Muse/News: Beauty at SAM, Juneteenth lessons, and a huge statue from Kehinde Wiley

SAM News

The Victorians Radicals are here! Here are reviews from Gary Faigin for the Seattle Times and Stefan Milne of Seattle Met on the exhibition’s beautiful objects and historical richness.

Fayemi Shakur profiles Zanele Muholi and their work photographing Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex South Africans. Muholi’s stunning self-portraits arrive at SAM on July 10.  

“I want the next generation of young queers and non-queers to know that we are here, that we were here. We owe it to ourselves to make sense of our lives and living.”

Local News

“Almost free is unfree”: LaNesha DeBardelaben, Executive Director of the Northwest African American Museum, shares the story—and lessons—of Juneteenth. (And Real Change’s Lisa Edge wrote up their current exhibition!)

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig on the “disco balls, closed-circuit cameras, and colored lighting” in Give It or Leave It, Cauleen Smith’s solo show at the Frye Art Museum.

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley talks with Greg Lundgren about empty spaces, collective billionaires, and the forthcoming Museum of Museums (MoM).

“I’ll keep saying the same thing I’ve said for years: Any time you have a concentration of talent, wealth, innovation and quality of life, you’ve got all the ingredients for a renaissance, of a revolution, of a movement. But somehow, we just haven’t been mixing them right.”

Inter/National News

NPR reports that poet, writer, and musician Joy Harjo will be the next poet laureate of the United States. Learn more about her with this great conversation from BOMB Magazine between Harjo and fellow poet Sherwin Bitsui.

Artforum reports: “The Association of Art Museum Directors’ board of trustees has passed a resolution that calls on the more than two hundred museums it represents to end unpaid internship programs.”

A new republic, set in stone: The Virginia Museum of Arts announced the acquisition of Kehinde Wiley’s largest sculpture to date, a 30-foot-tall bronze of a Black man on a horse, modeled after Richmond’s Confederate statues.

“Art and violence have for an eternity held a strong narrative grip with each other … To have the Rumors of War sculpture presented in such a context lays bare the scope and scale of the project in its conceit to expose the beautiful and terrible potentiality of art to sculpt the language of domination.”

And Finally

A dilemma of inheritance, a question of citizenship.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Beata Beatrix, begun 1877 (left unfinished in 1882 and completed by Ford Madox Brown), Dante Gabriel Rossetti, British, 1828–1882, oil on canvas, 34 1/8 × 26 7/8 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Purchased, 1891P25, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts



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Object of the Week: Tangerine (Mandarine)

Crisp contours and soft, natural lines form a focus: a fruit—a tangerine—hanging on its stem, framed by four leaves and suspended against a backdrop of white. There are no colors, fine details, or surrounding imagery that confirm it is specifically a tangerine. Yet there is an impulse to see from minimal curves a familiar shape, the ubiquitous form of tree-bearing fruit. From this abstract presentation, the tangerine exudes simple elegance and playful whimsy.

This piece by Ellsworth Kelly is one of 28 lithographs from Suite of Plant Lithographs, published in 1966. As a medium, lithography involves etching a smooth stone and using the repelling properties of oil and water to transcribe images onto paper. In addition to tangerines, the series includes lithographs of various flowers, branches, seaweed, leaves, and other fruits.

Since his passing in 2015, Ellsworth Kelly remains an influential force in Minimalism, Hard-Edge painting, Color Field painting, and Postwar European abstraction. From an early age, Kelly was drawn to the bright watercolor studies of birds by James Audubon. During World War II, Kelly was enlisted into the Ghost Army, a regiment of artists tasked with developing camouflage strategies and inflatable tanks to confound enemy troops. From this wartime experience, Kelly deepened his understanding of abstract colors, forms, and shadows. 1

On his artistic process, Kelly reflected, “I’m constantly investigating nature – nature, meaning everything,” and noted, “I think that if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract.” 2

Tangerine (Mandarine) is visibly different from Kelly’s more recognizable pieces, including this painting from SAM’s collection, White Curve V (1973). Kelly’s work is often recognized by its geometric patterns and shapes punctuated by bold colors and hard lines.

Despite these labels, Kelly transcends them. In White Curve V, the composition initially appears to be flat, simple, and non-representational. Another reading reveals a striking similarity to a close-up of the moon and sky. The color block curves appear to be moving, as they follow natural processions of receding or expanding horizons and seas.

Kelly once said, “I think what we all want from art is a sense of fixity, a sense of opposing the chaos of daily living, What I’ve tried to capture is the reality of flux, to keep art an open, incomplete situation, to get at the rapture of seeing.” 3 From Kelly’s admiration and curiosity for the natural world, it is through his art we are encouraged to see our realities with eyes of wonder and reverence.

