All posts in “Object of the Week”

Object of the Week: White Light Painting (Inner Band Series)

A photograph of Mary Corse’s White Light Painting (Inner Band Series) provides an idea at best of the composition of the painting—a large but shallow rectangular support, the canvas neatly stretched over the bars. Three vertical bands, varying slightly in tone with an almost silvery color seen in photographs, stretch from the top to the bottom of the canvas, framed by narrower matte white bands on the right and left margins. The delineations between the center three stripes in the image are blurry, but discernible.

White Light Painting (Inner Band Series) as it exists in a photograph is an entirely different painting from the actual painting in life. In the presence of the painting, its light, shadow, and color is elusive, and the thresholds of the three central bands—made of smooth layers of inherently colorless silica glass microspheres—recede and advance. As the viewer moves around the painting, the three central bands change value subtly in opposite directions. The outer bands of microbeads appear dimmer near the bottom of the painting and become more incandescent near the top, while the center band becomes more incandescent closer to the bottom of the painting, to a shimmering, undulating effect, up and down, as each band flashes in and out of visibility. The outermost stripes of matte acrylic white paint on the margins assume different hues according to the refraction of the light—briefly glowing pinkish green, then back to white, then nearly a dim gray in contrast to the flare emanating from the center as the silica glass microspheres bend light to create a prismatic field.

This is Corse’s goal: to instill dimension in her paintings not with illusion or figurative ground, but by using light as it comes into existence in the perception of the viewer, in real time, as the painting refracts it. It would be careless to assume that her paintings are simply about their shimmering finish.

Corse resists the easy association with California Light and Space artists. Though she lives in Topanga Canyon and shares some interests with those artists in her particular attention to light and space, the phenomenological  experience of artworks and, perhaps distantly, her use of an industrial material for its surface qualities, Corse’s use of light is informed by its metaphysics, not by her particular locale.

It does happen that Corse began using silica glass microspheres in her paintings following an encounter with the material just outside Los Angeles. On a sunset drive in Malibu in 1968, she noticed the luminosity of the street signs and street markings. Corse had been searching for ways to incorporate light in her paintings, and turned to the microbeads, which are used in retroreflective paint for pavement marking. In her Inner Band series, the iridescent effect can be compared to the meticulous, seamless finishes of West Coast Minimalist paint applications, and yet it isn’t so mechanically applied that the surface appears manufactured.

Most notable to me are the ways this painting refers to and departs from the self-reflexive qualities of modern painting in the 1960s, in their attention to flatness and abstract use of form and color. The arrangement of the bands of microspheres in White Light Painting (Inner Band Series) at once describes and affirms the flatness of the surface in the evenness of the layers, and also breaks the plane apart into fugitive planes of light. Additionally, the contour of the bands, while elusive, are straight and rectangular, stretching vertically from the top to the bottom of the canvas. Even as the bands appear to flare and fade, they repeat the length and the form of the painting itself.

Corse’s color is not inherent to any pigment in the painting, but exists in flux in the eye of the viewer. Whereas other paintings use tints or shades for color, Corse’s microspheres use pure light, and the random, polychromatic color that comes from its refraction.

Experiencing White Light Painting (Inner Band Series) is deeper than the experience of looking or simply beholding it—you are apprehended by the painting as you spend time with it, paying attention to it and witnessing its permutations. It exists in glances of light, in full silvery columns, in the soft apparent glow at its margins, and the fluttery animation of its surface as you walk past. It is spectacular for its sparkle, but even more so for its ability to resist expectations of a definitive state of being.

Hannah Hirano, SAM Coordinator for Museum Services and Conservation

References

Clark, Robin, ed. Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 2011.

Griffin, Jonathan. “’I paint for my sanity’ – an interview with Mary Corse.” Apollo International Art Magazine, August 4, 2018. https://www.apollo-magazine.com/i-paint-for-my-sanity-an-interview-with-mary-corse/

Miranda, Carolina A. “The ‘whoa’ moment and Mary Corse: The painter who toys with light is finally getting her due.” Los Angeles Times, November 2, 2017. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et-cam-mary-corse-kayne-griffin-corcoran-20171102-story.html

Nichols, Matthew. “Mary Corse Is More Than a California Artist.” Art in America, February 8, 2012. https://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/news/mary-corse-lehmann-maupin/

Image: White Light Painting (Inner Band Series), 1997, Mary Corse, acrylic, silica, glass microspheres, 60 × 84 in., Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2014.25.12, © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

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Object of the Week: Imogen Cunningham and Grandchildren at Fun House

I still feel that my interest in photography has something to do with the aesthetic, and that there should be a little beauty in everything.

