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Object of the Week: Cardbirds

While many of us are quarantined and shopping for necessary (and unnecessary) items online, the sight of Amazon and USPS boxes at front doors has become ubiquitous. In 1971, Robert Rauschenberg created a series of works based off of cardboard boxes: Cardbirds. While Rauschenberg was not the first artist to work with cardboard or to incorporate boxes in his work (Pablo Picasso had created his famous guitars in 1912 out of cardboard), his Cardbirds are more involved than one might think. Often mistaken for actual crushed boxes, the works in fact combine corrugated cardboard with offset photolithography and screen printing. Each crease, fold, and label was meticulously reproduced to mimic cast off boxes, and achieve a trompe l’oeil effect.

Still life with Guitar, assembled before November 15, 1913, Pablo Picasso, Paperboard, paper, string, and painted wire installed with cut cardboard box, Overall: 30 × 20 1⁄2 × 7 3/4 in., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of the artist © 2016 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

By the early 1970s, many artists living and working in New York began to take a hiatus from the City: Jasper Johns set up a studio in Saint Martin; Donald Judd visited Marfa, Texas; Sol LeWitt spent more time in Italy; and Robert Rauschenberg found himself on Captiva Island, off the west coast of Florida.1 At the time, Rauschenberg said, “Captiva is the foundation of my life and my work; it is my source and reserve of my energies,” and “In New York, I never had time.”2  While the drivers are different today, it’s interesting to see many New Yorkers (with the means to do so) fleeing New York City, and how this will translate to the art that is being made.

Looking closer at Rauschenberg’s Cardbirds, one can’t help but notice the playfulness of these pieces—the boxes’ original forms flattened into shapes resembling a turkey or spaceship (both birds and space were a common theme in his work). There is something humorous about spending so much effort recreating something he found in an alley. While these works were produced at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, it was in Captiva where Rauschenberg became intrigued with the medium of cardboard, “a desire built up in me, “ he said, “to work in a material of waste and softness.”3 While he may have attempted to portray what we would today call globalization, the intent was very different than some of his contemporaries. Andy Warhol’s famous Brillo Boxes, for example, were paint and silkscreen ink on wood, and elevated the mundane and commercial to an art object. Donald Judd’s Minimalist Untitled works from 1969 were literal, specific objects. However, both Judd and Warhol’s works might seem overly polished and less “real” than Rauschenberg’s worn and discarded cardboard forms.

Andy Warhol with Brillo Boxes, Photo: Lasse Olsson / DN / Scanpix
Accessed May 27, 2020,
https://www.artandobject.com/articles/swedens-moderna-museet-comes-clean-warhol-brillo-box-scandal

As we look at contemporary artists working today—nearly 50 years after Rauschenberg’s Cardbirds—we see similar visual languages employed. Walead Beshty packages his works in FedEx boxes, intentionally allowing the contents to shatter and crack, serving as a marker of their journeys. Santiago Sierra uses cardboard boxes in a provocative manner, with actual people inside them, to shed light on the plight of political exiles.

Which brings us back to our current plethora of packages: ripe material for creation and available in excess. Will we be seeing more of these everyday materials on a gallery wall in the years to come? How would Robert Rauschenberg have responded to these times and these materials? I would guess playfully and insightfully.

Manish Engineer, SAM Chief Technology Officer


Images: Cardbird III, 1971, Robert Rauschenberg, collage of corrugated cardboard, tape, offset photolithograph, and screen print, 35 1/2 x 36 in., Gift of the Robert B. and Honey Dootson Collection, 81.62.2 © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Untitled, 1969, Donald Judd, Clear anodized aluminum and violet Plexiglas, 33 x 68 x 48 in. Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2014.25. FedEx, 2005, Walead Beshty, www.thisiscolossal.com/2017/01/fedex-works-walead-beshty/. Workers Who Cannot Be Paid, Remunerated to Remain Inside Cardboard Boxes, 2000, Santiago Sierra, Kunst Werke. Berlin, Germany.
1 Mark Godfrey, “Source and Reserve of My Energies,” in Robert Rauschenberg, ed. by Leah Dickerman and Achim Borchardt-Hume (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2016), pp. 284-293.
2 Robert Rauschenberg, “Statement on Captiva,” letter to Ron Bisho, n.d. Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Archives, New York, https://www.rauschenbergfoundation.org/art/archives/collections/a14
3Cardbirds brochure, www.rauschenbergfoundation.org/art/archives/collections/a14

