge during Four Scenes in a Harsh Life, 1994.
[1] “Biographical/Historical Information,” Estate Project for Artists with AIDS records, The New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts, accessed June 13, 2018, http://archives.nypl.org/mss/4798#overview.
[2] Maura Reilly, “The Drive to Describe: An Interview with Catherine Opie,” Art Journal, vol. 60, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 82-96.
[3] David J. Getsy, Review of Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performances of Ron Athey, edited by Dominic Johnson, Contemporary Theatre Review, vol. 24, issue 3 (2014): 299-400.
[4] Erroneous reports quickly circulated that blood dripped from the prints, exposing audience members to HIV-positive blood (Athey is HIV-positive, Divinity is HIV-negative). Hardly a factual account or an intended outcome of the performance, this hysterical response would later be misappropriated by conservative politicians to decrease federal funding of the arts.
[5] Catherine Opie, “Flash: On Photographing Ron Athey,” in Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performances of Ron Athey, ed. Dominic Johnson (London: Intellect and Live Art Development Agency, 2013), 143.
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Muse/News: Contradictions in Art, Humanity in Landscapes, and Cake goes to Court

SAM News

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley previewed Double Exposure for the Sunday edition.

The museum knew it couldn’t present a simple hagiography of Curtis’ work without acknowledging its contradictions. “Double Exposure,” [Barbara Brotherton] said, “isn’t so much about Curtis and Native artists responding to his work as it is about putting them on equal footing.”

Jono Vaughan’s Project 42 was featured in this story and video by Crosscut’s Brangien Davis and Aileen Imperial. Look for the video as an interstitial on KCTS, too!

“Labor in my work is very important,” she says. “The labor that is put into the works is part of the memorialization. It’s the time that I spend thinking about that person and their story, and about how I’m hosting their spirit while I’m making their garment.”

Here’s the Stranger’s inimitable Charles Mudede on Basquiat’s “gorgeously brutal” Untitled, capitalist values, and giraffe necks.

Local News

Artist Trust recently announced Marita Dingus as the winner of the 2018 Irving and Yvonne Twining Humber Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement; see Marita’s work at SAM Gallery beginning this Thursday.

Rosin Saez of Seattle Met counts the “thoughtful, if curmudgeonly, ways” of Anthony Bourdain, tracing the moments the food & culture connector visited Seattle.

Don’t miss Rebecca Brown’s feature in the Stranger’s summer A&P, “What Looking at Landscapes Can Do to You,” a review of the current exhibition on view at the Frye Art Museum.

“This art is about looking and being aware that we live on a planet that’s bigger than us that we shouldn’t take for granted. Most of the landscapes don’t have people in them at all—and when they do, they’re small. We need to remember this.”

Inter/National News

Following last week’s significant ruling by the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, both Artnet and Hyperallergic reflect on what it means for the art world.

The Art Newspaper previews the Charles White retrospective now on view at the Art Institute of Chicago and later traveling to MoMA and LACMA. A key figure of the Chicago Black Renaissance, White was a mentor to SAM favorite Kerry James Marshall.

For Freedoms, an organization founded by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, has launched an epic 52-state initiative to encourage political engagement by artists and art institutions this fall.

“We believe art is a necessity, especially in civic discourse,” she continues. “At its simplest level, we’re hoping to see more art exist in the world.”

And Finally

Good news: Art auction stock photos are about to get way less weird.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Images: Left: Sunset on Puget Sound, 1912, Edward S. Curtis, American, 1868-1952, photogravure on vellum (paper), 11 3/4 x 15 1/2 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg, 86.173. Right: Ch’aak’ S’aagí (Eagle Bone), 2018, Tracy Rector, Seminole/Choctaw, b. 1972., video, Seattle Art Museum, 2018 Commission, Courtesy of the artist.
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Object of the Week: Bamboo Netting Jacket

One of the many “eco-friendly” fashion trends that graced the United States during the aughts was bamboo clothing. You could find it in just about every form: bamboo shirts, hoodies, socks, athletic wear—you name it. However, this woody grass has long been used in a variety of ways due to its wide-ranging properties, and bamboo undergarments, such as this netting jacket, were prominent in China as early as the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Modern bamboo textiles cannot hold a candle to them.

Made from cut sections of fine bamboo, this garment was constructed by sewing together hollow bamboo segments to create a woven mesh-like textile. The result is a simple but functional fabric that allows air to flow, keeping its wearer cool and dry (especially in the hot and humid climate of southern China). Further, this additional layer would protect outer garments, often made out of more expensive materials, from being stained and ruined. Despite the fact that this netting jacket would not be seen, its maker possessed an exquisite attention to detail and its construction; together, the mesh design, blue trim, and fasteners all enhance the elegant utility of the piece.

