All posts in “Behind the Scenes”

Be A Part of Something Big: Volunteer for Middle Fork

Artist John Grade is looking for volunteers to help sculpt the 60-foot addition to his sculpture, Middle Fork, which will be installed in SAM’s Brotman Forum in January. SAM employees have been helping out in Grade’s studio over the last few months and we all agree, you should consider volunteering as well.

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John Grade’s studio is large and located at the fringes of Seattle. It’s easy to understand why he would require a space as large as an airplane hangar if you’ve experienced his artwork. Grade creates organic shapes from the natural world at life size and impresses viewers with the grand scale of everyday objects such as, in the case of Middle Fork, trees.

Expect a warm welcome from Grade’s crew of studio assistants, though you may have to venture pretty far into the space before you’re noticed over the sound of the electric sanders. In an open room with several workstations scattered towards the back, you’ll notice sections of the original 40-foot long Middle Fork sculpture bubble wrapped and arranged unceremoniously around the room.

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More than a view behind-the-scenes, this is an experience you can inhale—quite literally if you’re not wearing your dust mask. Particles of the artistic process will coat your clothes, so dress for sawdust and be prepared to focus in on the details for a few hours. “It’s fun to be part of something big by doing something small,” said Natali Wiseman, senior designer at SAM. And small is right—the four-hour minimum volunteer shift flies by and you’ll be impressed by the section of the sculpture that you’ve created—how much, or how little you’ve gotten done, depending on your outlook.

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“Volunteering for Middle Fork is a great opportunity to get an insider’s look into John’s creative process,” says David Rue, public programs coordinator. “It’s refreshing to see how many helping hands are responsible for such a beautifully large-scale project, and it feels great to integrate community building with hands-on art making.” When John Grade began Middle Fork in 2014 it was being constructed at Mad Art in South Lake Union. The store-front gallery space was open to the public and passerbys were welcome to lend a hand in laying a couple, or a couple hundred, blocks of the sculpture.

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Far from the inaccessible side of the art world, Middle Fork has been touched and built by toddlers, teenagers, and Amazon employees alike. Megan Peterson, assistant registrar for exhibitions describes the process as “an honor. I appreciate how open John is to allowing each person the freedom to put their unique stamp on the work they do.” Don’t worry about being too precise or technically skilled. The sculpture is sturdy and, like nature, difficult to mess up. Each inches-long cedar piece you place is only one part of what will eventually be a 100-foot long whole, hanging at SAM.

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“It’ll be a particularly special feeling once Middle Fork is installed knowing that my hands helped contribute to its existence,” Rue added. If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Lauren at John Grade’s studio: volunteer@johngrade.com.

—Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Photos: Natali Wiseman.

The Inimitable Dottie Malone

Dorothy C. Malone—“Dottie” to everyone here at SAM—is fondly remembered as one of the most important figures in the museum’s history. No one has worked here longer and very few have left such great legacies.

Dottie Malone in her natural habitat: the Asian Art Museum

The likeness of Dottie Malone in her natural habitat: the Asian Art Museum.

Born in Everett, Dottie attended high school in Seattle and took one year of university classes at the University of Washington. She met and married Coe Malone at UW. The depression made life difficult for them, and Dottie was looking for a job. A friend of theirs, Evelyn Foster, was working at the Art Institute of Seattle (a predecessor to SAM), where they were in need of someone to answer phones. Evelyn connected Dottie with Dr. Fuller, who hired her before the museum’s opening in June of 1933. She was one of the first three employees of the museum, along with her friend Evelyn and the artist Kenneth Callahan.

A young Dottie tidying up the galleries.

A young Dottie tidying up the galleries.

Dottie’s administrative role and her importance to the museum grew over the next half-century. Dr. Fuller trusted Dottie enough that he would leave her in charge of the museum’s operations during weeklong geology expeditions. She’s remembered as very tidy and organized. She also had an exceptional memory and served as the institutional historian. Dottie knew almost everything there was to know about the museum, and she also made a point to know everyone who worked there. Though she finally retired in 1988, she still kept a desk at the Volunteer Park building and continued to volunteer as long as she was able to do it. She really loved SAM. Dottie passed away in January of 1997.

We love you, Dottie!

We love you, Dottie!

Today, the administrative offices at the Asian Art Museum bear her name, and every spring, at SAM’s Volunteer Soiree, the museum presents the Dorothy C. Malone Volunteer Award to “an outstanding volunteer who reflects the highest standards of museum dedication and commitment as exemplified by Dottie Malone.”

