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Object of the Week: Study for Aleko’s Horse

Marc Chagall was a prolific artist, producing numerous pieces in a variety of media. Renowned for his richly colored, idiosyncratic style of painting that weds abstraction and Cubism, some of his lesser-known masterpieces revolved around the theater. Chagall’s relationship with the stage began in 1911, when he worked on set designs for the Ballets Russes. He continued to contribute to Russian-based stage designs throughout the ‘20s, before moving to Paris in 1923.[1] While this was an artistically productive period for Chagall, the Nazi occupation of France made living in Paris unsafe for the artist, who was Jewish. With the assistance of organizations working to extricate artists and intellectuals from Europe, Chagall and his wife immigrated to New York for the duration of World War II, arriving in the United States in 1941.  

In 1942, Chagall was hired by the Ballet Theater of New York to design the ballet costumes and sets for a new play. Based on the poem “The Gypsies,” by Alexander Pushkin, the ballet Aleko featured music by Tchaikovsky.[2] The ballet follows the story of Aleko, the protagonist who falls in love with a Romani girl named Zemfira. Their love is not everlasting, however, and by the fourth act Aleko kills Zemfira and her new lover in a fit of jealous rage. While Chagall had worked on set designs before, this was the first time he applied his skills to a ballet. He ultimately designed four backdrops—one for each act—and over 70 costumes. While the ballet’s production was to be completed in New York, union rules forbade Chagall from painting his own sets. As a result, production moved to Mexico City, an environment which greatly influenced Chagall’s designs. Heavily inspired by both Russian folklore and Mexican art and architecture, Chagall produced beautifully whimsical hand-painted ballet costumes and backdrops, including numerous design studies.

Chagall’s Study for Aleko’s Horse is one such study, merging images from both the second and fourth acts of the play. The study’s rich, vibrant colors and whimsical subject matter capture the dynamic and psychological aspects of the story. In the second act, which revolves around a lively carnival, Aleko and Zemfira are still in love. By the fourth act, Aleko dreams of strange and nightmarish fantasies, with images that twist and swirl before his eyes. Aleko’s nightmares take him to the brink of insanity—and, jealous and enraged, he kills Zemfira, in love with another man.[3] The juxtaposition of these two scenes represents the dramatic turn of events, synthesized in Chagall’s study as a densely layered, colorful dreamscape.

Hayley Makinster, SAM Curatorial Intern

[1] Stephanie Barron, “Marc Chagall and Twentieth-Century Designs for the Stage,” LACMA Unframed, 1 August 2017. https://unframed.lacma.org/2017/08/01/marc-chagall-and-twentieth-century-designs-stage
[2] Liesl Bradner, “Marc Chagall Reveals his Theatrical Side in LACMA’s ‘Fantasies for the Stage,’” LA Times, 23 July 2017. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-ca-cm-chagall-lacma-20170714-story.html
[3] Leland Windreich, “Massine’s ‘Aleko,’” Dance Chronicle 8, no. ¾ (1985): 156-160, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1567580
Image: Study for Aleko’s Horse, 1953-56, Marc Chagall, Oil on canvas, 18 × 24 in. (45.7 × 61 cm), Gift of Gladys and Sam Rubinstein, 2014.26.9 Estate of Marc Chagall/Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Object of the Week: Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables, After Juan Sanches Cotan

From very far away, one sees the softly rendered image of a still life, complete with various citrus fruits, root vegetables, and leafy greens. Their shapes are loose and open, lacking definition aside from the sharp color contrasts between the bright yellow of the lemon, orange of the carrot, and deep black of the background. As one moves closer to the work, peering intently at it, the fruits and vegetables in the window sill reassert their construction in a pointillist fashion. Each “brushstroke” turns out to be a dot of distinct color, contributing to the ambiguous outlines and shapes.

However, the work is not a painting with layers of dots of color. Rather, Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz created Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables, After Juan Sanches Cotan by layering cut and hole-punched paper scraps from magazines into a collage. To add yet another dimension to the work, Muniz then photographed the collage, which resulted in the final work: an enlarged chromogenic print. This photo is based on a still life by Juan Sanches Cotan, a notable Spanish Baroque painter, known for his austere yet deeply realistic still lifes.

