All posts in “Exhibitions”

NC Wyeth

Wyeth’s Cast of Characters: N.C. Wyeth

“He’d look at me like a Brahman bull when he walked in the door to criticize my work, and if he was glowering, I braced myself. In a few incisive words he’d bit right at some puny characteristics in my nature.”
– Andrew Wyeth

This unfinished sketch is the only portrait Andrew Wyeth ever made of his father, an imposing figure in the story of Andrew’s life. Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth was an accomplished illustrator with strong opinions. At 19 Andrew made this pencil portrait. The challenge of drawing the man who was not just father but also Andrew’s teacher and toughest critic must have been daunting. Though small in size, the portrait nevertheless conveys a looming figure. In life, N.C. Wyeth was domineering; in death, he haunted his painter son to the end of his life. Wyeth always regretted that he never painted his famous father before the man’s tragic death in 1945.

“The boy was me at a loss really. His hand, drifting in the air, was my hand almost groping, my free soul.”
– Andrew Wyeth

Throughout Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, the landscape of his neighbors’ farm appears repeatedly. Kuerner’s Hill rears up towards the viewer on occasion and, on others, slopes gradually toward the horizon. At the bottom of this hill are the train tracks where N.C. Wyeth was killed by an oncoming train. A few months later Andrew painted Allan Lynch, the boy who found N.C. Wyeth’s body, running down Kuerner’s Hill. Andrew Wyeth described the sensation of painting Kuerner’s Hill in Winter 1946 by saying that he could almost hear his father breathe. Andrew’s inspiration for the painting came from an afternoon of playing with Allan on Kuerner’s Hill, and yet the ominous and somber tone of the painting indicates the presence of his father in the landscape.

Installation view of Brown Swiss

“A hump in the earth. Hell—a nice shape, but it reminds you of your father. Where he’s buried.”
– Andrew Wyeth

One November afternoon as he climbed Kuerner’s Hill, Wyeth looked over his shoulder and saw the Kuerner house mirrored, upside down, in the pond below. He worked in vain on a tempera that might recreate that vision. Betsy Wyeth criticized Andrew’s art process for being so meticulous and unable to take advantage of chance effect. Working on this painting, Andrew began changing this when he threw a watery mix of yellow-brown ochre and red-brown sienna tempera across the panel. Never able to escape the internalized critic of his father, you can see the shadow of Kuerner’s Hill cast across the middle of the painting—the shadow of death. This scene would not appear this way in reality because the lake would not be visible in shadow. Here Kuerner’s Hill becomes emblematic of the mournful loss of his father.

Installation view of Snow Hill

“A hump like a snow-hill”
– Herman Melville, Moby Dick

There is a lot going on in this painting but in the story Andrew Wyeth tells us about his father, this painting is unique for one small detail. This is the only painting that depicts the train tracks at the bottom of Kuerner’s Hill where N.C. Wyeth died. Titled from a quote taken from Moby Dick about the great white whale, once again Kuerner’s Hill, now covered in snow, becomes a metaphor for Andrew Wyeth’s own nemesis, his father N.C. Wyeth.

See Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, on view at SAM through January 15 and learn more about the characters and narratives that dominate the life and art of Andrew Wyeth.

—Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist and Social Media Manager

Images: Installation views of Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photos: Natali Wiseman.
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Conserving and Conversing: Andrew Wyeth

I had the amazing privilege of serving as Andrew Wyeth’s conservator for the last 12 years of his life. Conservators dream about being able to speak with the artists and ask them questions while making decisions about treating their works. (When I worked as senior conservator for the treatment of Whistler’s Peacock Room 1988–1992, we joked about how wonderful it would be to be able to have a séance in order to ask Whistler questions such as “just how shiny do you want the final varnish to be?”) And there Andrew Wyeth would be, live and in person, visiting my paintings conservation studio at Winterthur just about once a month, when I was treating one of his works or works by artists he especially admired, including Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth.

He would sometimes give instructions that I might not have intuited without him present: “inpaint this scratch (from handling) but don’t inpaint this other scratch; it makes the stone wall look older and rougher.” The egg medium in his tempera paint sometimes produces a white efflorescence that looks a bit like spray Christmas snow. He would ask me to LEAVE this white powdery substance on areas of snow in his winter landscapes, but to remove it where it took away the “snap” of the brown or black tree trunks. If a part of a gessoed panel had gotten wet and a few areas had flaked away, we would work out together how to inpaint the missing areas after I carried out consolidation and filling; twice we did this jointly.