Images: Photo: SAM Archive. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: SAM Archive. Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Life Beyond the Badge

The last time you visited SAM, did you have any idea that many of the Visitor Services Officers (VSOs) who protect the art in the museum are also visual artists themselves, as well as writers, musicians, and thespians? It’s true!

One former SAM VSO, Aaron Bourget, worked at SAM in 1996 and moved on to start his own photography and videography business that focuses on documenting artists. Last year, Aaron made a documentary on the guards and working artists who protect SAM’s art collection called Art of the Guardin’ Variety.

According to the film’s Vimeo page, it is “an informal portrait of the working artist and a glimpse of the talent behind the badge.” It watches like a love letter to Aaron’s time working behind the scenes of the museum, and to those who continue protecting it today. In it, he interviewed many current VSOs about what the experience is like working in a museum while artists themselves.

Artist Vaughn Meekins

Vaughn Meekins, a textile artist and six-year veteran of SAM, affirms that no one spends as much time with the art as those hired to guard it.

“You come to this job because you have a passion for art, and you want community in some regard,” Meekins said in his interview for the film. “I’m an artist, whether I’m doing security, or cooking food in the kitchen, to me it’s all art.”

Artist Rebecca Bush

Rebecca Bush, a VSO at the Asian Art Museum since 2009 who creates multimedia paintings, shares the same sentiment.

“Lots of people expect that we’re here to say ‘don’t touch!’ But when you’re approachable, it can be a great experience for the visitors,” Bush said. “I like working here as an artist because I like being in the presence of art, and seeing people enjoying art. As an artist, it’s fulfilling to see people do so.”

To get even more insight into the lives of the artists who guard the art, watch Art of the Guardin’ Variety at: https://vimeo.com/101584343.

Dawn Quinn, SAM Copywriter

Photos: Natali Wiseman

The lens behind the New Republic Community Portrait Project

Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic is on view at long last. As a part of the exhibition, SAM has launched New Republic Events, where SAM and Seattle-area community partners are highlighting events and performances focusing on themes found in Kehinde Wiley’s work, and also, New Republic Community Portrait Project. The Community Portrait Project invites volunteers to have their portraits taken by local photographers, and answer three questions: how do others see you, how do you see yourself and how do you want to be seen? The finished portraits and answers will be featured on the project’s website, as well as in SAM’s Community Corridor.

Local artists/photographers Carina A. del Rosario and Zorn B. Taylor are heading up the project, and we spoke with Carina about her background and the experience of working on the project.

SAM: Hi Carina! Thanks for speaking with us.

del Rosario: No problem!

SAM: Since you asked Community Portrait Project participants three questions, we’ll ask you three too. First up: Tell us a bit about your background and how long you’ve been a photographer.

del Rosario: I was born in the Philippines and immigrated with my family to Los Angeles when I was six. I love the energy and vibrant colors of urban life I grew up around, which in part led to my interest in street photography. When I moved here as a kid, I was curious about all the life going on around me but I was super shy. It may have been because I wasn’t confident with my English at the time. Over time, I really developed my English language skills in writing and speaking – though at the expense of my first language – but that helped bolster my confidence. I eventually got interested in journalism since it gave me an excuse to talk to strangers, to ask questions and tell stories. But I always loved how images and stories went together, whether in newspapers or in films. At Santa Clara University, where I graduated with a BA in Communication, I worked on the student newspaper and my friends there taught me photography and printing in the darkroom.

After a number of years writing, I decided to take up photography again and other visual arts classes because I wanted to make my writing more visual, more sensory. Eventually, I became more and more interested in the ability of photography and other visual art forms to tell a story that can be much more open to interpretation—that can hold more complexity and ambiguity. I’ve been working as a photographer and visual artist for about 12 years.

Community Portraits

SAM: Very cool. We’re glad you’re bringing your unique experience to the Community Portrait Project. Okay, next question: What’s your favorite thing about being a photographer?

del Rosario: Similar to being a journalist, being a photographer gives you an excuse or a tool for following your curiosity. It can certainly open doors to connecting with strangers. It can also shut doors if one doesn’t approach others with respect and openness. One of my early photography instructors (Raul Touzon on National Geographic) told me, “Give as much as you get. Be in the moment with people and the images will come.” I definitely get a charge when I can connect with people on a human level and that emerges in the photos.

SAM: What excellent advice. Okay, last question: How did you get involved with the Community Portrait Project, and what has the experience been like so far?

del Rosario:
Regan Pro (SAM’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs) contacted me about the Community Portrait Project and I jumped on it. I’m a teaching artist for SAM, so Regan and I have worked together for a few years. She also knows my work as an artist, particularly my Passport Series, which is a photo-based, interactive project that addresses identity, documentation, and discrimination. Through this project, I’ve worked with people from all walks of life to bust out of the boxes we all get squeezed into and present ourselves more holistically. Regan knew this would be akin to Kehinde Wiley’s approach for empowering “sitters” to determine how they want to be seen.

