Object of the Week: Church Interior

Emanuel de Witte earned recognition as one of the great architectural painters of the 17th century. The years of De Witte’s life and career encompass the height of the genre for which he is known: the church interior. In SAM’s Church Interior a mood, and a moment, unfolds. Gentle light falls over the scene, entering the church through the windows directly across from us, and from windows that we know are above and behind us. The details of the painting, especially the architectural decoration and the faces of the figures, reveal a soft and painterly touch. Had De Witte rendered the scene with hard lines and the crisp details of a hyper-realistic style, the impression created by the picture would be entirely different.

Scholarship and x-rays of the painting have revealed that the figure group at the lower right of Church Interior originally included a showy fifth figure. De Witte often repeated figures and figure groups in different paintings, as if building a visual library of motifs, and then selecting the best one for his needs in a particular painting. The figure group in SAM’s painting recurs in a De Witte painting of a Protestant Baroque Church in the collection of the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, France—only in that picture, a well-heeled man of arms occupies the space in the foreground that is vacant in SAM’s painting. Originally De Witte placed this figure in SAM’s Church Interior too, painting over him at a later stage in the process, and opening up the scene by doing so.

Knowing that a large, eye-catching figure once occupied the open space in Church Interior has changed the way I look at the painting. De Witte’s choice to exclude the jaunty figure in SAM’s painting seems studied and very purposeful. The still and peaceful mood of the church is enhanced by the open space, and we, as the viewer, are invited into the picture, with a clear pathway for entering the moment. Here, the subtraction of one dominating detail creates equality among the other details of the painting. The eye dances across the picture, picking them out like notes on a musical score.

By leaving space in the foreground De Witte also opened up the possibility for a subtle, silent dialogue on which, as a dog lover, I’m especially keen. The furry friends at the lower left and lower right corners of the picture seem to be gazing across the scene at one another, uniting the scene in a charming, unconventional way. Elsewhere, glances among the figures, as well as the play of light and shadow, connect the scene through an artful arrangement of harmonious patterns and tones. De Witte leaves us with a poetic and unified picture.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Church Interior, ca. 1670, Emanuel de Witte (Dutch, 1617-1692), oil on wood, 18 7/8 x 16 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.176, Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Olympic Sculpture Park: Sculpting a Universe

“How does art come into being? Out of volumes, motion, spaces carved out within the surrounding space, the universe.” –Alexander Calder

Read these words on the silver plaque as you stand beneath Calder’s The Eagle, in the Olympic Sculpture Park, and they resonate deeply. The bolts and bends in its blazing, red steel prompt you to envision the way its parts came together in the artist’s mind. This year, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Olympic Sculpture Park, Calder’s words become especially poignant. Looking out at the park and the surrounding slices of Seattle framed by The Eagle’s wings and legs—the art, the land, and the architecture—we are reminded of the way people came together to build this unique green space in the downtown corridor.

The park’s true beginnings go back to 1996, when SAM trustee, collector, and arts philanthropist Jon Shirley saw the potential for something greater. “My late wife Mary and I were looking at our outdoor sculpture collection around the yard of our home and wondered where it might end up one day. . . . As collectors, we visited many sculpture parks around the world and thought, why not here?”

They shared their idea with arts benefactors and SAM trustees Virginia and Bagley Wright, as well as SAM’s Director from 1994–2009, Mimi Gardner Gates. Later that year, Gates brought those conversations with her on a fly fishing trip in Mongolia with a group of twelve women, where she got to know Martha Wyckoff, volunteer and national board member at the Trust for Public Land. Following a helicopter crash that left Gates, Wyckoff, and the rest of the group unharmed but stranded in the steppes of Mongolia, the two women found themselves discussing a mutual interest in civic engagement that spoke to the aspirations of both organizations: free, public green spaces and art for Seattle’s community. As Martha Wyckoff explained, “Community can include everyone in Seattle and anyone who comes to visit. As we developed the project, we realized it also included the salmon, and the plants, and the future, by making sure there’s more green, natural settings in the downtown core for all to enjoy. Where else has a major city art museum created salmon habitat in partnership with a national nonprofit land conservation group?”