Object of the Week: Wu Liang Shrine

This ink rubbing on paper was made by an unknown hand around 1920. The rubbing captures the carved and incised stone surface of an Eastern Han period (25–220 CE) funerary monument, namely the Wu Family Ancestral Shrine located in Shandong province, China. The Wu family held positions in government according to inscriptions at the site.[1] The stone shrine, and its rubbings, serve as unique extant examples of Han pictorial style, carving techniques, and subject matter, as well as evidence of their funerary traditions.

The shrine’s low relief carvings depict both historical and mythological scenes. The middle register of this rubbing depicts Jing Ke’s failed assassination attempt of King Ying Zheng (259–210 BCE) in 227 BCE. The central pillar in the scene is pierced with the dagger used in the attempt. At left, Jing Ke struggles against the King’s doctor.[2] At right, the King (the largest figure) holds a round jade disc above his head likely to signal his retention of power. The stone carver created the illusion of depth by overlapping and varying the sizes of the figures—the smallest figure, holding a baton and shield, runs to support the King. In the lowest register, serpent-human figures with scaly tails emerging from their skirts, perhaps deities, illustrate a mythological version of the tale.

Ying Zheng lived to unify China in 221 BCE, assuming the title of the First Emperor and founder of the Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE), which was the first power-centralized state in China’s history. A ruthless leader, he was ultimately overthrown by a peoples’ uprising, yet Ying Zheng is known for standardizing communication, currency, and infrastructure in China.

Stone carving and ink rubbing are acts of transference—the story moves from hand to stone, and from stone to paper. (Then, from paper to the digital photograph you and I experience now!) Ink rubbing is a simple method of reproducing the texture and scale of a surface. Here, the background is rough with even vertical tool marks, the raised figures are flat and smooth, and the incised lines delineating their garments are crisp. The right side of this rubbing has a border whereas the left side abruptly ends, indicating that it is a partial capture of the stone image.

Many rubbings of the Wu family shrine have been made over time and have entered institutional collections around the country, such as the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Field Museum, Harvard Libraries, and Berkeley Libraries; of these, some were mounted on textile to be appreciated as hanging scrolls. Portland Art Museum holds a section of a shrine wall itself.

Due to its durability, stone has long been used to commemorate a person or a family’s life as a physical marker of their existence. The practice of gravestone rubbing as a travel souvenir, genealogical document, or historical record continues. Today, during this crisis, we are embracing new rituals to memorialize our loved ones. The New York TimesA New Way to Mourn tells one man’s story of an online gathering he led to celebrate his late wife, and the unforeseen intimacy of sharing stories, music, and remembrances from a distance until a stone can be placed in her honor.

Geneva Griswold, SAM Associate Conservator

Want to learn more? See this bibliography prepared by former SAM Assistant Librarian, Jie Pan, and SAM Volunteer Charles Randles for further reading.

Image: Wu Liang Shrine: Chinese History and Mythology, ca. 1920s, Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, ink rubbing on paper, 35.587.2
[1] Jackie Menzies. 1983. Early Chinese Art. AGNSW cat.no. XXI. Accessed May 10: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/163.1979.17/
[2] Jane Portal (Ed.). 2007. The first emperor: China’s Terracotta Army. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press: 67.

SAM Book Club: Octavia Butler’s Brand of Sci-Fi

SAM’s staff is reading and responding to Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler as a way to continue considering some of the themes in our currently closed exhibition, John Akomfrah: Future History, on view through September 7. Upcoming book club reflections will be shared here on the blog June 3 and June 16. We’ll conclude the virtual book club with a Zoom meet up for all of our book club participants!

