All posts in “Behind the Scenes”

Art is Not a Noun, It’s a Verb: Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

“The real magic of Carpe Fin is in the space between the object and the observer.”

– Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Hear from the artist behind the 6 x 19–foot watercolor mural commissioned for SAM. Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas describes Carpe Fin as “Haida manga.” This unique approach developed by Yahgulanaas blends several artistic and cultural traditions, including Haida formline art, Japanese manga, Pop Art, and graphic novels.

Inspired by a traditional Haida oral story, the story is also linked to a 19th-century headdress in SAM’s collection carved by Yahgulanaas’s relative, Albert Edward Edenshaw. Carpe Fin calls attention to issues of environmental degradation and the rupture of the values that honor human-nature interdependence.

We asked SAM staff to reflect on the work and what stood out to them by answering which panel impacted them most. Have you seen the artwork at SAM or read the book? Read some reflections below and share your thoughts with us in the comments!

• The very center panel—it’s more free form so it draws the eye. It’s the moment when Carpe realizes he’s been left behind on the island. His phases of expression and gesture really struck me.
• The central panels—frames break down, creative topsy-turvy!
• The third panel (upper center) for the transition from the human to the underwater world. The contrast of thick, thin, and detailed brushwork make it come alive.
• The middle panels stand out because of the dynamic between the sea lions and humans. There’s a chaotic structure that reminds me of the circle of life, but it also shows an imbalance.
• The central panel and how it just seems to come alive and break out of the typical comic book boxes/outlines; the overall image captivates your attention and makes you want to keep looking at the intricate, smaller details.

• I was most impacted by the panel in which Carpe swims back wearing sewed-up seal skin. There is something about embodying the animal that he had been killing. I wonder how much the message of “you’re killing our women” would have sunk in without this physical experience or if he would have heard it in a different way?

• I’m most impacted by the panel where the young boys kill a flicker. This senseless, purposeless killing of a living thing in a microcosm of the imbalance and lack of respect for the environment that has created dire circumstances for this community and communities across the globe. The energy that youth are bringing to climate activism lies in contrast to this detail and gives hope for the future. We all need to take responsibility and enact laws and regulations that will ensure the survival of future generations.
• All of them together

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

Images: Carpe Fin (details), 2018, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Haida, b. 1954, watercolor and ink on handmade Japanese paper, 6.5 x 19.7 ft., Seattle Art Museum, Ancient and Native American Art Acquisition Fund, McRae Foundation and Karen Jones, 2018.30, © Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas.
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Muse/News: Virginia’s legacy, Yardbird goes opera, and the Museum Walk

SAM News

Virginia “Jinny” Wright, a pillar of the SAM family, passed away last week at the age of 91. The Seattle Times obituary of the collector and philanthropist noted that she “lived for art—and dedicated herself to sharing it with others.” KUOW and ARTnews also shared remembrances of her legacy. She will be greatly missed.

KEXP’s Hans Anderson interviewed SAM curators Foong Ping and Xiaojin Wu about the reimagined Seattle Asian Art Museum for their Sound & Vision show; head to their archive for Saturday, February 15 for the story, which started at 7:49 am.

More coverage for the Asian Art Museum appeared in GRAY Magazine, Post Alley, and 425 Magazine.

Local News

You have until this Saturday to check out the Jacob Lawrence works on view at Greg Kucera. The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley wrote about the artist’s “big, beautiful panels for real-life superheroes.”

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig keeps an eye out for what’s “Currently Hanging”; right now, it’s Agnieszka Polska’s Love Bite at the Frye Art Museum.

Tom Keogh for Crosscut on Seattle Opera’s “promising, dynamic production” of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, which explores the life of the jazz legend.

“So the piece, like Parker’s music, is full of extremes, pushing the voice’s boundaries,” [tenor Joshua] Stewart says. “When you have a piece this difficult, you have to bring to it everything you have to offer. You have to go on the full journey.”