The experience working on the Community Portrait Project has been really uplifting and grounding at the same time. First, I love any excuse to work with Zorn. We have taught together and supported each other’s work for a few years, and I really appreciate the love and openness he brings into the work.

We photographed people from various ages and life experiences—a total of 40 people over three sessions. It’s hard to narrow down which ones were the most memorable stories because so many of them opened up in really interesting ways. One woman talked about how normally she’s really shy and closed in and that this was her challenge to herself. By participating in this project, she’s opening up to the world. I could totally relate to this since I remember making a similar decision when I was younger. There was another woman who seemed so deeply sad. She’s in a struggle to reclaim her sense of self, her own power, her happiness. I asked her to try to go back to a time when she felt whole and happy. To witness those emotions move through her, from sorrow to joy in a seconds, was an incredible honor.

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SAM: Wow. It sounds like you had many incredibly experiences working on the Community Portrait Project, and essentially got to peek into the inner lives and thoughts of strangers. Thanks for sharing with us, for being a part of the Project!

del Rosario: Thank you!

You can participate in the Community Portrait Project, too. Upcoming drop-in photo sessions will be held at SAM on Wednesday, March 3 and on Thursday, April 7. In the meantime, be sure to check out Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, on view now.

Navigating the Paradoxes

Upon arrival, we are greeted by cardboard boxes, carts piled high with paint, painter’s tape, dozens and dozens of lights, and AV equipment. It’s the week before the Asian Art Museum’s newest exhibition Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art opens, and we’re going behind the scenes to check out how the installation is going.

SAM’s Exhibition Designer, Paul Martinez, was on hand to walk us through the exhibition install team’s progress thus far.

“The crew has their work cut out for them!” he tells us with a smile.

“Right now we’re looking at the tech specs for all of the artists—the things that the A/V people will need. Tantamount is clear communication, as we’re working with an international museum and artists,” Martinez says.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

As we walk into the first wing of the Tateuchi Galleries, we see deep, crimson walls that are still bare for the most part, save for two gilded frames holding mirrors. The room will house works by artist Lee Yongbaek. The pieces incorporate video, sound, mirrors, and soldier uniforms decked out in floral print as a part of his work, Angel-Soldier. After viewing images of the uniforms, the myriad colors pop out and are so much more vivid in person. They are the perfect juxtaposition: camouflage that does not hide you at all.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

“You can see them laid out here,” Martinez says as we walk into the adjoining room. “They’re stunning decorative elements, you want to wear one of the jackets, they’re pretty cool.” We agree completely.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

We move on to the next, where we see a few of Jung Yeondoo’s pairs of photos from his Bewitched series have been hung. They portray young people of Korea in their day jobs and contrast their realities with what they would actually like to do in life, if money, education, and responsibilities were of no object. The photos are huge, taking up the majority of the wall space. We didn’t imagine they’d tower so high, but seeing them blown up to almost life-size helps us take in the details—to imagine what life would be like in our imagined realities, too.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

The next space houses Lim Minouk’s large-scale multimedia installation, The Possibility of the Half. The work is not fully prepared or installed yet, and Lim’s assistant, Ms. Park Moonkynung is in town to help assemble the pieces. The detritus of what makes up a real newsroom is scattered around the room: an ON AIR sign, professional video cameras and tripods, and more lights, all borrowed from our local KING5 news station. The room is painted black, which will perfectly set the scene for what viewers will experience when the total sum of the work is up: a re-imagined Korean television studio, with screens showing visceral, emotional, and dramatic scenes of people grieving over the deaths of Kim Jong Il of North Korea and former president Park Jung-Hee of South Korea.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Standing tall in front of us is an interesting structure: a camera device composed mostly of a tall tree branch. Curious as to how it got here, we pressed Martinez.

“This request came to us in a single photo. ‘Can you build us one of these?’ he said. “It’s just what it looks like: a quirky representation of a camera boom. Our crew worked hard to produce an operable and dynamic boom to represent exactly what we needed,” Martinez said, as he moved the boom up and down, and left to right to show of its capabilities. “We went out and selected a tree from the Northwest, cut it to size, dried it for a long period of time, then fumigated. We started this back in the springtime. Then it needed the whole base, which we built in house, and our mount makers fabricated everything.”