SAM Book Club is now halfway through reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. As a first time reader of Butler and as a writer, I am in awe of her elegant craft with narrative structure. About three years have gone by since the beginning of the novel and protagonist Lauren Olmina has left the false security of her walled-in neighborhood to journey north.

Lauren has grown up over the chapters and decided she must leave her neighborhood in order to help Earthseed flourish. However, the circumstances that lead to her departure are brutal rather than voluntary. In fact, much of the novel is brutal, though never gratuitous. I would describe Butler’s approach to a violent reality as unflinching. This is because the narrator of Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina, is herself unflinching.

What I find so skillful in Butler’s writing is how this book is at once a novel and a holy text. Right around the middle of the book we begin to see how Lauren’s writing, the book we are reading becomes the word of Earthseed. Consider how many religious texts are the parables of that religion’s prophet—how the prophet’s life contains the revelations and tenants of the religion. As we read, we begin to realize that Butler did not write a novel, she wrote Earthseed. And as I read, I find myself being converted.

I recently stumbled upon this video from our neighbors at Museum of Pop Culture where Butler discusses her approach to science fiction narrative. Hear from the author herself!

So what is Earthseed? Earthseed is a belief in change as god, or the most powerful constant in the universe. Now that we have reached the middle of the book, Lauren Olamina has just shared the first page of the first book of Earthseed: The Books of the Living with another person for the first time:

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

God
Is Change.

Parable of the Sower touches on so many issues—climate change, corrupt politicians, corporate greed, class warfare, sexism, economic collapse, and racism are just a few. In the second quarter of the novel a slavery narrative is introduced in the form of an international company that takes over a coastal city promising jobs to families who relocate only to have those families forever in debt. Lauren’s closest friend moves there and this begins a thread within the book that seems to be one of the driving themes: freedom. Almost all of the issues listed above are forms of oppression or they can be leveraged to oppress people. A professor friend of mine pointed me towards a current webinar series that unpacks this, and many other topics in the book, by two female scholars who can speak more eloquently about Butler’s work than I ever could. Watch the first discussion in the series with Afrofuturist writer Tananarive Due and womanist process theologian Monica A. Coleman.

I suspect that Earthseed will take on new complexity now that Lauren has begun to share what she believes in with others. Perhaps this will lead to interpretations by others as the book continues. Tell us what you think about Earthseed, Butler’s unique brand of sci-fi, and what sticks out to you about Parable of the Sower as you read along—comment below!

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

Object of the Week: Anthony of Padua

Kehinde Wiley’s signature portraits of everyday men and women riff on specific paintings by Old Masters, replacing the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary Black subjects, drawing attention to the exclusion of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives. His portraits are a thoughtful remix of grandiose patterns and hip-hop; there’s an intention behind their gaze, and often-subtle symbolism, which I’ll expand on.

After receiving his MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2001, Wiley’s career flourished. You may have been introduced to Wiley’s art in a number of ways.

1. A Major Commission
In 2005, VH1 commissioned Wiley to paint portraits of the honorees for that year’s Hip Hop Honors program. The theme was “the golden age of hip hop,” evidenced by custom portraits of the pioneering honorees: Notorious B.I.G., Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Ice T, and Salt-N-Pepa.

2. A Major Tour
The Brooklyn Museum organized a national exhibition tour Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic (2015–17), which included a stop at SAM in 2016, and featured SAM’s painting, Anthony of Padua. SAM’s manager of interpretive technology, Tasia Johnson, utilized an app in which visitors could scan the painting with their smartphones and learn more about the symbolism of some of the works on view.

Wiley’s 2013 painting is based on Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ late-19th-century stained glass window depicting Saint Anthony of Padua. In Ingres’ work, the Franciscan Saint holds a lily, the infant Jesus, and a Bible, symbolizing his purity, theological scholarship, and gifts as a preacher dedicated to Christ. Unlike Saint Anthony’s pose, meant to convey a Franciscan commitment to poverty and humility, Wiley’s portrait is infused with worldly seduction: his Anthony’s skin is flawless, his lips are pink, and his gaze, looking down at us, is seductive and empowered. A second depiction of Saint Anthony of Padua, an altar painting in Italy, is even more similar to Wiley’s sitter. Unlike the Ingres version, however, this saint’s body language is more open, facing the viewer. It’s clear that all versions have similarities: Saint Anthony’s left arm holds a book, and his right hand holds a flower or stick.

