All posts in “Object of the Week”

Object of the Week: Bullet

As we have seen too many times in recent weeks, a single bullet can destroy a life, a family, and a community. In this photograph by Harold Edgerton, a bullet is frozen in time and space, its trajectory and destruction momentarily bound.

Born in Nebraska in 1903, Edgerton studied electrical engineering at MIT. His academic background, coupled with his interest in motion and high-speed photography, allowed him to produce images that made visible the imperceptible. After earning his PhD in 1931, Edgerton developed and improved upon various stroboscopic models—a repeatable flash device better known today as a ‘strobe’—ultimately applying for 45 patents between the years 1933 and 1936. The high-powered repetition of the strobe allowed Edgerton to effectively freeze objects in motion in order to capture them on film, resulting in iconic photographs that bring together science, technology, and art.

The history of photography is inextricable from the history and development of military technology—to borrow from French theorist Paul Virilio, “For men at war, the function of the weapon is the function of the eye”—making the bullet a fitting subject for Edgerton to capture.[1] In this photograph, printed in 1961, the bullet serves to represent technological achievement and photographic mastery; today, however, it is hard to see a single bullet as anything other than destructive, especially when they are rarely singular, more often multiplied in the hundreds and deployed in seconds.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate

[1] Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (London: Verso, 1989), p. 20.
Image: Bullet, 1961, Harold Edgerton, gelatin silver photograph, 9 1/2 x 8 5/8 in., The Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation, 96.48 © Edgerton Family Foundation
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Object of the Week: Mirror with the Judgment of Paris

Homer’s paired stories of The Iliad and The Odyssey have fascinated artists and creators for centuries, generating art, literature, and music. One such artwork, The Judgement of Paris, is an Etruscan piece from around the 4th–3th centuries BCE, and is currently on view at the Seattle Art Museum.

This ancient work illustrates the critical moment that ultimately led to a 10-year war that ravaged the Mediterranean. Deftly etched into the back of a circular mirror, a riveting scene leaps out: four figures tangle with one another, three clad in traditional Greek garments with delicate folds and drapery, and one almost nude (save for a few accessories). This nude woman on the left, the goddess Aphrodite, faces the other three as they each raise their hands to their mouths­­—in shock at her attire or, possibly, at the decision that has just been made in this scene.

The figure hidden behind the remaining two clothed women is Paris, a young man ordered by Zeus, the king of the gods, to determine the most beautiful goddess. Each of the three goddesses represented here—Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite—offer him a bribe. Hera swears to make him a king, Athena promises wisdom and bravery in battle, and Aphrodite pledges the world’s most beautiful, albeit married, mortal woman: Helen. Paris’s fateful decision to align himself with Aphrodite and sail with Helen to Troy would eventually enable the deeply destructive Trojan War of which Homer wrote.

I find this scene quite interesting due to its historical and cultural references, but also for its touch of irony. Used for numerous occasions, ranging from funerals to weddings, mirrors in Etruscan culture feature mythological moments that deal with physical appearance, specifically “any tale in which vanity or comeliness gained its rewards.”[1] Although Paris’ choice did reward him a love affair with Helen, it also caused one of the longest and most famous sieges in literary history. This seductive tableau—simultaneously puzzling and inviting—raises questions surrounding sexuality, fidelity, and appearance in classical cultures.

Emma Ming Wahl, SAM Curatorial Intern

Mirror with scene of the Judgment of Paris, 4th–3rd century B.C., Etruscan, bronze, 10 3/8 x 7 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.36
[1] Nigel Spivey, Etruscan Art (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1997), 77.
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Object of the Week: Slow Cooker

With these works, we have created art pieces that serve as cultural and historical artifacts that value and document the experiences, struggles, and achievements of those who have found their way, often through migration and exceptional sacrifice, to new places where they now work to contribute meaningfully within their communities.

  – Margarita Cabrera

Soft vinyl covers the customary porcelain, metal, and glass of this trusty kitchen crockpot. While the clear lid is left exposed, plush fabric replaces the sturdy handles and appliance parts. Red stitching adds a playful contrast against the sky blue base, and the remaining long, loose threads speak to homemade craftsmanship.

Slow Cooker is part of artist Margarita Cabrera’s soft sculpture series, which reimagines commercial objects from bicycles and cars to household tools and cleaning supplies. Cabrera was a featured artist in Pop Departures, a 2014 exhibition at SAM that explored contemporary artists who look to Pop Art for artistic inspiration or critique. The malleable and everyday forms of Cabrera’s sculptures draw on stylistic elements of works by Pop artist Claes Oldenburg.

