Object of the Week: Bulul

Hailing from the Philippines, bulul figures are perhaps the most common and well-known of Ifugao sculptural traditions. An isolated and landlocked province surrounded by rugged and precipitous terrain, Ifugao and its people long resisted Spanish colonization, which left much of their culture, religion, and artistic traditions intact.

For the Ifugao people, known for their elaborate terrace farms and complex irrigation systems, rice is a cornerstone of daily life. Representing a rice deity, bulul are highly stylized and carved from a single piece of wood. Standing bulul figures are often depicted with hands resting on their knees, slightly bent, while the arms of seated bulul figures are typically folded. Most often carved in male and female pairs, figures could also be androgynous.

The figures are understood as fundamental in ensuring a good harvest, as well as guarding the season’s crop from thieves. They also represent the harmonious union of oppositional elements and the promise of good fortune. Every harvest, bulul would be brought out to share in the bounty of rice, chicken, pig, and rice wine. The rich, mottled patina of the bulul in SAM’s collection demonstrates its use in various rituals and ceremonies, which would include smoke and grease from food offerings.

Bulul can be venerated and passed down for generations, ultimately overseeing many harvest seasons, as well as a number of ceremonies celebrating the abundance and generosity of the earth.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate

Image: Bulul, late 19th, early 20th century, Philippines, wood, 22 x 6 x 6in., Gift of Georgia Schwartz Sales, 2003.96
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Botticelli at SAM: Paul G. Allen’s Legacy

“I believe great art helps us see the world around us a little differently and can often provide a sense of purpose and fresh perspectives.”

– Paul G. Allen

Right now SAM has a Botticelli hanging in its galleries! The Madonna of the Magnificat by Sandro Botticelli is part of a series of paintings on loan from the Paul G Allen Family Collection that is rotating. Botticelli’s Madonna expands on our current exhibition Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterworks from the Capodimonte Museum.

Widely known as the co-founder of Microsoft and a philanthropist, Paul G. Allen also had a lifelong interest in visual art that is reflected in his collection that spans centuries, genres, and media. A Cultural Legacy: A Series of Paintings from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection showcases singular masterworks that connect to works in SAM’s collections and special exhibitions.

The first painting in the series was Large Interior W11 (after Watteau) by Lucien Freud. This intimate, insightful group portrait exemplifies the 20th-century British painter’s distinctive style—one that invites us to “see the world around us a little differently.” The future featured work is White Rose with Larkspur No. 1 by Georgia O’Keeffe, which will be on view in 2020 in time for Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations to open at SAM on March 5.

Image: The Madonna of the Magnificat, ca. 1483–87, Sandro Botticelli, Italian, 1444/45–1510, tempera on wood panel, 24 3/4 in., Allen Family Collection.
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Seattle Opera Visits “Flesh and Blood”

We partnered with our friends at Seattle Opera to bring you a double dose of all things Baroque. Here is “Vidit suum dulcem natum” from the Stabat Mater by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi performed in front of Guido Reni’s painting, “Atalanta and Hippomenes,” on view at SAM right now as part of “Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum.”

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi studied in Naples and premiered all but one of his operas there. This piece, Stabat Mater, was composed in 1736. An example of Guido Reni’s more Baroque approach to painting that developed during his time Naples, “Atalanta and Hippomenes” was completed between 1620–25 and is visiting Seattle Art Museum from Naples. Enjoy this video of these Baroque works of art together before you visit SAM to see this and other important Italian paintings in person. Let this opera set your mood!

“Flesh and Blood” offers a rare opportunity to experience the fierce beauty of art from the 16th and 17th centuries. Renowned Renaissance artists such as Titian and Raphael join Baroque masters including Artemisia Gentileschi, Jusepe de Ribera, Guido Reni, and Bernardo Cavallino to reveal the aspirations and limitations of the human body and the many ways it can express love and devotion, physical labor, and tragic suffering. You have until January 26, 2020, to see this exhibition.

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Muse/News: Judith reigns at SAM, The Stranger gets lured, and Denise Murrell joins the Met

SAM News

Location, location: LUXE Interiors + Design offers this preview of the ‘smartly revamped” Asian Art Museum, and the downtown museum gets some love in Conde Nast Traveler.

Last week, Gina Siciliano—the author I Know What I Am: The True Story of Artemisia Gentileschi—gave a My Favorite Things tour at SAM, and Crosscut’s Brangien Davis recommended it in last week’s “Things to Do”. If you missed it, don’t despair: there’s still plenty of time to experience Gentileschi’s masterpiece, now on view in Flesh and Blood: Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum.

