Painting Number 49, Berlin

Object of the Week: Painting Number 49, Berlin

This Object of the Week is inspired by SAM’s special tour series, part of “For Freedoms’ 50 State Initiative,” which features programming held at arts institutions across the US to create civic dialogue about the 2018 midterm elections. Reflecting on artwork and exhibitions on view at SAM, staff members are presenting in-gallery tours that consider each of the four freedoms and connect to contemporary society.

“For Freedoms,” a collaborative project founded by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, is inspired by artist Norman Rockwell’s paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” (1941)—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

This week’s post by SAM staff member Rachel Eggers explores freedom of speech in the work of Marsden Hartley.

Marsden Hartley (1877–1943) was an innovative Modernist artist, incorporating elements of abstraction, Expressionism, Cubism, and Primitivism in his paintings. Born in Lewiston, Maine, Hartley is known for expressive visions of his home state, including landscapes and portraits of fisherman.

But Hartley was more than a regionalist. Perhaps his most intriguing body of work is his “German officer paintings,” created while living in Berlin from 1914 to 1915. SAM has one of these extraordinary paintings in its collection, and Painting Number 49, Berlin is now on view in tribute to the late arts patron and collector, Barney A. Ebsworth, who gifted it to the museum. The painting’s thick brushstrokes, vivacious primary colors, and mysterious abstracted symbolism reveal an artist enraptured and enrapturing, enticing the viewer with a deeply personal vision that melds the physical and spiritual—and, sometimes uncomfortably, the political.

Hartley arrived in Berlin in May 1913, though it felt to the artist like a homecoming. The imperial German capital was a hub of industrial innovation and social life; it also had a relatively liberal attitude toward homosexuality. He was delighted by the city’s grand military parades, with their ostentatious display of banners, flags, plumage, and men on white horses. In them, he saw a heroic ideal of Man.

He had befriended a Prussian officer named Karl von Freyburg, who may have been the love of his life. When von Freyburg died in battle at the age of 24, Hartley plunged into a deep grief—and eventually to the creation of this fascinating series of paintings.

Painting Number 49, Berlin is exuberant, loose, and colorful—but, at its heart, it’s a memorial portrait rendered in abstracted symbols. At the center is the Iron Cross, the medal for bravery that von Freyburg was awarded. There’s an officer’s plumed helmet and epaulets; the number “24” refers to Karl’s age when he was killed. Across the bottom blooms a setting sun, radiating red: the color of martyrdom.

The painting bursts with uncomfortable—even heartbreaking—tensions between youth and death, the state and the individual, openness and restriction, color and darkness. Unable to express his sexuality and his love, Hartley turns to a network of symbols and signs. In his unimaginable grief, he merges the physical, the spiritual—and of course, the political—inventing a highly personal visual language.

–Rachel Eggers, Manager of Public Relations

Image: Painting Number 49, Berlin, 1914-15, Marsden Hartley, oil on canvas, 47 x 39 1/2 in., Partial and promised gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2001.1067.
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Seohee Kim: Emerging Arts Leader Intern Look at SAM

During my first week as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern at Seattle Art Museum, I was told that by the last week of the internship this reflection post for the blog would be due. I remember thinking, “Oh, that sounds easy enough—just summarize what happened in a paragraph or two.” Clearly, I had no idea what was headed my way. The past week has been an endless cycle of drafting, writing, editing, only to draft again. (You know that feeling of when there’s so much you want to say, and say eloquently, that words and sentences are flying around your mind and you’re scrambling to make sense of them, but you actually just end up staring at the blinking text cursor for an hour? Yeah, that.)

When I reflect on the past 10 weeks of my internship, I imagine having one of those View-Masters (they’re still relevant, right?) and clicking through reels of moments at SAM. It starts with the welcoming faces of everyone I meet coming into view. Then, a whirlwind of back-to-back meetings; getting lost in the labyrinth of the administrative office; storage visits with Carrie (thank you, Carrie!); always pressing the wrong level in the elevator; researching objects; conducting informational interviews with staff; preparing for my My Favorite Things tour; taking part in Career Day, Seattle Art Fair, Summer at SAM, and Remix; and so much more. As if in slow motion, images of my last week include the nerve-wracking day of my tour and saying goodbye to everyone I had the privilege of working with.