The optical relationship between part and whole has been something that has interested Muniz for many years:

It’s like the fur in Vermeer’s painting of The Woman Reading a Letter at the Frick. You get up close and you can’t see fur anymore, just a blur of brushstrokes. Then you go back and it’s fur again. . . . I think art without pretenses of being more than a visual exercise can indeed be powerful and complete.1

Throughout his career, he has used elements such as sugar to construct portraits of children working on sugar plantations, peanut butter and jelly to recreate the Mona Lisa, and garbage to depict pickers in one of Brazil’s largest garbage dumps. His works connect past and present and create illusions of famous and recognizable works.

Emma Ming Wahl, SAM Curatorial Intern

1 Vik Muniz, “Bomb Magazine: Vik Muniz by Mark Magill.” Vik Muniz. Accessed September 10, 2019. http://vikmuniz.net/library/vik-muniz-by-mark-magill.

Image: Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables, after Juan Sanches Cotan, 2004, Vik Muniz, Chromogenic print, 72 x 99 1/2 in. (182.9 x 252.7cm) Gift of Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Jane Davis, Barney A. Ebsworth, Henry and Mary Ann James, Janet Ketcham, Sally Neukom, Virginia Wright, and Ann Wyckoff in honor of Chiyo Ishikawa, 2004.93.

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Muse/News: SAM award news, the Space Needle is a she, and Dr. Seuss at the museum

SAM News

Last week, SAM announced the finalists for this year’s Betty Bowen Award: Andrea Joyce Heimer, Anthony Hudson, Adair Rutledge, Lynne Siefert, and Anthony White.

The solo exhibition of the 2018 winner, Natalie Ball, was reviewed in Art & Object.

“Subverting tropes about Native American identity and art by repurposing familiar materials, Ball points out the absurdity of our assumptions.”

Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness is on regal display on the cover of this week’s Real Change; inside, don’t miss Lisa Edge’s review of the installation.

“Let’s have positive images of ourselves that are done with love,” said Muholi. “Let us consume this self-love because our forefathers, our foremothers that came before us never had the opportunity to speak for themselves.”

Local News

“The Space Needle is a she.” Crosscut’s Brangien Davis on a documentary exploring the hidden history of Seattle’s iconic landmark: its shape may have been inspired by a Black dancer named Syvilla Fort.

The City’s Art Beat Blog has a recap of the recent Creative Advantage Arts Partner Summer Institute, held at SAM; this year’s theme was “exploring the local.”

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig goes home to Wa Na Wari, reviewing the center’s newest show featuring work by several artists, including Nastassja Swift’s video of masked dancers.

“Swift’s video, no more than 10 minutes long, grapples with the concept of home, being home, having a home, feeling at home in one’s body and community. In that way, it fits well at Wa Na Wari. Where do we belong?

Inter/National News

Artforum reports that Werner Kramarsky passed away this week at the age of 93; a formidable collector, he donated 25 drawings to SAM over the years.

Artnet’s Ben Davis takes a look at Dia:Beacon’s new permanent gallery dedicated to Sam Gilliam and his signature “drape” paintings.

The New York Times’ Guy Trebay attends the 16th annual edition of the influential and popular International Folk Art Market, which explodes the art-world schism between fine art and craft.

“It comes out of nowhere, out of nothing,” he added. “There’s not a tradition for it. It’s just some guy saying, ‘I want to make this thing.”

And Finally

Double Dr. Seuss news: Oh, the museums you’ll go!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Snake” at Seattle Art Museum, 2019, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: Layerless freedom, #JayDoodles, and Art Boys

SAM News

In honor of Pacific Northwest Black Pride, Crystal Paul, Erika Schultz, and Corinne Chin of The Seattle Times presents a multimedia story exploring identity and freedom with 10 Black, queer Seattleites.

In a related story, they recreated an intimate conversation that Black, queer artists recently had with Zanele Muholi, talking through their reactions to the SAM show, Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness.

