All posts in “Behind the Scenes”

A Grand Return: Preparing to Reopen the Seattle Asian Art Museum

With construction nearing completion at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, SAM staff has started preparations for the months-long move back into the historic building. As most people who have changed residences know, moving back in can often be as challenging as moving out. That experience will be amplified on a massive scale as the staff begins the gargantuan task of readying the renovated museum for art and visitors.

The 10,000 collection objects that were carefully packed, tracked, and removed from the Asian Art Museum now need to return to the building—a process expected to require a full year, although the museum will reopen before that process is complete. Lauren Mellon, Director of Museum Services and Chief Registrar, explains “Moving back in will be more complicated because we’re building the storage spaces as the art returns.” However, the collection will be returning to many important improvements. Mellon continues, “We will now have full climate control, and the storage facilities will be vastly upgraded. Overall, the objects will be much happier in their new home.”

Before works of art and museum staff can enter the renovated building, a number of systems across the facility will need to be tested to ensure they are operating correctly, including those pertaining to security, mechanics, air quality, and climate control. “We must maintain what we call a ‘critical environment’ to support the art, as well as provide a safe and healthy environment for employees and museum visitors,” explains Lee Richardson, Director of Facilities.

Once testing is complete, the first works of art that will be brought inside are those to be presented in the museum’s galleries. The preparation crew will begin working gallery by gallery, building platforms, preparing the cases for object displays, and eventually mounting the works of art. One of the most exciting outcomes of this work is visitors will have the chance to experience more of the museum’s collection. “We will no longer have to de-install the permanent collection as the special exhibitions change. All thirteen of the museum’s original galleries will now be dedicated to showing the collection,” says Nathan Peek, Director of Design and Installation. 

The building’s many improvements are inspiring the work of museum staff across departments. As Richardson says, “While the renovation process was important to addressing safety issues, we also now have a better palette to work with for exhibiting art and engaging the public.”

– Erin Langner, freelance writer

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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Conservation Stories: The Lamentation over the Dead Christ

SAM’s intricate and stunning sculpture of The Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Massimiliano Soldani Benzi is currently on view in Body Language, but wouldn’t be if it weren’t for a years-long project that restored the piece to its former sheen. To make this possible, our conservators worked with a team at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, the original home of the sculpture. See images from the process and find out more about the conservation process from our conservators before you see this sculpture in person.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ before conservation.

Massimiliano Soldani Benzi’s bronze sculpture The Lamentation over the Dead Christ (SAM 61.178) was cast in 1714 and acquired by SAM in 1961 as part of the Samuel Kress Collection. SAM’s Head of Conservation, Nicholas Dorman, led a multi-year fundraising campaign to study and treat the sculpture. Completed in December 2018, the project encompassed three broad goals: analysis of the surface and cleaning, replacing the lost crown, and constructing a new period-appropriate base.

The sculpture was loaned to the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence in 2017, where it was featured in Making Beauty: The Ginori Porcelain Manufactory and Its Progeny of Statues. The exhibition discussed the relationship between Soldani and the Ginori Porcelain studio: after his death, Soldani’s heirs sold some of his wax models and molds to Mr. Carlo Ginori, who reproduced them in porcelain at his Florentine workshop. The bronze Lamentation over the Dead Christ was displayed next to its porcelain cousin for the first time, both having been cast from the same approximately 56 molds.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ during conservation

The Bargello exhibition was an opportunity to study and document the various layers of degraded, non-original surface coatings—a mixture of black-brown pigmented wax and oils—with Florentine conservator and metals specialist, Ludovica Nicolai. Nicolai has worked on a great number of Soldani’s works in the Bargello collection. In collaboration with Nicolai and SAM’s conservation department, scientific analysis of the coatings was executed by a team of scientists from Adarte, Pisa University and Florence University, in order to inform the cleaning approach. Over four months, solvent gels were used to soften the hardened coatings, followed by cleaning with dental tools and the flexible tips of porcupine quills to gently remove the non-original layers from the surface. 

Meanwhile, the missing crown of thorns was re-cast by the Florentine foundry Ciglia e Carrai. Two sources informed the crown’s recreation: a 1970–1990s image of the sculpture located in the Fondazione Zeri archives (housed in Bologna), and the original wax model of the sculpture located in the Palazzo Pitti collection.  

Lamentation over the Dead Christ after conservation

At the conclusion of the treatment, a stylistically appropriate wooden base was constructed—whose form echoes the porcelain version in the Bargello exhibition. This replaces the modern stone mount on which it has been previously displayed.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ conserved on pedestal

This project was a truly international collaboration. As well as the experts mentioned above, we are particularly grateful to Dr. Paola D’Agostino and Dr. Dimitrios Zikos and their colleagues at the Bargello for their abiding support and for being so generous with their knowledge. To conserve a sculpture like this in its original place of creation is a significant funding challenge, and we wish to thank the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The Museo Nazionale del Bargello, SAM’s Plestcheeff Fund for Decorative Arts, an anonymous foundation and an anonymous individual donor. Thanks to their support, we can present and share the story of this magnificent Florentine baroque sculpture.