After Gates and Wyckoff returned to Seattle, they began discussing possible sites, along with the Shirleys, the Wrights, and Chris Rogers from the Trust for Public Land, who went on to manage the sculpture park project on behalf of SAM. Rogers and Wyckoff had been mapping park possibilities in King County for over a year and kept coming back to a strip of land on the waterfront beside Myrtle Edwards Park. Still contaminated by its former life as a site for petroleum storage, the space was far from inspiring. Yet, when the team visited, something sparked. Gates explained, “It was much lower, it was fenced in, and people were living on the edges. Plus, it had a railroad track running through it. . . . Jon [Shirley] was particularly visionary in terms of really being able to see what it could be. I was very enthusiastic about the idea of space on the waterfront that was open and free. And so, we started running.”

The Trust for Public Land was familiar with brownfield restorations from their previous projects, so they took the lead on the complex negotiations required to acquire and clean up the site. But the park as we know it fully came to be through architects Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi’s submission to a competition for its design. Gates explained, “We didn’t have a set vision until Marion and Michael presented their plan. Their design went over the road and the railroad tracks, incorporating and integrating the infrastructure of the city into the park while creating a space that was tranquil, quiet, and a place you wanted to be—that vision was critical to what the park has become.”

During the years that passed since the park opened on January 20, 2007, the sculptures, the design, the plants and all of the activities that happen among them have become embedded into the city that has grown around it. Skyscrapers bloom around the thick carpet of green and open span of sky while hundreds of container ships and ferries, otters and seals, pass through the Puget Sound below. When you scan the downtown skyline from the West Seattle shore, between CenturyLink Field’s white arches and the Space Needle’s hovering disc, the park’s patch of green and The Eagle’s spot of red stand out, too. Inside the park, a universe of sorts was carved, by two organizations and many individuals—a universe that continues to be shaped by Seattle itself.

In the months ahead, we will continue reflecting on the Olympic Sculpture Park’s history with an in-depth look at the permanent and temporary works of art, the landscape, the programming, and more. We hope our memories of the last 10 years bring to mind some of your own and, even better, that you’ll visit in 2017 to create new experiences during the park’s 10th year.

—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

SAM Book Club: Seven Days in the Art World

Welcome back book lovers! We return with the fourth edition of SAM Book Club. For those new to the series, here’s how it works: Once a quarter, I’ll be selecting a book about art to talk about here on SAM Blog. We’ll announce the book about a month before the book club date so that you can get your hands on a copy and read along. We’ll meet back here on the blog a month later to discuss in the comments.

This month we’ll be venturing into nonfiction territory with Seven Days in the Art World, by Sarah Thornton. Acting as a kind of tour-guide extraordinaire, Thornton leads her readers through seven arenas which contribute to the multi-faceted world of contemporary art: Christie’s auction house; an MFA crit session; the Basel Art Fair; the prestigious Turner Prize; the offices of Artforum; artist Takashi Murakami’s studio; and the Venice Biennale. Sounds like a whirlwind to me.

Visit your local library and pick up a copy, and let’s dive in together. Meet me back here on Wednesday, March 22 to discuss Seven Days in the Art World!

—Carrie Dedon, Curatorial Assistant, Modern & Contemporary Art

Photo: Natali Wiseman

Object of the Week: Martin Luther King

Inspired by American craft and folk art traditions, Ross Palmer Beecher honors her roots in Americana with her choices of materials and content. Throughout the oeuvre of this Seattle-based artist (who happens to be represented by the SAM Gallery), you’ll find license plates, signage, costume jewelry, and all kinds of nondescript junk. She artfully arranges these materials into meaningful mixed media works that are labors of love, feats of craftsmanship, and political commentaries. Palmer Beecher’s work remarks in interesting ways on whom and what is worth commemorating. In past works, she has memorialized historical figures such as John F. Kennedy, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

But Martin Luther King, Jr. is the reason why many of us will be on holiday Monday, and the way he dedicated his life to advocating for people of color; his refusal to settle for anything less than people treating one another with dignity and fairness; his strength and resilience in the face of violent assaults, both state-sanctioned and illicit; his determined commitment to turn back hate with love in non-violent protests; and his message of hope are all reasons why he was worth Palmer Beecher’s commemoration, and why we should remember him.

Palmer Beecher produced SAM’s portrait, Martin Luther King, from wire-stitched and hammered metal, paint, wood, costume jewelry, chandelier remnants, and a commemorative postage stamp. The stamp, one that celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation, peeks out from in between the face’s flashy gold lips.

