Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

The spring edition of the Stranger’s Art & Performance Quarterly hit newsstands last week; recommended SAM shows in the visual arts listings include Basquiat—Untitled, Jono Vaughan: 2017 Betty Bowen Award Winner, Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Everyday Poetics, and Sondra Perry: Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY. Don’t miss their recurring “Anatomy of a Painting” feature, which takes you through the finer points of Resist, the incredible painting by Mickalene Thomas created specifically for our exhibition.

And the reviews keep coming in for Figuring History. Lisa Edge of Real Change writes up the exhibition for the cover story of their current edition, and the Stranger’s Katie Kurtz shares her thoughts on the show that’s “about righting the wrongs of erasure” in their arts section lead story.

Also out last week: The New York Times’ annual “Museums” section. Figuring History was mentioned in a round-up of exhibitions around the country showing “art in startling variety.”

“This show of three African-American artists creates a solid counternarrative on general history, art history, black identity and gender identity.”

Local News

The Seattle Times was there as 2,800 high-school students from 39 area schools attended a matinee of Hamilton—and performed raps, songs, and poems inspired by the musical and their own studies.

The art of food: last week, Edouardo Jordan of JuneBaby and Salare was nominated for two James Beard Awards and glowingly reviewed in the New York Times. That oxtail tho!

Rachel Gallaher interviews Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist and choreographer Ezra Thomson; his work The Perpetual State has its world premiere in the ballet’s Director’s Choice program, showing now through March 25.

“One thing I always try to do in my choreography is to make the dancers as human as possible. I want the audience to be able to relate to them as people, as opposed to classical 18th-century ballet figures.”

Inter/National News

Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times broke the news of the sudden firing of MOCA Los Angeles curator Helen Molesworth, which stunned many in the art world last week.

Brian Boucher of Artnet on the historic vote last week by the board of New York arts and engineering school, which approved a 10-year plan to offer free tuition for every student.

Photographer Dawoud Bey’s The Birmingham Project brings to life the four girls and two boys who died violently in 1963, with portraits of children their ages alongside adults the same age that the kids would be if they’d lived.

“It hurts because those Birmingham girls, often commemorated in what look like class portraits, could have been goofy, self-conscious, bookish, or disobedient. Maybe they didn’t even want to go to church that day; maybe one had a sore throat. They were kids.”

And Finally

Former mallrats may be just as moved as the New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino by this video of “Toto’s ‘Africa’ edited to sound as though it were playing in an empty mall.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
Woman's Kimono

Object of the Week: Woman’s Kimono

This time of the year (on the West Coast, at least) always reminds me of my favorite line from the poem Spring by Edna St. Vincent Millay: “Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.”1 With cherry blossoms blooming, flowers cropping up overnight, and the impending spring equinox, it’s hard not to feel deep excitement about the changing season.

The pictured kimono, or furisode, perfectly captures the frenzied energy with which spring arrives. Turbulent waves rushing forward, overlapping with flowers, trees, and fans, together evoke the lush abundance of March, April, and May. Set against a black background, the colorful composition feels especially saturated—almost unreal. Luckily for us, just a quick glimpse outside offers a very real reminder that spring indeed brings with it unbelievable hues of pink, purple, orange, and green.

Made of silk, this furisode is one of a few examples in the SAM collection exhibiting yuzen: a freehand paste-resist dyeing method. Developed in late 17th-century Kyoto—where the production of kimono textiles reached its peak—yuzen allowed artists to create designs painted by hand with a rice-paste coating. This process ultimately liberated designers from the repetitive patterns associated with other dyeing techniques, such as shibori. Resulting in large pictorial images such as this spring landscape, yuzen brought a wholly new aesthetic to kimono decoration.

The furisode is a kimono distinguished by its long, billowing sleeves that, when worn, sway gracefully as the wearer moves; its elegance is echoed throughout its form and sumptuous design. If you’re in the galleries and need a vernal pick-me-up, this beautiful kimono can be found in Talents and Beauties: Art of Women in Japan on the third floor.

Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Woman’s kimono (furisode), 20th century, Japanese, silk crepe with embroidery and paste-resist dyeing (yuzen-zome), 64 5/8 x 49 1/4 in., Gift of Jean B. Rolfe, 81.14, photo: Natali Wiseman
1 For the full poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Gardner Center: Making Shawl Talk

This spring SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas is out and about, hosting happenings in Bellevue and Columbia City! Please join us on March 29 for a SAM members’ reception and public program at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Featuring Rosemary Crill on Kashmir Shawls and the West, she will speak in conversation with historian Prof. Anand Yang, University of Washington

Kashmir shawls launched an amazing global fashion phenomenon. When introduced to Europe from India in the late 18th century, the soft goats’ wool (“cashmere”) was a new sensation, as were their paisley patterns. Even the word, “shawl’,” was introduced to English from the Persian term also used in India.

British and French textile producers rushed to invent ways to make cheaper imitations—and lo and behold, it’s the Industrial Revolution and colonial enterprise in action. Once the British shawls not only replaced imports from Kashmir but were exported in huge quantities to India, Kashmir’s highly-skilled and specialized weavers were doomed.

This colonial dynamic paralleled the much larger-scale damage to India’s cotton weavers. Protest in India and a social movement to boycott foreign goods led in time to the independence movement—think of Gandhi and his spinning wheel. As Crill points out in The Fabric of India exhibition catalogue (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2015), “the effect of this reversal in the direction of trade . . . was to affect the subsequent history of South Asia and the world as a whole.”

Rosemary Crill, former Senior Curator for South Asia at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, is a legend in the textile world. As part of the discussion, an unidentified old textile piece from India from a Washington museum collection will be shown to Crill for her assessment. Be there to find out more!


Can you tell which of these are from Kashmir and which are the British versions?

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Images: Early Kashmir Shawl, early 19th century, Indian, cashmere, 128 x 49 in., Gift of Mrs. Reginald H. Parsons, Seattle Art Museum 36.52. Shawl, 1856, Scottish, wool, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.327. image in the public domain. Shawl, 1865–75, Scottish, wool and silk; Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Catherine Courtney, 1933; 2009.300.3010 image in the public domain. Shawl, mid-19th century, Attributed to India, Kashmir; Wool, silk; double interlocking twill tapestry weave, embroidered, pieced; Gift of H. de B. Parsons, 1923; Metropolitan Museum of Art 23.126.1. image in the public domain. Kashmir shawl, ca.1830, Kashmir, for the Western market, woven pashmina wool, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, IS 96-1948. Muslin dress and Kashmir shawl. Dress, Indian muslin made up in England, ca.1805-10. Shawl, Kashmir for the western market, ca.1750-60. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Circ. 30-1958 (dress); IM 17-1915 (shawl).Victoria and Albert Museum. Preliminary sketch design for paisley shawl, Scotland. Plate XI in Matthew Blair, The Paisley Shawl and the Men Who Produced It, Alexander Gardner: 1904. Detail, top image. Early Kashmir Shawl, early 19th century, Indian, Kashmir, 128 x 49 in., Gift of Mrs. Reginald H. Parsons, Seattle Art Museum 36.52. Kashmir shawl, after 1865, Indian, wool with embroidery, 82 x 81 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, Seattle Art Museum 40.87

SAM Film: Alfred Hitchcock’s Britain

In the 1930s before he came to America, young London-born Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) was already a world-acknowledged master of cinema, a sublime orchestrator of images and emotions. Often with story contributions from his wife Alma Reville, Hitchcock thrilled viewers with engrossing mystery, gripping suspense, intimate romance, psychological insight, witty British humor, and droll cameo appearances. Even after settling in America, he continued to portray his homeland with deep affection. Get your tickets to this series before they sell out!

March 22: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). Hitchcock’s youthful mastery of suspense, humor and a compelling story move this thriller at an enthralling pace. A vacationing couple (Leslie Banks, Edna Best) are told of a plot to assassinate an international diplomat; their daughter (Nova Pilbeam) is kidnapped to keep them quiet; and the evil shooter (Peter Lorre) is in position at a Royal Albert Hall concert, waiting for his cymbal-crash cue. With atmospheric production design by Alfred Junge, who worked on Michael Powell classics like The Red Shoes. Digital restoration, 84 min.