– Geneva Griswold, SAM Associate Conservator & Nicholas Dorman, Chief Conservator

Images: Installation view Body Language, Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman. Before conservation photo: Ludovica Nicolai. Installation view Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2017, photo: Arrigo Coppitz. During installation and details photo: Ludovica Nicolai. Fondazione Federico Zeri Archive  | no. 149804Silver gelatin print, ca. 1970–1989 During treatment in the Bargello Museum galleries, photo: Geneva Griswold. After conservation photo: Ludovica Nicolai. Installed on pedestal photo: Arrigo Coppitz. The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, ca. 1714, Massimiliano Soldani, Bronze, 34 x 32 3/4 x 22 1/2 in. Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.178.

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SAM Connects to the Hear & Now

We believe art is for everyone and right now everyone can experience a new kinetic sound sculpture installed at SAM’s 1st and Union entrance. Playing music, projecting poetry, and covered in the text, drawings, and collage by artists with lived experiences of homeless, Hear & Now is a collaboration between internationally celebrated artist, composer, and musician Trimpin and Path with Art students presented for you to view for free!

Built from an antique hand-pulled wagon originally built by Trimpin’s father in Germany, the work is activated by pressing the play button situated next to the object. Each tap triggers a different musical composition or poem created in collaboration with teaching artists. Hear & Now is free and accessible to all and will be on view through July 15. Visit the entire museum for free on Thursday, June 6, and catch the Hear & Now Performances and Artist Talkback taking place 6–8:30 pm featuring pop-up performances by the student artists, a movement piece directed by Rachel Brumer and Monique Holt accompanied by the musical compositions played by the sculpture, and a chance to hear from Trimpin.

Get primed for Thursday evening with this interview with Trimpin and a Path with Art student artist.

SAM: How did you start working with Path with Art?

Trimpin: Five years ago, I was Composer in Residence with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The last year of the three-year residency involves a public-outreach workshop. I decided to work with a group of Path with Art student artists. I was first introduced to Path with Art at a performance at the Hugo House; I was impressed with the artistic caliber of all the performing artists.

Tyler Marcil: Jennifer Lobsenz, the Program Director at the time, asked me to participate in this project in the summer of 2017. We worked with Christina Orbe for six weeks and Yonnas Getahun for two weeks over the course of eight workshops at Trimpin’s studio.

During these workshops, we created found poetry – I had never done anything quite like that before. I took a story that I had already written called, “The Woman on the Sidewalk,” and pulled words from that story to create new poems for the sculpture. A year later, I was invited to record work for Path with Art at Jack Straw Cultural Center.

What is the significance of the wagon wheel as a foundation for the sculpture? How does it relate to experiences of homelessness?

Trimpin: When I was beginning to conceptualize the interdisciplinary workshop, mobility and transition was a major consideration. Aware that most homeless people are in continual transition, the wagon-wheel was a starting platform to build up the story, not just metaphorically, but literally as a sound object which is mobile. It is similar to the way the wagon was used in my family to haul a variety of items around, and I still remember watching my father when he was building the wagon from scratch.

How did the artists collaborate on the creation of the final sculpture?

Tyler: The first group to meet was our group—the poets. The visual artists then took the found poems we created, turning these magnificent words into different pieces of art. Then the musicians came and made compositions inspired by the language and the artwork.

Hear & Now allowed many people to contribute their skills to this larger project. The people who were involved all have different ways of expressing themselves. Through this project, their voices are heard, and they are able to speak from their soul through their medium. Without this opportunity, they might feel silenced—without a voice, or without their voices being heard.   

Can you share a moment of discovery or breakthrough in the process that left an impression on you? Why did that moment stand out to you?

Trimpin: Artists in general are not collaborating with other artists very often. A part of the workshop was to teach each student that we don’t have to compete with each other; and we actually can work together and contribute each individual’s expertise to make the project successful. This process was very important to me and the project would not exist without the great commitment and interaction of each individual student.

Tyler: I don’t like hearing my own voice. When we were recording our stories at Jack Straw I could feel my heart racing because it’s a voice that my mother created by teaching us to speak a certain way. I could hear the –eds and the –ings. Those were important in my household growing up.

When I was forced that day to listen to my voice I cried inside because I realized—my voice is beautiful. And had I known that it was beautiful, I would have listened all along. And now when I ask people, what is it about my stories or poetry that you like? They tell me, it’s your voice.

What do you hope the sculpture can inspire in a viewer?