Inter/National News

OK, this is definitely a thing: Museum Walk gives you back pain. Hyperallergic has tips to alleviate it from posture expert Mark Josefsberg.

Payal Uttam for Artsy on the most recent edition of the India Art Fair (IAF) in New Delhi, and what it said about the market for South Asian art.

Artnet’s Taylor Defoe reports on the Oakland Museum of California’s recent pivot to measuring their success by their “social impact,” rather than by usual metrics.

“This is coming at a time when museums and other cultural institutions are really trying to make a case for their existence,” says the OMCA’s associate director of evaluation and visitor insight, Johanna Jones, who led the project. “We know we make a difference in people’s lives, now we need to really demonstrate it through measurable metrics.”

And Finally

More movies for your list, post-Parasite.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Virginia Wright in her Pioneer Square gallery, Current Editions, August 1967. Photo: © Mary Randlett. All rights reserved.
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Muse/News: The Asian Art Museum debuts, a conductor’s big moves, and exploring Material Art

SAM News

The Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens to the public this weekend with a free two-day celebration. 10,000 free tickets for the housewarming event have been claimed, but the museum reopens with regular hours on Wednesday, February 12.

SAM welcomed press to see the reimagined and reinstalled museum this week, and the coverage is everywhere, including The New York Times, The Seattle Times, The Art Newspaper, Architectural Digest, Vanguard, Puget Sound Business Journal, and more. Seattle Channel’s CityStream hosted a special edition with guest host Lori Mastukawa from inside the Asian Art Museum, interviewing SAM curators Foong Ping and Xiaojin Wu.

“The larger questions we’re asking for this reopening are, ‘Where is Asia? What is Asia?’” says Xiaojin Wu, the curator of Japanese and Korean art at the museum. “We’re showing how the borders are fluid throughout history.” –From The Art Newspaper

“When the Asian Art Museum opens on Saturday, the architects hope that previous visitors will see their museum in a new light. Says Amada Cruz, CEO and director of the Seattle Art Museum, ‘We could not be more excited to open the doors of the museum and welcome everyone back.’” –Elizabeth Fazzare, Architectural Digest

“With so much to see and contemplate in the Seattle Asian Art Museum, there needed to be space to let the mind wander into a void for a bit. The experience would not be complete without it. The curators and architects all should be commended for seeing through a new vision that will expand audience’s awareness of Asia, but also remind them that the human pursuit of beauty and the sublime is, indeed, timeless and boundless.” –T.s. Flock, Vanguard

Local News

Crosscut shares a story—and impressive footage—of Seattle Symphony’s new conductor, Thomas Dausgaard, who “feels the music in his hair.”

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig devotes a recent edition of “Currently Hanging” to Amerocco, one of the incredible pieces in Aaron Fowler: Into Existence, now on view at SAM downtown.

For Seattle Met, Charlie Lahud-Zahner visits the Sea Mar Museum of Chicano/a/Latino/a Culture, and finds catharsis.

“As a Latinx Seattleite often feeling like the last brown unicorn in the Ballard Trader Joe’s, and on the lookout for authentic representation, this south side museum is a godsend.”

Inter/National News

Have you checked out Artnet’s Art Angle Podcast? Here’s the latest episode, exploring “How the Art World Fell Under the Spell of the Occult.”

The New York Times’ Fabrice Robinet explores the international meetups TypeThursday, which brings together people who really care about fonts. A lot.

Jennifer Li reviews Allure of Matter for ArtAsiaPacific; the exhibition is now on view at LACMA and heads to SAM this summer.

“With works that emphasized the immaterial, or the breakdown of matter, the exhibition begged the question: how applicable is the term Material Art? It seems that at this early stage, the label may conjure more questions than answers.”

 And Finally

We Heart Asian Art.