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

“So this is one of a kind, and made for this exhibition?” I ask. “Yes, she’s (Lim) done it for other museums, too,” Martinez confirms. “The bottom rounds, not sure where they were purchased from, and not sure if they’re from the Pacific Northwest,” he laughs.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Lim herself is at the museum this week to help install her work. We can’t wait to see what the composite room looks once it’s up and finished for the opening this weekend.

I noticed that when everything is laid out in the room, including pieces that expand up entire corners of the floor, it seems that the work takes a great deal of space. “How are people going to interact with the installation and how close are they going to get to everything?” I ask.

“Much like The Mr. exhibition, (referring to the past exhibition, Live On: Mr.’s Japanese Neo-Pop), it’s a bit of an immersive experience,” Martinez said. “This exhibition will be the same way. They’ll wander through, but there will be obvious barriers. It’s meant to be something you enter, have an experience with while you’re in it, and then you leave.”

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

In the next room over, we’re greeted by some of Yang Haegue’s Female Natives sculptures. Outfitted with everyday materials—lights, artificial flowers, yarn, cord, bells, etc. piled on clothing racks—the structures provoke narratives about gender, politics, and human emotions. Her Gymnastics of the Foldables series of photos yields the same effect by way of engaging a clothes drying rack in calisthenics.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

The last wing of the galleries is dedicated to the installation that has been worked on the least since the pieces arrived in Seattle. Tons of wooden boxes were piled on top of each other to our left and right, with Korean postage and stickers prominently affixed.

“I heard the handlers were taking apart and counting them, making sure they were all here today,” I said, referring to Yeesookyung’s work Thousand, composed of porcelain shards, epoxy, and 24k gold leaf.

“This one is particularly challenging,” Martinez said. “It’s a thousand pieces to look at,” he said. “How they come out of the crate remains specific as to how they’re laid out for the artist to access, it’s a very deliberate, meticulous unpacking and repacking and reassembly of the crates,” he confirmed. “And then of course the registrars are looking at each piece in detail, writing down the characteristics of each piece, and photographing them so they have a record of what they are and if they have any issues.”

The effort will pay off, though, as the total effect of one thousand pieces of porcelain on a platform is bound to dazzle—not only for the craftsmanship of the ceramics, but also out of respect for the artist who has skillfully arranged them all in their respective spots in the gallery.

“The artist will place them all herself, correct?”

“Exactly,” Martinez said. “We have the pedestal placed as she’ll need. She’ll place them all in the ways she likes on the platform. She’ll have all the pieces arranged by numbers. She’s installed it before so she’ll come with her method of reinstalling it here.”

I’ve read that Yeesookyung has said that working on this piece has helped her appreciate the process of putting together her finished works more than the actual creating of the work. Some interesting perspective on a work that no doubt took at least a thousand hours to complete.

Explore these works and more in Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art, now on view at the Asian Art Museum.

Words: Dawn Quinn, Copywriter
Photos: Natali Wiseman

Caring for our Collections

Mr. Kawazu surveying - Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu studies Japanese paintings at SAM for the Mellon conservation survey

Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu studies Japanese paintings at SAM for the Mellon conservation survey

 

In 2013, the Seattle Art Museum received a generous three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of programs and initiatives in Asian Art. We dedicated the grant to two important areas for any museum: conservation and curatorial work. Through the grant, we will foster even better understanding of SAM’s rich Asian art collection and we will also forge new relationships with Asian museums, curators, artists and scholars. With these aims in mind, SAM staff visited a select number of partners in Asia last year and we welcomed two fascinating visitors in October 2014 in connection with this project.

Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu examines a painting on the light table for the Mellon Survey

Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu examines a painting on the light table for the Mellon Survey

A major goal of the Mellon grant is to conduct a comprehensive conservation survey of SAM’s great collection of Japanese painted scrolls and screens. The funding enables us to bring Japanese paintings conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu to SAM two times per year for the next three years to document the Japanese paintings collection, with specific focus on the materials and preservation state of each painting. In early October, Mr. Kawazu was at SAM for the first residency, during which he conducted a marathon evaluation of seventy-one Japanese paintings in two short weeks. Working closely with Chief Conservator Nicholas Dorman, Collections Care Manager Marta Pinto-Llorca and Project Coordinator Rachel Harris, Mr. Kawazu examined each painting, documenting its condition with detailed notes and close-up images. In spring 2015, Mr. Kawazu will return to evaluate a second group of Japanese paintings. Two important spin-offs of the survey are that the grant enabled us to set up a work station, equipped with the highly specialized tools and materials of the Asian paintings conservator. We are also able to take new photographs of all the surveyed objects, with SAM conservation staff shooting macro shots, inscriptions and other details and photographer Spike Mafford taking high-resolution shots of a selection of paintings.