The orange panther patch on Wiley’s model’s jacket––prominently displayed on his right shoulder––is similar to that worn by the 66th Infantry Division of the US Army during World War II. The black panther was also selected as an emblem of power for the Black Panther Party, which used organized force for political advancement during the 1960s fight for civil rights.

Military jackets like the one worn by the sitter are not only US Army uniforms, but also high fashion pieces worn by celebrities like Queen Latifah. The item became popular for civilian-wear during the 1960s, when counterculture youth subversively wore army green jackets as antiwar commentary. With a young black man replacing a European saint in Wiley’s painting, the jacket’s history as a form of social commentary is further amplified.

3. A TV Cameo: Empire
In season one of Fox’s Empire, Wiley’s paintings were prominently featured in the home of the formidable Lyon family. There is a clear correlation between Empire and Wiley’s work: both are steeped in the bravado and style of hip-hop culture, and serve to upend antiquated notions regarding class, racial identity, and the politics of power. 

4. Celebrities as Collectors
They’re just like us! Celebrities are also fans of Wiley’s work. Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz apparently own a massive painting, and Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka own three paintings as of 2014.

5. The Obama Portrait
In February 2018, the official portrait of President Barack Obama was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The NPG welcomed record attendance figures that year with 2.3 million, which is due in no small part to the new portrait by Wiley, as well as a portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald.

I visited NPG in November 2018. I stood in line at the main entrance at least 30 minutes prior to opening hours and there were already dozens of like-minded visitors cued in line. When the doors opened, the museum staff––without any prompts––immediately announced which floors the Obama portraits were on. The floodgates had opened. Along the way, there were individual signs giving you clues that you were on the right path.

The painting depicts President Obama sitting in a chair seemingly floating among foliage. Surrounding him are chrysanthemums (the official flower of Chicago), jasmine (symbolic of Hawaii, where Obama spent most of his childhood), and African blue lilies (alluding to the president’s late Kenyan father). When I finally came face-to-face with the portrait, I knew it would be the closest I would ever be to him. 

Tina Lee, SAM Exhibitions and Publications Manager

Images: Installation view of Anthony of Padua, 2013, Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 72 × 60 in., Gift of the Contemporary Collectors Forum, 2013.8 © Kehinde Wiley, photo: Natali Wiseman. President Barack Obama, 2018, Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 84 x 58 in. ©2018 Kehinde Wiley

Object of the Week: GrandMa’sPussy

GrandMa’sPussy (2013), by American sculptor Tony Feher (1956–2016), is one of SAM’s most recent acquisitions––it entered the collection just months ago––and hasn’t even been seen fully installed by museum staff. It currently lives in one of the museum’s storage areas, its glass chalices––with fluted, elaborate bowls, long and short stems, and frilled lips of the cups, each a singular jewel-tone color––carefully compartmentalized on two carts, divided by pieces of Ethafoam. In its fully realized form, 69 of these goblets, chalices, grails, cups, candy bowls (or any other name for special occasion glassware), are suspended at equal intervals, lengths of fine steel chain attached to their stems by metal wire, so as to dangle like a great, chunky bead curtain from the ceiling. None of the cups touch the ground, or each other, and the work’s dimensions are variable.

Feher is known primarily for his installations that employ everyday items such as these glass cups, as well as plastic bottles, water tinted with food coloring, rocks, plywood, marbles, cardboard, pennies, generic plush rugs, and disposable packaging. In Feher’s spare, deliberate compositions, these quotidian objects become more like artifacts, placed with restraint and attention to their colors and forms. Feher, who was HIV positive, died of cancer-related causes in 2016 at age 60; throughout his career, observers drew meaning from the transience of the objects he chose and the fragility of life. His ephemeral materials, often sourced from inside his own home––a theater of objects––are ubiquitous and ready-made. Installed, they recall their origins enough to be familiar to us in a domestic setting, but are reconstituted and choreographed in a way that our attention is drawn to their aesthetic qualities and poeticism. GrandMa’sPussy isn’t made of the most ephemeral objects, but the life of the glasses becomes just as conditional in their suspended form, particularly in our earthquake-anxious region, as Senior Objects Conservator, Liz Brown, pointed out to me in a phone call in April.