Additionally I would be invited to cocktails at the Mill with Betsy and Andrew Wyeth; I typed extensive notes each night when I got back to my computer and have about two linear feet of notebooks detailing conversation topics, comments they’d make, and challenging questions they would ask all visitors; cocktails beside the Wyeths’ fireplace was never relaxing. (The pointy fireplace tongs, etc. give you a hint.) Often Andrew Wyeth would be “unveiling” a new tempera and the only faux pas would be NOT to have a lot to say—what does this remind you of? “Princess Diana in the tunnel where she died?” (That was Sparks.) While looking at a new tempera you had to produce a stream-of-consciousness monologue featuring your personal reactions and meaningful associations. Or you might hear Andrew in front of The Carry: “THIS calm area of water represents me doing temperas, but THIS turbulent water represents my ‘wild side’—doing watercolors.” For the same painting, Betsy said, “THIS turbulent water is me during the Helga crisis, but this calm area is after I got over the Helga crisis!” Andrew then said, “DID YOU get over the Helga crisis?” Dead silence in the room. I gave a cheery hostess-type laugh and changed the subject quickly to help retrieve equanimity.

On one occasion when we were walking into the Winterthur Research Building together to look at a treatment in progress, he patted my hair and said, “I like your hair, can I paint you?” (Richard Meryman, Wyeth’s biographer, had told me that he had always regretted saying he was too busy to pose when he was asked.) So I answered immediately: “Send up a flare and I’ll be there!” Wyeth looked puzzled, so I said “Absolutely!” He said, “I’ll call you” and asked what time I came in to work each day, and I said “8:15.”  (I regretted this instantly because I don’t usually come in that early, but now I had to.)

Almost a month went by of sitting by the phone each morning. I’d come up with excuses to drive paintings up Route 100 to consult him. Then on one visit to the Mill, Andy and Betsy told me that Anna Kuerner had just died, and the Kuerner family had given Anna’s pink raincoat to Betsy. It didn’t fit Betsy so she asked me to try it on. It fit perfectly, so Andrew took my hand and said, “come on!” He led me into the Granary building, adjacent to the Mill, and began drawing me. This was May 1999. After a few hours he showed me a beautiful drawing and then said “now I’ll turn it into a watercolor.” I almost involuntarily shouted ”NO” because the drawing was so elegant, and my first thought was not to hide it with paint.

Luckily he ignored me, opened his large metal tool box full of tubed watercolors and began painting. He had me posed looking away, out of a window, which was disappointing for me as a conservator—I wanted to watch him paint. I kept trying to sneak little glimpses without being caught. However, I had heard from others that if things aren’t going well, or you’re too wiggly as a model, he closes the sketchbook and says, “that’s all for now, let’s go to lunch” and that’s that. I’d heard that Helga tried to be so still that she fainted at one point. So I tried to be especially still and cooperative, but he’d keep suggesting we take breaks. There were three half-day posing sessions in all, but he didn’t show me the finished work, and I didn’t know it actually was finished. Other models told me “you never know—either it came to naught, or later you might see it hanging at the Whitney.” But he had it framed and presented it to me for the following Christmas! (It hangs in my studio at the Research Building at Winterthur under a special shade which I pull up ONLY when someone is looking; conservators are very concerned about light levels for watercolors.)

While I was posing it had to be a secret from everyone except Betsy, who had given me the pink coat; I would have occasional teas with Helga, but I wasn’t allowed to tell her. You weren’t welcome in Wyeth World if you couldn’t keep secrets. Other paintings Helga would know about, but then they would be a secret from Betsy. I don’t believe Wyeth ever gave Helga a Helga painting (he did give her drawings he did of her four children). I wondered for a while why he gave me my portrait. I now think that he knew exactly what he was doing. As one artist told a group of conservators, “You are our pediatricians; you take care of our children!” He knew that as a conservator I would now in the future never turn down a request to see about one of his paintings.

Joyce Hill Stoner, Conservator

See Sparks and The Carry in person when you visit Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, on view at Seattle Art Museum through January 15. The exhibition features over 100 of the artist’s finest paintings and drawings and reveals new perspectives on his work and influences.

Images: courtesy of Joyce Hill Stoner
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Andrew Wyeth’s Dramatic Genius

Andrew Wyeth’s studio was an old schoolhouse near his childhood home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. His bookshelves there hold numerous titles on film. From movie rental catalogues to a Marlon Brando biography, to Classics of the Silent Screen, this view inside the American icon’s creative space sets Wyeth against a backdrop of the movies.