Spike Mafford and his assistant photographing paintings for the Mellon survey

Spike Mafford and his assistant photographing paintings for the Mellon survey

Ukiyoe, Figure of a woman, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.1689. The Mellon conservation survey provides unprecedented documentation and new photography of works like this that hail from the earliest days of the collection

Ukiyoe, Figure of a woman, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.1689. The Mellon conservation survey provides unprecedented documentation and new photography of works like this that hail from the earliest days of the collection

The curatorial track of the Mellon grant is also moving ahead. While Mr. Kawazu was examining Japanese paintings, Eunju Choi, Chief Curator of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) was also in residence at SAM. The Mellon grant provided funds to bring Ms. Choi to Seattle so that she could begin planning an exhibition with Xiaojin Wu, SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean art. Tentatively planned for late 2015, this exhibition will offer Seattleites a look at contemporary Korean art never before seen in our city.

While in residence at SAM, Ms. Choi gave a sold-out lecture titled: Korea Now: Contemporary Art from the MMCA, Korea. Her talk highlighted MMCA exhibits and offered insight into the work of important contemporary Korean artists. If you weren’t able to attend Ms. Choi’s lecture, check out this article for an overview of her talk: http://www.nwasianweekly.com/2014/10/vibrant-korean-contemporary-art-set-arrive-seattle/.

In very different ways, the conservation survey and the new curatorial collaborations give a terrific boost to our collection legacy and our Asian programs, we look forward to sharing its progress with you over the next two years.

 

Rachel Harris

Project Coordinator for Asian Art Collaborations

 

Nicholas Dorman

Chief Conservator

 

Xiaojin Wu

Curator of Japanese and Korean Art

 

Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu and project coordinator Rachel Harris work on the Mellon survey to document the condition of Japanese paintings

Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu and project coordinator Rachel Harris work on the Mellon survey to document the condition of Japanese paintings

 

Mr.’s Caterpillar (or: The Importance of Living On)

When we arrive at the Asian Art Museum, the Tateuchi Galleries are filled with cardboard boxes. Each room has a low tower built up in the middle, away from the walls. You can see flashes of a panda sticker on many of them, the logo of a moving company. Some of Mr.’s paintings are already hung, and a few are leaning against the walls. In a couple of places, an 8.5×11 piece of paper with a picture of a painting is taped to the wall with masking tape, giving us a clue of what will be going there.

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The paintings are huge—much larger than we would have guessed—the size of entire gallery walls. We watch as four art preparators carefully lift and place one panel of three, sliding it along a rail toward the other two until you can just barely discern the seam.

Mr. is sitting at a folding table, working on a laptop. He’s surrounded by printouts of his paintings, plans that show how to build the installation in front of him, and photographs he’s taken. He wears a striped hoodie and glasses and jeans, and he seems perfectly happy to take a break and talk about what he’s working on. He doesn’t speak much English, and I speak no Japanese, so we chat with the aid of SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, Xiaojin Wu, and Mr.’s assistant, Kozue, who’s also based here in Seattle. The necessary triplicate of the interview means we move through the galleries slowly, standing amidst the cardboard boxes and the sounds of drills nearby. Everyone is so patient it’s hard to tell how much time is passing.

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The installation he’s stationed in front of is the centerpiece of the exhibition, a tribute to the March 11, 2011 Tōhoku tsunami and ensuing earthquake. Most recently, it was shown at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York. When it’s finished, it’s about the size of a train car, made up of what Mr. calls “stuff.”

Right now, it’s just a skeleton made from pipes and plywood. It looks something like an erector set, and Mr. refers to it affectionately as the “caterpillar.” The art preparators working in this gallery say that it’s like putting together a puzzle. They have sketches to follow, but they’re not exact, and they’re figuring it out with Mr. as they go. It will be a massive structure, made up of hundreds of everyday objects of Japanese life that Mr. spent three months collecting. Some crates were shipped from New York City, where they were stored after the Lehmann Maupin show. Some crates were shipped from Japan. Mr.’s translator points out a box of curry, emphasizing that all of these are real things used every day in Japan. I ask if the installation changes every time he constructs it, and he says it’s hard to keep it the same, so by nature it varies. Mr. is creating new paintings with which to surround the installation. And this is the first time that Mr.’s photographs of the aftermath of the tsunami will be on display.

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During the tsunami, Mr. was living in Saitama, Japan, just outside of Tokyo. One hundred days after the tsunami hit, Mr. went to the site and took hundreds of photographs. He pulls his laptop off the table to show me some of the pictures and brings it with us as we look at the wall where they’ll be plastered in a collage from bottom to top.

