Cleaning the Drapes by Martha Rosler

Below the Surface with Martha Rosler

“The montages were works that were not intended as art. I made them as Xeroxes. It used to be at demonstrations somebody would hand you this incredibly text-ridden sheet of mimeographs against war, and I had this idea not to have any text at all, just pictures to be handed out at demonstrations, and that’s where they went.”

–Artist Martha Rosler on the origin of her series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, 1967-’72

Martha Rosler: Below the Surface focuses on two series of photomontages by Martha Rosler—House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967–72) and House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series (2004–2008). Rosler works across a range of media—including photography, video, writing, performance, sculpture, and installation—addressing social and political issues of the public sphere and everyday life, from gender norms and labor issues to consumer culture and urban development.

Back Garden by Martha Rosler, 2004

Back Garden by Martha Rosler, 2004

“This exhibition shows a selection of Rosler’s early work, which addresses political, social, and media issues that have remained at the forefront of her practice to this day. It is a special honor to present this exhibition at this time, as Rosler was singled out by the New Foundation Seattle as the recipient of its inaugural 100K Prize,” said Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. The New Foundation Seattle established the prize as a biennial award to be presented to an influential, US-based woman artist in honor of her exemplary artistic achievements and enduring commitment to her practice.

Martha Rosler: Below the Surface is on view at Seattle Art Museum through July 4, 2016.

Images: Cleaning the Drapes, 1967-72, Martha Rosler, American, b. 1943, photomontage, 17 5/16 x 23 3/4 in., Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY. Back Garden, 2004, Martha Rosler, American, b. 1943, photomontage, 20 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY.
Detail of The Triumph of Valor over Time by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Object of the Week: The Triumph of Valor over Time

As an arts institution situated in a once very isolated part of the country, the Seattle Art Museum grew and developed into the museum it is today only by the generosity and boldness of its supporters. Our co-founders, Dr. Richard Fuller and Margaret MacTavish Fuller, both played central roles in SAM’s success story. Another figure who became crucial to the museum in its formative years was Sherman E. Lee, who served as Assistant Director and Associate Director over four years at SAM, 1948–1952.

Lee was a specialist in Asian art, and Dr. Fuller brought him on board specifically to grow this part of the collection, but his impact would be felt in much broader ways. It was Lee who had the vision to convincingly lobby for Seattle to be included in a regional galleries program launched by the Kress Foundation during Lee’s tenure at SAM. The Kress Collection was a five-and-dime fortune converted into a nearly unmatched holding of European Old Master artworks. As a result of Lee’s ambition, Seattle and SAM became one of 18 regional sites selected to host pieces of the same prestigious collection that fills much of the Renaissance galleries at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

A full view of The Triumph of Valor over Time by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Not only was SAM chosen to receive some of the fine Kress pictures, but in a moment of plucky brilliance, Lee negotiated for an even better group of artworks than were originally intended for Seattle. In May 1950, Lee made his case to Kress Foundation art director Guy Emerson, writing that “our Ancient, Medieval, and Oriental collections contain many master works comparable to some of the famous paintings in the National Gallery and those in Mr. Kress’ marvelous living room. Consequently, we are interested in seeing our own Western tradition of painting represented by works which will bear comparison with the others.”1 His is a bold proclamation of Northwest arts pride, the fruits of which we’re still enjoying today, as the Kress artworks remain the core of SAM’s European painting and sculpture collection.

As good as Sherman Lee was for SAM, and for the Cleveland Museum of Art, where he would serve as director from 1958 until 1983, he and SAM almost missed big on one of the most memorable pieces in our collection. Looking over the original list proposed by the Kress Foundation, Lee was enthused about a sketch by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo but had reservations about the related ceiling fresco, transferred to canvas: “one or two of the proposed gifts are extraordinarily exciting, notably the Tiepolo sketch (incidentally, the ceiling itself is too large for us).”2

Too big?! Incidentally?! Thank goodness that wasn’t the end of the conversation. Imagine if we missed out on the remarkable Tiepolo ceiling The Triumph of Valor over Time because of its awesome dimensions. What a loss it would have been. In the end, accommodations were made, with SAM raising the ceiling height of its Kress-devoted gallery five feet in order to provide a suitably illusionistic viewing experience.