During the late 1800s, bamboo was already beginning to be mixed into other fibers to create alternative fabric blends. However, it was not until the 1990s that textile manufacturers realized bamboo could be substituted in producing rayon, a man-made fiber created from wood pulp and processed cellulose. As Syl Tang writes in Disrobed: How Clothing Predicts Economic Cycles, Saves Lives, and Determines the Future, rayon “was revolutionary for clothing makers. It felt like silk, yet was much cheaper to produce and did not insulate heat, which made the fabric perfect for hot climates.”[1] Add to this the fact that bamboo is an environmental powerhouse—it grows densely and quickly, regenerates after being cut, mitigates greenhouse gases—it is no wonder that bamboo was packaged as a better, safer, and greener option to other textile blends.

For the most part, many clothing companies touting the environmental and health benefits of bamboo during the 2000s were really just selling rayon (or viscose). Taking advantage of the green movement and the devotion of its consumers, such companies were able to get away with perverting a natural material that, as we see in this jacket, needs nothing else.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

[1] Syl Tang, Disrobed: How Clothing Predicts Economic Cycles, Saves Lives, and Determines the Future (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 74.
Image: Bamboo netting jacket, 19th century, Chinese, Bamboo, beads, 29 x 25 1/4, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.1062.
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What do you want to do when you grow up? SAM can help with the answer!

Remember when you were in school and everyone nagged you about what you wanted to do when you grew up? You may have known, you may not have known, you may have thought you knew and ended up changing your mind. SAM’s High School Career Day programs differ from others by rejecting the notion that 15 and 16 year-olds need to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Instead we explore the vast career options within a museum whilst creating a space for students to feel okay with the unknown.

SAM’s Equity Team’s Career Days center the interests of aspiring youth while involving staff from across departments and shedding light on the real people who navigate the creative, interesting, and sometimes odd, world of nonprofits, art, and museums. Students have heard from folks in SAM’s Education, Curatorial, Security, and Development departments, as well as from teaching artists, and more!

Our last Career Day on April 25, 2018 was with Mount Rainier High School and 85% of students said this experience helped them better understand their future career interests and plans for after high school. Nearly 70% of students said this experience helped them think about school in a new way, or motivated them to do better in school. Some of the students shared their thoughts with us after their visit!

“I thought about how it would be an interesting job but it made me realize I need to do better in school to become what I want.”

“Learning about the history of some of the art made me understand and find a deeper appreciation for history in school I don’t enjoy.”

“We saw a figures in history exhibit where old paintings had been re-imagined to represent a larger modern community. I’d like to work harder to later represent youth and help educate about identity expression at school.”

Our next Career Day is in November and we will continue to offer this program in the future. If you would like to bring your group to the museum for a Career Day experience, please email us!

– Rayna Mathis, School and Educator Programs Coordinator

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Muse/News: Tech in museums, revolutionary fashion, and the magic of akari

SAM News

The museum’s first-ever Chief Technology Officer, Manish Engineer, appeared on Geekwire’s podcast to talk about his path to SAM, his plans for the institution, and the balance he wants to strike between art and technology.

“’I always want to make sure that people are looking at the art more so than anything else,’ he said. ‘When you think of things like visual hierarchy, I want to make sure that the art is first and on top of hierarchy.’ And that phone or tablet with its supplemental information? ‘I want to make sure that’s secondary,’ he said.”

Kerry James Marshall’s Past Times recently set an auction high for any work by a living African-American artist; The New York Times’s Scott Reyburn wrote about the rise of value for works by Black artists. He notes that these shifts are also reflected in curatorial choices; SAM’s recent Figuring History exhibition and current Basquiat painting on view are referenced.

Local News

Vogue features Indigenous fashion designers, in advance of Toronto’s first-ever Indigenous Fashion Week; blankets by Bethany Yellowtail are available at Seattle’s Eighth Generation.

Who went Upstream this weekend? Seattle Times music writer Michael Rietmulder attended and tweeted all weekend; here’s his take from the first day of the second edition of the music festival.

City Arts’ June cover photo of Prairie Underground’s Davora Lindner is amazing; don’t miss Amanda Manitach’s fantastic profile of Davora, either.

“’Prairie Underground embodies the idea of political uprising, insurrection and a secret society,’ Lindner says.”

Inter/National News

On the newsstands: The New Yorker’s annual Fiction Issue, with cover art by artist Loveis Wise; it was her debut for the magazine and also only the second time a Black woman’s art has been featured on the cover.