Here’s Gregory Scruggs for the Stranger, interviewing Brazilian artist Regina Silveira about her Olympic Sculpture Park site-specific installation Octopus Wrap, the goal of art, and the relative concrete jungles of Seattle and São Paulo.

Seattle Met’s September issue has hit newsstands. Their fall arts preview leads with a story on the new directors at SAM, the Symphony, and the Opera—and their visions for the future. SAM’s new director Amada Cruz starts in mid-September!

“The tradition of art museums is that they’re closed off repositories of precious works of art,” [Cruz] says. “How do we open ourselves up so that museums can become part of everybody’s daily life?”

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Alan Berner captured some terrific shots (as usual) of an installation happening at the Burke Museum: a huge mural by artist RYAN! Feddersen.

Watch this Crosscut video featuring cool footage of the viaduct “unmaking” and a conversation with architect David Miller about the future of the waterfront.

#JayDoodles: It’s a thing. SAM’s own Chiyo Ishikawa is among the art-world heavies offering their takes on Governor Jay Inslee’s lighthearted artistic practice in this Seattle Times story.

“The figure in the boat could represent his campaign: Rowing against the stream!”

Inter/National News

The MCA Denver has named Nora Burnett Abrams its new director, reports the New York Times. She’s been a curator at the museum for the last 10 years.

Alex Needham, an arts editor at the Guardian, tweeted this week that curators shouldn’t be named in show reviews. Artnet’s Naomi Rea reports on the ensuing Twitter storm.

Artnet’s Caroline Goldstein reports on the ABC casting notice that may bring so-called Art Boys to network television.

“The dashing Art Boy, on the other hand, is more of a rosé and tapas type. Who doesn’t want to watch a show about him?”

And Finally

Happy birthday, Dorothy Parker.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Installation view “Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness,” Seattle Art Museum, 2019.



Muse/News: Beauty at SAM, Juneteenth lessons, and a huge statue from Kehinde Wiley

SAM News

The Victorians Radicals are here! Here are reviews from Gary Faigin for the Seattle Times and Stefan Milne of Seattle Met on the exhibition’s beautiful objects and historical richness.

Fayemi Shakur profiles Zanele Muholi and their work photographing Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex South Africans. Muholi’s stunning self-portraits arrive at SAM on July 10.  

“I want the next generation of young queers and non-queers to know that we are here, that we were here. We owe it to ourselves to make sense of our lives and living.”

Local News

“Almost free is unfree”: LaNesha DeBardelaben, Executive Director of the Northwest African American Museum, shares the story—and lessons—of Juneteenth. (And Real Change’s Lisa Edge wrote up their current exhibition!)

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig on the “disco balls, closed-circuit cameras, and colored lighting” in Give It or Leave It, Cauleen Smith’s solo show at the Frye Art Museum.

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley talks with Greg Lundgren about empty spaces, collective billionaires, and the forthcoming Museum of Museums (MoM).

“I’ll keep saying the same thing I’ve said for years: Any time you have a concentration of talent, wealth, innovation and quality of life, you’ve got all the ingredients for a renaissance, of a revolution, of a movement. But somehow, we just haven’t been mixing them right.”

Inter/National News

NPR reports that poet, writer, and musician Joy Harjo will be the next poet laureate of the United States. Learn more about her with this great conversation from BOMB Magazine between Harjo and fellow poet Sherwin Bitsui.

Artforum reports: “The Association of Art Museum Directors’ board of trustees has passed a resolution that calls on the more than two hundred museums it represents to end unpaid internship programs.”

A new republic, set in stone: The Virginia Museum of Arts announced the acquisition of Kehinde Wiley’s largest sculpture to date, a 30-foot-tall bronze of a Black man on a horse, modeled after Richmond’s Confederate statues.

“Art and violence have for an eternity held a strong narrative grip with each other … To have the Rumors of War sculpture presented in such a context lays bare the scope and scale of the project in its conceit to expose the beautiful and terrible potentiality of art to sculpt the language of domination.”

