Muse/News: Royal treasures, royal brides, and the Sikh Captain America

SAM News

Sebastian Smee for The Washington Post with a glittering review of Peacock in the Desert, now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston—and traveling to Seattle Art Museum this fall. Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India illuminates nearly four centuries of Indian courtly life and opens at SAM on October 18.

“A thoughtful, stately and scholarly exhibition, filled with objects of almost unbelievable refinement, most of which have never left Jodhpur, let alone India.”

Local News

The Henry announced last week that Shamim M. Momin will be their new Senior Curator; Momin’s previous experience includes LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division) and the Whitney.

Naomi Ishisaka, Ramon Dompor, and Corinne Chin of The Seattle Times tell the story of “accidental cartoonist,” performance artist, and activist Vishavjit Singh—AKA the Sikh Captain America.

Rich Smith of The Stranger speaks with Alexandra Gardner, the Seattle Symphony’s composer-in-residence, who worked with queer homeless youth on a new work that debuted underneath SAM’s tree sculpture Middle Fork last Saturday.

“The piece starts off with a lot of bells. It’s very sparkly. Some of the musicians were like, ‘Oh it’s so beautiful and sparkly, I thought it would be more angry,’ but it’s not at all. There are some ever-so-slightly dark parts. Overall the feeling they wanted to communicate was not about their past experiences, which may have been very dark, but rather a hopeful future. And I think that really speaks to the participants’ resilience and imagination.”

Inter/National News

Past Times by Kerry James Marshall, which once hung in a Chicago convention center, sold for $21.1 million at Sotheby’s. The price is a new record for the artist—and among living Black American artists, too.

This May marks the 50th anniversary of Paris’ 1968 student riots; Artsy’s Digby Warde-Aldam reflects on the protests’ legacy on the visual culture of protests.

The sacred, the profane, and the Rihanna: we’re still recovering from the recent Met Gala coverage. Here’s Eleanor Heartney of Artnet with a review of the “gorgeous and unsettling” exhibition that explores the Catholic imagination.

“Contemporary art and religion have long been perceived as antagonists. However, this show suggests that the real chasm is between religion and fashion—the one focused on the realm of spirit and values, the other on luxury and conspicuous consumption.”

And Finally

A couple got married last Saturday, and millions of people watched. The cultural meanings of it all were much discussed; don’t miss The New Yorker’s Doreen St. Félix on the “profound presence of Doria Ragland,” the bride’s mother.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Maharaja Abhai Singh on Horseback, c. 1725, Dalchand, Jodhpur, opaque watercolor and gold on paper, Mehrangarh Museum Trust, photo: Neil Greentree.
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Object of the Week: Shredded Wheat Factory with Ford

Photographer Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883–1976) is best known for her portraits, nudes, and photographic examinations of plants. So how does this photograph of a cereal factory fit in?

Born in Oregon in 1883, Cunningham moved with her parents to a communal farm in Port Angeles, Washington as a very young girl. In 1889, the family moved to Seattle creating their homestead in a forest atop Queen Anne Hill. She studied at the University of Washington, receiving a degree in chemistry. Her thesis was titled, “The Scientific Development of Photography,” and she had spent the latter half of her senior year studying the work and methods of Edward S. Curtis. Upon graduation, she was determined to make platinum prints (a photographic printing process using the metal, platinum) and secured a position working in Edward Curtis’s studio from 1907-1909. Although working in his studio, she rarely had contact with Curtis who was often away working on his monumental work, The North American Indian.[1] There she learned not only platinum printing, but also how to spot negatives, create studio portraiture, and run a studio.[2]

After a trip to Europe where she studied with Robert Luther, a renowned photochemist at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden, she returned to Seattle, established her own studio, and began to exhibit and become involved in the Seattle and national art scenes. She was involved with the Society of Seattle Artists, the Pictorial Photographers of America, and, importantly, the Seattle Fine Arts Society.[3] During her time with the Seattle Fine Arts Society, she met and married her artist husband, Roi Partridge, in 1915. A few years later the family (they now had three sons) moved to San Francisco, and then, in 1920, Partridge accepted a position at Mills College and the family moved to Oakland.