Installation view of SAM's Porcelain Room

Today, The Triumph of Valor over Time looms above the Porcelain Room, where its 18th-century aesthetic and pastel palette play well with the artfully arranged decorative objects filling the space. In a nearby gallery you’ll spot the masterful little bozetto, or painting sketch, that initially caught Sherman Lee’s eye.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: The Triumph of Valor over Time, ca. 1757, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, 1696-1770), fresco transferred to canvas, 200 x 90 in. Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.170, Photo: Paul Macapia. Installation view of the Porcelain Room at the Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Paul Macapia.
1 Quoted by Marilyn Perry in “The Kress Collection,” in A Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, ex. cat., New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in association with the North Carolina Museum of Art; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Seattle Art Museum; and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1994; p. 28.
2 Ibid., 29.
Freee yoga at Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle

Summer Mindfulness and Creativity

Like many of us who live in the Pacific Northwest, I was called to this region of the country because of its natural beauty, dramatic mountains, and sparkling waters. I moved here from the concrete flatlands of sprawling Midwest suburbia, where the air too often smells like a combination of diesel and fried food. Thankfully, I was raised by a mother who highly values experiences in the outdoors. She is also a fulltime professional artist, and as a resourceful single mother she brought her children along on her searches for inspiration in the natural world. My mom taught us to appreciate the outdoors by encouraging close attention: listen carefully and you can hear the wind under the wings of migrating Canadian geese; stand still long enough and you may just catch that tadpole. Trees were measured by hugs around their trunks, leaves applauded as they trembled in the breeze, thunderstorms were music to dance to, dirt was painting material, and a flower’s scent was joy juice. The natural world was full of magic and creative potential.

Seattle yoga summer classes at Olympic Sculpture Park

It’s clear now that my own mindfulness practice began in these early experiences with nature. The connections between mindfulness and creativity have been inherently linked throughout my life and I believe that’s true for so many others. Living in our busy urban environment, paying attention to beauty is especially important. We all know how easy it is to be caught up in the speed and pace of the day-to-day bustle. But there is magic here too.

“. . . I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following,
Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city, sounds of the day and night,
Talkative young ones to those that like them, the loud laugh of work-people at their meals,
The angry base of disjointed friendship, the faint tones of the sick,
The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips pronouncing a death-sentence,
The heave’e’yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves, the refrain of the anchor-lifters,
The ring of alarm-bells, the cry of fire, the whirr of swift-streaking engines and hose-carts with premonitory tinkles and color’d lights,
The steam-whistle, the solid roll of the train of approaching cars . . .
I hear the chorus, it is a grand opera,
Ah this indeed is music—this suits me. . . .”
–Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

I work at the Seattle Art Museum designing and implementing programs for art and the environment. Many of my programs take place at the Olympic Sculpture Park and I recently planned our robust Summer at SAM season. Every Saturday morning during July and August, hundreds of guests come to the sculpture park to participate in free outdoor yoga with 8 Limbs. It’s a fantastic and productive partnership. It’s also been a surprisingly rewarding program to work on personally. Imagine hundreds of people, all different backgrounds, ages, and skill levels, moving and breathing in sync to a backdrop of the Olympic Mountains, Puget Sound, and a masterful collection of minimalist modern sculpture. The energy of each body emanates through the entire nine acres of the park.

In my job, I often live in a world of thought that is fairly abstract, trying to translate complicated histories and dense art language to audiences through multidisciplinary programs. I also get to play with these ideas, stretch, pull, and bend the boundaries of the expected into the unexpected. Art and the environment is a broad subject that has room to encompass natural, built, and virtual environments. Within the field there is a lot of freedom to explore what it means to have a physical body that is deeply connected to and affected by its surroundings.

Free yoga classes with 8Limbs Yoga in Seattle
Yoga teaches awareness of the body’s relationship to the ground and earth, the space around and between bodies. It is guided by our interactions with nature and the very profound integration of our spirit, our physical makeup, and the cosmos. The Olympic Sculpture Park provides a unique setting for this awareness to take place at the intersections of art, nature, and the city. During practice, there is grass beneath your feet, breeze blowing from the waterfront, mountains in view, and native plants surrounding you. The city is alive and humming with noise from the street, railroad tracks, and neighborhood comings and goings of a growing area. Amid all of this, the park’s collection of modern and contemporary sculpture brings a focal point of creativity to mindfulness. You are, at once, a part of an entire community of systems and reminded of the many inspirations so readily offered if you just pay attention.