The resulting image of Martin Luther King exists in a creative space that melds the decorative and the industrial. There is a roughness to the piece’s manufacture that manifests the artist’s handiwork in painting, pounding, arranging, soldering, and wiring the components together. At the same time, the piece reveals a delicate and sensitive vision. The artist has taken care to vary the colors and textures of her materials, and her power to see how these found objects might fit together to form something significant is remarkable.

Palmer Beecher is an artist who believes that art should say stuff. She’s thoughtful, an activist, and that shows up in her work. Her visionary ability to use found objects in surprising ways—arranging rubbish to give form to something admirable—points to the idea of potential. Things, no matter what they are, might be arranged meaningfully, usefully, in a way that teaches or inspires. People, no matter what they look like, or where they come from, might be the forces to teach and inspire, and to help others find meaning.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Martin Luther King, 2003, Ross Palmer Beecher (American, born 1957), mixed media, 21 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Mark Tobey Estate Fund, 2003.62, © Ross Palmer Beecher.

For the Love of Art: Mariana Tomas

MARIANA TOMAS
35–44
Change management consultant
Dual member since 2011

Why do you love art?

Art makes us ask questions. It makes us stand on our tippy-toes peeking around the painted street corner. It sparks our curiosity. It inspires us, charges our batteries, and makes our souls richer.

What are your hobbies or passions?

In my free time, I explore caves. When you’re in that cave, there is nothing else. The world outside does not exist, because the possibility that you will never see daylight again is always present. In a way, caving is like space travel, the last frontier, the ultimate mission into unknown. The promise that it holds is breathtaking beauty, exploration, adventure, and, of course, discovery of something we didn’t know about ourselves. You’re testing your own limits, you’re watching your every move, and you’re trying to absorb as much as you can from your surroundings. To me, this is very primal.

Do you see any link between your hobbies of cave exploring and art?

I think it’s curiosity, because what I wrote about art is actually what I used to do when I was a little kid. My aunt had a painting of a street corner that veered off and you couldn’t see where it was leading so I thought if I got myself in the right position, somehow I would see the other side of the street. It’s the same thing about caves—it’s searching for the next thing around the corner and just being curious. The curiosity that we have as the human race, I guess.

You’re a change management consultant. What does that mean?

Change management is an emerging field that’s growing here in the Pacific Northwest. We have an international organization where we help organizations to transition. It could be anything from companies moving or implementing new software or having a merger with another company. We help with preparing people for the new world. I’ve been doing this for 7 years.

What’s your favorite SAM location? Do you have a special spot to visit?

SAM’s Asian Art Museum. The museum has such historical value and it’s just so beautiful. The setting in Volunteer Park—and all of it—is just great. I love to visit Monk At The Moment Of Enlightenment. I found looking at the other Asian art that’s exhibited there from that period that you don’t see a whole lot of expression on the face (in general) and he has this expression of bliss that I think is so hard to capture—even for something that is that old and made in wood. That moment of enlightenment that we all hope—well, maybe not all but some of us hope—to maybe live someday. I think it’s a really uplifting piece of art and pretty unique to what I’ve seen. I don’t claim to be an Asian art connoisseur so I just enjoy it.

Yes, we like the things we like. You’ve been a member since 2011?

Yes. I really didn’t realize how easy it is to be a member. I got a gift membership that year and I was thrilled. I just love coming to the museum and it definitely pays in multiple ways. Not just financially. Here you get that sense that art is accessible and that’s really the appeal to me: being a part of it, being able to support it in some way.

If you, like Mariana, love the Asian Art Museum, get enlightened on what’s happening as we begin our renovation and expansion of the historic home of SAM. Members make our world go round and you can help ensure the future of the Asian Art Museum by becoming a member today or making a donation to the renovation of the iconic Art Deco building.

visitsam.org/inspire

Photos: Natali Wiseman
Scenes of life around the capital

Object of the Week: Scenes of Life in and around the Capital

SAM’s six-panel screen picturing Scenes of Life in and around the Capital serves to celebrate the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto, giving a flattering impression of the city as one that is full of jovial activity. Gold leaf, in the form of clouds, covers a large area of the screen and lends to Kyoto an air of royalty and prosperity. As a compositional element, the clouds divide this very large panel into bite-sized vignettes. When your eye scans across the panel, and up and down, it encounters figures sitting, running, parading, and celebrating in scenes alternately private and public. Both rural and urban citizens have a place here, as life in the city blends seamlessly with the surrounding countryside, and the city’s attractions are enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. What your eye won’t find in its flyover of Japan’s ancient capital is any element that disagrees with the established order and the abiding image of prosperity. The humdrum of day-to-day life, the majority of which involves work, doesn’t fit into the picture. Neither does illness, disease, or death much affect this heavenly realm.