I’m surprised how much I changed in this short time span. In the beginning, I thought I knew enough about diversity and equity work from courses at university and my past experiences that I was only focused on giving my perspectives rather than allowing myself to be vulnerable and molded by those far more experienced than I. Working closely with the equity team this past summer, I found myself constantly learning, practicing, and honing the use of an equity lens in my work. I experienced the behind-the-scenes of a museum and community working towards transparency and racial and social equity. I saw every meeting ask how to be inclusive, provide access, and advance equity. There was, and is, so much I don’t know, not only regarding the arts and museums, but also in becoming a better ally for community. Watching and working alongside these amazing and passionate individuals, I’ve come to reevaluate myself, my goals, and my passions on a weekly basis.

What resulted of this reevaluation was the “My Favorite Things” tour I had the privilege of leading (I still can’t believe I led a tour). To close off, I’d like to share a snippet from what I shared at the tour.

We tend to get easily distracted if an issue doesn’t directly affect us. From this internship and conducting research for this tour the past few weeks, I’ve realized again and again that privilege doesn’t always mean monetary wealth or status. It could be not having to worry about being seen as a threat walking in your own neighborhood late at night. It could be not feeling your heart pound every time you see words like ICE and DACA and UNDOCUMENTED in the headlines. It could be your close friends and family asking you if you’re doing alright and being able to genuinely answer that you’re well instead of brushing it off with an “I’m okay” when you really cried yourself to sleep at night because you’re supposed to have everything under control. Just because it doesn’t affect us directly, doesn’t mean it’s not there nor does it mean it’s less important. As a community, in order to work towards true equity, we have to embrace and endure all pains as if they are our own. We must face our worst selves and acknowledge our lacking. It’s going to be difficult; it will be uncomfortable…but I invite you to join me in this continuing journey of becoming more aware, becoming more responsible, and becoming more informed not only for ourselves but also for each other.”

To everyone I met and worked with this past summer, thank you so much for your continuous kindness, encouragement, and acceptance. I’ve never felt more welcome and cherished in a workplace setting than at SAM. And, thank you for all you do on a daily basis to work for and better our community.

–Seohee Kim, 2018 SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

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Amy Sherald’s Archetypes: In This Imperfect Present Moment

Unless you’re looking at this image on a gigantic screen with perfect resolution, you’re missing the impact of this Saint Woman. She’s slightly larger than life, which fits the premise of the artist who elevates her subjects to a status that goes beyond our normal vision. Amy Sherald paints portraits that are not trying to convince you they are a substitute for the actual person. Instead, she paints archetypes. She is taking the time to change our minds about what a portrait can be, an evocation of a saint whose name you do not know, but who is standing and waiting for you to recognize them.

This saint is surrounded by a halo of what may appear as bright yellow on your screen. If you’re just seeing a flat expanse of color, you’re missing the depth of a painted surface that is full of nuance, with swirling dimensions that activate this setting. The same nuances of color are true of the skin, which is in variations of gray. Amy Sherald chose this color shift for a reason, “to exclude the idea of color as race.” She also has this woman’s body face forward, while her head is turned in profile. What captures her attention is unknown, and it challenges you to wonder why she’s holding herself so still while her dress is blown in a breeze of urgency. It’s the stance of a saint who’s worth coming to see in person. Visit her with a trip to see In This Imperfect Present Moment, and installation of artworks by 15 artists conveying vibrant narratives that resonate across global boundaries.

– Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Saint Woman, 2015, Amy Sherald, American, b. 1973, Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in., Private collection, photo courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Installation view of In This Imperfect Present Moment at Seattle Art Museum. 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Muse/News: Man-altered landscapes, erasure poems, and a neon-hued restoration fail

SAM News

Don’t miss part two of Michael Upchurch’s write-ups for Crosscut on smaller installations now on view at SAM: this week, he highlights New Topographics, featuring photographs of “man-altered landscapes,” and American Modernism, which includes two incredible paintings from SAM’s collection by Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley.

The fall edition of The Stranger’s Art & Performance Quarterly is out! Lots of SAM shows and events are among their critics’ recommendations, including the exhibitions Peacock in the Desert and Noble Splendor, the annual Diwali Ball, and film events Night Heat: The 41st Film Noir Series and Indian Film Masterpiece: The Apu Trilogy.

Local News

Sarah Anne Lloyd of Curbed Seattle tracks the important news of the Mystery Coke Machine’s sudden public appearances following its recent Capitol Hill dislocation.

Seattle poet Quenton Baker’s Ballast opens at the Frye Art Museum on October 6; Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne interviews Baker about his erasure poems examining the 1841 revolt aboard the Creole slave ship.

Brangien Davis of Crosscut interviews surgical nurse and artist Andrea Gahl about the doctor portraits lining UW’s surgical department hallway—and her new portraits that combat stereotypes about what a surgeon looks like.

“I hope my portraits not only illustrate the diversity of the surgeons I work with,” Gahl says, “But also the myriad ways that that diversity enriches us.”

Inter/National News

TIME Magazine highlights “31 People Who Are Changing the South,” including Bryan Stevenson of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Christy Coleman of the American Civil War Museum.

Artnet’s Caroline Goldstein with a round-up of the best and worst of the art world this week, including the discovery of hidden treasure (best) and an eye-popping restoration fail (worst).

The New York Times’ Holland Cotter reviews Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, which opens today at the Brooklyn Museum and explores expanding definitions of “black” art.

“The stakes were high, the debate could be bitter. But the results were win-win. What we see in the show itself is not suppression but florescence.”

And Finally

Finally some genius made the Pizza Patio Set.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of New Topographics at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Stephanie Fink.
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Object of the Week: Caterpillar Suit I

“True transformation occurs only when we can look at ourselves squarely and face our attachments and inner demons, free from the buzz of commercial distraction and false social realities. We have to retreat into our own cocoons and come face-to-face with who we are. We have to turn toward our own inner darkness. For only by abandoning its attachments and facing the darkness does the caterpillar’s body begin to spread out and its light, beautiful wings begin to form.”

– Julia Hill, The Legacy of Luna

As a child of immigrants, and an immigrant myself, I adopted the identity of being an “Other” and “Alien” from a fairly young age. My parents have depended on me to fill out official forms and documents since I was old enough to interpret 70% of the words on the page and Google the rest. Any time the question of citizenship came up, my hand would naturally gravitate towards the box next to the word “Other” as if it were second nature. I never really understood what it meant—I just knew it should be kept from my peers out of shame and fear of being different.

Walter Oltmann, through his sculpture Caterpillar Suit I, shares and explains his interest in the boundary between human beings and insects—referring to the latter as “[our] most extreme other.”[1] He explains that as “insects evoke notions of threat, especially when encountered in swarms,” we as human beings fail to identify with this “Other” and naturally recoil/feel repulsed by this exotic entity.[2] Thus, we create a divide between “us” and “them.”

In the current state of our country, the word “Other” seems to be thrown around more often than it has in the past. The media exposes us to “Other” and “Alien” in bold, red font, associated with terms and phrases such as “illegal,” “criminal,” and even “invading in swarms,” distancing the reader or viewer from this ominous other. It permits and trains the broader public to fabricate a certain image of these other beings, and subconsciously feel repulsed when they hear stories in the news framed around the politics of immigration. But how accurate are our expectations of this “other” entity, especially when they’ve been influenced by biased opinions of the media? Oltmann, in enlarging the scale of the normally miniscule caterpillar, purposefully forces his audience to “observe misunderstood insects closely” and “identify with the other” in hopes of shifting our perspective that’s usually fixated on their mechanical features and alien behavior and the threat they pose to us.[3]

Rather than turning to the immediate discomfort and repulsion that might follow a failure to identify with an “other,” or those different from ourselves, perhaps we can find inspiration through this Caterpillar Suit and practice shifting our perspective from distancing ourselves from otherness to understanding and accepting one another.