“Everything is gestation and bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life. Being an artist means not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

—Leah Oren, Program Associate for Art and Environment, Seattle Art Museum

8 Limbs instructors will teach two free yoga classes every Saturday at SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park at 9 am (All Levels Flow) and 10:30 am (Level I) from July 9 through August 27. On September 10, 17, and 24 we will continue teaching one class at 10:30 am (Level I). There is no yoga offered over Labor Day weekend.

IMAGES: Photos by Robert Wade.
Decorative Astrolabe, Persian

Object of the Week: Decorative Astrolabe

When SAM acquired a quiet and exquisite Persian Decorative astrolabe in 2009, it was enacting a throwback to the collecting philosophy of our founding director, Dr. Richard Fuller. A trained geologist who put great store in studying things closely—in practicing connoisseurship, to use a pretty untrendy word—Fuller aimed to detect the intricacies of art objects through time and attention. He was deeply interested in how things were made, a perpetual tinkerer. He also seems to have enjoyed discovering why things were made a certain way, and especially how they were first used. Many of us won’t think of an object’s function as particularly relevant to an assessment of that thing as art, but it definitely factored into Dr. Fuller’s deliberations.

In his memoir on the founding and growth of SAM, A Gift to the City, Dr. Fuller writes a straightforward apology for the museum’s collecting strategy: “Within our limited means we endeavor to acquire authentic items of high aesthetic quality and, if possible, functional interest. I strive for items that reflect the creative talent of each period and which, in geologic terms, serve as index fossils for their specific time and culture.”1

In sum, he looked for beautiful objects that told stories. In this framework it mattered significantly whether an object visibly reflected a certain people or time or place, and readily apparent signs of an original use or context were coveted. Functional objects were not only not avoided but embraced. There is logic to this: If we want to know something about people who are distanced from us, seeing their stuff and knowing exactly how it is, or was, used can be very helpful.

Decorative Astrolabe, Persian

I love the Persian Decorative astrolabe because it is an “index fossil” of the kind Dr. Fuller was always after, but it also has subtle and crafty ways of teaching us.

First, the ways that it falls into his categories: As the single most important astronomical tool of the Middle Ages, the astrolabe holds great functional interest. Astrolabes were, at one time, widely used by navigators, astronomers, mathematicians, and theologians to solve problems related to the motion of celestial bodies. The astrolabe stands as a symbol of the many scientific accomplishments of an era and the specific culture of medieval Islam. It’s also suitably small. Dr. Fuller bought many little things, maybe reflecting his reserved personality, but definitely reflecting his desire to leverage limited funds to the greatest effect. Finally, it has “high aesthetic quality,” to borrow Dr. Fuller’s geologic nomenclature. Precisely and carefully decorated, it would no doubt have passed this portion of the test. Calligraphic script dances across the surfaces of its interlocking discs, broken up by elegant decorative patterns.

In one clear way SAM’s Decorative astrolabe differs from Dr. Fuller’s expectations. It was likely never functional but always a decorative object. Other technologies began to replace the astrolabe for its functional use in the 17th century; this example, dating to the 19th century, was probably never needed for navigating the seas or charting planetary movements. It’s a vestigial tool, a once-functional object rendered obsolete.

So we look at this object, and it seems to, but doesn’t really, tell us how its original audience related to it. It’s cheeky, throwing us for a loop. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have stories. It just means the stories are different than what we expected to hear. It opens up so many new questions, like why, in the 19th century, in Persia, the memory of the astrolabe remained so strong that an artisan produced this fine example?

Decorative astrolabe, 19th c., Persian, Qajar period (1794-1925), brass, 4×3 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Jeff Strickler, 2009.65.1, Photos: Natali Wiseman.
1 A Gift to the City: A History of the Seattle Art Museum and the Fuller Family, Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1993; p. 24.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Directed by Howard Hawks
Shown: Cary Grant (as Dr. David Huxley), Katharine Hepburn (as Susan Vance)

Film/Life: Cary Grant

Cary Grant for President
Thursdays, Jul 7-Aug 11, 7:30 pm
Seattle Art Museum

In this political year we celebrate the fun-loving intelligence and casual, stylish charm of Cary Grant, who critics, authors, and Clint Eastwood call “the best, most subtly brilliant actor in the cinema.” To put it simply, he’s comic perfection.