March 29: Sabotage (1936). Based on Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent, with script contributions by Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville, Sabotage centers on a woman (Sylvia Sidney) who doesn’t know that her husband (Oscar Homolka) is the saboteur wreaking havoc in London. Scotland Yard and Sidney’s little brother (Desmond Tester) get involved, but Sidney is the one with righteous agency. Features one of Hitchcock’s most intense suspense sequences. In 35mm, 76 min.

April 5: The 39 Steps (1936). Adapted from John Buchan’s novel, with script work by Alma Reville, this is one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces. Vacationing in London, an innocent man (Robert Donat) finds a murdered woman in his bed, and flees for Scotland when the police assume he’s the killer. Spies are chasing him too, and on a quest to track down the master villain, he’s handcuffed to a feisty beauty (Madeleine Carroll), and must rely on the help of many flavorful characters. Hitchcock liked to say, “Other directors’ films are slices of life; my films are slices of cake.” Bon appetite! In 35mm, 81 min.

April 12: Young and Innocent (1937). A woman’s body washes ashore, and an innocent young chap (Derrick De Marney) is accused of murder. A tense situation, but charm abounds as he enlists the reluctant help of a policeman’s teenage daughter (Nova Pilbeam) to help him flee and sleuth out the real killer. The couple is humorously waylaid by a children’s party, and Hitchcock propels us towards the real culprit with a stupendous, unbroken shot that traverses a hotel lobby and ballroom, right up to a most guilty face. Screenplay co-written by alma Reville. In 35mm, 80 min.

April 19: The Lady Vanishes (1938). A favorite film of everyone from Orson Welles to author James Thurber, The Lady Vanishes is a perfect blending of thrills and laughs. On a Balkan train trip a dear old lady (Dame May Whitty) is suddenly not there anymore. Young Margaret Lockwood had befriended Whitty, and reports her disappearance. But no one believes her, because the woman is right there—but it’s some other woman, eerily wearing Whitty’s clothes. Won’t someone—maybe that whimsical musician Michael Redgrave—help Lockwood solve one of the cinema’s most entertaining mysteries? In 35mm, 97 min.

April 26: Rebecca (1940). This haunting romantic mystery finds the shy, unworldly Joan Fontaine marrying the dashing Laurence Olivier and moving to Manderly, his house on the Cornish coast. Fontaine must live in the shadow of Rebecca, Olivier’s dead first wife, to whom her sinister housekeeper Judith Anderson was more than professionally devoted. And by the way, how did Rebecca die? From Daphne Du Maurier’s novel. In 35mm, 130 min.

May 3: Suspicion (1941). Joan Fontaine won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a woman who defies her stuffy parents and marries notorious playboy Cary Grant. He’s irresponsible, charming and lovable, but Fontaine starts putting together bits of evidence that spell lethal danger. With Nigel Bruce, and script work by Alma Reville. In 35mm, 99 min.

May 10: Stage Fright (1950). Stage star Marlene Dietrich gets her boyfriend Richard Todd to help cover up her self-defense killing of her abusive husband, and Todd becomes murder suspect number one. Drama student Jane Wyman, who’s crazy about Todd, gets her father (the delightful Alastair Sim) to help him, and Wyman does her own sleuthing while pretending to be Dietrich’s maid. Hitchcock’s wife adapted the screenplay, and his daughter Patricia plays Wyman’s chum. In 35mm, 110 min.

May 17: Dial M For Murder (1954). Suave Ray Milland is nervous. He’s married to gorgeous, wealthy Grace Kelly, but she like writer Robert Cummings. Milland needs to do something drastic now, before Kelly makes Cummings her insurance beneficiary. Stunningly, Kelly kills her attacker, but is accused of murder. Can Cummings and Scotland Yard’s John Williams figure out how to trap the true guilty party? In 35mm, 88 min.