The screen has interesting things to say about how we see, and how we aim to be seen. As I look at the screen, I’m reminded of spinning around and above Seattle during a special brunch in the Space Needle’s SkyCity restaurant (an experience I hope everyone has a chance to enjoy). To look over a city with great energy, lots happening, and an incredible geographic diversity brought, for me, feelings of joy and pride. Surely Kyoto’s citizens in the Edo period appreciated everything their city offered—its rich culture and vibrant lifestyle—in a similar way. It’s also worth noting how, from the top of the Space Needle, or standing in front of this screen, we take up the perspective of a passive observer. We watch others go about their lives without being seen ourselves and, with no fear of being caught watching, we’re encouraged to watch even more closely.

It’s this aspect of looking that contemporary artist Tabaimo has pointed to in her exhibition at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi. In the show, Scenes of Life in and around the Capital relates meaningfully to Tabaimo’s video work Haunted House, seen nearby. Haunted House mimics the movement of an eye scanning a long row of houses, while our view is limited to a small circle, as if we are viewing these scenes through a telescope. In Haunted House and in SAM’s screen, stories present themselves one at a time, providing the viewer a steady stream of entertainment.

Tabaimo’s installation of the screen encourages us to take pause and ask: How do we see each other? From what perspective? With what agendas? From there, we might also ask how and why we present ourselves to the world, and whether that image carries pretension much like the screen’s gilded view of ancient imperial Kyoto.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Scenes of Life in and around the Capital, second half 17th century, Japanese (Edo period, 1603-1868), ink, color, and gold on paper, 67 7/8 x 149 3/4 in. Seattle Art Museum, Purchased with funds from Mildred and Bryant Dunn and the Floyd A. Naramore Memorial Purchase Fund, 75.38.1. Haunted House (detail), 2003, Tabaimo, video installation, © Tabaimo / Courtesy of Gallery Koyanagi, Photo: Patrick Gries.

Guest Blogger: Barbie’s Five Faves from SAM

In October I took a trip to Seattle for opening day of Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style at Seattle Art Museum. And how perfect it was! Seattle delivers everything you might expect—great coffee, abundant shopping, cool culture, and endless opportunities to accessorize for rainy weather. But the reason for the season was an exclusive first look at the my-sized recreations of the defining designs on display as part of the exhibition at SAM.

Life can be so busy but it’s nice to stop and reflect on recent experiences. So here are my five favorite things from my visit to the Seattle Art Museum to take in the stunning style of Yves Saint Laurent. Spoiler alert, I have more than five favorites but you’ll just have to get to the exhibition during closing weekend (that’s this weekend, Jan 7 & 8) and see it for yourself!

  1. The Bow Dress

Yves Saint Laurent’s style is superb. In the photo above, the evening gown behind me from Autumn-Winter 1983, with its giant and oh-so-pink silk satin bow, is a perfect example of flawless color and shape combos. I was thrilled to get to see this dress, one of Saint Laurent’s most well known, in person.

  1. The Pop Moment

I’m a big fan of bright colors! And, like Yves Saint Laurent, I find literature, theater, and film inspiring. In this gallery you can see how the art of his time had an impact on Saint Laurent’s designs. The geometric shapes and strong hues of these dresses draw directly from Pop art. I’m all about this wearable art.

YSL Paper Dolls

  1. The Prodigy’s Paper Dolls

I wish I’d had paper dolls this fancy to play with as a kid! Yves Saint Laurent made these paper dolls from magazines when he was a teenager and this is the first time they’ve been shown in the United States. I feel so lucky that they are at the Seattle Art Museum right now and I got to see them up close!