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Paul de Barros on Seattle jazz club The Penthouse, which presented A-list performers in the ’60s. Now, archival recordings from the club will be released on November 29.

Real Change’s Lisa Edge on the mixed-media work of Jite Agbro; her work Deserving is on view at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA).

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig on Lure at MadArt, a structure-sculpture by Dream the Combine and local artist-engineer Clayton Binkley that “explore[s] the body in relationship to space, light, and environment.”

“Within the piece, I was more mindful of my steps because of the way the mesh was ever so slippery beneath my boot. I became aware of a slight unease at being so close to a skylight I’d admired from the concrete floor below.”

Inter/National News

Paul Laster writes about Do Ho Suh’s work for White Hot magazine, including past presentations at SAM and his theme of displacement. The artist’s Some/One will be a centerpiece of Be/longing at the Asian Art Museum.

Here’s Max Duron of ARTnews on the hiring of Denise Murrell as associate curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Murrell’s work will overlap the modern & contemporary and European painting departments.

Theaster Gates speaks with André Wheeler of the Guardian about his preservation of neglected Black cultural objects, including the gazebo under which 12-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered in Cleveland.

“From our conversation, Gates seems to envision a city-sanctioned and -funded memorial. ‘I want to believe that the city is open to it,” he said. “I believe Samaria has the right to ask the city to receive this sacred space.’”

And Finally

Shirin Neshat’s artistic inspirations.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Photo ©Tim Griffith
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Object of the Week: Foolish Extravagance

This etching by Francisco José Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), titled Foolish Extravagance, is part of series titled Los Disparates (The Follies) from 1815/16–1823/24. Completed by an artist who lived through the oppressive Spanish Inquisition, among other sociopolitical events, each print from the series variously address themes of foolishness, misrepresentation, abuse of power, and fear.

Disparates was published posthumously in 1864 by The Royal Academy of San Fernando, from the 18 (of 22) plates in their possession. When The Royal Academy first produced this edition, they did so under the title Los Proverbios, sending scholars on a quest to match the prints with their respective proverbs. Later proofs by the artist—with handwritten titles beginning with the word “disparates”—shifted their meaning: these images were not illustrative of proverbs, but rather of follies. In the time since, the series has evaded clear interpretation, and “any promise of clear symbolic meaning that these things might offer is empty.”[1]

In Foolish Extravagance, four bulls twist, jerk, and careen one on top of another, seemingly free-falling against an amorphous black background. Offering little information, this black void heightens the sense of disorientation and absurdity that the image conveys. Lacking any rationalism that would be signaled by a horizon line, or other compositional cues, this and other etchings from Los Disparates evidence an absence of reason and coherent meaning.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate

Image: Foolish Extravagance, 1815, Francisco José Goya y Lucientes, aquatint and etching, 8 5/16 x 12 3/4 in., Manson F. Backus Memorial Collection, 35.133
[1] Douglas Cushing, “Beyond All Reason: Goya and his Disparates,” Blanton Museum of Art, February 23, 2015, https://blantonmuseum.org/2015/02/beyond-all-reason-goya-and-his-disparates-2/.
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In Graphic Detail: An Interview with Gina Siciliano

If you haven’t heard, Artemisia Gentileschi’s renowned painting Judith and Holofernes is currently hanging at SAM as part of Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum. This particular painting by Gentileschi has gotten a lot of attention in recent years as discussions of representation of women in the arts as well as rape culture have become part of mainstream media. A graphic novel, I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi by Gina Siciliano was recently published by Seattle-based Fantagraphics. This Pacific Northwest illustrator and author conducted research for seven years to offer a picture of Italy’s cultural climate in the 17th century as well as an unflinching look at Gentileschi’s life whose artistic success and documented rape trial have cast her as a feminist hero in her time, one that we can still learn from today.

After giving a talk on the Contemporary Resonance of Artemisia Gentileschi at the opening of Flesh and Blood with Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, and Estelle Lingo, Professor of Early Modern European Art at University of Washington, we wanted to learn more about her enthralling graphic novel. Done entirely in ballpoint pen, the book is an education in world history that is full of drama, tragedy, and passion. Italian artists in the 1600s don’t seem too hesitant about stabbing each other. Read below for more information on this talented author, feminism, and the figure of Gentileschi. If you’re planning to visit the exhibition to see Gentileschi’s painting, come on Thursday, November 21 and take a tour of the galleries with Gina!