Before 1920, Cunningham was firmly part of the Pictorialist movement which had “succeeded in placing photography within the realm of art” and whose work was often associated with beauty and soft focus. The photographs of her husband at Mount Rainier are examples of her working in this style. However, by the late 1920s, Cunningham’s artistic photography had diverged completely from her soft-focus Pictorialist work, and was beginning to express a more fully formed Modernist vision, reducing nature and structures to their simplest shapes and forms.[4] It is during this period and into the 1930s that she becomes associated with the Precisionists, a group who were responding to the radical, industrial changes in the country and turning to machine forms and industrial landscapes as visual resources for their work.[5]

In 1928, living in Oakland, she photographed the Shredded Wheat Factory located at 14th and Union Streets. And, although the factory had been built more than a decade before Precisionism declared beauty in industrial forms, the surrounding community was already thinking about its modern, appealing look:

“Practically no complaint has been heard from nearby property-owners over the location of the million-dollar Oakland factory of the Shredded Wheat Co. on land bounded by Twelfth, Fourteenth, Poplar and Union Streets, in a strictly residential district. It is not expected that the proposed artistic buildings, surrounded by beautiful grounds will have a deteriorating effect on the value of residence holdings.”[6]

The beauty of the industrial landscape is captured in the sleek lines of the factory’s geometric towers and the shadows that extend from known and unknown subjects. And, by including an electrical/telephone poll and a Ford automobile, Cunningham reinforces other aspects of modern life. Other photographs of the site exist in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Imogen Cunningham Trust (here, here, and here). However, SAM’s Shredded Wheat Factory with Ford is unique in that it’s the only one in the Shredded Wheat Factory series where Cunningham includes a natural object—a tree—front and center within the composition.

In Celina Lunsford’s opening essay for the catalogue to the Imogen Cunningham exhibition at the Fundación Mapfre (Madrid) and Kulturhuset Stockholm, she recognizes: “Imogen Cunningham was a true artist: throughout her long life she embraced the diverse developments of photography and the liveliness of the changing time in which she lived.”[7] Shredded Wheat Factory with Ford, a work of Precisionism, along with Cunningham’s other photographs of various pictorial styles in SAM’s collection, clearly demonstrates her wide range, a lifetime commitment to developing her work, and importance as a pioneering American woman photographer from the West Coast.

– Traci Timmons, SAM Librarian

[1] Richard Lorenz, “A Life in Photography,” in Amy Rule, ed., Imogen Cunningham: Selected Texts and Bibliography (Oxford, UK: Clio Press Ltd., 1992) 1-3.
[2] Celina Lunsford, “Imogen Cunningham: Modernist and Visionary,” in Celina Lundsford et al., Imogen Cunningham (Madrid: Fundación Mapfre, 2012), 12.
[3] Lorenz, 3-5. The Seattle Fine Arts Society ultimately became the Seattle Art Museum.
[4] Lunsford, 30.
[5] Karen Tsujimoto, Images of America: Precisionist Painting and Modern Photography (San Francisco; Seattle: SFMOMA; University of Washington Press, 1982), 86.
[6] “Factory Invades a Residence Section” in The Oakland Tribune, June 7, 1914.
[7] Lunsford, 11.
Image: Shredded Wheat Factory with Ford, before 1929, Imogen Cunningham, gelatin silver print, 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 88.9 © (before 1929), 2009 Imogen Cunningham Trust
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Greetings from the Institute of Empathy

The Institute is glad to announce that their installation of lessons is on view at Seattle Art Museum. Three Empathics now oversee the production of  transformative vapors and invite you to sit with them in Lessons from the Institute of Empathy in the Seattle Art Museum’s African Art galleries, to invigorate your mental clarity.

Better yet, you are also invited to step into their restorative pool and partake of a mosaic shower from above. A 10 minute power point given by a representative from the Institute, Aurelia Wallace, is also available to explain the lessons on view.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BhFlyFLHzsl/?taken-by=seattleartmuseum

The Institute wants to thank everyone who sticks their necks out to facilitate their work, and suggested a poem full of empathy to honor their efforts.

– Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Installation view Lessons from the Institute of Empathy, 2018, Seattle Art Museum, photos: Natali Wiseman
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Muse/News: Basquiat on Film, Poetry on the Radio, and the Digital Hereafter

SAM News

The New York Times’ Glenn Kenny reviews Sara Driver’s new documentary on the young Basquiat. Boom for Real premieres at the Seattle Art Museum on May 18 in partnership with Northwest Film Forum.