Of course perfection takes hard work, even for the man who makes everything look easy and elegant. We picture him at age eighty-two, impeccable in a cashmere sweater, lounging in his Beverly Hills garden. Or fifty years earlier, nonchalant in a formal tuxedo, laughing with Katharine Hepburn at a chic Hollywood soiree. But who’s this nine-year-old Archie Leach of Bristol, England, a child of working-class poverty and a traumatic home life? How did Archie grow up to be Cary, “the man from dream city,” as a character calls him in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer?

A lonely child weary of his parents’ battles, Archie at nine was astounded to come home from school one day to find his mother gone—forever. Unbeknownst to the boy, his father had committed her to a mental institution and Archie had to live with the mystery of her absence. Alienated from his emotionally distant father and bored with school, Archie was a latch key kid fending for himself. Visiting backstage at a vaudeville stage show, he felt at home amid the “smiling, jostling people wearing costumes; they were cheerful and carefree; I had found a place to be, and people let me be there.”

Cary Grant in 1940

Cary Grant in 1940

Escaping from spiritual darkness, Archie made his way into the light-filled world he was born to inhabit. Mature for his thirteen years, bright, tall, good-looking, athletic and graceful, he began touring Britain with a vaudeville troupe, reveling in audience applause, and, eventually, his father’s pride.  Archie performed in New York at age sixteen, and the can-do American spirit, plus the exuberant, self-confident persona of swashbuckling US movie star Douglas Fairbanks, reinforced the English youth’s quest to discover and become his best self. And just as Archie’s vocal accent would become a unique blending of American and English tones, the English wit and sartorial paragon Noël Coward joined Fairbanks as an inspiring example of how to make one’s way through life.

Archie flexed his artistic muscles on the New York stage, singing, dancing, acting, doing magic tricks and acrobatic stunts, and getting laughs. He identified wet, cold weather with the emotional malaise of his Bristol childhood, and he vowed to always live where the sun shone. It was time. The movies were being made in California, so he got in his used Packard and drove cross-country to Hollywood. He knew where he was going and he was about to take a world of delighted moviegoers with him—but he had to do something about that name. He was Archie Leach, but he chose to be Cary Grant. “I played at being someone I wanted to be until I became that person. Or he became me.”

Bringing Up Baby (1938) Directed by Howard Hawks Shown: Katharine Hepburn (as Susan Vance) , Cary Grant (as Dr. David Huxley)

Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Directed by Howard Hawks
Shown: Katharine Hepburn (as Susan Vance) , Cary Grant (as Dr. David Huxley)

July 7: Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938). Our series begins at the pinnacle of screwball comedy, with serious-minded paleontologist Cary Grant at the top of a ladder putting together a dinosaur skeleton. His life is carefully planned: complete his project, get married tomorrow. But can the intrusive, chaotic whirlwind that is Katharine Hepburn and her pet leopard, Baby, show him a more wonderful life? Library of Congress 35mm print, 102 min.

July 14: My Favorite Wife (Garson Kanin, 1940). Bigamy was never so much fun as when Irene Dunne, lost at sea years ago, returns to find her husband (Grant) married to Gail Patrick. Juggling this crazy, comically contentious situation is difficult enough—and then hunk Randolph Scott, who Dunne was shipwrecked with, enters the picture. Library of Congress 35mm print, 88 min.

July 21: The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940). In this witty triumph for Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart, we join Philadelphia aristocrat Hepburn on the eve of her wedding to tycoon John Howard. Her ex-husband Grant, with a bemused light touch, hangs around the periphery letting her know that she’s making an unwise marriage. And newsman Stewart plunges right in, falling for the magnificent woman he’s been sent to report on. Which man Hepburn will choose remains a beautifully sustained question. Features a famous scene sparked by dialogue Cary Grant improvised. In 35mm, 110 min.

July 28: Arsenic and Old Lace (Frank Capra, 1944). Grant’s a master of polite reserve, so it’s a delightful contrast when he cuts loose and dithers about. What’s driving him to distraction? His wacky Brooklyn aunts just might be poisoning visitors and burying them in the cellar. And then sinister Peter Lorre and Raymond Massey come to call. In 35mm, 118 min.

August 4: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (H.C. Potter, 1948). Jammed into a tiny Manhattan apartment with his wife (Myrna Loy) and two daughters, Grant dreams of a serene house in the country. He impulsively buys an ancient farmhouse, and gets cheated by the real estate agent in the process. Then, as he deals with a deluge of construction problems, the frustrated Grant has to listen to the wry comments of his friend Melvyn Douglas, who has a flirtatious eye for Loy. In 35mm, 106 min.

