Object of the Week: I’ll Be a Monkey’s Uncle

In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will highlight works by celebrated Black artists in SAM’s collection throughout the month of February.

Kara Walker’s particular mode of engaging with our attention spans—her visual and conceptual provocations—have often caused furor, first from the generation above her, now not infrequently from the generation below. For when it comes to the ruins of history, Walker neither simply represents nor reclaims. Instead she eroticizes, aestheticizes, fetishizes, and dramatizes.

Zadie Smith, What Do We Want History to Do to Us?, The New York Review of Books, February 2020

With a prolific and controversial career spanning decades, Kara Walker is perhaps best known for her use of cut-paper installations that give visual form to the histories of racism, violence, and subjugation in the antebellum South. Walker’s unsettling images mine eighteenth- and nineteenth-century stereotypes and ideologies and consider the legacies of slavery today.

This lithographic print in SAM’s collection, I’ll Be a Monkey’s Uncle, is a relatively modest work compared to larger installations and sculptures since realized by Walker. However, the print is an early work, dating to 1995-96—one year after receiving her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, and two years before receiving the MacArthur “Genius” award at just 27 years old. Walker has since gone on to produce major sculptural works, such as Fons Americanus (2019-20) in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, and A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014) sited in Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Factory. 

In this graphic work, a woman holds a dripping rope or do-rag[1] before a monkey—a recurring figure in Walker’s work and, together with the title, often read as an allusion to the scientific racism used to justify the enslavement of African women, men, and children. Regarding her use of the silhouette figure, Walker explains:

The silhouette technique announced itself to me as I was researching the cultural identity of early America. In many ways as a form it succeeded in being both a minimal reduction and a means to cover a lot of territory. With the technique one is talking both about the shadow as a form by making a paper cut, but also shadow as the subconscious in psychology. I surprised myself, actually, when I began working [by] how well it…seemed to exemplify the experience of women and blacks as second class citizens. This was a craft form that was (and is) everywhere, but rarely attains a high status. Silhouette cutting, for me, was my rebellion against high art and painting, and to me a way of undermining the patriarchal tendency in Western art.[2]

Producing work that has received praise and criticism in equal parts, Walker is a provocative and challenging contemporary figure who offers a challenging portrait of American history. Probing the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and power, Walker intends to make work where, as she describes, “viewer[s]…get pulled into history, into fiction, into something totally demeaning and possibly very beautiful.”[3]

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection and Provenance Associate


[1] Julia Szabo, “Kara Walker’s Shock Art,” The New York Times, March 23, 1997, https://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/23/magazine/kara-walker-s-shock-art.html
[2] Kara Walker, “Art Talk with Kara Walker,” interview by Paulette Beete, National Endowment for the Arts, February 1, 2012, https://www.arts.gov/art-works/2012/art-talk-kara-walker
[3] “Kara Walker,” ArtNet, accessed February 12, 2020, http://www.artnet.com/artists/kara-walker/
I’ll Be a Monkey’s Uncle, 1995-96, Kara Walker, lithograph, 39 1/2 x 35 in., Print Acquisition Fund and gift of P. Raaze Garrison, 99.61 1995-96 © Kara Walker
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Muse/News: We heart Asian art, keepers of the dream, and Parasite’s art

SAM News

The Seattle Asian Art Museum is officially reopen! Thank you to the thousands of people who streamed through the reimagined galleries at the free housewarming event last weekend. The museum starts regular hours on Wednesday, February 12.

“I felt freed, well, just to look”: Stefan Milne examines Boundless at the Asian Art Museum and The American War at ARTS at King Street Station, which both “explore how we see Asia.”

Seattle Refined shot a recent episode from the museum, including a fantastic segment with SAM curators Foong Ping and Xiaojin Wu (starts at :40).

And ParentMap’s JiaYing Grygiel has this charming look at the museum through the eyes of kids and families.

Local News

I Google this every Oscars season. Here’s a breakdown from the Seattle Times on those harder-to-understand categories.

The Stranger’s Charles Mudede on the work of Marisa Williamson, who has two shows on view in Seattle at SOIL Gallery and Jacob Lawrence Gallery.

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel on the new local documentary, Keepers of the Dream: Seattle Women Black Panthers, which premiered last Friday at Northwest Film Forum and will screen again on February 20.