Cabrera is an artist, activist, and community organizer. She infuses her art with socio-political and personal reflection as a Mexican American. Topics of cultural identity, migration, violence, inclusivity, labor, and empowerment—with a focus on US-Mexico border issues—are at the forefront of Cabrera’s art practice.[1] In her transformative justice initiatives, Cabrera organizes artistic collaborations in local communities. For her 2010 outreach project, Space in Between, Cabrera partnered with Latinx immigrants from Mexico and Central America to create sculptures of Southwestern US desert plants.[2] Using fabric from the uniforms of Border Patrol forces, the soft sculptures recall embroidery techniques from Los Tenangos, Hidalgo, Mexico and traditions of Otomi Indigenous communities. The workshops empowered the participants to share their journeys of tremendous danger and sacrifice, crafting dialogues of unity, healing, and resistance.

Playful and interactive, the collapsible textures of Slow Cooker invite touch and public engagement. The bold, bright colors are illustrative of traditional woven Mexican designs. Slow Cooker provokes us, and perhaps teases us, as consumers and viewers, to reconsider these unassuming objects and the hands that made them. Cabrera shatters the invisibility of immigrant laborers in factory, farm, and service jobs—engaging the need for active listening and policy change at the ground level, igniting a political conversation that remains urgent and necessary.

Rachel Kim, SAM Curatorial Intern

[1] “Margarita Cabrera.” © Margarita Cabrera, https://www.margaritacabrera.com/sample-page/
[2]“Margarita Cabrera: Space in Between. February 10 – June 10, 2018.” Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, Hamilton College, https://www.hamilton.edu/wellin/exhibitions/detail/margarita-cabrera-space-in-between-1-1-1-1-1-1-1
Image: Slow Cooker, 2003, Margarita Cabrera, vinyl, thread, and appliance parts, 13 × 8 × 10 in., Modern Art Acquisition Fund and General Acquisition Fund, 2015.7.2 © Artist or Artist’s Estate
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Object of the Week: In Case of Fire

In Case of Fire is striking. Disorienting and surreal, the black-and-white landscape unfurls into the supernatural. A tree is anchored in a sea storm, a larger-than-life chicken is perched on the remains of a sinking home, animals and human figures are scattered against scenes of disaster.

Just as the flames and embers of fire possess movement, this linocut—a print carved onto linoleum block—captures the turbulent motion of winds, hills, and water swirling in waves across the surface. This fantastical presentation is of an apocalypse. Yet, despite the chaotic and apocalyptic imagery, In Case of Fire feels intuitively familiar. The fragmented images are contained in a single frame, and recall the nature of dreams with their strangely linear order of otherwise disconnected events and forms. Fishing and work-a-day motifs reflect the roles of labor and personal memory.

Seattle-based artist Barbara Earl Thomas is a storyteller. Though born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Thomas remains deeply connected to her Southern roots: Thomas’s parents had “left behind family and friends and a history rooted in slavery and sharecropping to take up 1940s war jobs.”[1] As an art student at the University of Washington, Thomas studied under Jacob Lawrence, who remained her close mentor and friend until his passing in 2000.

The composition and dramatic scope of In Case of Fire is inspired by folklore, myths, Biblical tales, and magical realism, drawing on the storytelling traditions passed through generations in Black history. An active figure in writing, arts administration, and public art commissions, Thomas maintains a social responsibility in her artwork. She invokes issues of inequity and injustice across communities and writes, “It is the chaos of living and the grief of our time that compels me, philosophically, emotionally, and artistically. I am a witness and a chronicler: I create stories from the apocalypse we live in now and narrate how life goes on in midst of the chaos.”[2]

Rachel Kim, SAM Curatorial Intern

[1]Upchurch, Michael. “Barbara Earl Thomas’ Linocuts Blend the Surreal with the Lyrical.” The Seattle Times, Apr. 12, 2013. https://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/barbara-earl-thomasrsquo-linocuts-blend-the-surreal-with-the-lyrical/
[2] “Barbara Earl Thomas.” Claire Oliver Gallery. https://www.claireoliver.com/artists/barbara-earl-thomas/
Image: In Case of Fire, 2014, Barbara Earl Thomas, linocut, 24 × 36 in., Modern Art Acquisition Fund; Gift of John D. McLauchlan in memory of his wife, Ebba Rapp, by exchange, 2017.14.2. © Artist or Artist’s Estate

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Object of the Week: A Feast

As we continue through summer, a season known for family dinners, picnics, and midnight feasts, food becomes a large figure in our lives. Many are connected to it on an intimate level through memories and desires. Painted on a massive sixty-foot scroll, A Feast (2001) by Li Jin dramatizes this deeply important role that food plays in everyday life, specifically in Chinese life and culture. The scroll begins and ends with an essay in light ink calligraphy, written by the artist’s friend, detailing the cultural significance of food. He bookends both essay halves with the declaration that you must “eat as much as you can.”