“I went,” Mr. says, which sound a bit like a pronouncement because in the midst of all the Japanese, he says it in English. Which—this one is. He went there. He saw it in person. He witnessed.

A hundred days after the tsunami, he explains, means it was almost summer. There was a factory nearby that had been making canned fish, and it smelled terrible. While Mr. looks through his photos to find what he wants to show me, I ask Xiaojin why she thinks it’s important that Seattle see the artwork.

“I think at the beginning we were attracted to Mr.’s work because of the tsunami installation. The tsunami was such a huge event that impacted so many Japanese people’s lives that you can look around and almost all the Japanese contemporary artists, in some way, have responded to it. But Mr.’s response is quite unique. He uses the daily items he collected. But he also went to the place and documented the aftermath, so I think it’s very meaningful for us to show that. And somehow, even though his main body of works is made up of paintings, some of the works he made even earlier tie into that idea of disaster and how we respond to it. We think it will be very interesting for the Seattle audience to see a different perspective of Japanese Pop art. Even though the paintings look like anime/manga, they are not just about this—even they have more to them, a little bit deeper meanings. You can get a bit deeper, see beyond the surface…beyond those big eyes, those smiles.” Xiaojin laughs suddenly as she references the happy-go-lucky anime faces, like there’s something bubbly just in talking about it.

Mr. draws my attention to his laptop and shows me the photos of collapsed buildings, tipped cars, downed power lines. Everything looks askew, and gray, covered in silt and dust. In some photos, Mr. is wearing a mask.

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“When you first went to the tsunami site, did you experience it more as an artist, looking to make artwork, or were you just there to see and experience it as a citizen, as a civilian who’d been part of this disaster?” I ask.

Both Xiaojin as she listens to my question in English, and then Mr. as she translates it into Japanese, nod solemnly. Mr. talks for a long time.

“He was saying the tsunami just impacted everybody in Japan, everyone in the entirety of Japan,” Xiaojin starts. “So he never thought, I’ll go in there as an artist. He just wanted to go and see and experience, but after this experience, his thoughts have just changed so much, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster was also, after…it’s still going on.”

Mr. starts speaking again as Xiaojin slow down. She murmurs in agreement as he talks, a thoughtful sound.

“He says there are two types of people that the tsunami had an impact on. One is directly those people who lived there, lost their home, and really, they probably had the worst damage. But the second kind is just like him, who didn’t really directly experience the tsunami but they lost power, or water, or the supermarket didn’t have enough supplies, so they experienced it indirectly. But just on different levels, everybody was involved.”

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The next week, when I go back to the Asian Art Museum, the installation is nearly complete. Above the screen that blocks gallery access, I can see a mattress, folded into a u shape over the top of the structure. The installation crams so many pieces of life together that it seems impossible it will hold, in the way an over packed suitcase may burst open at any moment. It’s about trauma, but also about the possibilities of what will come next.

The title of the installation? Give Me Your Wings – think different. No wonder Mr. has nicknamed the skeletal structure the caterpillar.

Live On: Mr.’s Japanese Neo-Pop is now on view at the Asian Art Museum.

Words: Maggie Hess, Copywriter
Photos: Natali Wiseman & Stephanie Fink

My Five – An Intern’s Favorite Things

Katie Morris is a graduate intern at the Seattle Art Museum, working with the Curatorial Division this fall. This week, she gave a thoughtful and insightful tour of five of her favorite objects to SAM staff and interns. Here, she shares her thoughts with you.

-Sarah Berman, Curatorial Associate for Collections

 

Having been asked to choose my five favorite pieces of art on display at SAM I must apologize because I have come to the conclusion that I simply cannot achieve this goal. For me, it is impossible. Not only did I find that choosing five objects above all others on my preliminary “list of favorites” too difficult, in the process of attempting to fine-tune my selection I would inevitably find another intriguing or beautiful object that captured my eye with every walk through the gallery space. And don’t get me started on what a new day and different mood did to my selection.

So, with defeat not an option I tried to look at the task from a different angle, to give myself some boundaries and to try and anchor my selections. With this in mind a very large theme began to emerge across many of the objects at SAM – the theme of Ceremony.

In its most basic sense, ceremony is defined as a ritual observance and procedure performed at grand or formal occasions. In many regards, ceremony is apart of our daily lives.