– Seohee Kim, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

[1] Vargas, Cintia. “Interview with Walter Oltmann.” Cintia Vargas, 17 Apr. 2014, www.cintiareyes.com/interview-with-walter-oltman/
[2] “Walter Oltmann.” The Artists’ Press, www.artprintsa.com/Walter-Oltmann.html
[3] Leiman, Layla. “Walter Oltmann – In the Weave: 30 Years of Making Art.” Derriere, WordPress, 29 Jan. 2014, derriereartblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/walter-oltmann-in-the-weave-30-years-of-making-art/
Images: Installation view of Lessons from The Institute of Empathy at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photos: Natali Wiseman.
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Community Gallery: Art for Growth and Healing

Sharing your deepest feelings in front of a group of people takes a lot of courage. It can be very transformative and therapeutic. This is what the Art with Heart Chill and Spill curriculum empowers students to do—it is a great tool that allows youth to navigate their emotions. Art with Heart is a nonprofit organization that uses art to help kids heal through their creative expression resources.

The day that Antonio confessed that even though his mother, who struggles with alcohol dependency, abandoned him, he still loved and cared for her. This young man took a huge step towards maturity and forgiveness, opening his heart while reading aloud his powerful last word letter, setting him free from his feelings.

Many of our program participants grow up in households without paternal or maternal figures or formal education. Many have had to escape and survive situations that most people cannot even imagine. Their resilience never ceases to surprise me. My hope and motivation is to teach them how to cope with their emotions through creative expression. Often times, when I observe their art and listen to their stories, I become the student and they become my teachers.

In every weekly class, the young men are able to express their varying emotions in a supportive, respectful, and safe environment. Our ground rules are very basic, as we all are looking for the same things: love, acceptance, and respect! I make sure that everyone understands that this is a special class, it is not about how cool their art projects might look, but about the process and what they learn about themselves.

Life is full of challenges and opportunities. Creating art means taking risks. Creative expression means exploring, recognizing, labeling, and understanding feelings. Sometimes it means confronting big emotions. Often it means accepting, surrendering, and forgiving the people who have hurt us, so that we find space to be free and to grow stronger, exactly as Antonio decided to do!

– Teresa Luengo, Art with Heart facilitator at Friends of Youth

Images: Making My Way, linoleum block, printmaking ink. Made by a Friends of Youth resident during Art with Heart’s Chill & Spill Program, Age: 17. Courtesy of Art with Heart. Photo by Alan Abramowitz, artwork by Art with Heart program participant at Brettler Family Place. Photo by Sera Rogers. artwork by an Art with Heart participant at Friends of Youth.

 

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Dovey Martinez: Emerging Arts Leader Look at SAM

As I walked towards the Seattle Art Museum to begin my Emerging Arts Leader internship, I was excited. I knew I would be working with the education and curatorial departments, but had only the minutest idea of what the internship would entail. At the staff entrance, I saw the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern for the summer nervously sitting on the couch. As Seohee Kim and I began to get to know each other, it was apparent we had many similarities. We are both passionate about immigrant rights and we both originally intended to take a law career track but found ourselves working in the arts, despite the initial backlash from our parents. I didn’t know it then, but Seohee and I would become an inseparable and fierce duo.