Film books in Wyeth's library

Wyeth is sometimes considered a realist in an abstract art world; however, this limited focus on his realism glosses over his strange and eerie images. But on the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth, Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect examines what creates Wyeth’s haunting effect on us and shows the influence of cinema on his art through his 75-year career. This major exhibition presents more than 100 of the artist’s finest paintings and drawings, including rarely seen loans from the Wyeth family.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, critical favor was given to abstraction and formal investigations into painting. Exhibitions and critical thinking about fine art didn’t include media, like films,” Patricia Junker, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art points out. “Now that our concepts of fine art have broadened, Wyeth can be understood in the realm of modern filmmaking, as well as painting. He connected with an art form that used the human figure as a form for storytelling and was not abstract.”

Betsy Wyeth likened her husband to Swedish director Ingmar Bergman: “He’s creating a world they [his models] don’t realize and they’re acting out a part without any script.” In the 1989 painting Snow Hill, Wyeth’s Chadds Ford models, living and dead, dance on Kuerner’s Hill—a meaningful motif in Wyeth’s paintings—and recall Bergman’s dance of death from the iconic final scene of The Seventh Seal. Just as Death dances the players off to their graves in the film, Wyeth danced his characters off to their art-muse graves, and he would never use them again.

An owner of King Vidor’s 1925 silent masterpiece, The Big Parade, Wyeth claimed he watched these film reels hundreds of times. A young man running down Kuerner’s Hill in Wyeth’s Winter 1946 echoes the film’s hero hobbling down a hillside into the arms of a lost love. The Big Parade used objects to convey emotional states and inspired Wyeth to depict belongings and interiors as portraits, as in a pair of weathered doors that represent the deceased brother and sister in Alvaro and Christina (1968).

“Think of Wyeth’s paintings as movie stills—each as a frozen moment within some ongoing action,” says Junker. “What story do they tell?” Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect offers a chance to piece together the story of Wyeth himself—his figures are characters acting out a role in the artist’s life, allowing us to understand him. The exhibition is an epic, the story of a great American artist told through the people and places he portrayed.

Widen your view into Wyeth’s World through SAM’s screenings of these, and other, films that either influenced Andrew Wyeth or vice versa. The Big Parade will be screened on November 15 and The Seventh Seal is presented as part of an Ingmar Bergman series on January 25. Find out more about all of SAM’s upcoming film events and get inspired.

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

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Poster for "Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect"

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

“See Wyeth whole and re-evaluate his stature as an artist,” says Michael Upchurch in his exhibition preview featuring an interview with curator Patricia Junker that appeared in Sunday’s print edition of the Seattle Times. Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect opens this Thursday.

“Because reproductions of his work circulated far more widely than the paintings themselves, Junker says, few people in recent years have had a chance to take true measure of his achievement. Younger people she talks to know his name, but don’t know the art. The SAM show promises to change that.”

Welcome the return of layers with SAM’s video featuring Haida artist/fashion designer Dorothy Grant talking about her exquisite Raven Great Coat, now on view on the third floor.

Local News

City Arts’ Margo Vansynghel on Pantry by Joey Veltkamp and Ben Gannon, which ran for one night only as the final show of Calypte Gallery.

“The jam became a personal metaphor for loss, and the act of making jam a means of preserving something inevitably slipping through their fingers—‘canning the memory of something that was,’ as Gannon says.”

Seattle Times’ Gayle Clemans invites you to get “[UN]contained” at CoCA’s new artist residency site held in three shipping containers; the first three artists were Anastacia Renee Tolbert, Anissa Amalia, and Edward Raub.

Darren Davis of Seattle Met interviews the inimitable Waxie Moon on the eve of his (non-singing) opera debut in The Barber of Seville at Seattle Opera.

Inter/National News

Behold, 24 newly minted geniuses. OK, they prefer to say “MacArthur Fellows.” Amongst the ranks are painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby, photographer Dawoud Bey, and two authors soon visiting Seattle.

Yes, wire hangings! The innovative wire sculptures of mid-century artist Ruth Asawa are now on view at David Zwirner. Artnet asks: why did this re-appraisal of her work take so long?

Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald will paint the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery. They are the first black artists commissioned to paint a presidential couple.

And Finally

I think we can all agree that GIFs are an important and moving art form. Now, there’s an instant camera that creates GIFs you can hold in your hand.

– Rachel Eggers, Public Relations Manager

Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Installation view of European art galleries at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Like the suddenly falling leaves, fall arts happenings are swirling all around. The Stranger offered their “complete guide” to the best of October—including SAM picks like Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, the Jean-Pierre Melville film series, and the (sold out!) Diwali Ball.

