All posts in “Behind the Scenes”

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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Muse/News: Awards, enchantments, and a lullaby from Rita Moreno

SAM News

Last week, SAM announced that Aaron Fowler is the recipient of the 2019 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize. Fowler will receive a $10,000 award, and his work will be featured in a solo exhibition at SAM in fall 2019. ARTnews, Culture Type, Artdaily, Artnet, and Hyperallergic were among those who shared the news.

“Seattle, prepare to be enchanted by Gibson.” The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley takes a “Look Ahead” at February events, recommending our upcoming exhibition, Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer.

Local News

The Seattle Times debuts an occasional series that asks, “How do they do that?” Up first: Moira Macdonald tries to understand the en pointe balancing poses in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty.

“It’s OK Not to ‘Get’ Art” The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig reminds us in this review of the Danny Giles show at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery.

Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne previews the durational performance piece Cherdonna Shinatra: Ditch, one of three shows opening at the Frye tonight.

“We call her MomDonna, this huge sort of matriarchal ruin in the space. MomDonna is in the space as if she’s been there for thousands of years seeing humans just keep trying.”

Inter/National News

Who else was obsessed with the sculptures created by the character Fonny in If Beale Street Could Talk? Artnet’s Sarah Cascone goes behind the scenes to learn how they did it.

This week in journalism: The New York Times reports that the building housing the Newseum in DC has been sold, and about 1,000 media workers at Buzzfeed, HuffPost, and Gannett were laid off.

Hyperallergic on the portraits of Hugh Mangum, now on view at the Nasher Museum of Art. His glass plate negatives were rediscovered in an old barn and offer a compelling look into turn-of-the-century American South.

“In the scratches, cracks, fingerprints, and delicate color shifts that surround and sometimes cover the sitters’ faces, we are looking at portraits of individuals through the unmistakable portal of time.”

 And Finally

Here’s Rita Moreno singing “It’s You I Like” accompanied by Mister Rogers.

Image: Derion, 2018, hot tub cover, wood, children’s cotton and nylon coats, cotton balls, enamel paint, acrylic paint, broken mirrors, theater seats, concrete cement, 115 x 95 x 28 in. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Image courtesy of the artist © Aaron Fowler.
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Native Interpretations of Land: Art Encounters at Olympic Sculpture Park

Every year brings the creative process of local artists to the Olympic Sculpture Park through our artist-in-residence program, Art Encounters. This year Christine Babic (Chugach Alutiiq) is working away on SKIN SEWERS at the PACCAR Pavilion. Babic—in collaboration with her mother, artist Mary Babic (Chugach Alutiiq), and Alex Britt (Nansemond, White)—is combining performance and installation to create a site-specific experience that explores the gap between contemporary and traditional Indigenous works. Art Encounters are a chance to learn about the practice of making art while participating in experiences that respond to the Olympic Sculpture Park and the Seattle region. This year you can get involved by dropping into one or both of the Art Encounters on January 25 and February 22, from 7–9 pm.

SAM: I love this description of this as an intestinal window into a shared history. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit upon on the connection to land, skin, and history in Skin Sewers.

Christine Babic: Since this residency is at the Olympic Sculpture Park, we wanted to talk about land and what land means for Indigenous people. Through SKIN SEWERS, we’re trying to get a sense of generational gaps and what the spectrum of generations think of land and its meaning. For both my mom and I, who are from Alaska, we’ve talked about subsistence as being the first thing that comes to mind when we think of land—the resources and gifts of the land.

Mary Babic: I was raised in Seattle. I really did not know what Alutiiq meant. I knew I was Alutiiq and I knew I was German. When I moved to Alaska in 1980 I realized I was immersed in Chugach Alutiiq culture. So, I wanted to learn everything I could about my background. I started sewing woods, firs, leathers, and started beading. Friends in the area shared a lot about utilizing the resources we had and living off the land. Not only would you use a seal for its meat (which is very high in iron), but you would also use every part of it. You wouldn’t waste anything. You were always grateful. You would always thank the animal for giving itself to you. That was one thing I learned right away about subsistence. So, I started sewing with the fur. I also learned how to clean the intestine and to blow it out and make things out of it.