Everyone we met was genuine, welcoming, caring, and passionate. I honestly could not believe my eyes, it seemed almost suspicious. The education department glows with kindness and a love for the Seattle Art Museum’s mission to connect art to life. I went to college in Connecticut, and although I was raised in Seattle, I didn’t have many friends or connections with the arts community. This quickly changed. I could share with you about how I gained professional experience using The Museum System to research and organize objects. I could tell you about the meetings I sat in on where my voice mattered and my opinions were valued. I could tell you how I learned about the behind-the-scenes work that most people don’t know about. I could tell you how this internship opened my eyes to a possible career path that I would’ve never known about prior to this summer: exhibition design. I could write about each of these topics, but I want to focus on the amazing events that allowed me to get involved with the Seattle community and touched my heart with the amount of support and healing that took place at these events.

Three events, in particular, had a strong impact on me; the [Black] Power Summit, the Creative Advantage, and Remix. The Power Summit was a health and wellness conference for Seattle’s Black community. The first panel was one on mental health and mindfulness. The panel spoke about generational trauma and the stigma behind mental illness within the Black community. I could relate to these trends within the Latinx community. Often times, our parents work so hard to provide for our families that they dwell in survival mode. When we are raised in households where mental illnesses are stigmatized, we feel as if we are a burden to our family if we bring up issues we may be facing. As we keep hiding, the marble-sized issue becomes a bowling ball. One panelist suggested that we sit with our discomfort and strip it of its power over us. The trauma may still be present in the form of memories or thoughts, but it will no longer have power over our ability to thrive.

If you’ve never been to Remix, just know you’re sleeping! Remix is a beautiful event in which many people come together to share the dance floor, art activities, tours, drinks, as well as their most fly outfits. I loved the art activities, but what really impacted me was the dancing. With performing artists such as the Purple Lemonade Collective, Bouton Volonté, and Randy Ford, the dance floor was throbbing with presence and beauty. When the dancers dipped, catwalked, and, yes, even twerked, a semi-circle formed around them of mainly white allies. Space was created for queer and trans people of color to exist, express their passion, make art, and share joy. As they created magic with their bodies, the viewers cheered and recorded, but mainly they yelled words of encouragement and awe. This wonderful space for marginalized groups to feel at ease within a large group of white folks didn’t feel uncomfortable or unwelcoming though. At that moment, race, gender, and sexuality were being praised and we were allowed to take up space with the knowledge that our allies are there to support us. If I wasn’t so busy sweating through my orange romper from all the dancing, I probably would have shed a tear of joy and love.

The Seattle Art Museum is a highly inclusive environment that truly values racial equity. The institution is not building inclusive spaces or challenging our thinking because it is the trendy thing to do. The Seattle Art museum genuinely values equity work, from the director of the museum to interns like me and Seohee, and in between. This experience was one of healing for me after graduating from an institution on the East Coast that lacked passion for equality and often protests had to occur to demand visibility for underrepresented groups. The Seattle Art Museum is taking a stand and a leadership role to highlight and welcome all identities. When the mission statement says that the Seattle Art Museum connects art to our lives, I understand that they connect art to our lives because they know that our lives matter and want to be a space for healing, learning, and unity.

– Dovey Martinez, SAM 2018 Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Photos: Natali Wiseman

 

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Object of the Week: Soundsuit

In this special edition of Object of the Week, the three Empathics who have taken up residence at SAM in the installation Lessons from the Institute of Empathy share their thoughts on Nick Cave’s Soundsuit. The Empathics are part of ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space by contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk. They have surrounded themselves with works from our African art collection and are asking questions and sharing information about the art as a way to help visitors awaken their own empathy.

EMPATHIC LESSON: CONSIDER THE CHIMERIC

Nick Cave’s suits mix anatomical features in a perplexing way. Are they human or not? This question is being asked in science as human and nonhuman species can be merged to create new forms of life, known as chimeras. Does this combination show disrespect for human dignity or is it a step toward progress? The Empathics wonder what the potential of crossing species might be.