  1. A Modular Wardrobe

Yves Saint Laurent changed the fashion industry forever when he opened his first boutique, SAINT LAURENT – rive gauche. The store sold prêt- à-porter clothes, which means, “ready to wear.” Thanks to him, now we can all shop for a slice of high fashion for a fraction of the price! Now if only I could find this white silk crepe blouse with red lips in stores still.

  1. Catching up with a Friend

Traveling means getting to reconnect with old friends! I love getting to discuss all the thoughts that come up after seeing world-class art and it’s so important to have a good friend to talk about creative ideas with. Visiting Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style at the Seattle Art Museum wouldn’t be that same without someone to gush over the beautiful fashions with.

—Barbie

IMAGES: Barbie photos courtesy of Mattel. Installation views of Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style, Photos: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Split

Roxy Paine’s polished stainless steel tree Split rises fifty feet high above SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park, brazenly confronting its natural surroundings with its own manmade-ness.

In many ways, Split embodies contrast. Smooth and reflective, it rejects the rough texture and earthy brown color of tree bark. There is an immediately recognizable contrast between its machine-age manufacturing and the organic growth process of trees, a juxtaposition heightened by the earth on which Split is installed. Within the work itself, Paine has built up the sculpture in such a way that its two main limbs diverge, heading in opposite directions, as if visualizing some internal conflict in the tree, like two camps of its cells decided their differences were irreconcilable and they roughly parted ways. Nearby, in Neukom Vivarium, a nurse log gives birth to life in varied forms while the log itself decays—a celebration of natural regenerative processes that have been occurring for a long time. In Split, we see something quite different, as the artist confronts us with our views and actions related to art, nature, and beauty, in a relatively new world of industrial production.

Yet Split shares with its woody neighbors a common tree-ness. Its form tells us straight away that it represents a tree. Though made, not grown, it, too, had to be planted.

The act of planting a tree holds a special significance. It is a generative act, one that makes a positive contribution to the landscape in the form of an oxygen-producing, eye-pleasing, life-giving organism. One factor that makes it special is the longevity of the reward. Planting a tree requires the investment of a certain amount of time and labor, but we have a sense that it’s well worth it because trees last (longer than us, often). The lifespan of the tree, and the richness of the reward for planting it, overwhelms any cost. Good vibes attend the planting of a tree because we have a sense that what we’re doing will benefit so many folks beyond ourselves. Here’s another rewarding quality to planting a tree: our investment multiplies. We can’t exactly watch it happen, but with patience, over time, we can mark a tree’s growth. The payoff continually increases. This is the ecological equivalent to putting away savings.

In 2017 SAM will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Olympic Sculpture Park, itself a remarkable contribution to Seattle, and home to important works like Split. Moving from one year to the next always provides a chance to reflect on transitions and trajectories, and after this turbulent year, that seems especially the case. As we turn over a collective new leaf at SAM, in our city, in our country, and in our world, my hope is that we remember the value of planting, of making positive additions, each of us in our own unique way.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Split, 2003, Roxy Paine (American, b. 1966), polished stainless steel, height: 50 ft. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2016.17.3, © Roxy Paine, Photos: Benjamin Benschneider.

Object of the Week: Pojagi (wrapping cloth), Sango po (food covering)

In Korea, gifts and food dishes might come wrapped in decorative cloths called pojagi. This tradition shows respect for the receiver of the gift as well as for the gift itself—and I wish my gift-wrapping game were this good!

SAM’s Korean Pojagi (wrapping cloth), Sango po (food covering), dating to the late 19th century, bears intricate designs stitched into bands of luminous color, all neatly organized. The rectangular pieces of fabric act like nesting blocks of diminishing size, each fitting perfectly inside the last as our eye moves toward the center of this carefully crafted textile. The little tab at the middle of the cloth would have been used to lift it off of a tray.

The five colors present in the Pojagi—blue, red, yellow, black, and white—corresponded to five blessings: longevity, wealth, success, health, and luck. Whatever your gift wrapping looks like this holiday season . . .

May all these blessings and more be yours! Happy holidays from SAM!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Pojagi (wrapping cloth), Sango po (food covering), late 19th century, Korean (Choson Dynasty, 1392-1910), Ramie gauze: patched and stitched, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 in. Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, Asian Art Acquisition Fund and the Korean Art Purchase Fund, 96.21