– Imogen Cunningham

Imogen Cunningham was a seminal female American photographer, active in the Pacific Northwest (where she was born and raised) and the San Francisco Bay Area. This image of the artist and her grandchildren, taken in the reflection of a fun house mirror, is representative of Cunningham’s larger practice that spanned decades: experimental, technical, and the stuff of everyday life.

Cunningham is perhaps best known for her abstracted botanical photography, though she also produced images of the human nude, industrial landscapes, and street scenes. Here, her subject matter is much more personal and takes on an emotional valence.

It is often perpetuated that Cunningham was forced to choose between her career and motherhood, ultimately choosing the latter when she closed her portrait studio. However, this narrative is not quite accurate—Cunningham managed her responsibilities as both a mother and an artist, developing a photographic practice that blended art and life seamlessly. Neither roles were without sacrifice, of course, but Cunningham did her best to juggle her identities as a mother and artist—identities that, to this day, are either presented as mutually exclusive or not discussed nearly as much as they should be.

Moyra Davey’s Mother Reader is a major achievement in this regard. Published over fifteen years ago, the volume brings together testimonials, diaries, and essays by women artists, writers, and creative thinkers whose lives were forever altered—both positively and negatively—by pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. It is an amazing resource that focuses on the intersection of motherhood and creative life, honestly exploring the varied experiences of being a mother. In Margaret Mead’s essay “On Being a Grandmother,” Mead, a cultural anthropologist and contemporary of Cunningham, writes:

However, I felt none of the much trumpeted freedom from responsibility that grandparents are supposed to feel. Actually, it seems to me that the obligation to be a resource but not an interference is just as preoccupying as the attention one gives to one’s own children. I think we do not allow sufficiently for the obligation we lay on grandparents to keep themselves out of the picture—not to interfere, not to spoil, not to insist, not to intrude—and, if they are old and frail, to go and live apart in an old people’s home (by whatever name it may be called) and to say that they are happy when, once in a great while, their children bring their grandchildren to visit them.

When taken into consideration with this photograph, one can’t help but wonder what Cunningham’s experience was like as a grandmother. Was she able to spend real time with her daughter’s children? Did she feel a similar tension between acting as a resource and an interference? How did being an artist and grandmother differ from being an artist and mother? This early selfie suggests that she and her grandchildren had some adventures and joyful times, but it is just one glimpse into their relationship after all. Even still, we’re fortunate Cunningham chose to share it with us—there’s certainly a little beauty in it.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate

Image: Imogen Cunningham and Grandchildren at Fun House, San Francisco, 1955, Imogen Cunningham, gelatin silver print, 8 3/4 x  7 1/8 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.38 (1955), 2009 ©Imogen Cunningham Trust

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Object of the Week: Mola

Ancient Andean cultures used complex recording devices known as quipu, fashioned from tally cords, which allowed for the communication and recording of information essential to daily life. The quipu were essential tools for many Andean communities: they were a medium that enabled reading, writing, and, importantly, remembering. Such Indigenous practices nearly disappeared due to colonial suppression. Not unlike the quipu, the Cuna mola—or blouse—produced in the San Blas Islands represents the resilience of a community in the face of colonization.

The Cuna Indians are an Indigenous people who live along the Atlantic coast of Panama and Colombia. In the 16th century they were driven by the Spanish from their original home in Colombia, and moved west toward the coast. Mola, as we know them today, evolved from elaborate body painting. In the mid-18th century, when European settlers introduced cloth to the region, women began to wear simple blouses, painting them with natural dyes in the same manner they had previously decorated their bodies.

To make these elaborate blouses, an artist—importantly a woman—begins with multiple pieces of different colored cloth, and bastes one on top of the other. After cutting multiple designs, the maker then hems the edges with fine stitches. From there additional elements are added, such as embroidery, positive appliqué, or incisions that reveal the layers of cloth below. This reverse appliqué technique is an intricate and time-intensive process that has been mastered and handed down from generation to generation.