“Women were critical to the survival of the organization,” [Robyn] Spencer says. “They were the movers, the shakers, the theorists, the thinkers, the organizers — they were keeping the party going.”

Inter/National News

Artist Beverly Pepper died this week at 97. Two of her works grace the Olympic Sculpture Park. Here’s Artnet’s obituary for the legendary sculptor.

Here’s Artnet on director Bong Joon-ho’s use of suseok, or “scholar’s rocks” in his Oscar-winning film Parasite.

The New York Times’ Roberta Smith on the late, Seattle-born painter Noah Davis, whose work is again on view in a “big, beautiful exhibition” at David Zwirner.

“Your eyes and mind enter them easily and roam through the different layers of brushwork and narrative suggestion. There’s an unexpected optimism to all this. The paintings also dwell in silence, slow us down and hypnotize.”

And Finally

Did you know that the Asian Art Museum will screen this film on February 26? Well, we will!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Jueqian Fang
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Object of the Week: Wounded Eagle No. 10

In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will highlight works by celebrated Black artists in SAM’s permanent collection throughout the month of February.

“I wait until intuition moves me, and then I begin.”

– James Washington, Jr.

Though born and raised in Mississippi, James Washington, Jr. is proudly remembered as a seminal Northwest artist and member of the Northwest School. Close to other notable artists from the region, like George Tsutakawa, Mark Tobey, and Morris Graves, Washington shared an affinity for the natural world. Surely informed by his upbringing—his father was a Baptist minister—Washington’s work also possessed spiritual elements, further connecting him to his cohort of Northwest artists. In Washington’s words, “art is a holy land where initiates seek to reveal the spirituality of matter.”

Before moving to Seattle in 1944, Washington taught as a WPA artist in Mississippi. Upon his arrival in the Pacific Northwest, he worked in the Bremerton Naval Yard as an electrician. Then a painter, he was soon introduced to Mark Tobey, who would become a lifelong friend and mentor. As Washington continued to navigate Seattle’s arts community, he also traveled and, in 1951, visited the famed social realist painters Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros in Mexico. Although this meeting was the impetus for the trip, it was another experience altogether that altered Washington’s artistic trajectory: when visiting the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacán, he was drawn to a piece of volcanic rock which he couldn’t leave behind—this stone would be the first of many sculptures Washington would carve, and the reason for his move away from painting.

Wounded Eagle No. 10 (1963) is just one of seven stone sculptures by Washington in SAM’s collection. It is a tender and sorrowful image, rendered delicately by the artist despite its granite medium. And while Washington would carve a variety of animals and humans, birds were a recurring subject—the eagle, in particular, for its symbolism of salvation and ascension. Guided by a self-described ‘spiritual force’ intrinsic to his geologic materials, Washington would alter his stones only slightly, preferring instead to let their natural form, shape, and coloration determine the subject matter. Moved by intuition, he considered himself a conduit through which art would reveal itself.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection and Provenance Associate

Wounded Eagle No. 10, 1963, James Washington, Jr., granite, 8 x 10 5/8 x 13 1/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 68.159 © James W. Washington
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Muse/News: The Asian Art Museum debuts, a conductor’s big moves, and exploring Material Art

SAM News

The Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens to the public this weekend with a free two-day celebration. 10,000 free tickets for the housewarming event have been claimed, but the museum reopens with regular hours on Wednesday, February 12.

SAM welcomed press to see the reimagined and reinstalled museum this week, and the coverage is everywhere, including The New York Times, The Seattle Times, The Art Newspaper, Architectural Digest, Vanguard, Puget Sound Business Journal, and more. Seattle Channel’s CityStream hosted a special edition with guest host Lori Mastukawa from inside the Asian Art Museum, interviewing SAM curators Foong Ping and Xiaojin Wu.