Noted architect Tom Kundig leads a tour of the best Seattle architecture in this CNN Travel video; the Olympic Sculpture Park is one of his picks.

We enjoyed this Architects Newspaper salute to Denise Scott Brown on her 85th birthday; in which they share notable stories of her general awesomeness. Scott Brown—along with her partner, Robert Venturi—designed the original Seattle Art Museum that opened in 1991.

“There’s a million ways to be a woman. There’s a million ways to be a mother. And there’s a million ways to be an architect.” –Denise Scott Brown.

Local News

Watch this lovely KCTS tribute to ceramicist Akio Takamori, featuring interviews with his former UW colleagues and students, including Patti Warashina and Jamie Walker. His Blue Princess (2009) is currently on view at SAM.

“The boundary between the figurative and the abstract is erased in curious ways,” says the Seattle Times’ Michael Upchurch in this glowing review of the Frye Museum’s two new photography shows.

Farewell to Jon Rowley, the “fish missionary” whose art form was teaching us to appreciate perfect things like Copper River salmon and Olympic oysters.

Inter/National News

Author Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature. You really need to read Tacoma bookseller/Ishiguro Superfan Kenny Coble’s tweetstorm when he heard the news.

The Art Newspaper takes you inside two new recently opened museums: the Zeitz Mocaa in Cape Town and the Yves Saint Laurent museum in Paris.

What’s the most iconic artwork of the 21st century? Artnet asked experts to weigh in. Mentioned: Mickalene Thomas’s Le Déjeuner sur L’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires, coming to SAM’s walls in February as part of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas.

And Finally

We can now listen to ripples in space-time. (Really!)

– Rachel Eggers, Public Relations Manager

Image: Installation view of European art galleries at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Sammy the Camel in "Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors"

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

As of today, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is closed! What a wild ride the last few months have been during this blockbuster exhibition. Now we’re looking ahead to Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect and so is the press. Take a gander at this past week’s press clippings, hand selected by SAM’s PR Manager.

*Clutches Yayoi Kusama exhibition catalogue and cries while Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” plays*

SAM News

Seattle Times photographer Alan Berner visited during the final days of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors and filed this dot-filled send-off. Don’t miss the cameo from our mascot, Sammy the Camel. (Why a camel? Here’s the scoop.)

SAM lands on the celebrity news beat: When Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and singer Ciara had a date night at SAM after we’d closed, the news hit Page Six, W Magazine, Artnet, Ebony, Yahoo, Daily Mail, Entertainment Tonight, Jet, and HuffPo.

Love this Seattle Times RAVE for SAM staff: A visitor lauds our “daily, herculean efforts” during the Kusama run. We couldn’t have done it without our awesome visitors!

Seattle Magazine’s September print edition features our Andrew Wyeth retrospective among their picks for “Fall’s Most Buzzworthy Arts and Culture Events.”

“’The goal was to show that this unrelenting realist evolved and changed, sometimes quite dramatically, over time,’ Junker says. ‘If you think you know Wyeth’s art from the examples we see reproduced and hanging in the well-known museums, I feel certain you will come away from this exhibition totally surprised.’”

Local News

The Seattle Times reports on The Grocery, a new “cutting-edge” arts center in a former—you guessed it—grocery store in Beacon Hill.

Also in the neighborhood: Artist Ari Glass unveiled a new installation at Beacon Hill’s Art Deco building Pacific Tower, featuring his signature gold leaf and mica elements.

This should be an amazing show: The Stranger’s A&P features the sculpture of Humaira Abid, coming soon to a solo show at Bellevue Arts Museum.

Inter/National News

The journey continues for the home of Rosa Parks, recently shipped to Berlin and restored by an American artist. The house now has a ticket back home to the US—with an uncertain future ahead.

Poet John Ashbery died on Sunday at the age of 90; did you know he was also a collage artist, who made his solo debut as a professional at the age of 81?

Pierre Bergé, longtime business partner of Yves Saint Laurent, died Friday at the age of 86. We were honored to share his legacy during Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style.

 And Finally

The art of eating: Artsy with seven recipes from artists, including—wait for it—avocado toast (by Salvador Dalí, of course).