– Greg Olson, Manager of Film Programs

Images: Alfred Hitchock Presents (CBS) TV Series (1955–1962), CBS/Photofest © CBS. Rebecca (1940), United Artists/Photofest © United Artists





Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Boom for real! SAM announced last week that a famed and rarely seen painting by legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is headed to the museum beginning March 21. The Seattle Times shared the news, and KUOW’s The Record hosted a conversation about the painting’s rarity and impressive auction price with KUOW’s Marcie Sillman and City Arts’ Margo Vansynghel.

Diana Cherry of ParentMap reviewed Figuring History with an eye towards kids and families, declaring that “the message is undeniable: Black is beautiful — in art, in history and in this country.”

“To tell you that these paintings made my heart sing would be an understatement. I found it truly uplifting to see Seattle Art Museum center black people—especially black women—and their stories with art that includes, but isn’t limited to, slavery, black suffering and black oppression.”

The Bellevue Reporter previewed the upcoming installation by artist Jono Vaughan at SAM, sharing quotes from the artist.

“We’ve become de-sensitized to violence, and violence against the trans community in particular,” Vaughan said. “Project 42 is an opportunity to share space with that life that was lost, engage with each other, and elevate the discussion. I feel really humbled to be a part of it.”

Local News

For Crosscut, Double Exposure artist Tracy Rector offers her reflections on the allegations against Sherman Alexie and recommends an impressive list of female Native authors for your reading list.

Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur profiles photographer Eddie Rehfeldt, whose new photography show at The Piranha Shop in Sodo tackles ideas about isolation and technology.

City Arts’ Margo Vansynghel reviews the Ko Kirk Yamahira exhibition, now on view at the Frye.

“In his first solo museum exhibition, Yamahira builds beautifully on this minimalist-modernist legacy with deadpan reverence and delicate sensuality.”

Inter/National News

The New York Times on Billy Graham, the “Renaissance man and bon vivant” who was largely unknown, even though he was the first Black artist for Marvel to draw Black Panther and Luke Cage.

Artnet on the “showstopper” booth of new work by British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor at New York’s Armory Show from Seattle’s own Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

Jonathan Jones of The Guardian with a powerful write-up of Sondra Perry’s latest gallery show, Typhoon, now on view in London. Her show at SAM is now on view.

“Perry juxtaposes the shallowness of our media-saturated lives with the power of true art and properly held memory. If we carried the bloodstained Atlantic that Turner painted in our hearts, maybe we could address the crimes and wrongs of the present. Yet forgetfulness is winning. There is a typhoon coming on.”

And Finally

“Place your ‘Left Ring Finger’ in the undulating bug next to your keyboard.” David Lynch teaches typing.

– Rache Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: “Untitled,” 1982, Jean-Michel Basquiat, American, 1960–1988, acrylic, spray paint, and oilstick on canvas, 72 1/8 x 68 1/8 in., Yusaku Maezawa Collection, © 2018 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris / ARS.

Object of the Week: Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper

In recognition of International Women’s Day, as well as Women’s History Month, this week we look at Mary Beth Edelson’s Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper. Printed during a historic decade of feminist activity, this 1972 lithograph takes Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Last Supper and replaces the biblical male figures with contemporary female artists. Jesus, represented instead as Georgia O’Keeffe, sits at the center of the (literal and proverbial) table alongside a number of other pioneering women artists: Miriam Schapiro, Hannah Wilke, Yoko Ono, Faith Ringgold, Lee Bontecou, Eleanor Antin, Agnes Martin, Lee Krasner, Carolee Schneeman, Lynda Benglis, Alice Neel—the list goes on. In the spirit of this feminist work, one that gives representation to an international and overlooked roster of women, below are four quotes from four generations of feminist writers, philosophers, and activists: Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), Luce Irigaray (b. 1930), bell hooks (b. 1952), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (b. 1977).