“The larger questions we’re asking for this reopening are, ‘Where is Asia? What is Asia?’” says Xiaojin Wu, the curator of Japanese and Korean art at the museum. “We’re showing how the borders are fluid throughout history.” –From The Art Newspaper

“When the Asian Art Museum opens on Saturday, the architects hope that previous visitors will see their museum in a new light. Says Amada Cruz, CEO and director of the Seattle Art Museum, ‘We could not be more excited to open the doors of the museum and welcome everyone back.’” –Elizabeth Fazzare, Architectural Digest

“With so much to see and contemplate in the Seattle Asian Art Museum, there needed to be space to let the mind wander into a void for a bit. The experience would not be complete without it. The curators and architects all should be commended for seeing through a new vision that will expand audience’s awareness of Asia, but also remind them that the human pursuit of beauty and the sublime is, indeed, timeless and boundless.” –T.s. Flock, Vanguard

Local News

Crosscut shares a story—and impressive footage—of Seattle Symphony’s new conductor, Thomas Dausgaard, who “feels the music in his hair.”

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig devotes a recent edition of “Currently Hanging” to Amerocco, one of the incredible pieces in Aaron Fowler: Into Existence, now on view at SAM downtown.

For Seattle Met, Charlie Lahud-Zahner visits the Sea Mar Museum of Chicano/a/Latino/a Culture, and finds catharsis.

“As a Latinx Seattleite often feeling like the last brown unicorn in the Ballard Trader Joe’s, and on the lookout for authentic representation, this south side museum is a godsend.”

Inter/National News

Have you checked out Artnet’s Art Angle Podcast? Here’s the latest episode, exploring “How the Art World Fell Under the Spell of the Occult.”

The New York Times’ Fabrice Robinet explores the international meetups TypeThursday, which brings together people who really care about fonts. A lot.

Jennifer Li reviews Allure of Matter for ArtAsiaPacific; the exhibition is now on view at LACMA and heads to SAM this summer.

“With works that emphasized the immaterial, or the breakdown of matter, the exhibition begged the question: how applicable is the term Material Art? It seems that at this early stage, the label may conjure more questions than answers.”

 And Finally

We Heart Asian Art.

Installation view of “Be/Longing: Contemporary Asian Art” at the Asian Art Museum, 2020, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Object of the Week: Hester Diamond Tribute

What lasts

This abstract composition is pieced together from fragments of ordinary things—corrugated cardboard, painted fabric, and wrinkled burlap. The surface is pierced, stained, and gouged, painfully reminiscent of scarred skin. It comes from a series called Sacchi (sacks), which use humble materials to create compositions that hover between painting and sculpture. Alberto Burri, who had been a doctor in the Italian army during World War II, started making art when he was a prisoner of war in Texas in 1943. As much as anything, the Sacchi seem to be about the temporary nature of materials, experiences, life—for many viewers in the 1950s, they seemed to express the suffering and darkness of the war years.

Burri created Sacco in 1955 when he was staying in New York. He had become friends with Harold and Hester Diamond, a young New York couple with an interest in art (Harold, a schoolteacher, would go on to become a prominent art dealer). Harold’s brother owned the Upper West Side building where Mark Rothko had his studio, and the Diamonds, who lived upstairs, arranged for Burri to use the studio. He included the sleeve of one of Harold Diamond’s discarded shirts in the lower right of this work, and presented the work to the Diamonds at the end of his stay.

Decades later in 1995, Hester Diamond gave Sacco to the Seattle Art Museum in memory of the artist, who had died that same year. Harold Diamond had passed away in 1982, and Hester, with her second husband Ralph Kaminsky, had become a friend of SAM and a supporter of the Seattle Opera, whose Ring cycle brought her to Seattle numerous times. Over the years she gave three more works to SAM, all very different from the Burri.  

One of them is this wonderfully strange family portrait of Leda, Jupiter in the form of a swan, and their three children, hatched from eggs—a work by the mid-16th century Flemish painter Vincent Sellaer. The combination of appealing and unsettling visual qualities is typical of Mannerism, a style which attracted Hester’s interest beginning in the early 1990s. Previously devoted to 20th-century art, she fell in love with the refined technique, inventiveness, and beauty of 15th- and 16th-century European painting and sculpture and shifted her collecting focus.

Hester Diamond was an enthusiastic and generous friend to international art institutions, artists, curators, scholars, and gallerists. The seriousness of her commitment to art was matched by her sense of humor and love of adventure as she explored new fields. A lifelong New Yorker, Hester had a close relationship with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and made significant gifts to her hometown museum over the decades. SAM is fortunate that she also recognized how works from her collection could make a difference here in Seattle.