Raise your hand if you have an electric paper lantern in your home: yep, that’s everyone. Artsy traces Isamu Noguchi’s creation of the simple—yet magical—forms of akari.

What happens when you’ve booked a show four years ago—called Casanova: The Seduction of Europeand it’s opening now in the age of #MeToo? Hyperallergic’s Emily Wilson shares what San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum did.

“’The simplest problem to fix is framing his rapes as seductions and Casanova as a kind of sexy scoundrel,’ she said. ‘We can avoid glorifying or censuring and try to imagine if, instead of a wealthy white European man, this story was told through some of the women of the time.’”

And Finally

It’s June!!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: GeekWire Photo / Clare McGrane
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Object of the Week: Dog Hedge

The teapot is a centuries-old vessel whose origins are firmly rooted in China. Features of the teapot have evolved over time, depending on the culture and period, but for the most part the vessel is a straightforward formula with certain basic elements: a spout, a handle, a lid, and, of course, a container for hot water. Tried and tested, right? Enter Peter Shire.

For decades, Los Angeles-based Shire has worked at the intersection of fine art, craft, and industrial design, experimenting with a variety of mediums and methods to produce iconic ceramic works and furniture that challenge the modernist maxim “form follows function,” first coined by American architect Louis Sullivan. The form of this ceramic teapot, titled Dog Hedge, does not immediately align with its understood function. In fact, many of Shire’s teapots (an ongoing and touchstone series in his practice), don’t pour tea properly—they are objects meant to be looked at. In the words of the artist, they are “referentially functional.”

One of the original members (and first American) of the 1980s Italian design collective Memphis Group, Shire has proven himself a master of surfaces and mimicry. Interested in the plasticity of materials such as clay, he approaches his practice with playful rigor. In this 1982 work, orange, lime green, and red geometric shapes overlap with rectilinear planes of speckled pink and blue to form a postmodern constructivist composition. The various ceramic components balance precariously, testing the limits of the teapot’s utility.

For this work, Shire found inspiration in such diverse sources as Stonehenge, aqueducts, post and beam architecture of the 1950s, the architecture of Luis Barragán, and the “anthropomorphic qualities of the [teapot’s] spout as a mouth and the lid as eyes.” In Shire’s hands, the teapot—as both an object and an idea—becomes deconstructed and reimagined on his own personal, conceptual, and architectural terms. Appearing from one angle as a dog in profile, the piece’s title also references Stonehenge—a monument whose unclear use and construction no doubt finds a parallel in Shire’s own work.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Images: Dog Hedge, 1982, Peter Shire, ceramic with glaze, 9 1/2 x 14 x 9 1/2 in., Gift of Anne Gould Hauberg, 86.138 © Artist or Artist’s Estate
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Introducing SAM’s 2018 Emerging Arts Leaders

“SAM connects art to life.”

These are the first five words of SAM’s mission statement. Staff and volunteers read these words on the wall every day when arriving at work. It’s the lens through which we view everything we do.

One crucial part of that mission is to work for equity and inclusion within our own walls, knowing that the museum must reflect the community it serves. In 2016, SAM launched the Emerging Arts Leader Internship, a paid internship aimed at candidates who are underrepresented in the museum field. It’s an interdisciplinary internship that allows the intern to interact with diverse aspects of museum work and contribute their unique insights and perspectives. Members of SAM’s Equity Team, representing several departments at the museum, make up the hiring committee for this important internship that is just one way SAM is working to create points of entry into the museum field.

This summer, two more interns begin their work. Near the end of their internship, they’ll lead a free tour in the galleries focusing on some what they’ve learned while contributing to SAM.

Introducing SAM’s 2018 Emerging Arts Leaders:

Dovey Martinez

Born and raised in Seattle, Dovey is triumphantly returning to the city after completing her Bachelor’s in Studio Art at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. As a Honduran American and the child of immigrants, Dovey initially explored becoming an immigration lawyer. Fortunately for the arts and for SAM, she turned her focus to art: to the formal qualities of paint, to depicting the lives of marginalized communities, and to working for equity and inclusion.

Dovey was a member of Rainier Scholars, a Seattle-based college access program. One of her mentors there said this about her work:

“Her paintings convey the real struggle and sacrifice of her family and the millions of other amazing families working in agricultural fields and cleaning houses in order to create opportunities for the next generation of children hoping to benefit from the American promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Thanks to her interest in contemporary art and with working with the public, Dovey will be working primarily with the Curatorial department and with the Education department on public programming.