August 11: Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963). Grant always worked with the best performers, and his only pairing with Audrey Hepburn is a high-style comic thriller. Hepburn has a lot to be puzzled about: her husband is mysteriously dead, there’s stolen money, and menacing James Coburn and George Kennedy don’t wish her well. But one thing’s for sure—at one point she says to Cary Grant, “You know what’s wrong with you? Nothing.” With music by Henry Mancini. In 35mm, 113 min.

—Greg Olson, Manager of SAM Films

IMAGES: © RKO Radio Pictures Inc., Courtesy of Photofest.
Elevator Screen from the Chicago Stock Exchange by Louis Sullivan

Object of the Week: Elevator screen from the Chicago Stock Exchange

The unfortunate thing about clichés is that they disguise the nuance of truth. When we remember Louis Sullivan, we whip out the phrase “form follows function” and, by doing so, suggest the famed architect as a harbinger for a minimal style of building, one that came to define the modernist movement in architecture. SAM’s Elevator screen from the Chicago Stock Exchange shows Sullivan, instead, as a master of creative ornamentation. What gives?

Sullivan often gets the epithet “father of modern architecture.” His legacy might be a bit misunderstood by some. His most famous quote derives from an essay so drily titled that it’s a wonder anyone ever read it: “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered.” It’s actually very dramatically written. He spells out his purpose for the treatise in a masterful passage of overblown rhetoric, posing this rhetorical:

“Problem: How shall we impart to this sterile pile, this crude, harsh, brutal agglomeration, this stark, staring exclamation of eternal strife, the graciousness of those higher forms of sensibility and culture that rest on the lower and fiercer passions? How shall we proclaim from the dizzy height of this strange, weird, modern housetop the peaceful evangel of sentiment, of beauty, the cult of a higher life?”1

In what follows, Sullivan lays out his philosophy on architecture. First of all, we find that, for Sullivan, “form” most closely meant ornamentation. So when he says “form ever follows function,” he means something like “ornamentation comes after use.” He is not saying that form (ornament) doesn’t matter—a misinterpretation that led many to understand him saying decorative elements were unnecessary. Sullivan’s approach was to address function first, and then get creative with the form, “to proceed step by step from general to special aspects.”2

Elevator Screen from the Chicago Stock Exchange by Louis Sullivan

How did he come to this conclusion? Everywhere in nature, he says, the essence of a thing is reflected by, and embodied in, its shape.3 Efficient shapes make for sensible things that work well and survive. Are we arrogant enough to go against what’s natural and sensible? For, Sullivan proclaims, “It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”4

First things first, Sullivan argues: Let’s get the use right, and then, working from that base, let’s have fun making it look good. With the Chicago Stock Exchange building, a fine example of a “tall office building” of the late 19th century, Sullivan brought his ideas to fruition. He saw the chief characteristic of skyscrapers, as we know them, as being “lofty”: “The force and power of altitude must be in it.”5 We see that power in the tall and commanding screen that has a strong presence in SAM’s American art galleries.

Elevator Screen from the Chicago Stock Exchange by Louis Sullivan

In ornamentation, too, we see Sullivan’s philosophy at work: The geometric shapes that decorate the grill, futuristic-looking circles and spheres, were actually made to represent seed germs for this, the nation’s largest agricultural stock exchange. There’s an important place for ornamentation in Sullivan’s design. The details just had to be smart, and they had to fit.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Elevator screen from the Chicago Stock Exchange, ca. 1893-1894, Louis Sullivan (American, 1856-1924), Lintel, columns and kick plates: cast iron electroplated with copper; Grilles: cast and wrought iron protected with a Bower and Barff finish; Decorative T-shaped elements: electroformed copper; 114 x 165 x 6 in. Seattle Art Museum, The Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff Endowment for the Decorative Arts, the Gates Foundation Endowment, the General Acquisition Fund, and an anonymous gift in honor of Julie Emerson, 2008.81
1“The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered,” in The Western Architect XXXI (January 1922): 3
2 3
3 10
4 11
5 4
Tahoma (After Hokusai) from the Immaculate Disasters Series by Troy Gua

Printmaking in the Digital Age

What does the word “printmaking” mean in our digital age?

SAM Gallery’s June show, Contemporary Printmakers, supplies answers as varied as the artwork on view.