 

Canoe-shaped bowl with quail topknots, early 20th century, Native American, Californian, Pomo, willow, sedge root, bracken fern root, quail feathers, 1 3/4 × 6 1/4 × 2 1/4in., Gift of the Estate of Robert M. Shields, 2013.4.13. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

Canoe-shaped bowl with quail topknots, early 20th century, Native American, Californian, Pomo, willow, sedge root, bracken fern root, quail feathers, 1 3/4 × 6 1/4 × 2 1/4in., Gift of the Estate of Robert M. Shields, 2013.4.13. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

This canoe-shaped bowl with quail topknots is a quiet symbol of ceremony. For Native American Indians of the American West, basketry and weaving is considered a highly skilled art form passed down between generations. A woven object not only usually serves a direct and functional purpose, but it is also indicative of a broader system of cultural knowledge in its design, technique and the materials available locally for its creation.

Baskets such as this one were made as simple containers, but also as gifts during formal occasions. For example, traditional wedding ceremonies in certain regions often included the bride and groom gifting each other baskets full of objects signifying commitment; for women, bread and corn to symbolize the lifetime of support she will share with her new husband, for men, meat and skins for his bride to represent his promise to feed and clothe her. Baskets in other clans were used during birthing ceremonies, holding the baby’s umbilical cord along with other objects of meaning so that the ancestors will recognize them when they arrive in the spirit world.

 

Lkaayaak yeil s'aaxw (Box of Daylight Raven Hat), ca. 1850, Native American, Tlingit, Taku, Gaanax'adi clan, maple, mirror, abalone shell, bird skin, paint, sea lion whiskers, copper, leather, Flicker feathers, 11 7/8 x 7 3/4 x 12 1/4in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.124. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

Lkaayaak yeil s’aaxw (Box of Daylight Raven Hat), ca. 1850, Native American, Tlingit, Taku, Gaanax’adi clan, maple, mirror, abalone shell, bird skin, paint, sea lion whiskers, copper, leather, Flicker feathers, 11 7/8 x 7 3/4 x 12 1/4in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.124. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, Seattle Art Museum.

This carving of maple, mirror, abalone shell, bird skin, sea lion whiskers, copper, leather and Flicker feathers is an elaborate example of Tlingit carved wood hats. These carvings, attached to larger headdresses, are among the most significant objects of Tlingit clans, kept safe by the clan leader or caretaker. They are shown or worn only on ceremonial occasions and their carving often captures distinct geographic features, animals or natural phenomena that form part of the clan’s legends to which it belongs.

 

This carved wood hat depicts Raven with human-like hands and fingers. Tlingit legend says that Raven was responsible for organizing the world to the form that we inhabit it today – this carving shows him releasing the sun, the red disk above his head, and the stars and moon which are in the box that he holds. It is unusual in its full sculptural form of Raven, who is frequently depicted in the face only.

 

Pukamani pole, 1999, Leon Puruntatamari, Australian Aboriginal, Tiwi Islands, Melville Island, born 1949, natural pigments with fixative on ironwood, height 104 5/16in., Partial and promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.155, © Leon Puruntatamari. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

Pukamani pole, 1999, Leon Puruntatamari, Australian Aboriginal, Tiwi Islands, Melville Island, born 1949, natural pigments with fixative on ironwood, height 104 5/16in., Partial and promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.155, © Leon Puruntatamari. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

This ironwood Pukamani pole is another example of carving used in ceremony. For the Tiwi people of the Tiwi Islands, just off the coast of the Northern Territory in Australia, Pukamani is the ceremony surrounding death. It is performed over a series of rituals beginning with the burial of the body and culminating in the final ceremony where carved Pukamani poles are placed around the grave in a circular shape to contain and comfort the spirit of the deceased.

Between death and the final placement of burial poles around the grave sometimes more than a year will pass, but most often about six months, as the family of the deceased work to organize the people who will be involved in the ceremonial duties. It also takes a long time to carve and paint a Pukamani pole. The artists of Pukamani poles such as Leon Puruntatamari, who made this example, are paid for their artistic efforts as whilst it is a privilege to be commissioned to complete a burial pole, the deceased’s honor is attached with how his or her family arranges the Pukamani ceremonies and how generous they are with those participating.

At a Pukamani ceremony members of different Tiwi clans congregate to ensure the safe and happy journey of the deceased to the spirit world through dance and song. People will paint their bodies with designs not foremost to designate clan as is usually thought to be the case, but rather to disguise the body from the deceased who is considered to be in trickster mode until the completion of Pukamani rituals. Tiwi people will also wear feather armbands and headdresses in order to better disguise themselves.

 

Katie Morris, looking at paintings by Emily Kngwarreye, promised gifts of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, all paintings © Emily Kngwarreye. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

Katie Morris, looking at paintings by Emily Kngwarreye, promised gifts of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, all paintings © Emily Kngwarreye. Currently on view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, Seattle Art Museum.