– Rachel Kim, SAM Curatorial Intern

1 Rachel Gershman, “Ellsworth Kelly: American Painter and Sculptor.” ©2019 The Art Story Foundation, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-kelly-ellsworth.htm

2 Rachel Gershman, “Ellsworth Kelly: American Painter and Sculptor.” ©2019 The Art Story Foundation.

3 Holland Cotter, “Ellsworth Kelly, Who Shaped Geometries on a Bold Scale, Dies at 92.” New York Times, Dec. 27, 2015.

Images: Tangerine (Mandarine), 1964-65, Ellsworth Kelly, lithograph on Rives BFK paper, 35 1/4 in. x 24 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 67.46, © Ellsworth Kelly. White Curve V, 1973, Ellsworth Kelly, oil on canvas
93 1/4 × 91 1/8 in., Gift of Virginia and Bagley Wright (by exchange) with funds from the Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund and with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, 76.10, © Ellsworth Kelly.

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My Favorite Things: Tracy Rector

“It’s a space where it really calls upon you to interpret on your own and to take from it what you need. Or just sit and take it in.”

– Tracy Rector

Hear from independent filmmaker and activist Tracy Rector on her favorite thing at SAM, The Porcelain Room. Brimming with more than one thousand magnificent European and Asian pieces from SAM’s collection, the Porcelain Room has been conceived to blend visual excitement with a historical concept.

Rather than the standard museum installation arranged by nationality, manufactory, and date, our porcelain is grouped by color and theme. Today, when porcelain is everywhere in our daily lives, this room evokes a time when it was a treasured trade commodity—sometimes rivaling the value of gold—that served as a cultural, technological, and artistic interchange between the East and the West.

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A Grand Return: Preparing to Reopen the Seattle Asian Art Museum

With construction nearing completion at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, SAM staff has started preparations for the months-long move back into the historic building. As most people who have changed residences know, moving back in can often be as challenging as moving out. That experience will be amplified on a massive scale as the staff begins the gargantuan task of readying the renovated museum for art and visitors.

The 10,000 collection objects that were carefully packed, tracked, and removed from the Asian Art Museum now need to return to the building—a process expected to require a full year, although the museum will reopen before that process is complete. Lauren Mellon, Director of Museum Services and Chief Registrar, explains “Moving back in will be more complicated because we’re building the storage spaces as the art returns.” However, the collection will be returning to many important improvements. Mellon continues, “We will now have full climate control, and the storage facilities will be vastly upgraded. Overall, the objects will be much happier in their new home.”

Before works of art and museum staff can enter the renovated building, a number of systems across the facility will need to be tested to ensure they are operating correctly, including those pertaining to security, mechanics, air quality, and climate control. “We must maintain what we call a ‘critical environment’ to support the art, as well as provide a safe and healthy environment for employees and museum visitors,” explains Lee Richardson, Director of Facilities.

Once testing is complete, the first works of art that will be brought inside are those to be presented in the museum’s galleries. The preparation crew will begin working gallery by gallery, building platforms, preparing the cases for object displays, and eventually mounting the works of art. One of the most exciting outcomes of this work is visitors will have the chance to experience more of the museum’s collection. “We will no longer have to de-install the permanent collection as the special exhibitions change. All thirteen of the museum’s original galleries will now be dedicated to showing the collection,” says Nathan Peek, Director of Design and Installation. 

The building’s many improvements are inspiring the work of museum staff across departments. As Richardson says, “While the renovation process was important to addressing safety issues, we also now have a better palette to work with for exhibiting art and engaging the public.”

– Erin Langner, freelance writer

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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Donor Spotlight: Seattle Art Museum Supporters

The Seattle Art Museum Supporters—or SAMS—is a dedicated group of nearly two hundred Seattle area women who are committed to fundraising for the Seattle Art Museum. The mission of SAMS is to expand the support of the Seattle Art Museum through fundraising and promotional efforts and to provide education opportunities for its members.

Since its inception in 1985, SAMS has raised nearly $7 million to fund selected Seattle Art Museum projects, including the Seattle Asian Art Museum campaign. Through their amazing efforts, SAMS has raised over $400K for our capital campaign, helping restore our building and create an Asian Art Museum for tomorrow. SAMS has been an integral component of our fundraising efforts and we are grateful for their unwavering support of our mission.