Hester’s collecting interests could encompass a post-war collage roughly fashioned out of the ephemeral everyday, as well as a painting superbly crafted to last forever. Both are now valued works in our collection which future generations will be able to enjoy thanks to her generosity. Sadly, they outlast Hester herself, who died on January 23, 2020 at the age of 91. She will be greatly missed.

Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture

Images: Sacco (Sack), 1955, Alberto Burri, burlap, cardboard, muslin, and paint, 35 1/2 x 28 1/4 in., Gift of Hester Diamond in memory of Alberto Burri, 95.134 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Leda and the Swan and Her Children, ca. 1540, Vincent Sellaer, oil on wood panel, 43 1/2 x 35 1/16 in., Gift of Hester Diamond in honor of Chiyo Ishikawa on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2004.31. Photograph ©️ Carla van de Puttelaer, 2019.
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Muse/News: The Asian Art Museum prepares, art preachers & martyrs, & #DollyPartonChallenge

SAM News

Check out this week’s edition of the International Examiner, with a special section on the Asian Art Museum that reopens on February 8. It includes articles on Be/longing, the building itself, the Gardner Center, the Future Ancient, a know-you-before-you-go for the opening weekend events, and a special thank-you from SAM. Articles on Boundless and the conservation center should hit online tomorrow—see everything in print now.

Farewell, Flesh and Blood. T.s. Flock of Vanguard had one last round-up of “grim highlights” from the exhibition that closed on Sunday. Up next downtown: John Akomfrah: Future History.  

Local News

Seattle Times’ Megan Burbank heads to Twisp to explore the artsy, the sustainable, and the inventive of its communities.

“Preacher of the arts”: Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel interviews Raymond Tymas-Jones, president of Cornish College of the Arts, who has a bold plan for the institution’s future.

Margo also recently visited with the local performers who came together to form the Art Martyrs Relief Society.

“The concept of their endeavor . . . is simple: Put together one show a year with a kickass lineup, pay the performers royally, preach the gospel that working artists deserve a fair wage, have a damn good time and repeat.”

Inter/National News

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle is now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum. Reviews landed from the Washington Post’s Sebastian Smee and the Boston Globe’s Murray Whyte. The exhibition travels to SAM next year.

Barack and Michelle are going on tour! Hyperallergic’s Hakim Bishara reports on the five-city tour of their official portraits by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, which kicks off in June 2021.

Bethan Ryder for the Guardian on projects around the world integrating museums and interactive learning experiences.

“After a long pause a nine-year-old said: ‘Objects have rights.’ The phrase has stuck. It captures both the need to conserve objects and to consider them as active participants in the museum experience.”

And Finally

Museums take the #DollyPartonChallenge. (SAM’s was the best).

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Jueqian Fang
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Object of the Week: Rat water dropper

Made from ceramic, bronze, copper, or even jade, water droppers are small vessels used in calligraphy and brush painting. Designed with two small holes, one for adding water and one for dispensing water, only a few drops fall out at a time—a crucial feature when preparing liquid ink, which involves grinding a stick of ink against an inkstone with water.

Though an unassuming instrument, water droppers have a long history. The earliest known examples of Chinese water droppers can be dated to the 5th and 6th centuries, while Japanese water droppers date to the 8th century. Centuries later, during the Edo period (1603-1868) and into the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan saw the emergence of more complicated water droppers in various shapes and sizes, ranging from plants and deities to animals and fruits.

Such decorative droppers became popular accessories for the nobility and literati, and were often inscribed or made in auspicious forms. The zodiac animals are a set of calendar symbols that came to Japan from ancient China, and their representation served to invoke good luck and prosperity. This 19th-century dropper in SAM’s collection, modeled in the shape of an undeniably expressive and charming rat (the first animal in the zodiac), was likely intended to symbolize success, creativity, and intelligence.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection and Provenance Associate

Image: Water dropper modeled as a rat, 19th century, Japanese, bronze, 1 5/8 x 3 1/2 x 1 7/8 in., Gift of Frank D. Stout, 92.47.119
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Exceptional & Ordinary / Tsutakawa & Mingei

The Japanese art gallery at SAM’s downtown location was recently reinstalled with a focus on the Mingei movement in Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020, on view through Novemeber 8, 2020. Initiated in the 1920s by the Japanese collector and connoisseur Yanagi Soetsu (1889–1961), Mingei elevated functional, everyday crafts to art objects. Since its foundation, Mingei’s broad applications range from mid-century decorative arts to contemporary designs, ceramics, textiles, sculptures, and prints, examples of which are hanging in our gallery. Prominently featured, are works by the late Seattle-based artist George Tsutakawa on loan from the George Tsutakwa Art Legacy. The Tsutakawa family share below about George’s inspiration and how his furniture fits in the installation at SAM!