Using hair collected from barber shops in Chicago is a strategic move that Nick Cave explains: “The hair creates an animal sensibility. You know it’s hair, but you don’t know where it comes from. It’s seductive, but also a bit scary. Animals have so much to teach us. I hope that by merging animal parts with human parts in these Soundsuits, I force people to pay attention to what they are doing to our earth and the animals living here with us. I’m having fun and using whimsical circus imagery to ask people to consider the underlying tragedy we are perpetrating. We have to find ways to live with each other, extend our compassion to other communities and take care of our natural resources.”

Nick Cave goes on to share the history of his Soundsuits, two of which are on view. “My first Soundsuit was made out of twigs. The initial concept came from the Rodney King incident and the Los Angeles riots in 1992; as I was reading about the riots, I was thinking about the feeling that I was dealing with as a black male, feeling smaller, devalued, invalid . . . the incident was larger than life: six policemen bringing Mr. King down. . . . I was in the park one day, sitting, thinking about everything around the riot, and then I looked on the ground and found a twig. I created a sculpture from twigs. . . . When I put it on and started to move in it, I realized that it made a sound and I began to think a lot about protest, that in order to protest you have to be heard, and in order to be heard you have to be aggressive.”

– The Empathics, The Institute of Empathy

Images: Soundsuit, 2006, Nick Cave, fabricated fencing mask, human hair, sweaters, beads, and metal wire, approx. 6 feet tall, on mannequin, Gift of the Vascovitz Family in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.70 © Nick Cave. Installation view of Lessons from the Institute of Empathy at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photos: Natali Wiseman.

 

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SAM Field Trips: Native Art You Need to See Now

During Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson, the SAM social team took a few Friday afternoon field trips to visit other museums in Washington that are currently exhibiting work by Native artists. If you missed our Instagram stories, here’s a quick round up of a few exhibitions currently on view around the state that are not to be missed.

Museum of Northwest Art

In Red Ink
Through September 23, 2018

Curated by RYAN! Feddersen and featuring art by Asia Tail and Fox Spears, we just had to stop by for more creative output from these artists who have also been involved with SAM during Double Exposure. The collection of art on view offers a range of styles from contemporary Native artists in a variety of mediums by artists hailing from tribes across the extended Pacific Northwest and beyond. Feddersen is the mastermind behind the Post Human Archive, the social media activity that was installed at SAM.

Asia Tail, also a curator (we can’t wait to see yəhaw̓ at the King Street Station opening in January 2019) is the hand behind the words on the Double Exposure website but we hadn’t seen her art previously! Fox Spears is one of the teaching artists offering free Drop-In Studio workshops at SAM (there’s one more workshop on Sunday led by Sondra Segundo before the exhibition closes) and it was so nice to see this work after learning so much about his process!

Tacoma Art Museum

Native Portraiture: Power and Perception
Through February 10, 2019

 

The lens we look through changes everything. In Native Portraiture, Tacoma Art Museum asks the question: What is communicated when an outsider portrays someone from another culture?

In the galleries you will have the chance to see contemporary Native artists representing Indigenous cultures for themselves. These works are interspersed by a few examples of depictions by non-Native artists that romanticize, stereotype, or appropriate Native people and cultures. We recommend spending at least an hour or two in this gallery to fully absorb the impact of this contrast.

Suquamish Museum

Ancient Shore, Changing Tides
Ongoing

Do yourself a favor and enjoy the ferry and short drive that it takes to get to Suquamish Museum. Well designed and chock-full of information, the permanent installation tells a detailed and important story through movement, textures, the forest environment and the symbolic movement of the tide. The objects on view, many never before exhibited, are a combination of works owned by the Suquamish Museum and on loan from Suquamish families and other museums. The way these objects are arranged creates an environment where you will want to spend some time. The museum describes their goal  as an attempt to “displace the modern way of historical contextual understanding. Culture is more than historical events strung together.  The passing of knowledge and values, generation to generation, is the core of Suquamish culture.” Based on our visit, the Suquamish achieves their goal, and then some!

Where your day trips take you, SAM recommends you make the time to visit the wealth of museums in Washington featuring work by Native artists!

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