Trimpin: My hope is that the viewer can hear and see that a group of Path with Art student artists—adults—who have lived the experience of homelessness, addiction or other trauma, have earned the ability, knowledge, and imagination to collaborate, design, write, and compose and to achieve a project at this high artistic level.

Tyler: I hope that Hear & Now will bring awareness of people who have lived experience of homelessness. That the person living that experience could be you. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be prejudiced, or disown others as though they don’t exist.

And I think by having a sculpture that shares these wonderful voices, not only are you hearing their voices, but your hearing that they’re a person. The voice you hear is coming from them, from their humanity.

How does the upcoming performance connect to the sculpture?

Trimpin: For the upcoming performance, the students are performing live, interacting with the instrumentation of the wagon with their own voice or instrument.

Tyler: It ties together these themes of voicelessness and visibility for those experiencing homelessness. It connects to the sculpture because it’s using American Sign Language to present stories for those who cannot hear or speak, and ties in this concept communicating in different ways—with our voices, but also with our hands. This whole project is about lifting up those who have so often been silenced, and widening our circles of empathy and understanding, and the performance brings together both people with lived experience, and those without while exploring these themes.

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

Images: Installation view Hear & Now at Seattle Art Museum, 2019, photos: Natali Wiseman.
Path with Art would like to extend a special thank you to Seattle Department of Neighborhoods for making this project possible.
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Site-Specific Art at the Park: Regina Silveira’s “Octopus Wrap”

If you’ve strolled through the Olympic Sculpture Park since May you’re probably wondering about the tire tracks covering the PACCAR Pavilion. As if monster trucks went rogue or a motorcycle gang veered off Western Avenue to burn some surreal rubber, the building is wrapped in a pattern of skid marks. Look closely and you’ll spot five toy motorcycles on the interior mural wall, the origin of this mind-bending temporary intervention—by one of Latin America’s most influential contemporary artists—that alters our perceptions of our physical environment. 

Commissioned by SAM, Regina Silveira: Octopus Wrap is the latest architectural installation the artist has realized around the world. Hailing from Brazil and examining the ways superimposed images change the meaning of an existing space, Silveira took inspiration from the Olympic Sculpture Park’s location at the intersection of several busy thoroughfares. Next time you visit the park, tune in to the sounds of traffic, trains under the greenway, and the churning sea, as you take in Octopus Wrap, on view through March 8, 2020

Silveira’s interventions on the exteriors and interiors of buildings, on city streets and in public parks, have included dense clusters of footprints, swarms of insects, nocturnal light projections of animal tracks that wander across building façades, and exaggerated shadows. Some of her installations have the appearance of occupations, infestations, or supernatural visitations; others seem to be fantastical apparitions that suspend the laws of nature and perception.

For Regina Silveira, a political element of these ruptures resides in their assault on our perception or, in her words, “in the level of transformation that can be brought about by grafting something into a given space in a way that magically changes its relationship to the real.” Her aim is estrangement from the familiar, and her preferred tactic is surprise. Beyond a heightened sensory experience within a newly defined space, Silveira’s mode of intervention can also be understood in social and political terms.

With Octopus Wrap, the pavilion’s calm, white walls are noisily invaded by five motorcyclists who use the windows, walls, and floor as their racetrack. When seen from a distance, the undulating tracks create another, larger image, one that ensnares the architecture as if within the arms of an octopus. The installation will be temporary, but the new images and sensations it creates will enter our memory and form a lasting imprint of a different kind.

We extend a special thank you to our generous SAM Fund donors who helped make this installation possible.

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Muse/News: Pie art, Seattle style, and obvious plants

SAM News

Lauren Ko creates stunning pie art on her @lokokitchen Instagram—check out the pie she made inspired by SAM’s show! There’s more details here. Get yourself to SAM: Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer closes this Sunday, May 12!

Ring in wedding season—you know you love it!—with this Seattle Bride look at a beautiful wedding at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Aww.

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald takes a look at the new fashion exhibit at MOHAI on—yes, really—Seattle style.

Watch the Seattle Channel’s CityStream story about the forthcoming return of the historic Louisa Hotel, including the fate of their rediscovered Prohibition-era murals.

Seattle Magazine’s Gavin Borchert and Gwendolyn Elliott on Amazon’s internal creative program, Expressions, which gives employees opportunities to get creative.

“Reverberating beyond the badge-required halls of Amazonia is a bigger conversation about the company’s contributions—or lack thereof—to Seattle’s creative community as a whole, considering how much it’s altered the city’s physical and cultural footprint.”

Inter/National News

John Grade does it again: Check out this stunning installation by the artist set in a clearing of an Italian forest, which turns rainwater into the droplets of a natural chandelier.

An appreciation for the “guardian of Black cinema” by the New Yorker’s Doreen St. Felix of the director John Singleton, who passed away this week at the age of 51.