Christine: It’s an interesting material because it’s a waterproof material, and it’s semi-opaque. And it has this simultaneous fragility and strength to it. You get it wet to sew with it and then it dries. It can be used as rain jackets. Seal intestine was also used for death masks. It was a kind of protection—a spiritual protection. Not only from the rain and weather but this spiritual protection that comes with using these materials. So, there’s a lot of dualities when using these materials. For us, it’s not only an experiment in Indigenous materials but also this spiritual connection to our culture. Doing these things that your ancestors did—these are Indigenous materials and we are Indigenous people. Only Indigenous people can source seal. They’re protected under the marine mammal protection. The materials used in SKIN SEWERS are synthetics, but we’re going off of tradition and what our ancestors used. When people are displaced from their land, there’s no access to the materials that we’ve always used. Practicing culture and making artwork is part of cultural evolution and is important to us as Native people—SKIN SEWERS is not an answer, this a conversation.

What kind of materials will be involved in this performance?

Christine: For this, we’re using a synthetic intestine which is collagen, pig intestines, and fish skin. So, inner skins and outer skins. Seal intestines is much harder to get. Something I’m addressing is the evolution of Indigenous material and how we use these things in place of seal gut. In my grandmother’s generation, there was a lot of Americanizing going on so she never wanted to be a Native. She wanted to be as assimilated as possible because there was so much racism happening. When my mother moved back to Alaska she was able to relearn our culture and reclaim these things and identities as Native. My mom raised me as a Native person so those ideas are what I’m referencing. I can carry my Native-ness with pride but there is a gap culturally for us, generationally, because my grandmother did not have that option. Through these materials, there’s a lot of acknowledgment happening.

You’ve mentioned learning traditional sewing techniques from your mom. Have you two collaborated creatively before? What does your collaboration looks like?

Christine: Always. In every show, my mom helped. This is probably our first official collaboration. My mom is inspired by tradition, so she’s really obsessed with researching how our ancestors used to do things. I really like performance art and contemporary art. Bringing parts of what my mother taught me into a contemporary context and working together allows me to make performances out of things that you may not necessarily think are performances, like sewing. This lets us look at them in a different lens—that’s interesting for me.

Mary: You definitely take me out of my comfort zone. I do tend to be more traditional in my artwork and I have been working on a curriculum for Chugachmiut Heritage Preservation that teaches about traditional artwork and how to make clothing. I’m working on that project right now. Working a little more contemporary with the material has definitely opened my eyes. The fish skin that we have in the show, we made a non-traditional and traditional tan. We’ve used brains from the deer and some of that is in the window that we have on display. We also did a non-traditional tent which was using glycerin and rubbing alcohol and that I have a video on that I hope to show during the presentation as well.

Have you collaborated with Alex Britt before?

Christine: No, but I really am a fan of their work. They’re very image-based and a photographer. I always liked how they explained their relationship to the body and land. Bringing in different Indigenous perspectives is important to SKIN SEWERS. Obviously, there is such a wide spectrum. Alex’s photos will be a part of the installation. So, I think it will just kind of show the distances and the different ways we think about land and Native perspectives.

When people come to your Art Encounter, what should they expect to experience?

Christine: This is an active installation, where people can move freely about and get close to the materials and watch how we work with the materials. You’ll get a sense of how our ancestors used and talked about these. We’ll also have texts about the duality of materials and how we want to continue to use them and bring these materials and traditions wherever we go and think about them as they evolve. We’re going to have a demonstration to inflate the pig intestine. This is similar to the way that ancestors used seal intestines—blowing them up, drying, and cutting them. The labor that goes into using them, how much time and care goes into the work—the performance parts of SKIN SEWERS are an act of care and respect for the material, the land, and our tradition. The process is valuable and beautiful, using these materials involves being meticulous, careful, and loving. We come from people who are sewers, who sew skins. SKIN SEWERS, as a project, is really to highlight how important the action is and not just the finished object. I wanted to show other people the performance through the physical actions and what that looks like.

For the third year of our winter Olympic Sculpture Park artist residency, we changed things up a bit. Unlike the last two years, this year’s artist was not selected through an open call, but selected in collaboration with yəhaw̓, an exhibition celebrating the depth and diversity of Indigenous art made in the Pacific Northwest. Curated by Tracy Rector, Asia Tail, and Satpreet Kahlon, yəhaw̓ opens at King Street Station March 23, 2019. You can see more of Christine Babic’s work when it opens! We’ll see you there.