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Muse/News: A new leader for SAM, Lorna’s dark paintings, and Frida’s voice

SAM News

Last week, SAM announced that Amada Cruz has been chosen as the museum’s new Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, succeeding Kimerly Rorschach who is retiring in September. Brendan Kiley of the Seattle Times had the exclusive. Brangien Davis of Crosscut and Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger also both interviewed Amada.

And everyone else shared the news, including ARTNews, Artforum, Artnet, and Seattle Met. Even Representative Pramila Jayapal was eager to welcome Amada to Seattle!

Oh yeah: We also opened our major summer exhibition last week! Seattle Times photojournalist Alan Berner was there with a sneak peek of the beauty that is Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement.

And Seattle Magazine’s June issue features a round-up of “must-see” area museums—including, of course, SAM.

Local News

The future site of Capitol Hill’s AIDS Memorial Pathway will be activated this summer and beyond with temporary artworks and performances—including a series of dance performances curated by SAM’s Public Engagement Associate, David Rue!

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis on Discover + Disrupt at the Center for Architecture and Design; the show features work by art collective Electric Coffin that imagines “a more artful public cityscape.”

The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald on the controversy surrounding Penguin’s new edition of John Okada’s novel “No-No Boy.” UW professor Shawn Wong originally fought to have the book published and disputes the new edition.

“The publishing history of ‘No-No Boy’ is as important as the book itself,” he said, remembering how he would sell copies of the original CARP edition out of the trunk of his old Mustang in the 1970s. “To publish the book without acknowledging that publishing history is publishing a very incomplete story.”

Inter/National News

“Dark times, to me, mean dark paintings”: The New York Times’ Siddhartha Mitter speaks with Lorna Simpson about her new show, which sees the artist continuing to work in ever-new mediums, including painting.

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone on the Delaware Art Museum’s plans for a reinstallation of much of its permanent collection and how they’re engaging the community in their prototyping process—including Post-Its!

The Guardian’s Nadja Sayej on a “groundbreaking” exhibition of work by Native women at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The show features a loan from SAM’s collection: Marie Watt’s Blanket Stories.

“90% of Native art is made by women. Native artists know this. It’s just non-Native people who haven’t recognized that.”

And Finally

Is this Frida Kahlo’s voice?

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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Object of the Week: Man and Girl at Crossing

Born in Harlem in 1919, Roy DeCarava came of age amid the flourishing artistic activity of the Harlem Renaissance. Trained as a painter, he would not take his first photograph until the late 1940s, and even then it was to assist his painting practice. However, DeCarava soon turned exclusively to photography, using the medium to produce a record of everyday Black life in Harlem.

In 1952, DeCarava became the first Black artist to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography. A series of photographs—“subdued pictures of everyday Harlem existence, from intimate family moments to street play and subway gloom”—were made using the grant, and would eventually be published in 1955 with accompanying text by Langston Hughes in The Sweet Flypaper of Life.[1]

DeCarava, also a musician, would go on to photograph many jazz greats like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Thelonious Monk, seeking to create a visual equivalent of jazz’s improvisational structure and off-time beat. The artist considered the camera, like the piano, to be an instrument of expressive potential, and mobilized it as a tool. The relationship he saw between jazz and photography hinged on the belief that “in between that one-fifteenth of a second, there is a thickness.”[2]

For the artist, photography was a way to counter his observation that “black people were not being portrayed in a serious and artistic way.”[3] As a result, his images illustrate ordinary Black life perceptively and immediately. His pictures are thoughtful and considered—often exploring light and shadow to assist in his subtly dramatic compositions.

In Man and Girl at Crossing from 1978, we see just how sensitive DeCarava was to the quiet and contemplative moments that surrounded him. It’s an uneventful scene—a man and a young girl wait to cross Schenectady Avenue in East Flatbush. Brooklyn had seen a rainy day that day, and the gloom sits heavy on the wet cement and asphalt. Framed by the crosswalk and sidewalk before them, the two figures are powerfully silhouetted—paused in a still moment of togetherness before continuing on their way.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate


[1] Alan Thomas, “Literary Snapshots of the Sho-Nuff Blues,” In These Times, March 27–April 2, 1985, 20.
[2] Randy Kennedy, “Roy DeCarava, Harlem Insider Who Photographed Ordinary Life, Dies at 89,” New York Times, October 28, 2009, accessed June 13, 20169, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/29/arts/29decarava.html.
[3] Randy Kennedy, “Roy DeCarava, Harlem Insider Who Photographed Ordinary Life, Dies at 89.”
Image: Man and Girl at Crossing, 1978, Roy DeCarava, gelatin silver photograph, 13 x 8 15/16 in., Gift of the American Telephone and Telegraph Co., 82.61 © Roy DeCarava
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Meet SAM’s New Director, Amada Cruz

“I’m looking forward to continuing SAM’s commitment to welcoming everyone.”