Throughout his oeuvre of assembled and sculptural works, Feher would often choose titles based on their form, such as Perpetually Disintegrating Sculpture(1993), a cardboard box painted silver and filled tightly, but neatly, with rectangular sponges; or, more descriptively, like Untitled (Ruby Begonia)(2000), composed of a circle of pennies and dimes with carefully interspersed marbles.

With the first part of this work’s title, I think of a sweet grandmother who aligns with the archetypal and perhaps nostalgic image of a gracious and generous giver we might be lucky enough to have or have had in our lives. There is comfort in the ritual of visiting grandma, who implores you to eat more and not leave so soon; her home becomes a site of care, with multiple bowls and plates and jars of things from which she encourages you to help yourself. The glass cup and candy bowl––icons of domesticity and hospitality––are somehow always stocked and ready for you. Her cabinet of glasses is almost kitsch, though it doesn’t mean to be (and in being unintentional, rather really becomes kitsch).

As for the full title of GrandMa’sPussy: it could refer to how the glasses are chalice-like, symbols of containing and giving, emphasized by the possessive “GrandMa.” The choice in capitalization and spacing (or lack thereof) gives the full title of GrandMa’sPussy a sense of specificity and personal relation. While the work was made in 2013, and the word “pussy” has taken on different meaning since 2016, the title has a descriptive function above anything meant to disrespect. Its tongue-in-cheek nature is at once transgressive and playful, drawing attention even more to the elaborate glassware, and simultaneously pushes against our tendency to regard such objects in quite the saccharine way I admittedly did above.

In our current moment, imagining grandma and a visit to her home is especially distant and nostalgic for a time not long ago. Now we wave to our elderly loved ones, friends, and neighbors from outside the window, or from our homes, and have to save our embraces for the future. For me, there is comfort in knowing that these glass bowls lived with Feher for quite a while before they took on another kind of poetry outside of his home. The glass chalices in GrandMa’sPussy will eventually live their public lives again, frozen mid-tumble and visible from every candied angle, when installed at SAM in the future. For now, Feher’s work is patiently waiting to emerge from its inner life at the museum––quietly in storage, cushioned by foam––and will take on entirely new meanings, recalling rituals we’re unsure we might easily return to, once it can be realized in its intended form and seen by museum visitors.

Hannah Hirano, SAM Coordinator for Museum Services and Conservation

Think about Tony Feher’s work while you take a moment to look at the objects you surround yourself with in a new light. What small or numerous items are in your household that are uniquely shaped by your habits or whose meaning transcends the mundane because of your relationship to it? SAM’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Catharina Manchanda is sharing what she calls accidental artworks made by her husband’s busy hands while on phone calls!

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

Images: GrandMa’sPussy, 2013, Tony Feher, glass, galvanized steel wire, and chrome-plated steel chain, dimensions variable, Gift of the Estate of Tony Feher, 2020.8 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Photos courtesy of Anthony Meier Fine Arts

Community Questions: What Are You Making?

While SAM locations are closed, the SAM Equity Team is asking team members to reflect on how equity and community continue to be central to our work and our lives even as we work remotely. This week, we answer this important question: What kind of making are you doing at this time? Read below for to see how a couple staff SAM staff members responded.

During this unexpected quarantine and the swift closing of SAM, a coworker, Associate Conservator Geneva Griswold passed me a box of items from the Conservation Lab, suggesting a “hands-on” project while I was working at home. The box contents included 1/8″ copper bearing balls and cotton sockinette (a stretchy cotton skin protector used to protect skin under casts). With these items I am sewing weighted bags. These bags are used to hold artwork, photos, or textiles in position while working. They are also useful in providing weighted pressure to hold glued items together while drying. Also referred to as bean bags, print weights, drawing weight bags, etc.