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

Photo: Jessa Carter. Photos: Nina Dubinsky
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An Ethos of Equity: Learn About SAM’s Exhibition Advisory Committees

Over the years, SAM has from time to time brought together a group of community members from diverse backgrounds and affiliations to advise on the presentation of a special exhibition. In 2009, SAM met with leaders of the city’s South Asian community when a set of exquisite royal paintings from Jodhpur would be presented at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. A group of fashion designers and instructors advised the museum—and helped create a fashion show featuring local designers at the museum—for SAM’s fall 2016 exhibition celebrating the work of the legendary Yves Saint Laurent.

These, and numerous other examples, signify the importance to SAM of connecting with people outside of the organization to fulfill its mission of reflecting the community it serves. This ethos guides much of SAM’s work already; for example, the Education & Public Engagement Division nurtures ongoing relationships with local artists, performers, writers, and other culture-makers in presenting dynamic programming and events.

Now it’s official: going forward, the museum will bring this community-centered process to the development of all major special exhibitions presented throughout the year, convening Advisory Committees who will meet and advise the museum throughout the planning process.

A major impetus for making this process official? The deeply rewarding experience working with an advisory committee for Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson (June 14–September 9, 2018). As plans for this major exhibition came together, it was clear that the complex subject matter would require thoughtful execution at every step.

The exhibition would be held for the sesquicentennial of the birth of photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952), but far from a celebration, SAM would present a richly nuanced re-evaluation of his legacy. “While Curtis made many contributions to the fields of art and ethnography, his romanticized picture of Native identity has cast a lingering shadow over the perception of Native peoples,” noted Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art. “Today, Indigenous artists are creating aesthetic archives reclaiming agency over their visual representation.” Brotherton worked with three contemporary Indigenous artists—Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, and Will Wilson—to conceive of Double Exposure, an exhibition that would thread their works in conversation with Curtis’ iconic photographs, as well as objects from SAM’s collection.

This collaboration between curator and contemporary artists also included the advisory committee, whose feedback helped make space at the museum for a reckoning with Curtis’s legacy. With Double Exposure, SAM took a big step in its efforts to decolonize the museum. We’d like to acknowledge the committee members once again: Dr. Charlotte Coté (Tseshaht / Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation), Jarrod Da (San Ildefonso Pueblo), Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi (Pawnee Nation / Upper Ahtna Athabascan), Andy Everson (K’ómoks First Nation), Jason Gobin (Tulalip Tribe), Darrell Hillaire (Lummi Nation), Madrienne Salgado (Muckleshoot Tribe), Lydia Sigo (Suquamish Tribe), Asia Tail (Cherokee Nation), and Ken Workman (Duwamish Tribe).

To bring together the advisory committees, invitations are sent to leaders, artists, and thinkers whose own work and communities are reflected in the particular themes of an exhibition. These selections are drawn from SAM’s already-rich network of partnerships and more importantly provide opportunities to create new connections with community leaders and organizations in the region. Reflecting the value of this work, and ensuring that the opportunity to serve is accessible to everyone, SAM offers a stipend to all committee members. Each committee meets with a cross-divisional group of SAM staff who are charged with taking the feedback and guidance of the members back to their colleagues. Interacting with each step of the exhibition-making process over the course of multiple meetings—including curatorial, marketing, education, and more—the committee’s input contributes to the development of exhibition content, communication, and interpretation.

Advisory Committees for upcoming exhibitions are already at work. SAM is grateful for their dedication—and eager to experience how this community-centered model contributes to SAM’s mission to connect art to life.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair

Photo: Natali Wiseman. Pictured, L to R: Ken Workman (Duwamish Tribe), Jarrod Da (San Ildefonso Pueblo), Dr. Charlotte Coté (Tseshaht / Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation), Curator of Native American Art Barbara Brotherton, Double Exposure artist Tracy Rector, Asia Tail (Cherokee Nation), Lydia Sigo (Suquamish Tribe), Madrienne Salgado (Muckleshoot Tribe). Not pictured: Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi (Pawnee Nation / Upper Ahtna Athabascan), Andy Everson (K’ómoks First Nation), Jason Gobin (Tulalip Tribe), Darrell Hillaire (Lummi Nation).