From the digital images of Stephen Rock and Troy Gua, to the mélange of techniques used by Kate Sweeney and Iskra Johnson, these artists use printmaking for many reasons. On the practical side, Gua says collector demand led him from painting to digital mediums. Meanwhile, Kate Sweeney’s desire is to push a two-dimensional surface into revealing three-dimensional space.

Luck or Chance: Many universes are possible, simultaneous and interpenetrated by Kate Sweeney

Printmaking, simplified, is when an artist works on one surface and then applies or transfers that work to a different surface. You’re probably familiar with how a wood block, an acrylic stamp, or a metal plate can be pressed onto a sheet of paper—this is printmaking. The idea of the repeatable image, or part of an image, has held appeal as a way to reprise elements of an artwork for artists and art collectors for millennia. Think of Andy Warhol and how his repeated gestures are fundamental to understanding the work as well as the artist’s intent.

View Corridor by Iskra Johnson

Today’s printmakers come to the medium for similar reasons but their toolkit includes computers, cameras, traditional print presses, handmade “pressure” prints, photocopies, and just about anything else that can be scratched and used to make marks on a surface. Whether it is the psychedelia of color explosions in Gua, Sweeney, and Rock’s work; or the whisper of minimalism in Rachel Illingworth’s pieces, the printmaking process helps artists tell their story in a multitude of ways.

When Flowers Speak to Clouds by Stephen Rock / From the Terrace (A Study of Edges) No. 6 by Rachel Illingsworth

Johnson says it best: “the process forces a certain surrender of control . . . with work that appears to have ‘arrived’ rather than having been ‘made’.” Her current body of work revolves around the theme of impermanence. Sweeney is contemplating gravity waves, dark matter, and all things quantum-theory related. And although 20th-century artist Agnes Martin didn’t work extensively with prints, it’s easy to see that she is a favorite of Illingworth’s. Gua wants to pay homage to the beautiful imagery and composition of Japanese woodblock prints, but also Northwestern-ize his work by using familiar landmarks.

Artist Curt Labitzke, a University of Washington Art Department Professor who runs the print studio there says his work in this show isn’t a print, but rather a painting. However, he used techniques to bring scratched elements through the back of the paper surface. So is it a print, based on the definition above? SAM Gallery invites you to see this show and decide for yourself.

The show runs June 9–July 7 and features the work of Northwest artists Troy Gua, Rachel Illingworth, Iskra Johnson, Curt Labitzke, Stephen Rock, and Kate Sweeney.

SAM Gallery is located in the lower level of Seattle Art Museum’s downtown location and open the same hours as the museum. All of the artwork is for sale and members can try before they buy, with a low-cost art-rental program.

Images: Somerset (Cathedral), Troy Gua, resin coated metallic chromogenic print on panel, 30 x 48 in. Luck or Chance: Many universes are possible, simultaneous and interpenetrated, Kate Sweeney, acrylic on paper collage with digital print, monoprint, braille print and transfer print, 46 x 49 in. View Corridor, Iskra Johnson, archival pigment print, 33 x 61 in. When Flowers Speak to Clouds, Stephen Rock, pigmented print with watercolor, mounted on board, 36 x 24 in. From the Terrace (A Study of Edges) No. 6, Rachel Illingworth, monotype with Pochoir, 40 x 31 in.

Untitled, 1967, Larry Bell, American, b. 1939, silicon-monoxide-coated glass and chrome-plated metal, 59 x 22 x 22in. Gift of Anne Gerber, 2000.168. ©Larry Bell

Object of the Week: Untitled

“After many years in my studio I found that the light from the surface was my predominant media. The interface of light and surface . . . . While ‘light and surface’ is a rather technical triptych of words, my emotional concern is how it feels to make the art.”
—Larry Bell

In 1960s Los Angeles, a loosely-affiliated group of artists began working not with paint and canvas, clay and wood, charcoal and pen, but with two less concrete mediums: light and space. The so-called (perhaps unimaginatively) Light and Space artists were responding to new ideas about viewer perception in art, and experimenting with new materials that were suddenly widely available from Southern California-based industries: polyester resin, coated glass, Plexiglas, neon.

While artists in New York were working with similarly industrial materials and playing with the viewer’s perception of space, the emphasis on light as a medium became unique to the L.A. group. This seems to have been no accident, but a response to the place itself—there’s a certain quality of radiant light that exists in Southern California, where the sun always shines, reflecting on the waves and cars and surfboards and refracting through the immutable smog. Say what you will about L.A., but they don’t make light like that anywhere else.