The history of the mola is inextricable from the history of colonialism in Latin America. It evolved in spite of European contact and continues to be shaped by contact with non-Native people today. For example, traditional Cuna designs—on both the body, originally, and the blouses—include abstracted linear patterns, stylized flora and fauna, and figures from Cuna mythology. When interactions with outsiders increased due to the construction of the Panama Canal, motifs such as trademarks, slogans, and American products appeared. Further, in the first decades of the 20th century, the Panamanian government tried to ban many Cuna customs, including their language and traditional dress. A resistance was mounted, and in 1925 the Dule Revolution resulted in the autonomy of the Cuna people, granting them the right to govern their own territory and culture autonomously. The mola can thus be seen as a vibrant textile tradition that represents the strength and resilience of the Cuna people.

Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate


Images: Mola, 1950s-60s, Cuna, Panamanian, cotton cloth and cotton thread, 21 × 25 in., Gift of an anonymous donor, 2018.26.10 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Mola, 1950s-60s, Cuna, Panamanian, cotton cloth and cotton thread, 22 1/2 × 25 in., Gift of an anonymous donor, 2018.26.6 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

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Image of a circular spiral of words

Object of the Week: Northwest Field Recording – WA (12”/B side)

Victoria Haven’s Northwest Field Recordings explore how abstracted language can evoke a personal experience. In Northwest Field Recording – WA (12”/B side), the names of important Pacific Northwest trailheads and natural formations are called out: Desolation Peak, Cutthroat Pass, Mount Forgotten, Confusion Falls, Forbidden Peak, Obstruction Point—to name a few. And while these locales could certainly be anywhere (and join a long list of despairing-sounding sites around the world), they are importantly here.

Rendering these locations in a form that recalls the 12 inch format of an LP, Haven creates an equivalence between the names and the circular grooves on a record. Given the work’s relationship to the natural landscape of the Northwest, it is also meant to reference the cross-section of a tree, revealing its life-span and time on earth. Taking into account the Pacific Northwest’s storied landscapes, both cultural and natural, the work deftly addresses two aspects of our region that loom large as defining qualities and points of pride.

With each peak, pass, gap, and lookout folding in on itself, the drawing lures the eye inward, forcing a cyclical reading that—like a spinning record—is hard to break. The more one reads these poetic names, the more evocative and abstracted they become. As described by arts writer Stephanie Snyder, “the proliferation of language [in Haven’s work] oscillates into a gorgeous and captivating tangle of ideas and emotional associations.” Though this work is not on view in the upcoming exhibition Sound Affect, another work by Haven is, Portable Monument – There’s no place…, and similarly explores the history of Seattle’s music scene and the region’s shifting social and cultural landscape.

Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate

Images: Northwest Field Recording – WA (12″/B side), 2010, Victoria Haven, ink on paper, 18.5 x 18 in., Gift of Rebecca and Alexander Stewart and an anonymous donor, 2011.9.2, © Victoria Haven. Portable Monument – There’s no place…, 2009-2012, Victoria Haven, acrylic paint, sheetrock, studs, 92 × 75 × 6 in., Gift of The New Foundation Seattle, 2013.1, © Artist or Artist’s Estate.
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Object of the Week: 205 kmph-950 hPa

Monday is Earth Day—a day designated for the demonstration of support for our planet and its protection. Personally, it feels harder and harder to celebrate this day with a clear conscience, knowing how we are fully responsible for bringing ourselves to the brink of irrevocable environmental damage. The pressure placed on us as individuals to solve the issue of climate change (as if it is just one issue) through lifestyle choices distracts from the need for major policy changes and collaborative global initiatives on the highest level.

In the words of David Wallace-Wells, from his new book The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming:

The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes to us bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: that global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely; that it is strictly a matter of sea level and coastlines, not an enveloping crisis sparing no place and leaving no life undeformed; that it is a crisis of the “natural” world, not the human one; that those two are distinct, and that we live today somehow outside or beyond or at the very least defended against nature, not inescapably within and literally overwhelmed by it; that wealth can be a shield against the ravages of warming; that the burning of fossil fuels is the price of continued economic growth; that growth, and the technology it produces, will allow us to engineer our way out of environmental disaster; that there is any analogue to the scale or scope of this threat, in the long span of human history, that might give us confidence in staring it down.