“Basquiat’s art — raw, inventive, socially engaged — continues to speak to us even as the artist himself cannot. Near the end of the movie, one of Basquiat’s friends refers to him as ‘a true investigator.’ In Ms. Driver, the artist finds a kindred spirit, a fellow investigator who pays him proper and enthralling tribute.”

Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer opened at the Denver Art Museum on Sunday; Cultured Magazine visits the artist’s studio to discuss his artistic goals and methods. Save the date: the exhibition opens at SAM on February 28, 2019.

“’It’s always been about using my personal narrative to complicate the popular notions of being queer, being gay, being Native American—any of these singular adjectives,’ says Gibson.”

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald previews this year’s edition of the Seattle International Film Festival—and shares the colorful, analog way the massive schedule is built.

Seattle radio is beautiful this week: KEXP announces OCnotes as their new Sunday night DJ, playing soul, funk, and R&B, and KUOW launches #NewsPoet, which features PNW poets waxing about a news story.

The Station coffee shop on Beacon Hill has new digs, and in their old space across the street will be Estelita’s Library, a “justice-focused community bookstore and library” from UW professor Edwin Lindo.

“’You’ll find books on Latinx identity next to a book about Harriet Tubman, next to Karl Marx, next to a first edition John Steinbeck,’ he says, gesturing toward a packed shelf. Though some of the titles have Dewey Decimal stickers (‘They’re really hard to remove!’ he marvels), the books aren’t arranged in any particular order. Lindo hopes instead that people will make discoveries by proximity, or perhaps by suggestion from someone sitting at the next table.”

Inter/National News

Lessons From the Institute of Empathy artist Jacolby Satterwhite has a solo show at NYC’s Gavin Brown’s Enterprise; Blessed Avenue is a “mythical place created by the fantasies of cyborgs — possibly a digital hereafter.”

Artnet on a new grad program created by LACMA and Arizona State University that allows students to pursue studies while working at the museum—its purpose is to increase diversity in museum leadership, especially curation.

Donald Glover, AKA Childish Gambino, debuted the video “This is America” and everyone watched it (and watched it…); Interview Magazine spoke with the video’s choreographer, Sherrie Silver.

“The video is full of madness and reflects what’s going on in America and around the world right now. The kids and the choir are supposed to be the happy part of that, so there are two different worlds at the same time. Multiple parts of the video are meant to catch the viewer off-guard, with people smiling and enjoying themselves before it goes dark.”

And Finally

Hoping everyone had a wonderful Mother’s Day on Sunday: mothers, departed mothers, in-all-but-name mothers, unjustly absent mothers.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
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Object of the Week: Stone Pavement with Earth

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

Imagine being blindfolded and asked to throw a dart at a map to determine the trajectory of an artist’s work, sending them virtually anywhere in the world. Your dart then sets in motion a series of events that drive the artist to choose a completely random site from which an artwork is fabricated. Now, imagine that this artist is not just one, but four people, and that the four collaborators are in fact a family. This ambitious project—titled World Series—was initiated by Boyle Family (Mark Boyle, Joan Hills, and their children Sebastian and Georgia Boyle) as part of their 1968 exhibition Journey to the Surface of the Earth.

It is, no doubt, an involved process that led to the creation of the pictured piece, Stone Pavement with Earth (1973–77). Upon arriving at the selected location—chosen at random by friends and visitors to the 1968 exhibition—this specific six-by-six foot site was determined by throwing a carpenter’s right angle and seeing where it landed. From there, Boyle Family cordoned off the area and recorded it with resin and paints, incorporating whatever material and visual information was on the site—in this case: York stone, earth, and other debris (my favorite area is the footprint). The work evades clear definition. Situated somewhere between painting and sculpture, it also flirts with photography in the way it accurately documents the topography of its original location, a mix of the natural and the man-made. Add to this the performative, experiential, and democratic element of the World Series project, and you can perhaps see why Boyle Family is celebrated for their unique combination of Dada, Fluxus, and conceptual strategies.1

Ultimately, what begins as a chance encounter turns into an attempt to objectively capture and represent the world as-it-is. I know what you’re thinking and, yes, it is an impossible task, but a task, I believe, that is willfully impossible. Exactly 1,000 random sites were selected for World Series—some more accessible and likely to be recorded than others; however, this quasi-scientific project, as David Thompson suggests, is less about highlighting the infinite scope of our world, and more about “the limits of man’s capacity to see it.”2 Presenting viewers with largescale fragments of our environment, Boyle Family takes on ideas of assemblage and the readymade, turning the very world in which we live into art. We just have to look closely.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