– Amada Cruz

We are pleased to welcome Amada Cruz to the SAM family this September as the Museum’s next llsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, succeeding Kimerly Rorschach who will be retiring this fall. Amada joins us from the Phoenix Art Museum where she has served as its Sybil Harrington Director and CEO for the past four years. Amada brings with her more than 30 years of professional experience in the arts. In 2015, W Magazine named her one of the 11 most powerful female museum directors in America. She starts at SAM in September 2019 and we can’t wait to see what the future holds. Get to know SAM’s new director in this short interview with Amada and check out our press release for more on this exciting announcement.

SAM: Why were you interested in coming to Seattle and working at the Seattle Art Museum? 
Amada Cruz: So many reasons! The incredible collection, the generosity of its donors, and Kim’s legacy of excellence. Also, everyone loves Seattle. A great museum with a community of support in a great city. What’s not to love?

What excites you most about SAM’s permanent collection?
I know the contemporary art collection the best because it’s my field, but I love “general” museums because they offer entry points for everyone. I grew up going to the Art Institute in Chicago and The Met in NY, and I like getting lost in big museums, making discoveries. But, the most immediate thrill will be the newly reopening Seattle Asian Art Museum, which will be such a pleasure for me to discover and share with our audiences.

At the Phoenix Art Museum, you took many steps to make the museum more accessible and inclusive. Tell us about this work!
Phoenix is 40% Latinx, so we focused on welcoming that audience in a sustained way. My first interview was in Spanish for the local Spanish-language newspaper and the Univision station. That was important. I also diversified the staff to the point that 3 out of 5 of the senior staff are Latinx. That change affected everything, including programming decisions (more exhibitions by artists of color) and communications (welcoming of all). We initiated a bilingual program with a big banner over the front desk that reads, “Welcome. Bienvenidos.” It seemed like a small gesture, but the response was huge and (mostly) positive. But we also reached out to other groups, including our local Sikh community and now have a Sikh art gallery. I want everyone to feel like the museum belongs to them.

What do you think the biggest challenge is for museums today?  Remaining relevant when people are engaging with culture in so many different ways and with so much competition for attention. We live in a distracting world, so how do we get people to slow down enough to engage with art? It helps to have three distinct sites like SAM, each one offering a particular experience—the urban downtown space, a grand building in a public park, and a spectacular sculpture park by the water.

Which restaurant will you eat at first when you get to Seattle? 
Please send me recommendations! I’ll eat almost anything (once) but really love seafood . . . and wine.

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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Igshaan Adams’s tapestry

In This Imperfect Present Moment closes Sunday, June 16! Don’t miss this chance to see works across a wide array of media by artists hailing from Cape Town, Johannesburg, Cotonou/Rotterdam, Luanda/Lisbon, Baltimore, to Los Angeles, and New York. These works have been brought to Seattle by local collectors who are intrigued by how these artists convey vibrant narratives that resonate across global boundaries. While you’re here take a close look at Surah al-Fatiha (the Opening), by Capetown artist Igshaan Adams.

Visiting Igshaan Adams in his studio in Capetown is to step into a zone of transformation. He works with a group of weavers who wander in and out as he shows you mounds of materials that are being upgraded to carry stories and interpretations of Sufism, the mystical sect of Islam, which offers alternative ways of looking at the world. He speaks of his love of the mysticism of Islamic texts, and how they provide guidance for the realities of daily life. Learning about his family provides further insight for his development as an artist; he was raised by Christian grandparents who were supportive of his faith, fasted with him during Ramadan, and invited imams over to the family home. As you trip over ropes and nearly stumble into a massive maze of beads that are being arranged in a spiral with a mystic rationale, you try to keep track of the mesmerizing pull of the artist’s sincerity. His descriptions of involving the sacred to encourage humankind’s capacity for good and nobility set a tone of deep introspection.

In the instsallation, you’ll see a tapestry named after the first chapter of the Quran. Adams has added beads to convey the opening line, which is meant to be recited and contemplated every time a believer begins to establish a direct connection with Allah. About this, Adams has said, “As an artist, I think I can give a person one moment of reflection or one moment with a different perspective.” So goes this imperfect present description of his effort, which is worth so many more words that you are encouraged to seek out online.

– Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Image: Surah al-Fatiha (the Opening), 2016, Igshaan Adams, South African, b. 1982, woven nylon rope, beads, 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 in., Private collection, photo courtesy of Blank Projects, Cape Town.
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