They can vary in size from three inches long up to however long the sewer decides. The process goes like this: I fill a plastic baggy with the desired amount of copper ball trim off the zip lock, apply double sticky tape and then repeat so I have at least 2 bags to prevent spillage and contain them within the sockinette. Now comes the tricky process of carefully folding under the ends of the sockinette and hand sewing. To sew them shut I used embroidery floss along the edge using a running or straight stitch one direction then, pulling the floss tight, sewing the opposite direction. Lastly, carefully tie a knot and add a touch of fabric glue for additional security.

I am pretty happy with the results since I’ve never sewn these before. The museum usually purchases these and, after examining the sample, I’m guessing they are sewn with a machine. It’s been a fun and tactile way of staying in touch with my position at the museum while I am away from the amazing, wondrous collection.

– Monica Cavagnaro, SAM Associate Collections Care Manager


It took me several weeks to finally feel up to making stuff, but I’m starting to hit my groove. I’ve been making masks for family and friends. I’ve also gotten back to my artistic practice with photo collaging. I’m attaching an early version of something I’ve been working on. It’s actually changed quite a bit since this image, which is fun to look back and see.

Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian

Photos: Monica Cavagnaro & Traci Timmons

SAM Book Club: Reading Octavia Butler in 2020

Join SAM Book Club! SAM’s staff is reading and responding to Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler on the blog as a way to continue considering some of the themes in our currently closed exhibition, John Akomfrah: Future History. We can’t wait to spend time with John Akomfrah’s video essays once we are able to reopen—they will be on view through September 7. Read along with us in preparation for visiting this exhibition of three immersive video installations and share your comments and questions with us! Our next book club reflections will be posted May 20, June 3, and June 16. We’ll conclude this virtual book club with a Zoom meet up for all of our book club participants!

Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1993) is the fictional autobiography of Lauren Oya Olamina. Her story begins in 2024, on her fifteenth birthday. Lauren dreams that she’s learning to fly. (Has anyone else been dreaming wildly, as I have, since the stay-at-home order?) The dream shifts to a remembrance of her seven-year-old self and stepmother, taking laundry down from a line beneath an inky, star-bright sky. Her stepmother recalls the formerly light-washed skies of her youth. “City lights”, she says. “Light, progress, growth, all those things we’re too hot and too poor to bother with anymore.”

The Olamina family lives in a tight-knit community—a tightly-secured, walled-in cul-de-sac in the Los Angeles suburbs. Water is expensive and rain is rare. Each house keeps a vegetable garden and hunts. The neighborhood shares one family’s television, the Window, for entertainment. The work at hand is survival.

Parable of the Sower lives on the science fiction and fantasy shelves of your local bookseller or library. Yet, Lauren’s economic and climate-collapsed world reflects irreconcilable elements of our own daily lives in the coronavirus pandemic. The constant plane dinning (I live under the flight path) has given way to bird calls, while our aviation-employed neighbors are furloughed. Amidst compounded food and housing insecurities, some report seeing stars for the very first time.

For Lauren, stars and acorn bread and vigilance are normal. What’s more, Lauren has hyperempathy syndrome: she explains, “I feel what I see others feeling or what I believe they feel.” Lauren hides the condition from everyone except her family because it is “better to have them think anything than let them know just how easy it is to hurt me.” We learn this as she riskily travels beyond the neighborhood walls to get baptized. However, Lauren doesn’t believe in her Reverend father’s god.

Change is her god. Each chapter begins with a verse from Lauren’s own belief system called Earthseed. Butler explains in an interview: “Lauren Olamina says that since change is the one inespcapable truth, change is the basic clay of our lives. In order to live constructive lives, we must learn to shape change when we can and yield to it when we must. Either way, we must learn to teach, adapt, and grow.” The beginning of Lauren’s story, like ours, is one of adaptation.