1 For more on the art historical contextualization of Boyle Family, I recommend: Chris Townsend, “Mark Boyle and Joan Hills at the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague,” British Art Studies, Issue 3 (Summer 2016), http://www.britishartstudies.ac.uk/issues/issue-index/issue-3/boyle-1970.
2 David Thompson, “Afterword,” in Beyond Image: Boyle Family (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1986), 53.
Image: Stone Pavement with Earth, 1973 – 77, Boyle Family, stone, earth, and fiberglass, 72 1/16 x 72 1/16 in., Purchased with funds from the Contemporary Arts Council and Contemporary Acquisition fund, 78.34 © Artist or Artist’s Estate
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My Favorite Things: DJ Riz Rollins & Choreographer Donald Byrd

“The painting is delightful but the content of it is not.” – Donald Byrd

If you missed seeing Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, or if you just can’t enough of these artists—don’t fret! We’ve got works by Robert Colescott and Kerry James Marshall from SAM’s collection on view in our third floor galleries! KEXP DJ Riz Rollins and Executive Artistic Director Donald Byrd have shared some thoughts on these paintings with us. Look through the eyes of these opinionated individuals and continue to consider the questions and lessons that Figuring History explored.

“. . . I think this individual is prescient. Which means he has a sense of something deeper . . . .” – Riz Rollins

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Muse/News: Basquiat Unpacked, Public Poetics, and The Magic of The Shirelles

SAM News

The latest episode of Seattle Channel’s ArtZone features their interview with curator Catharina Manchanda about Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled.

Artsy debuts their “Vanguard” series, recognizing influential contemporary artists at various points in their careers. Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize-winner Sondra Perry is included among the “newly established”—artists at “crucial tipping points in their careers.”

Los Angeles-based magazine Riot Material reviews Figuring History, in advance of its closing on May 13.

“Figuring History is as visually stunning as it is historically significant. For Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas, the show is validation that they succeeded in their passionate quest to make themselves visible. These artists matter and their art will be a beacon for us all, for those who write the histories and create the shows and for those are able to see themselves represented in museums for perhaps the first time.”

Local News

Seattle Times has the first look at the Nordic Museum as it prepares for its grand opening this weekend.

The Stranger staff picks their top 15 art shows in Pioneer Square for the month of May.

City Art’s Margo Vansynghel reviews A LONE, a series of 10 public artworks across the city co-curated by Vignettes and Gramma Poetry.

“Dealing with themes such as gentrification and the mass media’s (biased) coverage of the events in Charlottesville, the works in A LONE blend poetry and visual art and speak to the intricacies of being alone in a big city full of people. ‘You’re alone together,’ Stinson says. ‘That’s kind of a fascinating thing.’”

Inter/National News

The fun we’re not having at Frieze: Roberta Smith of the New York Times goes on the hunt for “artistic gems” at the annual art fair. (There’s a shout-out to Everyday Poetics artist Sonia Gomes!)

The American Antiquarian Society has digitized 225 photographs of Native people; taken decades before Edward S. Curtis began his project, these photos “represent the chapter one of the photographic history of Native people.”

The Baltimore Museum of Art has an “absolutely transformative” plan for their collection: deaccessioning works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Franz Kline, and Robert Rauschenberg in order to acquire works by contemporary artists who are women and artists of color.

“’The decision to do this rests very strongly on my commitment to rewrite the postwar canon,’ Bedford told artnet News. And while institutions sell art to fund new acquisitions every so often, the BMA’s latest deaccession stands out. ‘To state it explicitly and act on it with discipline—there is no question that is an unusual and radical act to take,’ Bedford says.”

And Finally

I will still love them tomorrow—and forever. The New Yorker’s Elon Green interviews Beverly Lee of The Shirelles about a “magical ten seconds” of the legendary group.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Installation view of Basquiat—Untitled at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Object of the Week: Swamps West of Nyrripi

Home is often hard to define, and even harder to depict. It can be a place where our childhood myths and memories reside, a more present-tense sense of community, or, perhaps, a place linked to a specific person. In Swamps West of Nyrripi (My Father’s Country) by Australian artist Ngoia Pollard Napaltjarri, the concept of home is represented through a language of symbolic abstraction.