SAM: What drew you to Artemisia? When did you realize you were making a book-length work?

Gina Siciliano: I knew immediately that I was going to make a graphic novel about Artemisia, right when I was introduced to her work in art school, and then when I first saw the Judith painting in the Uffizi back in 2007. When I was ready, I broke the story into three parts and dove in, piecing her life and times together in chronological order. Initially I wasn’t going to extend it all the way to the end of her life, but I changed my mind. I decided to make a full biography because I sensed a lack of older women characters in movies, novels, comics, media, and our culture in general. It feels like once women reach a certain age they’re just thrown out of the picture or relegated to stereotypes, and it became important to rise against that.

What’s one piece of information that got you really excited when you found it?

There were so many exciting discoveries throughout this process, it’s very difficult to choose just one example! When Jesse Locker’s book came out in 2015 that completely changed the third part, and also when Elizabeth Cohen wrote about the recently discovered handful of letters written by Artemisia and Pierantonio to Francesco Maria Maringhi around 1620. They haven’t been entirely translated into English, but Cohen revealed snippets of Artemisia’s writing in English, and it was intense and wonderful to get a sense of Artemisia’s voice at that point in her life. I got chills reading about her breakdown after the death of her children and during her harrowing journey back to Rome. I rearranged that whole section of the book after that. I’m also currently very excited about Sheila Barker’s new scholarship on Artemisia.

But if I had to pick the most exciting discovery of all it would be the 1647 revolt of Masaniello! Rosario Villari’s book on the subject was a landmark for me, and since there’s so little information in English I read his book several times, taking extensive notes. I was struck by the Neapolitan people’s desperation, and the way they repeatedly rose up violently against severe oppression and corruption. I was startled to learn that Artemisia survived a ten-month revolution, and it had barely been mentioned in my sources at all.

There seem to be many versions of Artemisia’s life. The details of female life were not much documented at the time so how did you decide to present the version of her life that you did?

The goal was to stay as historically accurate as possible and invent as little as possible. I was influenced by Alexandra Lapierre’s approach. She spent five years doing research in various Italian archives, then strung together the holes in the information—the gaps in history—with fiction. Rather than project my own agenda onto Artemisia or use her story as a jumping-off point for my own artistic expression, I wanted to find out as much as I could about Artemisia—how she felt, how she lived, how she interacted with others. I see her as inseparable from Italian history. I wanted to re-create her world, and then put her into it. The goal was to put her life and work into context, not take her out of context. That being said, of course, bits of myself and my own outlook slipped in all over the place. But I included a big notes section, to show the reader that we’ll never know exactly what happened—all we can do is continue to discuss how we come to conclusions, how we piece together history based on a variety of sources, ideas, and perspectives. My version of Artemisia is based on academic research, as well as my personal, emotional connection to her work.

What about the decorative symbols and icons in the full-frame character illustrations?

Each one of these full-page portraits is comprised of Renaissance and Baroque symbolism, and also my own impressions. Each one has its own mood, based on the character’s role in the story. Some of these people—Caravaggio, Orazio, Artemisia, Galileo, the Duke of Alcala, Masaniello—we know quite a bit about, so I had a lot to work with. For example, Masaniello was a fisherman, so there are fish surrounding him, Galileo has a diagram of the Copernican view of the cosmos above him, etc. For these people, I used images of them from their own time to re-create how they looked. But other figures—Loredan, Arcangela Tarabotti, Tuzia Medaglia, Giovanni Battista Stiattesi, Artemisia’s daughters—are more mysterious. I had to do more inventing and cobbling together whatever scraps of information I could, to show what they might’ve looked like.

There isn’t space here to describe all the symbolism, but I’ll give a few examples: Artemisia’s daughters are shown with large, rounded, upright vessels—a common Renaissance symbol for chastity and sexual purity, whereas a spilled, horizontal vessel was a symbol for sex and impurity. The Duke of Alcala is surrounded by fig trees—lush and full of fruit—a Renaissance metaphor for sexuality again, in this case, male virility. Pierantonio stands below two bull skulls, alluding to his being a cuckold (Loredan’s epitaph about Artemisia on page 224 claims that she carved the horns of a cuckold for her husband). The glowing candles foreshadow Pierantonio’s later night-time swordplay. The characters with close ties to the Medici—Francesco Maria Maringhi, Christine of Lorraine, Maria Maddalena of Austria, Galileo—all feature the Medici’s famous logo/crest—a group of small, round, fruit-like balls. Loredan’s portrait is surrounded by water since he serves as an introduction to Venice, and below him is the logo of his famous academy (the Incogniti)—the mysterious Nile River, the source of which was still unknown at the time.