Environmental activism is urgent and necessary, and art can act as the medium through which politics emerge. Take Vibha Galhotra’s work—205 kmph-950 hpa and 60 kmph-998 hPA from 2015—which directly addresses globalization and climate change. The patterns in each are derived from satellite images of hurricanes and typhoons (which have only increased in size, power, and occurrence) and are identified by the strength of the storm. 205 kmph-950 hpa references 1994’s Hurricane Gilma while 60 kmph-998 hPA refers to Typhoon Vongfong, the most intense tropical storm to take place in 2014, causing significant damage to Japan. Vongfong’s intense winds and rain created sediment plumes that were visible from space. I repeat: visible from space.

Based in New Delhi, Galhotra’s larger practice is dedicated to examining the environmental and social impact of globalization and urban growth—both in New Delhi and beyond. For this reason she employs local women in her studio, many of whom lack jobs and are unable to find work outside the home. She often uses culturally specific objects such as ghungroos, small metal bells traditionally worn by Indian dancers, to make explicit the close connection between mass production of goods, urban growth, and environmental impact. In the words of the artist, “Global warming is a real threat and so is terrorism. On the one hand, we are replacing natural landscapes with man-made things and then in a bid to snatch these, we spread terror.”

Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate

Images: 205 kmph-950 hPa, 2015, Vibha Galhotra, nickel-coated ghungroos, fabric, polyurethane coat, 48 × 48 in., Asian Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.19.1 © Vibha Galhotra.  Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. 60 kmph-998 hPa, 2015, Vibha Galhotra, nickel-coated ghungroos, fabric, polyurethane coat, 48 × 48 in., Asian Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.19.2 © Vibha Galhotra. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
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Object of the Week: Mizusashi (water jar) with bamboo

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at a Zen Center in the Bay Area. It was one of those days when spring felt imminent—no longer a distant dream.

The tea house at Green Gulch was a sacred site in many ways. Set off from the rest of the property, the building and its surrounding garden were a tranquil respite, maintained impeccably; entering the tea house required intentionality and following certain rites, such as the washing of hands and kneeling to take off shoes before entering.

Once inside the tea house, I and the other nine guests were asked to take in the immediate environment, to observe the details and beauty of that which surrounded us. The thatched roof, tatami mat floor, textured walls (made from clay and straw), and aroma of the interior—cedar, used to heat the water—were some of the first things I noticed and appreciated. As the tea was made, served, and consumed, the ceremony was replete with actions and gestures grounded in gratitude.

As the ceremony progressed, the importance of tools became clear. Generally, different utensils are used for different occasions and seasons. For example, at this tea ceremony in early spring, the kettle hung from the ceiling while in other seasons it would be lower, below the floor. Other utensils included a water jar, water scoop, tea scoop, and whisk—each carefully selected for their express purpose.

One of the most important components of the Japanese tea ceremony, water jars hold fresh water for the making of matcha green tea. This water jar, or mizusashi, in SAM’s collection, with a black lacquer lid is beautifully decorated with stalks of blue bamboo—a subtle but striking illustration. The piece is by Eiraku Myōzen, one of only a few female ceramicists who were able to have a successful career in early 20th-century Japan. After Myōzen’s husband—also an artist—passed away, she took his place leading the Eiraku workshop in Kyoto, one of the leading manufacturers of ceramics in the region.

While this new acquisition will not be used in the tea ceremonies at SAM, tea ceremony demonstrations—or chado, “the way of tea”—take place on third Thursdays at 5:30 pm and third Sundays at 2:30 pm. I have a feeling it will change the way you look at and think about everyday—and not-so-everyday—utensils.

Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate

Images: Mizusashi (water jar) with bamboo, early 20th century, Eiraku Myozen, porcelain with blue glaze, 7 7/8 × 7 1/2 × 6 in., Gift of Mary and Cheney Cowles, 2018.2. Photos: Elisabeth Smith.

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Object of the Week: Inflammatory Essays

Originally plastered around New York City without attribution in the late 1970s and early 80s, Jenny Holzer’s Inflammatory Essays were made to confront passersby. Though she was relatively unknown at the time, Holzer’s careful combination of poetics and politics soon drew international attention and acclaim. In 1990, she became the first woman to officially represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, and was awarded the Golden Lion—the Biennale’s top prize. Just six years prior, Seattle Art Museum’s Contemporary Art Council sponsored the installation of Essays along a wall at Second Avenue and Pike Street in 1984. The posters would resurface 16 years later at SAM as part of the 2001 exhibition, Art of Protest.