 To emancipate woman is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her; let her have her independent existence and she will continue nonetheless to exist for him also: mutually recognising each other as subject, each will yet remain for the other an other. The reciprocity of their relations will not do away with the miracles—desire, possession, love, dream, adventure—worked by the division of human beings into two separate categories; and the words that move us—giving, conquering, uniting—will not lose their meaning. On the contrary, when we abolish the slavery of half of humanity, together with the whole system of hypocrisy that it implies, then the ‘division’ of humanity will reveal its genuine significance and the human couple will find its true form.

– Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1952[1]  

How can I say it? That we are women from the start. That we don’t have to be turned into women by them, labeled by them, made holy and profaned by them. That that has always already happened, without their efforts. And that their history, their stories, constitute the locus of our displacement. It’s not that we have a territory of our own; but their fatherland, family, home, discourse, imprison us in enclosed spaces where we cannot keep on moving, living, as ourselves. Their properties are our exile.

– Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, 1977[2]

Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys. Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion. Males cannot love themselves in patriarchal culture if their very self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules. When men embrace feminist thinking and practice, which emphasizes the value of mutual growth and self-actualization in all relationships, their emotional well-being will be enhanced. A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving.

– bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics, 2000[3]

Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.

– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists, 2014[4]

[1] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Knopf, 1952), 767.

[2] Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 212.

[3] bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics (New York: Routledge, 2000), 123-124.

[4] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists (New York: Anchor Books, 2014), n.p.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper, 1972, Mary Beth Edelson, offset lithograph, 37 1/2 in. x 20 3/4 in., Leonardo Lives Exhibition Fund, 98.14 © Mary Beth Edelson

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Seattle Met’s Spring Arts Preview included the solo show of Betty Bowen Award-winner Jono Vaughan as one of the “Top Things to See and Do in Seattle” this spring.

And their cover story, uncovering the gems of “hidden Seattle,” included SAM Gallery—“a space where art appreciation turns into acquisition.”

SAM’s summer exhibition, Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson, is featured in Seattle Magazine’s Spring Arts Preview as one of the “can’t-miss” upcoming shows.

Chris Juergens of The International Examiner interviewed Manish Engineer, SAM’s first-ever Chief Technology Officer, about what he’s looking forward to in his new role.

“A higher profile, innovative art museum scene coalesces well with a rapidly growing local economy and world tech hub. Just like Engineer’s professional and educational background is a fusion of many worlds, with Engineer’s help, Seattle too will become a fusion of technology, business and art.”

Local News

Emily Pothast of the Stranger reviews C. Davida Ingram’s solo show A Book with No Pages, now on view at UW’s Jacob Lawrence Gallery, saying it “doesn’t just imagine that love. It’s a portal to a world where it has always existed.”

Karen Ducey of Crosscut takes her camera to the historic Louisa Hotel to capture the life-size murals from an underground after-hours jazz club that were discovered after a fire in 2013.

Rosin Saez of Seattle Met talks with Janelle Abbott and Camilla Carper, the creators of art/fashion line Femail, which is currently housed in the former Lusty Lady space.

“’This one I struggled with, but I think I’m happy now,’ she explained as she gazed at a patchwork dress made with her grandma’s sweatshirt. ‘It’s really, wonderfully, heinous.’”

Inter/National News

Beloved activist and patron Peggy Cooper Cafritz recently passed away; the story of her incredible art collection—and how she had to rebuild it after a fire—is told in a just-released Rizzoli book.

Taylor Dafoe of Artnet on New York-based arts nonprofit Creative Time’s upcoming spring exhibition, which “uses house music to explore issues of mass incarceration and criminal justice reform” in a decommissioned fire station.

Hope you enjoyed your bubbly and takeout for the Oscars last night. Mekado Murphy of the New York Times shares how four artists approached creating alternative posters for Get Out, the film which earned its writer/director Jordan Peele the award for best original screenplay.