Can we have a feminist hero and still have context and historical time and place?

My book is meant to present a loud and enthusiastic YES to this question!

Will you talk a bit about proto-feminism?

This is essentially an earlier version of feminism. To me, the best biographies don’t idolize or sentimentalize the subject, nor do they gloss over the inconsistencies and contradictions of a person. Rather, they go deep into history and analyze their subject’s position, and all the potential factors that made them who they were. I love Paul Avrich’s writing about anarchists for this reason. I’m also reading Lily Tuck’s wonderful biography of Elsa Morante. Elsa Morante was an incredibly independent Italian woman, one of the first to wear pants! At the same time, Tuck mentions how Morante chastised another woman for having hairy armpits and sometimes scorned the feminist movement. I tried to be open to these types of contradictions when writing about Artemisia too. There’s reason to believe that Artemisia was a militant Catholic who didn’t always treat her servants very well. But she also wrote about the disadvantages she faced as a woman, she refused to let Agostino Tassi (the man who raped her) off the hook during the trial, and we know that she worked within the same circle as the Venetian Libertines who talked a lot about the roles of women (the querelle des femmes). We can judge Artemisia by the standards of her own time, and we can judge her according to the standards of our time. I think there’s room for both.

Proto-feminism didn’t look like our modern first-, second-, or third-wave feminism. There wasn’t a political movement, it was more social. There was an ongoing intellectual debate about women and plenty of writing about women’s rights. Most of the early modern feminist writers made their point by listing numerous examples of virtuous women from the bible and ancient history and mythology, as these were the touchstones of Italian humanist and Counter-Reformation thought. Sometimes they listed contemporary examples too. But, as powerful as these lists of women were, they also conformed to the proper (men’s) definition of honorable women. Even the most outspoken feminists of the time, like Arcangela Tarabotti, used only the most chaste, angelic examples of women to argue for women’s rights. But she was trying to refute the prevailing notion that women’s sexuality was toxic, out of control, and evil (Eve and the original sin, remember?). Her argument that women are inherently pure and chaste seems weird to us (like we don’t even get to have our own sexuality?), but in that intensely Catholic environment it makes sense. That’s only one aspect of her writing, and I would argue that her feminism is still important.

Likewise, we can see that the powerful Medici women—Christine of Lorraine and Maria Maddalena of Austria—were, like most queens and noblewomen, arranging marriages within their courts to solidify their family’s (and their own) wealth and power. But this doesn’t negate the radical way in which they intervened to prevent domestic violence, and their attempts to give women some say in who they would marry. That meant a lot within a society where marriage had very little to do with choice, especially among the upper classes.

At first glance, Artemisia’s world looks like a grim, unrelenting, misogynist hell hole, but when we look closer and dig deeper, we can see that women (and men) were pushing back against the status quo in all kinds of ways. The fact that so many powerful men got behind Artemisia, aided her career, and continually bailed her out (Orazio, Francesco Maria Maringhi, Cassiano dal Pozzo, Galileo, etc.) also says a lot. These men probably saw her as an exception to the norm—an exceptional woman—rather than seeing women collectively as equals. Artemisia probably saw herself as an exception to the norm too, and probably capitalized on that to a certain extent. But I still think the roots of feminism lie in these early attempts to widen the expectations of what women were capable of. Plus, there’s still so much we don’t know. Feminist scholars are trying to bring a lot of buried, unknown, misattributed, and misrepresented women’s writing, art, and music to light. This is an ongoing process, an ongoing discussion.

What is your favorite Artemisia painting?

Oh geez, I don’t know! I guess the second Judith Slaying Holofernes in the Ufizzi. There’s just nothing else like it in the world.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM Content Strategist and Social Media Manager

Images: Gina Siciliano, I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi. Seattle, Fantagrahics Books, 2019.
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Muse/News: Paintings in the flesh, tiny doors, and art-loving Cookie Monster

SAM News

Flesh and Blood: Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum was featured in the most recent issue of the Stranger; in her piece, Jasmyne Keimig zooms in on the “gruesome beheading” depicted in Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes.