Each essay, comprising 100 words and neatly arranged in 20 lines, is laden with conflicting views. As Leah Pires recently wrote in Art in America, “The concision and conviction of the language invites easy agreement—a feeling that is quickly complicated by the contradictions that become apparent when the statements are read together.” The commercial history of offset printing, coupled with Holzer’s typographic choices (the essays’ typeface is reminiscent of billboard advertisements), suggests a mass-distributed message in an aggressively declarative tone. The first line in one essay reads: “FEAR IS THE MOST ELEGANT WEAPON, YOUR HANDS ARE NEVER MESSY.”

These texts do not mirror Holzer’s own sentiments, but are rather drawn from the writings of anarchists, dictators, and revolutionaries around the world. Such voices include Emma Goldman, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, and Leon Trotsky. Whether directly stated or implied through irony, Inflammatory Essays critiques power and control, sex and abuse—themes that continue to inform Holzer’s practice today. Her work is meant to provoke, but Holzer is well aware of the weight words carry. In a 2016 interview with Even Magazine, she says, “Later I found it necessary and proper at times to be careful…I’ll put tough stuff out, but not what might incite gratuitous, hideous violence. I’m pro-expression but not pro-murder…I think it is utterly irresponsible and reprehensible…to incite violence in a political campaign, or anywhere else. One should not do it. We are a murderous species. We don’t need encouragement. Once we get rolling, it’s hard to stop.” 

Produced 40 years ago, Inflammatory Essays feels eerily contemporary. In a polarized era marred by fake news, the quick dismissal of credible journalism, and our self-imposed curation of media, Holzer urges us to question the statements we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Through their challenging and, at times, aggressive statements, Inflammatory Essays continues to elicit critical public discourse by means of self-examination.

Rachel Hsu, SAM Exhibitions Coordinator

Images: Inflammatory Essays, 1979-82, Jenny Holzer, offset posters on paper 17 x 16 3/4 in., Gift of the Contemporary Art Council of the Seattle Art Museum, 2012.9.20 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Poster Project, Seattle, Washington, USA, 1984, © 1984 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Installation view Art of Protest, Seattle Art Museum, 2001, photo: Nathaniel Wilson. Inflammatory Essays, 1979-82, Jenny Holzer, offset posters on paper 17 x 16 3/4 in., Gift of the Contemporary Art Council of the Seattle Art Museum, 2012.9.16 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Inflammatory Essays, 1979-82, Jenny Holzer, offset posters on paper 17 x 16 3/4 in., Gift of the Contemporary Art Council of the Seattle Art Museum, 2012.9.21 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

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Object of the Week: Lucie Léon at the Piano

Berthe Morisot, once dismissed with her fellow Impressionists as a “lunatic” by a contemporary critic, is now the subject of an international touring exhibition that confirms her singular contribution to the movement. After seeing it, New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl concluded that she was “the most interesting artist of her generation.” This 180-degree swing in critical appreciation over time is by now familiar—mocked then and later adored—especially with the Impressionists.

An upper class Parisian woman, Morisot could not paint the cabarets, racetracks, and cafés that her male colleagues depicted. Though her subject matter was limited to the domestic realm, she was radical in her bold approach to painting. Her slashing brushwork and sophisticated color animated scenes of women reading or getting ready to go out for the evening, a maid hanging up the laundry, and children in the garden, for example.

Woman at her Toilette, 1875/80 Art Institute of Chicago

Woman at her Toilette, 1875/80
Art Institute of Chicago

In the Garden at Maurecourt, 1884 Toledo Museum of Art

In the Garden at Maurecourt, 1884 Toledo Museum of Art

Woman Hanging Laundry, 1881 Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

Woman Hanging Laundry, 1881
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

Morisot exhibited her paintings in all but one of the eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1886. In the 1890s her style changed. Her angular brushwork, which in the ’70s and ’80s had created a kind of vibration between figure and background, relaxed. Contour and outline now fixed the figure in place, as in the Seattle Art Museum painting of a young pianist looking up from her practice to pose. The slowed-down brushwork and blue palette contribute to a melancholy quality, which is typical of Morisot’s work in the ’90s and perhaps influenced by the new Symbolist movement practiced by Edvard Munch, Paul Gauguin, and her friend the poet Stéphane Mallarmé.