 

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Seattle Asian Art Museum: A Storied Past Inspires a Bright Future

“Renovating a museum that is an architectural icon is no small task,” explains Sam Miller, Partner at LMN Architects, the firm overseeing the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s renovation and expansion design. Preservation of the landmark building is essential, but modern demands necessitate change. These changes include improved ADA accessibility, seismic and climate control upgrades, and other electrical/mechanical controls imperative to present-day museum standards. The renovation features a modest expansion that adds exhibition and educational space, allowing the museum to better serve the community.

The Art Deco building is considered one of architect Carl F. Gould’s greatest achievements. “Our goal has been to impact the existing spaces as minimally as possible,” Miller says of LMN’s approach to the renovation process. “When there’s any new intervention that’s not replicating or preserving the historic architecture, we’re distinguishing the work with a more contemporary detailing so it’s clearly different from the building’s historic fabric.”

Gould’s original design serves as inspiration to LMN’s renovation plan, as does historic Volunteer Park, designed by the Olmsted Brothers landscape architectural firm in 1903. “There is this beautiful building in a beautiful historic park, and yet the two weren’t connected. We felt restoring some of that connection would be a great opportunity,” Miller says.

He explained how Gould’s design incorporated skylights that flooded the galleries with light, as well as windows with views into Volunteer Park. However, later building additions and a transition towards artificial lighting closed off many of those elements. The renovations will include LED light boxes that allow display of light-sensitive objects in an environment inspired by the original skylights. LMN also designed a glass lobby addition that improves building circulation while also providing park views. Conceived by Gould as an indoor-outdoor space, the Fuller Garden Court will also offer those views, through two new openings that will connect it to the lobby. “As you stand in the Garden Court, you’re going to have this incredible view of the park,” Miller says.

The community was integral to the design process. SAM received feedback from the City, local parks groups, and other community members. In addition to suggesting changes to a building staircase and landscaping that were incorporated into the final design, the community also led the museum back to an important source of inspiration—the Olmsted Brothers’ historic design for Volunteer Park pathways. In response to this feedback, SAM is restoring a set of Olmsted-designed paths. This opportunity to complete and augment these walkways through Volunteer Park speaks to the nature of the restoration project: historic preservation that has led to design inspiration.

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

– Erin Langner, freelance writer

Images: Eduardo Calderón.
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Conserving SAM’s Asian Art Collection

Thanks to funding from Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, a pair of important 17th-century Japanese screens, Scenes in and around the Capital, are currently being restored by specialists at Studio Sogendo, a private studio in California. The screens, likely created by a machi-eshi, or “town painter,” present a panoramic view of Kyoto during the Edo period. They show both Kyoto’s center and its periphery, and give insight into the daily lives of different social classes, in addition to representing seasonal festivals.

When the screens first arrived at SAM in 1975, they were already in fragile condition and by the time this conservation work began in 2017, extensive repairs were desperately needed. Painted using ink, color, and gold, and mounted on wooden frames, the screens are being restored using traditional Japanese methods and materials. I was able to visit Studio Sogendo while one of the panels had been stripped of its backings and laid on a light table, allowing a rare perspective of the materials and quality of the painting. The conservation treatment has been invaluable, not just in terms of preserving the paintings, but also in offering opportunities for examination and study. The internal frames must be replaced and expert craftsmen in Japan made new custom frames for the work. The incredibly precise joinery of the new frames can be seen in these images. The conservation phase of the project is nearing completion and the reassembly of the structure, replacement of the mount fabrics, and retouching of the areas of loss is underway.

 

This crucial project would not be possible without Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, one of few programs dedicated to preserving historically or culturally significant artworks. We look forward to the return of Scenes in and around the Capital, which will be on view among SAM’s extensive Asian art collection when the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens in late 2019!

– Nicholas Dorman, SAM Chief Conservator

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Inside the Asian Art Museum: Demolition Today, Reinforcement Tomorrow

We are thrilled to see significant progress on our construction at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Our construction partners BNBuilders have completed the interior demolition in preparation for rebuilding reinforced walls. Many structural upgrades are also underway, in addition to preparing for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing improvements. The foundations for the East Addition have been completed and preparations for installing the North Addition foundations have begun.