“And there’s something else about being close to it, the actual object, which Gentileschi made with her own hands, just as Judith carried out Holofernes’s death with her hands. A Google image search doesn’t cut it. The power of the painting—and the perspective given through it—must be experienced in the flesh.” 

And local journalist Greg Scruggs previewed the Asian Art Museum project for architecture outlet Metropolis.

“There’s a lot that the visitor can’t see that is just as important: all the infrastructure that makes this historic jewel a thoroughly modern museum, equipped to safely display delicate artworks,” [SAM Director and CEO Amada] Cruz said. “The reimagined building will allow us to better fulfill our mission to connect visitors to the art and cultures of Asia.” 

Local News

Gabriel Campanario, AKA Seattle Sketcher, finds the most recent “tiny door” from street artist Mows510, along the Fremont Bridge.

Margo Vansynghel debuts as an official Crosscut writer covering arts and culture with this look at the pushback from some in the film community to Seattle City Hall’s new “creative economy” strategy.

The Stranger’s Rich Smith reviews Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Locally Sourced, which closed this past weekend. He mostly loved it.

“It was all a liiiiittle on the corny side, I must admit, but it was hard not to get swept up in this impressive celebration of our green-gothic corner of the world.”

Inter/National News

The Feminist Art Coalition will “promote feminist art exhibitions, performances, and programs around the country ahead of the 2020 presidential election.” SAM is participating in this online effort.

ARTnews announced that Ashley James has been hired as associate curator of contemporary art at the Guggenheim Museum. She is the first Black curator hired to the museum’s staff.

French-Chinese cultural collaborations continue with the announcement of a new museum opening in Beijing in 2020, focusing on Picasso and Giacometti.

“[An earlier show] also unveiled an important new body of research revealing an unknown relationship between the two artists, who first met in the early 1930s and, despite having a 20-year age difference, formed a strong bond, writing to each other often about their artistic creations and arguing over the return of realism after World War II.”

And Finally

Cookie Monster is . . . one of us.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Installation view Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum, Seattle Art Museum, 2019, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Object of the Week: Two Totems with Man No. 56

Artist James Castle was born in Garden Valley, Idaho in 1899. The fifth of seven children, he was born deaf, and spent his whole life unable to speak, read, write, or sign. Castle started drawing at the age of six, leading to a lifetime of creativity with art serving as his own personal form of communication.

In 1931, Castle moved with his family to Boise, Idaho, where Castle remained until his death in 1977. There was much that was unconventional about the artist: largely self-taught, his primary drawing materials included soot from the family woodstove, mixed with his saliva, which he would apply to an upcycled piece of cardboard (e.g. a milk carton) with a found utensil, oftentimes a sharpened stick. His drawings were heavily influenced by the environment he lived in, and were sometimes a mix of highly realistic and abstract imagery. He also drew many scenes from the family’s previous homes, which are believed to be recreated from memory.

Though Castle was seemingly content to produce artworks for himself and his family, in 1951 his nephew shared some of the drawings with his art professors in Oregon, who immediately expressed interest. Thus began a new stage of Castle’s life, in which Castle’s work continuously garnered more attention, culminating in an exhibition of his works at the Boise Art Museum, the highest honor he achieved during his lifetime.

Today Castle is considered one of the most recognized self-taught artists. Two Totems with Man No. 56, in SAM’s collection, was produced using stove soot and saliva to make charcoal, which was then applied using a matchstick to a found salvaged piece of cardboard. As with many of the artist’s pieces, it has a knotted string hanger. A more abstract example of Castle’s oeuvre, the meaning behind the totems in Two Totems continues to evade scholars, although it is a motif Castle returned to often. Even so, with this and other works, we are able to gain valuable insight into how Castle viewed the world around him.

Hayley Makinster, SAM Curatorial Intern

Image: Two Totems with Man No. 56, 20th century, James Castle, stove soot drawn with matchstick on cardboard, 6 3/4 x 9 3/4 in., General Acquisition Fund, 74.33 © Artist or Artist’s Estate
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SAM PSA: Hands Off the Art

First things first, no rollerblading and don’t sell vape juice in the galleries.

Seriously though, we want you to have a great visit to SAM and with Remix (SAM’s late-night, creative night out that is definitely not a party) coming up on Friday, November 15 (tickets are still available, FYI), Weird Dog Productions is here to help outline how to behave at our museum.

Don’t touch the art, leave your selfie sticks at coat check, stay hydrated at the water fountains, and you’ll be an art influencer in no time. And remember, the Seattle Art Museum appreciates you!

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