– Geneva Griswold, SAM Associate Conservator & Equity Team Member

Photo: Chelsea Werner-Jatzke

SAM Connects: Youth Artists Reflect on COVID-19

Founded in 2007, The Seattle Art Museum’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive program for highly opinionated high school-aged youth who are interested in learning about themselves and the world through art. TAG is designed to cultivate the voice and leadership of diverse young people who share their passion for the power of art to build community.

When the world came to a halt, TAG put that passion into the power of zines. In this publication, you will find creative expressions addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Seattle-area youth. Their responses range from life before stay home orders to the impact of school closures and everything in between. What they created together is a powerful, moving zine titled, Peering Through the Looking Glass: Youth Artists Connect and Reflect on COVID-19.

As the world continues to navigate this pandemic, it is vital that those of us who work alongside, support, teach, and love young folks, do not exclude them in these conversations about the future. Our youth have a big stake in the future and they should be at every table advocating and fighting for it alongside the adults in their lives. They recognize the value and necessity of working together and using this shared experience to heal and move forward. The opening of the zine, created solely by the members of TAG, says it best.

Images: Alex depicts the loneliness this pandemic has caused and finding ways to reach the ones they love and miss. One work in a series of four that Lucia created for the zine. Grae & Zya collaborated to pair Grae’s original poetry on top of Zya’s designs.

Object of the Week: Seattle Cloud Cover

For over a month, Seattle’s public spaces, like those in cities around the world, have experienced a marked transformation. Bustling downtowns are eerily empty, with freeways, bike lanes, and sidewalks much quieter. Our parks, however, have remained (when open) as vital as ever to the collective life of the city and the publics they serve.

For landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1902), who with his brother designed Volunteer Park, home to the Asian Art Museum, parks should be socially valuable—“gregarious” (inclusive) rather than “neighbourly” (exclusive) spaces that bring people together, no matter where they live or who they are.[1] This may seem like a given today, but in the 19th century it was a radical notion. Another beloved public park with a SAM connection is, of course, the Olympic Sculpture Park. In keeping with Olmsted’s vision for inclusive, truly public spaces, the park’s nine acres have multiple entrances, an abundance of native plants, zigzagging pathways, over 20 artworks, and is free and open to the public. Like Volunteer Park, it is a place meant for physical, mental, and spiritual relaxation.

Throughout this pandemic, I have found myself reflecting on the role that such public spaces hold and the value they bring, especially when the very nature of “a public” has been recast. I keep returning to one artwork in particular at the Olympic Sculpture Park: Seattle Cloud Cover by Teresita Fernández. 

A glass bridge above a working railroad, Seattle Cloud Cover features images of a changing sky whose cloud formations are high-keyed and highly saturated. Appearing at consistent intervals throughout the image are small apertures, or holes, through which visitors can catch glimpses of downtown Seattle and their environs. Demonstrating Fernández’s interest in light and vision—specifically the relationship between seeing and not seeing—this visual layering of the built and natural environment encourages us to more deeply consider our surroundings, and our place within them. For Fernández, a landscape is not only that which is seen, but inhabited. 

Celebrated for such installations that interrogate notions of landscape and place, Fernández has demonstrated, in her words, a “20-year interest in landscape, perception, and the viewer as someone who is constantly moving, walking, and shifting in real time.”[2] For Fernández, the activation of her work with a viewer—a public—is essential. Seattle Cloud Cover mediates our surroundings, allowing us to both move through the work and see beyond it, all the while drenched in its colorful shadows. The passageway augments our relationship to the world around us, and hopefully prompts us to reflect on the value of public spaces—mutable and fluid as they currently are—and our place within them.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

Images: Seattle Cloud Cover, design approved 2004; fabrication completed 2006, Teresita Fernández, laminated glass with photographic design interlayer, approx. 9 ft. 6 in. x 200 ft. x 6 ft. 3 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.140, © Teresita Fernández.
1 Richard Sennett, Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 45.
2 Teresita Fernández, “Artist’s Statement,” in Fata Morgana (New York: Madison Square Art, 2015), 16.