Beautifully irregular red ovals punctuate the variegated surface of the canvas. From afar, the undulating patches of light and dark gray appear as cross hatching, but closer inspection reveals that this is an optical effect—the background is in fact black, with meticulously placed white dots inside and around the red contours. These imperfect and lopsided ovals, stacked precariously one on top of the other, can also be read from an aerial perspective, and thus take on a more topographical or map-like quality.

For Napaltjarri, these ovals signify abundant areas of water—such as swamps and lakes—that are found throughout the region of her father’s homeland, a sacred Warlpiri territory. The white dots, too, carry symbolic meaning: they represent the dry earth cracking as water evaporates. On a more spiritual level, the artist’s act of painting honors the sacred power of the watersnake who resides in the region, and acts as the custodian of the area’s lakes and swampland. The presence and absence of water are environmental conditions constantly in tension, but Napaltjarri manages to find the harmony in such oppositional forces.

Swamps West of Nyrripi (My Father’s Country) is featured in the new exhibition Walkabout: The Art of Dorothy Napangardi, in conversation with work by another Australian artist, Dorothy Napangardi, whose meticulous paintings are similarly connected to her homeland, the Tanami Desert region, and the specificity of that place. With their intricate dotting and abstract patterns, these large-scale paintings are even more awe-inspiring in person.

Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Swamps West of Nyrripi (My Father’s Country), 2006, Ngoia Pollard Napaltjarri, acrylic on Belgian linen, 46 × 60 in., Gift of Agatha and Stephen Luczo, 2017.1.3 © Artist or Artist’s Estate
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A Lasting Echo: Barney Ebsworth (1934–2018)

Seattle and the nation have lost a great businessman, arts patron, and collector. The Seattle Art Museum community was saddened by the news that longtime museum Trustee, Barney A. Ebsworth passed away on April 9. Barney was one of the top art collectors in the country, a supporter and advocate for great art, and a generous philanthropist.

Collecting became a way of life for Barney as he focused on great works worthy of a museum. He honed his eye for art by visiting the Louvre museum in Paris every weekend when he was stationed with the army in France during the 1950s. With works from Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Marsden Hartley, to Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Jasper Johns, Barney built one of the most significant collections of American Modernism in the world. In a 2009 article, he said:

Before I bought a picture, I wanted to know two things: do I really understand this artist, and do I know where he or she was really best in his or her career? If I don’t, I probably shouldn’t be buying. So it’s been a lifetime study.”

Fortunately for all, Barney was exceptional in his study, and from the start he was committed to sharing his remarkable collection with others. In 1996, SAM first showed paintings from the Ebsworth Collection as part of a traveling exhibition. At the time, Barney was still living in his hometown of St. Louis where he had founded numerous travel companies including INTRAV, Royal Cruise Line, and Clipper Cruise Line. In addition to businesses in real estate and venture capital, he was the angel investor in Build A Bear Workshop.

In the summer of 2000, SAM welcomed Twentieth Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection, a major exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Art. It was the first chance for Seattle to see the collection in its entirety and before the year was out, Barney joined SAM’s Board of Trustees.

As a member of SAM’s board, Barney brought a wealth of experience. He served as a dedicated Trustee of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Saint Louis Art Museum, and Honolulu Museum of Art. He was also a member of the Trustees Council and Co-Chairman of the Collectors Committee at the National Gallery of Art. At SAM, Barney was as an officer; an active member of the Committee on Collections; and served as co-chair of the 75th Anniversary Acquisitions Committee. He was a generous contributor to our major campaigns, including SAM Transformation—for which the museum named its double-height gallery in his honor—and most recently the Fund for Special Exhibitions. He gifted or pledged many works of art to SAM and helped with the purchase of many others. Of course, Seattleites may know him best for his gift of the monumental sculpture Echo, Jaume Plensa’s four-story head, serenely looking out towards the Olympic Mountains from the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Barney Ebsworth had a fun sense of style, a quick wit and loved telling jokes. Nothing brought him more joy than traveling with his family, and introducing someone to a new place or introducing them to art. SAM mourns the loss of a great friend, but Seattle will continue to cherish Barney’s generosity and the art he championed that enriches our city’s culture.

Image: Bettina Hansen  / The Seattle Times
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