Juxtaposing this essay, Li Jin offers a sumptuous feast for the eyes with many paintings of dishes and ingredients. He not only gives us plates of steamed crab, sandwiches, and hotpot, but he also presents pig and chicken heads with whole onions and skewers of radish. Combining raw ingredients with more gourmet dishes, he fashions a work that at once showcases the relationship between the Chinese people and food alongside a dazzling display of the consumption of food.

Surrounding these loosely painted images in bold colors, simplified Chinese characters march through the space detailing many different recipes of foods not depicted. Through this unconstrained method of painting, paired with calligraphy, the scroll becomes more alive with action and realism. In the words of the artist, “the scroll could have been lengthened indefinitely. The continuous presentation of food simulates a real feast, where tables can be added to accommodate more dishes.”[1]

Born in 1958 in Tianjin, China, Li Jin’s work has continually evolved as he reflects upon the ways in which people connect to nature and his attempts to represent life in an honest and lifelike manner.[2] His work in A Feast capitalizes upon these enthusiastic and unapologetic qualities as he crafts a world where everyone is invited to the table to join together and eat as much as they can, a philosophy fitting for the possibilities and simple joys of summertime.

Emma Ming Wahl, SAM Curatorial Intern

[1] “A Feast,” SAM Collection Online, last updated December 2012, http://art.seattleartmuseum.org/objects/30404/a-feast?ctx=a1efcea2-91cb-470f-a4a4-d9d18c33d912&idx=0
[2] “Li Jin,” Inkstudio, last updated 2019, https://www.inkstudio.com.cn/artists/63-li-jin/overview/
Image: A Feast, 2001, Li Jin, ink on Xuan paper, 33 x 708 5/8 in., Partial gift of Meg Maggio and the Courtyard Gallery, Beijing and partial purchase with funds from Rebecca and Alexander Stewart, John and Shari Behnke, and the Modern Art Acquisition Fund, 2003.119 © Li Jin
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Object of the Week: Four Seasons series: Indian Summer

In Indian Summer, a bucolic scene is obviously staged. There is a printed mountain backdrop, a cut-out cardboard deer, fake plants, and Western-themed props strewn across a manicured bed of Astroturf. The Native artist Wendy Red Star sits poised amid the artificial flora and fauna. She wears traditional Apsáalooke (Crow) regalia and stares stoically into the distance.

Indian Summer is from the larger photographic series Four Seasons, which includes Fall, Winter, and Spring. When I first viewed Indian Summer, I was reminded of bright, color-saturated storefronts with eerie mannequins and design sets—frozen behind walls of glass. In Four Seasons, Red Star plays on the commercialism of Native identity and satirically recalls the dioramas of Native people exhibited at natural history museums.

Red Star was raised on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, and received the Seattle Art Museum’s Betty Bowen Award in 2016. Through reclamatory, unsettling, and playfully witty art that is also collaborative and intergenerational, Red Star dismantles the narratives of Natives by white photographers, archives, and media: depictions that remove Native agency and preserve stereotypes of Natives as stoic, passive, and distant.

In an interview with SAM, Red Star reflected on her role as an artist and cultural archivist: “Native voices have historically been silenced, unable to explain or even place our own narrative within the larger society. As a Native person I have witnessed the lack of inclusion for Native artists in particular in the contemporary art world, many of whom struggle for inclusion in important exhibitions.”

“Also troubling is a prevailing but antiquated expectation of what Native art should be, whether from the 19th century or the 21st. This leaves many Native artists feeling segregated into categories of “traditional” work and without a place in the contemporary art world. I consider my practice and the act of annotating, revealing, and erasure a reclamation of my own history and identity. The act is so much more than a rejection of the colonial gaze, it is a deliberate act to take authority and rewrite histories in humanist way.”