George Tsutakawa began to build bronze fountain sculptures in 1961 with the installation of his first fountain at the Seattle Public Library. He eventually created 75 fountain sculptures in the United States, Canada, and Japan. The fountains reflect his intense interest in the cyclical flow of water from the heavens to earth, creating rivers and oceans that nourish life. His basis of humanity in the Shinto religion indicated reverence for life in all forms made by nature, such as trees and rocks. 

Tsutakawa’s professional art career spanned 60 years. He was a professor of art at the University of Washington for 37 years. In his personal statement from The Pacific Northwest Artists and Japan in 1982, he expressed that sometime in the 1960s his travels and studies of traditional Japanese arts allowed him to reaffirm his “conviction in the Oriental view of nature school which sees Man as one part of nature, a part that must live in harmony with the rest of nature.” 

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Studio. 1960’s. #artist #studio #maquettes

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Thus Tsutakawa’s furniture from the 1940s and 1950s reveals this conviction to nature within his art and serves as the starting point for his later artistic forms. Although he was a modernist, even in his furniture forms, his work relates to the Japanese Mingei movement, which is largely based on traditional and folk art.

Tsutakawa’s early furniture is functional and evokes a connection to nature through fluid organic shapes and materials. 

The Tsutakawa family is currently reorganizing the artist’s collection with the hope of preserving his work and making it more open to the public as well. You can visit SAM to see Tsutakawa’s artwork in Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020, on view through November 8, 2020.

– Mayumi Tsutakawa & Chyenne Andrews

Images: Installation view Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020, Seattle Art Museum 2019, photos: Nina Dubinsky. Kizamu Tsutakawa 
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SAM Connects Asian Art to Seattle for Free!

The Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens February 8 and we want to be sure you know all the free and discounted ways that you can visit the reimagined and reinstalled museum!

Even though the Housewarming: Free Reopening Weekend is sold out and we are not accepting walkups on February 8 or 9, there are many other opportunities to visit for free. Today’s Seattle Asian Art Museum breaks boundaries to offer a thematic, rather than geographic or chronological, exploration of art from the world’s largest continent. The restoration of the historic Art Deco building, improvements to critical systems, expanded gallery and education spaces, and a new park lobby that connects the museum to the surrounding Volunteer Park are just some of the ways the Asian Art Museum has been transformed and preserved as a cultural and community resource for future generations.

An important part of the work that took place while the Asian Art museum was closed for renovation and expansion isn’t something you will notice about the architecture or art. The City of Seattle financially supported the preservation and improvements of SAM’s city-owned Art Deco home and in return, we made a commitment to offer more free ways for members of the community to visit the Asian Art Museum!

  • All exhibitions are suggested admission at the Asian Art Museum when purchasing tickets onsite. You can pay what you want.  See Boundless: Stories of Asian Art and Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art on view when the museum reopens!
  • Many programs such as lectures, performances, and tours at the museum are free and include free entry to the galleries. Check out our Free First Saturdays series for kids!
  • SAM provides discounted rates for students, teens, seniors, and military with ID.
    • Seniors (65+) and military can visit for $12.99
    • Students and teens age 15–18 can get tickets for $9.99
  • Children (14 & under) are always free.
  • SAM members are free. Join today and RSVP to see the museum before it opens to the public during the Members Open House on February 5 and 6.
  • First Saturdays and the Second Thursdays of every month are free to all.
  • The First Friday of every month the Asian Art Museum is free for seniors.
  • Bring a group of 10 or more and get discounted tickets. Find out more about group visits!
  • Educators can visit for free anytime with ID. Mark your calendars for a special Educator Open House at the Asian Art Museum on February 27!
  • Did you know that we now offer free school tours for all public schools at all SAM locations? We also offer bus subsidies for title 1 schools. School tours at the Asian Art Museum start march 1—find out more!
Photo: Jueqian Fang
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