And Finally

If SAM ever needs to hire someone to help write wall labels, this might be the person.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Studio visit with Jono Vaughan, 2017, photo: Natali Wiseman

Object of the Week: Xing ware-type

Sometimes I find myself struck by the contemporaneity of ancient objects, how something made hundreds or thousands of years ago can embody an aesthetic or message relevant to today. Take this Chinese Xing ware-type ewer, for example. Created during the 10th century, the porcelain vessel—with its white glaze and spontaneously placed markings—feels, to me at least, like it could have been made this past century, alongside works by artists such as Lucy Rie or Mary Heilmann.

Ceramics have no doubt made a comeback in the art world, a trend which suggests that the once rigid division between art and craft (and therefore ceramics) is no more. As art critic Roberta Smith rightly articulated in 2009, “It can’t be said enough that the art-craft divide is a bogus concept regularly obliterated by the undeniable originality of individuals who may call themselves artists, designers, or artisans.”[1]

Though today we might be less inclined to differentiate between artists and artisans, in 10th-century China there would have certainly been a distinction between makers commissioned by imperial courts and those who produced commercially. Xing ware, produced in what would today be China’s Hebei province, caught the attention of the Tang imperial court and epitomizes Tang-era porcelain: the purity of its clay was unusually low in iron and titanium oxides (contaminants) and very fine grained. Fired in the kiln at 1250 degrees Celsius or higher, this porcelain was unparalleled in its sturdiness, translucence, and pure white color.

Similar in form to late Tang dynasty ceramic ware, this ewer is especially unique due to the greenish-brown splashes of glaze on its porcelain-white body. Used as a wine bottle, this vessel bears similarities to many late Tang wares, though it was unlikely to have been produced in a Xing kiln.[2] Perhaps it is the simplicity of form and coloration that makes this work feel so modern, or, conversely, that so many contemporary ceramicists find (for good reason) inspiration in the rich ceramic traditions of China, where porcelain was perfected and produced exclusively for centuries.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

[1] Roberta Smith, “Crucible of Creativity, Stoking Earth Into Art,” New York Times, March 19, 2009,
[2] The shape and glaze of this ewer is similar to Xing porcelain, but the clay texture is not nearly as fine. For more on this work and Chinese porcelain more broadly, see Julie Emerson, Jennifer Chen, and Mimi Gardner Gates (Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), 38.
Image: Xing ware-type, 10th century, Chinese, porcelain with white glaze on white slip, green-brown stripes, 5 1/2 x 2 13/16 in., Thomas D. Stimson Memorial Collection, 51.122

Layering Histories in SAM’s Collection

The Seattle Art Museum collection spans ancient and contemporary art across continents—perfect for examining historical artworks through the critical framework of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas. While you’re here, listen to new collection audio tour additions from creative community members on objects from our collection or use the question and information below as way of looking again at the works you see at SAM regularly.

How does the narrator of a story change how the story is told?

Susanna and the Elders, an oft-painted Old Testament tale, is recast in a contemporary context by Robert Colescott in the image of his painting, above. This subject is popular throughout art history for featuring the nude female figure and also allowing viewers to morally condemn the lecherous elders. Colescott inserts himself in this scene as a Peeping Tom in the window to show how, in his presentation of the nude female form, the artist is complicit with the elders, as are the viewers as they too watch Susanna bathe.

Albert Beirstadt had not visited inland Washington when he painted Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast in 1870. It was likely commissioned by a shipping magnate making money from the West coast who wanted a painting to get America imagining where their future modern seaport might soon arise. Because of the patron, this pioneering painting of the past is actually a new maritime civilization’s prologue.

Louis-Philippe Crépin depicts lives lost in the name of discovery in Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska. At the right are two Tlingit witnesses who helped search for survivors of the La Pérouse expedition. The French expedition and the shipwreck became part of the Tlingit oral tradition. However, when La Pérouse named this the Bay of the French, it was clear from the trading skills of the Tlingit, that this expedition was not the first to find this bay.

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

Photos: Installation view of Close Ups at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman. Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, 1870, Albert Bierstadt, born Solingen, Prussia, 1830; died New York City, 1902, oil on canvas, 52 1/2 x 82 in., Gift of the Friends of American Art at the Seattle Art Museum, with additional funds from the General Acquisition Fund, 2000.70, photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Extreme Nature at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.