So it stands to reason that Larry Bell in his Venice Beach studio, immersed in California light and with direct access to newly available materials, would become interested in the emotive potentials of light and surface. Bell began his career as a painter, but soon became fascinated with the properties of glass after working at a picture framing shop. He experimented simultaneously with abstract painting and small constructions of cracked glass, and it wasn’t long before the two parallel practices began to merge—until he added glass onto a painting itself:

“Adding glass [to a canvas] was totally intuitive. I liked the work’s feeling of simplicity, and the fact that the imagery now included the wall behind the canvas. This led to incorporating the light in front of the canvas in an ‘unpainterly’ way. I chose mirrors to replace the clear glass. I scraped away the silvering so that the reflected light and the transmitted light created the shape of a tesseract, which was also the shape of the canvases.

Representing volume, created with light, reflected and transmitted, was now part of my process. . . . Unconsciously, I had become a sculptor.”

Bell’s Untitled of 1967, on view in SAM’s Light and Space exhibition, is the result of this unconscious metamorphosis. A perfect cube made of coated glass, the work is a pure expression of volume, space contained and revealed. The thin, metal film which coats the glass allows the light filtering through the material to reflect and refract in unique ways. The edges emerge and disappear, and the sides darken and lighten as you move around the work. Though all six sides of the cube are identical, no two people will experience the same view of the whole—everything depends on your position in relation to the object, and its position in relation to a ray of light.

For many of the Light and Space artists, an artwork only reached its full potential when it was engaged in this relationship with a viewer—an object in an empty room without anyone to look at it is, in essence, not doing its job. Bell was no exception to this belief: “In my opinion all artwork is stored energy. The art releases its power whenever a viewer becomes a dreamer.” Dream on, friends, and come see what kind of energy this enigmatic box releases for you.

—Carrie Dedon, Modern and Contemporary Art Curatorial Assistant

Image: Untitled, 1967, Larry Bell, American, b. 1939, silicon-monoxide-coated glass and chrome-plated metal, 59 x 22 x 22in. Gift of Anne Gerber, 2000.168, ©Larry Bell, Photo: Natali Wiseman.
All quotes are excerpted from Larry Bell, Zones of Experience, exh. cat. (Albuquerque, NM: Albuquerque Museum, 1997).
For the Love of Art

For the Love of Art Member Profile: Stephanie Daud

STEPHANIE DAUD (+ husband John, kids Iris and Jonah)
35–44
Stay-at-home mom
Family member since 2012

What’s your occupation? What are your hobbies or passions?
SAHM (stay-at-home mom). Going places, reading novels, sewing, and gardening.

What’s your favorite SAM location? Do you have a special spot to visit?
My 3-year-old daughter’s favorite spot was the giant rat sculpture, Mann Und Maus, at the Seattle Art Museum. I love visiting the Italian Room—thinking of the families that once used the room gives me an unparalleled sense of history (for the PNW); it calms me and reminds me of what is important in life.

For the Love of Art

What do you love about being a SAM member?
I grew up 100 miles away from any fine art museum, so visiting one was always a special and unique event.

I love that I can now visit what I consider “my” museum in a much more casual way. I don’t have to plan ahead and if I miss something one day, I feel like I can easily return. The museum and its exhibitions are still special, but I have a very comfortable relationship with them now.

I love this story! It’s good to hear about that change in your life. Can you explain more about why you value art as a family?
I think it is important. It’s good to appreciate the beautiful things that people make. I consider John an artist and I am not an artist at all, but I like to look at art.

We want to raise the kids in a place where they are comfortable appreciating art—and not just saying something is pretty, but being able to talk about it on a deeper level. Even if some of the art is weird—that’s ok. It’s really fun to talk about weird art with a three-year-old. It really distills what is going on.

In the 2015 Pop art exhibition, Pop Departures, we saw the inflating water bottle [Ice Bag–Scale B by Claes Oldenburg]. Iris perceives it as a robot because it moves. We talked about why it is moving and that’s what we figured out about it.

I want to raise the children in a way where we can take it for granted that we are going to see these things. To the point where it’s not a special privilege, even though it is. I think frequent exposure can help them understand that art can always be a part of their normal life.

SAM camp is a great way for your little ones to roll up their sleeves and get creative. Camp begins July 11 and SAM members always receive discounted registration. Spots are going fast—sign up your artists in training today!