Lucie Léon was a musical prodigy who would go on to have an illustrious professional career. But Morisot’s daughter Julie, who was present for the painting sessions in their home, recalled that Lucie was a reluctant sitter who “would have preferred to play croquet.” You can hear her piano playing here:

Berthe Morisot died of the flu in 1895 at the age of 54. During her lifetime she sold no more than 40 works out of over 400 paintings. The exhibition Berthe Morisot/Woman Impressionist, shown in Quebec City, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Paris, will introduce her to many new fans.

– Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture

Image: Lucie Léon at the Piano, 1892, Berthe Morisot, oil on canvas, Overall: 38 x 33 in., Image: 24 3/4 x 20 1/2 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Prentice Bloedel, 91.14.
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Object of the Week: Veronica

Veronica is a telling image from a larger body of work that examines what it’s like to be an erotic dancer. For the photographer, this series sheds light on the commitment artists make to produce meaningful work.

Erika Langley (American, born 1967) moved across the country in 1992 after attending the Rhode Island School of Design and working as an aspiring photojournalist. She quickly learned that photojournalism work in Seattle was hard to come by, being turned down by several potential employers. One told her to go out and do something “really gutsy and personal” and then come back.[1]

Upon arriving in Seattle, Langley had noticed Seattle’s many topless bars and thought she could do a project on strippers. She stumbled upon the Lusty Lady–the legendary peep show establishment formerly located across First Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum—and was intrigued to learn it was women-run, that the dancers were protected from the patrons, and that they were paid a reasonable wage in 1990s dollars: $9/hour to start with a $1/hour raise every week if you came in on time and were doing well. Some dancers made $27/hour. This operation was defying industry stereotypes.[2]

There was one catch. If she wanted to take photographs, she had to become a dancer. “If you really want to understand this, you have to work here,” she was told by one of the supervisors. “You have to dance to gain people’s trust and be taken seriously.” There was no access to the locker room until she was a Lusty Lady employee. So, she became a dancer. “I want to learn about a world I know nothing about, I want to see what I’m capable of.” She took the stage name, Virginia, after her home state: Southern, Gothic, exotic. She got to know her co-workers. They were married and single, straight and queer, some were doting mothers, and some had degrees or were working their way through school. She was interested in “showing these women as whole women…it’s just a job.”[3]

In 1997 the body of work she’d created at the Lusty Lady was transformed into a book produced by European publisher Scala called The Lusty Lady. She delivered a copy of the book with a handwritten note–“Howdy, neighbor!”–to then SAM Deputy Director of Art/Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Trevor Fairbrother. Shortly thereafter, he encouraged her to be part of a group show. In 1999, several of her works–from the Lusty Lady series, including Veronica—were included in the exhibition, Hereabouts: Northwest Pictures by Seven Photographers, one of the Documents Northwest: The PONCHO Series exhibitions. SAM ultimately brought five of Langley’s photographs into the collection.[4]

Langley’s work reminds us that women like Veronica (that’s her stage name) work legal jobs, just like other women. “There are no venues like this for women, this is the intersection of public sex and fast food. Sometimes I feel like a naked waitress—other times, a quarter-operated social worker. It’s not so unlike other jobs. I punch a time clock, look forward to my breaks, and then I go home. But I love it best when my friends and I are howling with merriment in the shadow of Hammering Man.”[5]

“Had the Lusty Lady not told me I’d have to dance to photograph, I’m sure I’d have made some competent but average pictures. Instead, working there changed my life, how I looked at myself and my sexuality, and it taught me about my own erotic power.” — Erika Langley[6]

– Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian

[1] Peggy Andersen, “An f-stop and a G-string Mark Woman’s Dual Career” in The Seattle Times (January 30, 2000), p. B4.
[2] Erika Langley, The Lusty Lady (Berlin: Scala, 1997), p. 10 and Andersen, p. B4.
[3] Langley, p. 7, 13 and Andersen, p. B4.
[4] Andersen, p. B4 and Trevor Fairbrother, Documents Northwest: The PONCHO Series: Hereabouts: Northwest Pictures by Seven Photographers (Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1999), p 3.
[5] Langley is referring to Hammering Man, the monumental public sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky, sited in front of the Seattle Art Museum. Learn more here. Fairbrother, p. 3.
[6] Langley, p. 7.
Image: Veronica, 1993, Erika Langley, Gelatin silver photograph, 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm), Mark Tobey Estate Fund, 2000.57, © Artist or Artist’s Estate.
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