Installation view of “Be/Longing: Contemporary Asian Art” at the Asian Art Museum, 2020, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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SAM Connects Teens to Design

This past summer, 10 teens from the Rainier Vista community joined Seattle Art Museum staff, Olson Kundig Architects, and Sawhorse Revolution for SAM’s one of a kind Design Your [Neighbor]hood Program. Each Design Your [Neighbor]hood program is unique, but this one was truly special because it was the first time that the youth participants got the chance to collaborate in the full design and build process. The teens worked with designers, architects, and builders to take their ideas from the visioning and planning stage, to ideation, refinement, and finally to building. 

Design Your [Neighbor]hood is a hands-on program run by Seattle Art Museum that exposes youth to all facets of design, and the connection between design and community change. From architecture to graphic design, fashion, and photography, youth have the opportunity to understand the breadth of this field, meet professionals through trips and office visits, and engage in design thinking and studio processes that give first-person experience.

This year’s group of teens living in the Rainier Vista community, near Rainier Vista Neighborhood House recognized a need for a community sound booth and recording studio. With so many budding performers and musicians in the neighborhood, they were often renting spaces for recording.

The design and build process involved a number of field trips during which the teens gathered ideas and inspiration from notable architectural spaces, and met with various professionals for advice. They visited the Bullitt Center on Capitol Hill and the Olson Kundig offices in Pioneer Square. They also worked to gather input on design ideas from their peers in the community, making sure to be inclusive of all voices and needs as they finalized their design.

After multiple refinements of the process through input from Chris Landingin, project manager at Batt + Lear, and Jesse Kingsley and Chris Poules, architects at Olson Kundig, the youth got to building. Collaborating with Sawhorse Revolution, the teens learned the essentials of power tool safety and introductory carpentry skills. Between the design refinements and the building time, it took them a little over seven weeks to complete their project.

The culminating celebration featured presentations from each teen on their favorite part of the program, specific skills they picked up throughout, and how they envision the space will be used by their peers and the community. Families, friends, and community partners all got a chance to participate in the celebration on a job well done!

Thank you to our partners, Seattle Housing Authority, Delridge Neighborhood Development Association, Olson Kundig Architects, Sawhorse Revolution, Christine Landingin from Batt + Lear, and Hearst Foundations for all of their support.

– Sarah Bloom, SAM’s Associate Director of Education

Photos: Eleanor Howell-Shryock
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Reimagining the Galleries at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

When the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens next year, visitors will experience the museum’s renowned collection of Asian art in a whole new way. Most of the original galleries will showcase the museum’s collection, while the building’s new gallery—housed in the expansion—will focus on rotating special exhibitions. SAM’s curatorial team saw the renovation process as an exciting chance to rethink how visitors engage with the Asian art collection. “How often does a museum go offline and move everything out?” notes Foong Ping, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art. She continues, “This was an opportunity to dream a little bit.” 

The curators convened groups of scholars and community advisors to explore approaches to displaying SAM’s artworks. Moving away from the chronological and geographic organization of most museums, they took a thematic approach instead. Each gallery of Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, the new collection installation, focuses on a theme central to Asia’s diverse arts and societies, ranging from worship and celebration, to visual arts and literature, to clothing and identity. For instance, a gallery titled Spiritual Journeys brings many objects together, from a Pakistani Bodhisattva, to an Indian Stupa, to a Chinese demon, to explore spiritual imagery through unifying ideas such as spiritual guides and guardians. The reinstallation provides an experience of great diversity and a broad context within which to engage with artworks.

Boundless also presents varied voices and perspectives on artworks to offer visitors a wide array of approaches to appreciating SAM’s collection. Along with traditional curatorial texts, artists and Seattle community members also offer their perspectives. The Color in Clay gallery presents a large selection of ceramics from China as well as vibrant works from Vietnam to Iran in a natural light-filled gallery without any contextualizing text. Monitors with more information will be available, but Foong’s hope is for visitors to be immersed in looking closely at subtle differences in tones and textures in the clay and the glazes. “I’m particularly excited about this display because it represents a completely different experience than we’ve ever had at the Asian Art Museum,” she says.