Seohee Kim

Seohee is preparing to graduate this June from the University of Washington with a degree in Communications and a minor in Diversity. A first-generation Korean American, she grew up in a predominantly white community in the American South. A self-described Third Culture Kid, Seohee had to balance the divergent rules and codes of school and home. It was at college where she learned to “embrace both cultures equally, and to value the challenges as learned opportunities to wield as tools in assisting those who similarly feel wedged between cultural identities.”

Embracing her multifaceted identity and experience is what guides Seohee’s interest in communications, in which she’s excelled. One of her former professors shared,

“Seohee has a longstanding interest in visual cultural production as a medium for communicating about racialized difference. Her schoolwork and previous experiences have long focused on the simultaneous negotiation, power, and disconnections between her various identities.”

Because of her passion for storytelling and multilingual and intercultural fluencies, Seohee will work primarily with the Curatorial and Communications departments, researching and writing about art.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair

Image: Left, Dovey Martinez. Right, Seohee Kim.
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New Cedar for Bunyon’s Chess

A brilliant conservator[1] once noted that “art conservation is a fight against entropy.” This is especially visible for works sited outside which require conservators, artists, and stakeholders to carefully consider what is essential for an outdoor sculpture to continue to exist for future generations. When the carved cedar elements of Mark di Suvero’s sculpture Bunyon’s Chess were no longer structurally stable, di Suvero and his studio worked closely with the Seattle Art Museum to explore the artwork and discover solutions.

Bunyon’s Chess was created by Mark di Suvero in 1965 for Virginia and Bagley Wright’s residence in Seattle. The family’s documentation of the creative process provides wonderful insight into the artwork.

In 2006 the Wrights promised the work to the Seattle Art Museum and it was moved to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The cedar elements had begun to show degradation in their original site but this accelerated at the park partially due to the exposed location and partially due to the natural deterioration of cedar. As cedar ages in an outdoor setting a number of events occur: the natural biocide slowly migrates out with water, the wood absorbs water at an increasing rate as it deteriorates, fungal deterioration is common, as well as insect and wildlife damage. The logs of Bunyon’s Chess were treated annually with a fungicide to slow the fungal deterioration but without major visual interventions such as end caps or moving the sculpture to an interior location, deterioration continued at a fairly rapid pace.

In 2009 an in-depth condition assessment was performed which determined that the deterioration, particularly on the interior had progressed to a state where the logs were in danger of falling. In 2010, the logs were consolidated, the large losses filled and the exterior coated to prolong the life. During this period research and conversations with di Suvero regarding the replacement were begun as this treatment could not prolong the life of the cedar indefinitely. Di Suvero determined that new logs could be carved to replace the original cedar, as it is the visual integrity of the work that is important.

After much research, new cedar of the similar dimensions and tight ring growth was sourced for carving. Seattle artist Brian Beck peeled the logs in preparation for carving.

Kent Johnson and Daniel Roberts from di Suvero’s studio traveled to Seattle and carved the new logs using the original cedar elements as a guide.

Beck worked with Johnson and Roberts to create the same join between the two logs. Much of the original hardware such as the 36” bronze bolts and galvanized steel eyehooks were presevered and reused on the newly carved elements.

If you look carefully, at the top of the sculpture you will note a slight bend in the top tube. Di Suvero wanted this natural bend to remain but believed this opportunity should be used to reinforce the structure.

Fabrication Specialties Ltd. worked with the di Suvero studio to create an interior support which was welded in place.

The logs were strung with new stainless steel cabling and were carefully measured and marked to the lengths of the original cables to assist with the rigging. Larry Tate, Andrew Malcolm, Tracy Taft, Ignacio Lopez, and Travis Leonard of Fabrication Specialties placed the new logs within the original steel frame working closely with images and a model of the original. The di Suvero studio generously participated in video calls throughout the day.


Special thank you to: Mark di Suvero and Studio, Virginia Wright, Fabrication Specialties Ltd, Equinox Studios, Alta Forest Products, Brian Beck, Christian French, and Catharina Manchanda for helping preserve this public artwork free for everyone to enjoy at the Olympic Sculpture Park year round.

– Liz Brown, SAM Objects Conservator

Photos courtesy of Virginia Wright and Liz Brown.
[1] Lauren Chang
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A Commingling of Minds in Sondra Perry’s Installation

With her current installation at SAM, the 2017 Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize winner, Sondra Perry asks, “What happens if we go to a place that we want to create as a habitable place for full life on earth but we don’t know what life looks like there?” Combining 3D rendering, terraforming, family, and the desire to bring people together inside the gallery, Perry’s work gives a machine its voice while creating a cosmic commingling of minds. See Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY at SAM before it closes July 8!

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