And Finally

A dilemma of inheritance, a question of citizenship.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Beata Beatrix, begun 1877 (left unfinished in 1882 and completed by Ford Madox Brown), Dante Gabriel Rossetti, British, 1828–1882, oil on canvas, 34 1/8 × 26 7/8 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Purchased, 1891P25, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts



Muse/News: Wrapping up, bobbling macarons, and going to camp

SAM News

That’s a wrap on Jeffrey: Gibson: Like a Hammer. As a farewell, here’s Emily Zimmerman interviewing the artist for BOMB Magazine.

“I needed to let go of whether I was an artist or not, and I needed to pursue the things that I want to see existing in the world that don’t exist. What are the things that would leverage this world that didn’t meet my expectations?”

Celebrated Brazilian artist Regina Silveira has debuted a new site-specific installation at the Olympic Sculpture Park’s PACCAR Pavilion called Octopus Wrap. A glimpse of the installation process was captured by the Seattle Times’ Alan Berner. Seattle Met and Crosscut also previewed the installation, which features a series of tire tracks wrapping around the walls, windows, and floor of the building, looking like the arms of an octopus.

“The startling change to the familiar park building embodies elements of play, but also reminds us of the luxury of presuming our surroundings will always stay the same.”

And Smithsonian Magazine featured the sculpture park on their round-up of the “world’s most spectacular sculpture parks.”

Local News

Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture announced that Christopher Paul Jordan has been selected to create the centerpiece artwork for the planned AIDS Memorial Pathway project on Capitol Hill.

Crosscut’s Agueda Pacheco Flores and South Seattle Emerald’s Jessie McKenna both wrote up Alexis Taylor’s Black Among Other Things, an installation at AURA in the Central District about her experiences as a Black woman.

The art of food: Chef Brady Williams won Best Chef in the Northwest at James Beard Awards; the Seattle Times’ Bethany Jean Clement recently picked up a shift at Canlis to learn about their legendary service.

“By the top of the stairs, the macaron begins to bobble; on the penultimate step, it leaps to its death, in its final act somehow managing to shatter on the soft carpeting. A man seated at one of Canlis’ well-spaced, snowy-white-linened tables regards me with a mixture of pity and horror.”

Inter/National News

But is it CAMP? The Met’s latest exhibition—and attendant over-the-top Gala—has everyone reaching for their undergrad copy of Sontag. Here are some thoughts.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) announced this week that Mia Locks will be their new senior curator and head of initiatives; interestingly, they don’t have plans to hire a chief curator to replace Helen Molesworth.

Nadja Sayej for the Guardian on Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, now on view in New York, which traces her work as a “trailblazer of African American arts.”

“She said her legacy is in the work of her students,” notes Ikemoto. “Even when they didn’t have money to buy their own art supplies, she let them use hers. She often said, ‘I know much I was put down and denied, so if I can teach these kids anything, I’m going to teach it to them.’”

And Finally

Can we please do something now?

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of “Regina Silveira: Octopus Wrap”, 2019, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, photo: Mark Woods.



If Jeffrey Gibson Ruled The World at SAM

“The bags themselves are about struggles and power.”

– Jeffrey Gibson

Did you know that almost all of Jeffrey Gibson’s materials are sourced from a vendor that serves the powwow circuit? Hear from the artist as he talks hip hop, art school, identity politics, and Indigenous economies. All that and more is packed into If I Ruled the World, one in a series of punching bag sculptures by Gibson. We’ve got galleries more where this punching bag came from. See paintings, sculptures, videos, and a new multimedia installation in Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer at SAM through May 12. See it this weekend!

Docents Defined: Erin Bruce

SAM is now recruiting new docents to start training for the reopening of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. You don’t need to be an art historian or a teacher to apply! In fact, SAM docents have a variety of interests and experiences. Having a diverse group of docents is how we’re able to offer tours that are engaging to all visitors. Read below and find out more about docents like Erin Bruce who volunteer their time at the museum.