The first special exhibition Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art also draws primarily from the museum’s collection. It brings together works by 12 artists born in different parts of Asia—Azerbaijan, Iran, India, Thailand, China, Korea, and Japan—who have all lived outside of Asia and are exploring their Asian heritage from global perspectives. Be/longing features Some/One by Do Ho Suh—a sculpture so large that we were previously unable to exhibit it at the Asian Art Museum. SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art Xiaojin Wu explains, “Some/One is an imposing work that compels the viewer to think about identity and our relationship with society—issues we all care about.” Positioning Some/One alongside works by other contemporary artists, visitors will encounter its powerful resonance in a new exhibition, a new gallery, a new building, in the new year.

Images: Some/One (detail), 2001, Do Ho Suh, stainless steel military dog-tags, nickel-plated copper sheets, steel structure, glass fiber reinforced resin, rubber sheets, diameter at base: 24 ft. 4 in.; Height: 81 in., Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2002.43, © Do Ho Suh. Dish with Foliated Rim, late 15th–early 16th century, Vietnamese, blue and white ceramic, 13 1/4″ diameter, Mary and Cheney Cowles, the Margaret E. Fuller Fund, and the 1999 Maryatt Gala Fund, 2000.118. Seated demon figure, 14th century, Chinese, bronze with gilt, 3 1/4 x 2 x 1 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 52.45. Lined robe (detail), 20th century, Japanese, plain weave silk crepe with paste-resist stencil decoration (Oki., bingata) lined with modern replacement silk broadcloth, 47 3/4″ long (from collar) x 43″ wide, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 89.155, © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Bodhisattva, ca. 2nd–3rd century, Pakistani, Gandhara region, dark gray schist 45 x 15 x 7 in. Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.63.

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SAM Gallery Artist Kellie Talbot Travels for Art

SAM Gallery artist Kellie Talbot travels across the country with her husband, cat, and duck, in a truck pulling her mobile studio, an Airstream trailer they named Mr. Salsa. Kellie Talbot’s America on view at SAM Gallery September 4–29, showcases some of her newest works. Talbot has established a national reputation for her oil paintings of the neon signs scattered across America. In the last two years, her family has driven 36,000 miles, through 29 states, in pursuit of source material for her paintings. She plans her route, knowing where certain signs are located, but is always open to possibilities and unexpected opportunities. Some of her favorite signs and memories come from happening upon them. One unexpected ice storm led them to Vaughn, NM (population 446), where Talbot found one neon sign after another.  She was out in the snow, climbing on her Airstream trailer to get photographs for future paintings. When she’s traveling the country, Talbot says “I photograph almost every sign I come across because when I am in collecting mode I don’t want to pass up any potential. Sometimes it’s more obvious. Some of those obvious ones have an iconic shape or beautiful neon that just demands to be painted.”

Once Talbot returns to her studio in Seattle or New Orleans, she relies on reference photos from her trip, to paint photorealist paintings of the signs that represent the landscape of American artifacts, craftsmanship, and history. Talbot describes how “once I am in my studio I spend a lot of time with my reference material planning out a body of work. I like to have a balance of close-ups mixed with landscapes. I like there to be a push and pull of sorts. Some signs are small but I paint them big while others I can enlarge just portions. Almost every sign has the potential to be painted. I just have to find the aspect of that sign I want to paint.”  Talbot is often drawn to a particular letter or shadows from a sign. Focusing on a smaller portion of the sign allows the viewer to enjoy the shapes, shadows, and colors in a new way. Talbot intentionally includes the rust and decay in the neon signs she paints. These details aren’t negatives to the artist, they are signs of time and experience, both an elegy and a hope.

Meet the artist at the opening reception on Thursday, September 5, 6–7:30 pm at SAM Gallery.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Coordinator

Image: Courtesy of the artist.
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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.



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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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