Artnet’s Melissa Smith talks with Black artists about the paradigm shift of increased interest in their work—and the attendant pressures, including stress, burnout, and exploitation.

“Navigating the limited existing roles for [black artists] is exhausting, and never-ending,” Jemison says. “And black artists are very aware that being selected is super arbitrary and predicated on partial understanding of the work.”

And Finally

All Alone Bert. Pre-Cracked Egg. Funeral Kazoo. They’re all an Obvious Plant.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

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Pop-Art Video: I Put a Spell on You, Jeffrey Gibson

How many Everlast punching bags has Jeffrey Gibson turned into hanging sculptures? What number did Nina Simone’s “I Put a Spell on You” reach on the Billboard chart? What do these two things have to do with each other? Visit Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer and find out before it closes May 12!

Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer is a major museum exhibition presenting a significant selection of this contemporary artist’s exuberant artwork created since 2011. Gibson’s complex work reflects varied influences, including fashion and design, abstract painting, queer identity, popular music, and the materials and aesthetics of Native American cultures. The more than 65 works on view include beaded punching bags, figures and wall hangings, abstract geometric paintings on rawhide and canvas, performance video, and a new multimedia installation.

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Stop and Smell the Flowers at SAM

If you have ever walked through Seattle Art Museum’s South Hall, you may have noticed the weekly rotation of beautiful flower arrangements adjacent to the camel sculptures. The flower endowment was created in remembrance of Ann M. Barwick by her husband Thomas Barwick and their children.

From grand peacock feathers in the summer, to miniature pumpkins in the fall, these arrangements light up the room year-round at the entrance of the museum. These flowers are a public declaration of Tom’s love and appreciation for Ann, nature, and SAM.

Ann was an active member of her local gardening and arts community. After raising her four children, Ann decided to pursue a second degree in art history. She began her career in the arts community, where she worked as a Trustee at the Henry Art Gallery and at the Seattle Art Museum. She became a leader in the arts in the city as well as in the state where she was the head of the Arts Committee for the Washington State Governor’s Mansion and the co-founder of the American Art Council of Seattle.

Make sure you take a second to smell the roses the next time you visit the museum!

– Emily Ji, Communications Intern

Photos: Nina Dubinsky

 

 

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New Perspectives on Porcelain in Claire Partington: Taking Tea

“Initially I was asked to make a piece that responded to the room but that also looked at the human cost of the porcelain trade.” – Claire Partington

Get a new perspective on SAM’s popular Porcelain Room through the site-specific work of contemporary British ceramic artist Claire Partington. Claire Partington: Taking Tea features an installation referencing Baroque painting and European porcelain factories, as well as a panel mounted with fragments from 17th- and 18th-century shipwrecks. The Porcelain Room is a SAM favorite for visitors with more than 1,000 European and Asian porcelain pieces from SAM’s collection grouped to evoke porcelain as a treasured commodity between the East and the West. See it on view through December 2020.

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New Design Brings History to Light: Seattle Asian Art Museum

One of the most important sources of design inspiration for the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s renovations is the incredible place where it resides: Volunteer Park. It’s been more than 100 years since John Charles Olmsted conceived of Volunteer Park’s design. Yet, it continues to be the city’s most intensely used park—and an essential consideration within the museum’s renovation project that has involved input from national, city, and community groups that include Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks, the National Park Service, Seattle Parks & Recreation, and Volunteer Park Trust.

“We took a lot of cues from the Olmsted plan and their design intent, their aesthetic and some of the principles they brought to planning all of the trails and pathways within this park,” explains Chris Jones, principal at Walker Macy, the firm overseeing the renovated landscape design. He continues, “In lieu of putting in plazas around the museum, we’re grading the landscape in a way that maintains the recreation that occurs onsite, really supporting the character of the park as the Olmsteds would, emphasizing a nice pastoral landscape with open lawn and trees.”

In addition to their importance within the pastoral aesthetic, trees intersect with the design process in another way. The design team has been working with the guidance of an onsite arborist, who has been integral to the renovation processes by making recommendations for construction methods and identifying important root areas to avoid, in order to best support the trees’ health.

 

The pathways surrounding the museum are also central to the Asian Art Museum’s landscape renovation plan. This includes creating safer traffic circulation around the museum, constructing a more direct connection between the museum and public transit on 15th Avenue, and improving accessibility to the museum. The plan also realizes two pathways that were in Olmsted’s original plan for Volunteer Park but were never fully established, an element that was developed in response to community groups’ input on the design. Jones says, “The intent was to provide each park-goer with an improvement that’s visible on a daily basis . . . I think we achieved that by coming to a really happy consensus that reflects the input from the community.”

In the months ahead, we will continue exploring the future of the Asian Art Museum as the renovations progress towards the much-anticipated re-opening in 2019.

– Erin Langner, freelance writer

Images: Photo: Eduardo Calderon. Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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