If you still want to learn more about being a docent? Join SAM staff and current docents at our Docent Open House on May 16 from 6–7 pm! Or, apply now to the docent program. Applications are accepted through May 31.

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you decide to become a docent?

Erin Bruce: I have always been inspired by all things visual, whether it is nature, a building, a room and especially art. I studied art in college and made art whenever possible. Now I am a technical stock trader and rely on charts for my work—more visual interpretation! It was a three-year wait for a new docent class to start for me after a friend told me about SAM. The chance to participate with our museum is an honor.

What’s the best part about being a docent?

The best part is all of it: meeting energetic, generous, knowledgeable people; constant learning; leading a tour of young people and engaging them in the art and history of objects. It’s all gratifying. SAM’s collections are a wondrous gift to our city and special exhibitions join and expand experiences as well.

What is your favorite work of art to tour at the Asian Art Museum?

The Deer Scroll. Calligrapher Koetsu and painter Sotatsu collaborated to create this iconic masterpiece. Our 30 feet of the original 72 feet contains 12 poems from the Shin Kokinshu, which took four years to write. The beauty and harmony transports you to another time and place.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

Tours were scheduled the week before Mother’s Day so I made a gallery activity “A Gift for Mom.” Given one exhibition room students got to pick an object that they would give to their Mom if they could. It revealed so many wonderful things such as what objects in our Asian art collection young people were most drawn to, what they found beautiful and why. Crafting future tours improved since I had learned some of their favorite objects. The chance to interact with young people is yet another joy and benefit of leading a school tour.

What advice do you have for people applying for the docent program?

Your interests and life experiences offer wonderful and unique perspectives. You will discover and explore the vast and layered connections of art to our lives. It is so much fun.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

Object of the Week: Mola

Ancient Andean cultures used complex recording devices known as quipu, fashioned from tally cords, which allowed for the communication and recording of information essential to daily life. The quipu were essential tools for many Andean communities: they were a medium that enabled reading, writing, and, importantly, remembering. Such Indigenous practices nearly disappeared due to colonial suppression. Not unlike the quipu, the Cuna mola—or blouse—produced in the San Blas Islands represents the resilience of a community in the face of colonization.

The Cuna Indians are an Indigenous people who live along the Atlantic coast of Panama and Colombia. In the 16th century they were driven by the Spanish from their original home in Colombia, and moved west toward the coast. Mola, as we know them today, evolved from elaborate body painting. In the mid-18th century, when European settlers introduced cloth to the region, women began to wear simple blouses, painting them with natural dyes in the same manner they had previously decorated their bodies.

To make these elaborate blouses, an artist—importantly a woman—begins with multiple pieces of different colored cloth, and bastes one on top of the other. After cutting multiple designs, the maker then hems the edges with fine stitches. From there additional elements are added, such as embroidery, positive appliqué, or incisions that reveal the layers of cloth below. This reverse appliqué technique is an intricate and time-intensive process that has been mastered and handed down from generation to generation.

The history of the mola is inextricable from the history of colonialism in Latin America. It evolved in spite of European contact and continues to be shaped by contact with non-Native people today. For example, traditional Cuna designs—on both the body, originally, and the blouses—include abstracted linear patterns, stylized flora and fauna, and figures from Cuna mythology. When interactions with outsiders increased due to the construction of the Panama Canal, motifs such as trademarks, slogans, and American products appeared. Further, in the first decades of the 20th century, the Panamanian government tried to ban many Cuna customs, including their language and traditional dress. A resistance was mounted, and in 1925 the Dule Revolution resulted in the autonomy of the Cuna people, granting them the right to govern their own territory and culture autonomously. The mola can thus be seen as a vibrant textile tradition that represents the strength and resilience of the Cuna people.

Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate


Images: Mola, 1950s-60s, Cuna, Panamanian, cotton cloth and cotton thread, 21 × 25 in., Gift of an anonymous donor, 2018.26.10 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Mola, 1950s-60s, Cuna, Panamanian, cotton cloth and cotton thread, 22 1/2 × 25 in., Gift of an anonymous donor, 2018.26.6 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.