This week, fireworks, barbecues, patriotic fanfare, and heavy traffic usher in another 4th of July holiday. Prior to yesterday’s processions at the White House, Trump had tweeted “It will be the show of a lifetime!” ensuring more tanks and military planes. In the wake of continued injustices toward immigrants in this country, it remains precisely that: a show. Ongoing histories of racism, genocide, nativism, and imperialism get to masquerade as nationalism under a venerating sheen of red-white-and-blue. On the cultural archive of Native experience and presence, Wendy Red Star removes and probes these veneers of unaccountable histories—dismantling and rewriting false colonial narratives to engage Native voices past, present, and future.

Rachel Kim, SAM Curatorial Intern

Images: Four Seasons series: Indian Summer, 2006, printed 2016, Wendy Red Star, Archival pigment print on Sunset Fiber rag, Sheet: 23 × 26 in. (58.4 × 66 cm), Image: 21 x 24 in., Gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2016.13.4. Four Seasons series: Fall, 2006, printed 2016, Wendy Red Star, Archival pigment print on Sunset Fiber rag, Sheet: 23 × 26 in. (58.4 × 66 cm), Image: 21 x 24 in.. Gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2016.13.1. Four Seasons series: Winter, 2006, printed 2016, Wendy Red Star, Archival pigment print on Sunset Fiber rag, Sheet: 23 × 26 in. (58.4 × 66 cm), Image: 21 x 24 in., Gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2016.13.2, ©️ Wendy Red Star. Four Seasons series: Spring, 2006, printed 2016, Wendy Red Star, Archival pigment print on Sunset Fiber rag, Sheet: 23 × 26 in. (58.4 × 66 cm), Image: 21 x 24 in., Gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2016.13.3, ©️ Wendy Red Star.
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Object of the Week: untitled (cosmos)

As the first official week of summer comes to a close, a palpable shift has taken place. With longer days and later nights, more time is already spent outdoors, whether on a porch, patio, or campground. Personally, summer often equates with more time spent looking at the night sky, along with a whole host of other associations—certain smells, foods, activities, and feelings.

In untitled (cosmos) by William Cordova, a fragmented expanse of black space is peppered with stars and planets, evoking the universe. Closer inspection reveals that among these celestial bodies are also archaeological artifacts and other suspended objects. Functioning then as a fictional astronomical and astrological map, it references the relationship that ancient cultures, such as the Inca, had with the cosmos—determining, or at least heavily informing, human events and actions.

Like the act of observing the night sky, the fragility and fugitive nature of this photographic map—held together by mere electrical and scotch tape—serves to remind us of our own ephemerality, and perhaps even make space for the contemplation of time and space, spirituality and identity.

Born in Lima, Peru, Cordova moved to Miami at an early age. He later lived in Houston, Chicago, and New York, but Peruvian cosmology, Andean architecture, and his personal history continued—and continue—to inform his work. Often working with found and discarded materials, Cordova’s varied and multimedia practice also means to address the economies of certain materials and objects, “challenging the functionality of art as a purely aesthetic pursuit.”[1]

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate

[1] “William Cordova,” Sikkema Jenkins & Co., https://www.sikkemajenkinsco.com/william-cordova.
Image: untitled (cosmos), 2006-09, William Cordova, exposed photo and paper collage, electrical and scotch tape, 61 × 86 in., Gift of Dennis Braddock and Janice Niemi, 2018.15. © Artist or Artist’s Estate
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Object of the Week: Tangerine (Mandarine)

Crisp contours and soft, natural lines form a focus: a fruit—a tangerine—hanging on its stem, framed by four leaves and suspended against a backdrop of white. There are no colors, fine details, or surrounding imagery that confirm it is specifically a tangerine. Yet there is an impulse to see from minimal curves a familiar shape, the ubiquitous form of tree-bearing fruit. From this abstract presentation, the tangerine exudes simple elegance and playful whimsy.

This piece by Ellsworth Kelly is one of 28 lithographs from Suite of Plant Lithographs, published in 1966. As a medium, lithography involves etching a smooth stone and using the repelling properties of oil and water to transcribe images onto paper. In addition to tangerines, the series includes lithographs of various flowers, branches, seaweed, leaves, and other fruits.

Since his passing in 2015, Ellsworth Kelly remains an influential force in Minimalism, Hard-Edge painting, Color Field painting, and Postwar European abstraction. From an early age, Kelly was drawn to the bright watercolor studies of birds by James Audubon. During World War II, Kelly was enlisted into the Ghost Army, a regiment of artists tasked with developing camouflage strategies and inflatable tanks to confound enemy troops. From this wartime experience, Kelly deepened his understanding of abstract colors, forms, and shadows. 1

On his artistic process, Kelly reflected, “I’m constantly investigating nature – nature, meaning everything,” and noted, “I think that if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract.” 2

Tangerine (Mandarine) is visibly different from Kelly’s more recognizable pieces, including this painting from SAM’s collection, White Curve V (1973). Kelly’s work is often recognized by its geometric patterns and shapes punctuated by bold colors and hard lines.