For detailed information and continued project updates, visit the BNBuilders project website.

In the image above, the translucent panel ceiling of the Fuller Garden Court has been removed to access the concrete walls above that require seismic retrofitting. With the ceiling taken down, the beautiful laminated glass skylights (original to the 1930’s design but replaced in the 1990s) have been temporarily revealed.

South exhibit hall looking south

In addition, the demolition of interior gallery walls has been completed. The hollow clay tile walls at the perimeter of the galleries will remain, but have been opened up for seismic upgrades. Structural improvements are continuing inside the existing spaces. As is common with historic buildings, asbestos was found and safely removed.

Auditorium looking south

The seats have been removed from the auditorium, along with the sound booth that previously stood in the middle of the back row.

Alvord Board Room looking southeast

The interior wall of the Alvord Board Room has been removed. Once the expansion is complete, this area will be transformed into our new education space.

Want to know more about what’s happening at the Asian Art Museum? See renderings and get more news on the website about the project.

Photos: Courtesy of BNBuilders
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New Cedar for Bunyon’s Chess

A brilliant conservator[1] once noted that “art conservation is a fight against entropy.” This is especially visible for works sited outside which require conservators, artists, and stakeholders to carefully consider what is essential for an outdoor sculpture to continue to exist for future generations. When the carved cedar elements of Mark di Suvero’s sculpture Bunyon’s Chess were no longer structurally stable, di Suvero and his studio worked closely with the Seattle Art Museum to explore the artwork and discover solutions.

Bunyon’s Chess was created by Mark di Suvero in 1965 for Virginia and Bagley Wright’s residence in Seattle. The family’s documentation of the creative process provides wonderful insight into the artwork.

In 2006 the Wrights promised the work to the Seattle Art Museum and it was moved to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The cedar elements had begun to show degradation in their original site but this accelerated at the park partially due to the exposed location and partially due to the natural deterioration of cedar. As cedar ages in an outdoor setting a number of events occur: the natural biocide slowly migrates out with water, the wood absorbs water at an increasing rate as it deteriorates, fungal deterioration is common, as well as insect and wildlife damage. The logs of Bunyon’s Chess were treated annually with a fungicide to slow the fungal deterioration but without major visual interventions such as end caps or moving the sculpture to an interior location, deterioration continued at a fairly rapid pace.

In 2009 an in-depth condition assessment was performed which determined that the deterioration, particularly on the interior had progressed to a state where the logs were in danger of falling. In 2010, the logs were consolidated, the large losses filled and the exterior coated to prolong the life. During this period research and conversations with di Suvero regarding the replacement were begun as this treatment could not prolong the life of the cedar indefinitely. Di Suvero determined that new logs could be carved to replace the original cedar, as it is the visual integrity of the work that is important.

After much research, new cedar of the similar dimensions and tight ring growth was sourced for carving. Seattle artist Brian Beck peeled the logs in preparation for carving.

Kent Johnson and Daniel Roberts from di Suvero’s studio traveled to Seattle and carved the new logs using the original cedar elements as a guide.

Beck worked with Johnson and Roberts to create the same join between the two logs. Much of the original hardware such as the 36” bronze bolts and galvanized steel eyehooks were presevered and reused on the newly carved elements.

If you look carefully, at the top of the sculpture you will note a slight bend in the top tube. Di Suvero wanted this natural bend to remain but believed this opportunity should be used to reinforce the structure.

Fabrication Specialties Ltd. worked with the di Suvero studio to create an interior support which was welded in place.

The logs were strung with new stainless steel cabling and were carefully measured and marked to the lengths of the original cables to assist with the rigging. Larry Tate, Andrew Malcolm, Tracy Taft, Ignacio Lopez, and Travis Leonard of Fabrication Specialties placed the new logs within the original steel frame working closely with images and a model of the original. The di Suvero studio generously participated in video calls throughout the day.


Special thank you to: Mark di Suvero and Studio, Virginia Wright, Fabrication Specialties Ltd, Equinox Studios, Alta Forest Products, Brian Beck, Christian French, and Catharina Manchanda for helping preserve this public artwork free for everyone to enjoy at the Olympic Sculpture Park year round.

– Liz Brown, SAM Objects Conservator

Photos courtesy of Virginia Wright and Liz Brown.
[1] Lauren Chang
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