Although there are thousands of miles between the Tiwi Islands and Emily Kngwarreye’s Country Alhalkere, in Australia’s Utopia region of the central Desert, the act of body painting during and for ceremony is of equal and sacred importance.

Emily Kngwarreye starting painting on canvas in 1989 and before her death in 1996 she completed close to 3000 works. Posthumously she has been celebrated as a great abstract painter, contributing to the same artistic dialogue as artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. But Emily Kngwarreye never saw one of these iconic artist’s work, let alone studied them in a book. For Emily, her work considered and was about one subject only: her Country.

In Awelye (Ceremony), we are seeing the same lines on the canvas as they traditionally appear on the body during women’s ceremonies. With this in mind, the surface of the painting can be likened to a ceremonial ground in which Emily Kngwarreye reenacted the ceremony to which she was custodian. She was known to sing as she painted, using the canvas to remember and pay homage to her Country. With each brushstroke she connected herself to her ancestors and kin.

 

Tureen, ca. 1725-30, Austrian, Du Paquier manufactory, hard paste porcelain, 7 3/4 x 8 1/8 x 14in. overall, Gift of Martha and Henry Isaacson, 69.171. Currently on view in the Porcelain Room, Seattle Art Museum.

Tureen, ca. 1725-30, Austrian, Du Paquier manufactory, hard paste porcelain, 7 3/4 x 8 1/8 x 14in. overall, Gift of Martha and Henry Isaacson, 69.171. Currently on view in the Porcelain Room, Seattle Art Museum.

With family in mind, my final object of ceremony is of a vastly different tone to my four previous choices. It is in no way intended to trivialize the extreme significance of the four preceding examples of objects I have presented which are tied to ceremony, but rather to simply present another object from a new angle. Given the time of year and the busy Holiday season approaching, I cannot help but reflect on the ceremonies that I know I will be apart of in the last months of the year.

This hard paste porcelain tureen was produced in Vienna sometime between 1725 and 1730. The many treasures that made their way back to Europe as a result of increased trade in the eighteenth century influenced its design. You can see the lure of exotic and distant lands that came about with this travel is visible in the monkey and Japanese-inspired floral decoration.

When looking at this quirky object of domesticity I find myself wondering of the tables that this tureen has graced and the conversations it has overheard. Has it been apart of a wedding or a birthday celebration? Or perhaps a meal on a religious holiday? After all, what is the act of sitting around a dining table during the holidays or a special occasion with family and friends? Whether your holiday meals involve an elegant monkey tureen or paper plates and takeaway containers, I suggest that it is all ceremony.

-Katie Morris, Curatorial intern, 2014

 

 

 

Dream Job Involve Coffee Runs and Endless Menial Tasks? This One’s NOT for You

The Seattle Art Museum is looking for interns for fall quarter! If you are a Communications or Digital Design major, then these internships would be great for you. If you aren’t either of these majors, there are choices for you too, including positions in Human Resources and Corporate Relations.

The concept of an intern has long been associated with the likes of a lackey who exists solely for coffee runs and dry cleaning, or a scapegoat who carries the blame for anything going wrong at a company. Luckily for those in this entry level position, times have changed.

For the past three months, I have been a Communications intern for the Seattle Art Museum. SAM takes really good care of their interns; as long as you work hard, you play an integral role in the team. For Communications, interns’s work is fondly called “Intern Power” as a way to reflect the important tasks we are assigned. It’s surprising the number of small but significant tasks that have to be done. Whether it’s writing blog posts like this, or working with admissions to produce materials, there’s always something to be gained educationally. SAM works super hard to provide interns with an enriched and informative experience that involves a variety of tasks.

Working as an intern has helped me gain insight into the field I someday aspire to work professionally. I can apply tasks I’ve learned in class, like how to speak to the press, to the real world. Not to mention, it’s a great resume builder! Whether this is your first internship or your 18th, you cannot go wrong. Each internship, each intern, is diverse and everyone will learn something different. For me, I have improved my writing, my people skills, and I have a much better grasp of Excel than before.

This has been the first internship I’ve ever worked my entire life, and it has been totally worth it. Working for the Seattle Art Museum has done nothing but affirm how excited I am to be doing what I am doing, to be pursuing a future career in Public Relations or Marketing. Beginning my path with such kind, supportive, and driven people was the best thing that could have happened to me.

So, after 10 wonderful weeks, I leave here knowing that I harbor the capability to succeed with my ambitions, something that this wonderful SAMily has shown me.

For more information, visit us here, or call us at (206) 654-3100. We are accepting applications now for all listed positions. Apply today! Trust me, you won’t regret it.

-Erin Dwyer, Seattle Art Museum Communication’s Intern