Despite these labels, Kelly transcends them. In White Curve V, the composition initially appears to be flat, simple, and non-representational. Another reading reveals a striking similarity to a close-up of the moon and sky. The color block curves appear to be moving, as they follow natural processions of receding or expanding horizons and seas.

Kelly once said, “I think what we all want from art is a sense of fixity, a sense of opposing the chaos of daily living, What I’ve tried to capture is the reality of flux, to keep art an open, incomplete situation, to get at the rapture of seeing.” 3 From Kelly’s admiration and curiosity for the natural world, it is through his art we are encouraged to see our realities with eyes of wonder and reverence.

– Rachel Kim, SAM Curatorial Intern

1 Rachel Gershman, “Ellsworth Kelly: American Painter and Sculptor.” ©2019 The Art Story Foundation, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-kelly-ellsworth.htm

2 Rachel Gershman, “Ellsworth Kelly: American Painter and Sculptor.” ©2019 The Art Story Foundation.

3 Holland Cotter, “Ellsworth Kelly, Who Shaped Geometries on a Bold Scale, Dies at 92.” New York Times, Dec. 27, 2015.

Images: Tangerine (Mandarine), 1964-65, Ellsworth Kelly, lithograph on Rives BFK paper, 35 1/4 in. x 24 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 67.46, © Ellsworth Kelly. White Curve V, 1973, Ellsworth Kelly, oil on canvas
93 1/4 × 91 1/8 in., Gift of Virginia and Bagley Wright (by exchange) with funds from the Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund and with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, 76.10, © Ellsworth Kelly.

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Object of the Week: Man and Girl at Crossing

Born in Harlem in 1919, Roy DeCarava came of age amid the flourishing artistic activity of the Harlem Renaissance. Trained as a painter, he would not take his first photograph until the late 1940s, and even then it was to assist his painting practice. However, DeCarava soon turned exclusively to photography, using the medium to produce a record of everyday Black life in Harlem.

In 1952, DeCarava became the first Black artist to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography. A series of photographs—“subdued pictures of everyday Harlem existence, from intimate family moments to street play and subway gloom”—were made using the grant, and would eventually be published in 1955 with accompanying text by Langston Hughes in The Sweet Flypaper of Life.[1]

DeCarava, also a musician, would go on to photograph many jazz greats like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Thelonious Monk, seeking to create a visual equivalent of jazz’s improvisational structure and off-time beat. The artist considered the camera, like the piano, to be an instrument of expressive potential, and mobilized it as a tool. The relationship he saw between jazz and photography hinged on the belief that “in between that one-fifteenth of a second, there is a thickness.”[2]

For the artist, photography was a way to counter his observation that “black people were not being portrayed in a serious and artistic way.”[3] As a result, his images illustrate ordinary Black life perceptively and immediately. His pictures are thoughtful and considered—often exploring light and shadow to assist in his subtly dramatic compositions.

In Man and Girl at Crossing from 1978, we see just how sensitive DeCarava was to the quiet and contemplative moments that surrounded him. It’s an uneventful scene—a man and a young girl wait to cross Schenectady Avenue in East Flatbush. Brooklyn had seen a rainy day that day, and the gloom sits heavy on the wet cement and asphalt. Framed by the crosswalk and sidewalk before them, the two figures are powerfully silhouetted—paused in a still moment of togetherness before continuing on their way.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate


[1] Alan Thomas, “Literary Snapshots of the Sho-Nuff Blues,” In These Times, March 27–April 2, 1985, 20.
[2] Randy Kennedy, “Roy DeCarava, Harlem Insider Who Photographed Ordinary Life, Dies at 89,” New York Times, October 28, 2009, accessed June 13, 20169, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/29/arts/29decarava.html.
[3] Randy Kennedy, “Roy DeCarava, Harlem Insider Who Photographed Ordinary Life, Dies at 89.”
Image: Man and Girl at Crossing, 1978, Roy DeCarava, gelatin silver photograph, 13 x 8 15/16 in., Gift of the American Telephone and Telegraph Co., 82.61 © Roy DeCarava
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