– Rachel Eggers, SAM’s Manager of Public Relations

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SAM Staff Reads: Kusama’s Sleepless Midnight

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is quickly coming to a close (September 10!) but we have one more reflection on the prolific artist’s poetry from SAM staff. Read closely and let the words of Yayoi Kusama linger long after the exhibition leaves our galleries. The three poems we’ve shared here on SAM Blog were all published in Violet Obsession, a collection released in 1998 by Wandering Mind Books. Kusama’s poetry makes explicit much of the subtle and dark underpinnings of her playful visual art. In her writing, we can delve into the sentiments that propel the creation of her soft sculptures, her paintings, her yearning towards an experience of the infinite within a finite world—and these sentiments are perhaps unexpected when held in contrast to the Pop aesthetic that is strongly associated with Kusama.

Rayna Mathis is a writer, swing dancer, and history nerd. She chose to dig into Kusama’s poem, “Sleepless Midnight,” offering her thoughts on the divergence between what we project and how we are perceived as compared to what we feel and how we behave.

SLEEPLESS MIDNIGHT

that I suffer such sorrow and gloom
more wounds than I know what to do with
inflicted by others upon my heart             on sleepless nights like this
I forget I’m covered with cherry petals this spring
I sit dazed by the pain in my heart as time passes me by
the world of men, like the realm of foxes and badgers, bewitched
I go out among people                   and am constantly amazed
they wound one another
behold the wounds and rejoice
ah!         what sort of        world is this?

leaving my body here for now
I stop suddenly                 and gaze at
a nameless wildflower
petals drinking deeply of sunlight
trampled by people, covered with wounds
just keeping silent
my bitter tears know no end

(1987)

– Yayoi Kusama

When I read Yayoi Kusama’s poems, I can’t help but place myself into them. As I turned each page of Violet Obsessions, I became increasingly sad. However, sad is not a wrong feeling to feel. I appreciate things that force me (whether I am aware of it or not) to feel feelings I often deny myself. Anger, sadness, love, jealousy—the feelings society tells me that I am not allowed to feel—the feelings society does not acknowledge because I should have every reason to be happy, always. I become used to the conformity of the business voice, the polite laugh, the casual conversing of hellos and the weather. I become accustomed to crossing my legs while a man spreads his and speeding up when the catcalls latch on to my back.

But, Kusama isn’t here to adjust for anyone. And that is one of the largest reasons I have so much respect and admiration for her. She is so unapologetically herself and better yet, so unapologetically human. To embrace pain, to acknowledge fear, to speak and create despite other people’s comfort—it is chain breaking.

Many of the works in Violet Obsessions are uncomfortable. They are dark, and sad, and gross. Kusama challenges me to understand why I think any of those things.

When I think of the wounds I have inflicted onto others and what has been inflicted onto me, it is always the thoughts that are unspoken. The silence we feel compelled to keep. I wonder who it is that is “just keeping silent”? The petals beneath our feet—the ones we love but hurt through our selfishness? or the people covered in wounds, who have gotten used to their pain?

– Rayna Mathis, School & Educator Programs Coordinator

Source: Kusama, Yayoi. Violet Obsession. Translated by Hisako Ifshin and Ralph F. McCarthy with Leza Lowitz. Edited by Alexandra Munro. Berkeley, CA: Wandering Mind Books, 1998.
Illustration: Natali Wiseman
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SAM Shops: Take Infinity Home with You

Probably the first thing that pops to mind when you think of Yayoi Kusama is, polka-dots! And, yes, there’s plenty of those in Kusama’s work. But it’s what those polka dots represent that weaves a clear thematic thread through everything she makes. And we mean everything, including the Kusama-studio products in the SAM Shop on the 4th floor and on the ground floor. To Kusama, a polka-dot is a way toward the infinite: “Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos.” So it will come as no surprise that items produced by Kusama’s studio, from scarves to glasses cases, are covered in polka-dots. We’ve also got Kusama-inspired jewelry that makes use of this visual refrain in unique and surprising ways. Take a look at some of these items and don’t miss the SAM Shop during your visit to see Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, closing September 10!

 

Yayoi Kusama eye glass case, $16.95

Yayoi Kusama vinyl pouch, $15.95

Yayoi Kusama puzzle, $75

Red Coco neoprene bracelet, $72

Kusama Pumpkin

Kusama soft sculpture pumpkins, $250/$450

Photos: Natali Wiseman
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Behind the Scenes of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors

“All of the drawings, the paintings, and the sculptures that you will find in this exhibition, give you a context of how and why she arrived at these Infinity Mirror Rooms and why they are so very special.”
– Catharina Manchanda, Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Take a look behind the scenes of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors with curator Catharina Manchanda, on view at Seattle Art Museum until September 10. Don’t miss your chance for this in-depth perspective into a legendary artist’s 65-year career—Plan your visit to SAM today!

 

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