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Object of the Week: Fireman’s Coat

April showers may bring May flowers, but the passing of the clouds bring clear nights to see the bright face of the moon. Moon gazing isn’t an easy task here in the Pacific Northwest, especially with all the rainstorms and grey days; however, in East Asian countries, Moon Viewing is a popular mid-autumn festival for celebrating the harvest and contemplating the beauty of the night sky. In Japan, this is called Tsukimi, and is held on the 15th day to the 18th day of the eighth lunar month––so, sometime in September or October, depending on year. In the past it was time to write waka, a form of Japanese poetry, which originated within the aristocracy. Today, Tsukimi is celebrated all over Japan with displays of pampas grass and white balls of mochi (sweet rice cakes).

At the Asian Art Museum, we have our own example of Tsukimi revelry in the form of a 19th century hikeshi banten, or a commoner’s fireman coat. Made of tough cotton to impede burning debris, this coat has a surprisingly playful depiction of rabbits on their hind-legs, pounding at a vessel of mochi. Made of glutinous rice, mochi needs to be pounded to make the smooth, stretchy texture for which it is known.

The video above shows families making mochi at the Mochi Tsuki Festival on Bainbridge Island, WA. People enjoy mochi today all over Japan. It can be found in Seattle’s Japanese grocery stores too! Have you ever tried it before? One of the most popular ways to eat it is wrapping the soft, squishy mochi over a sweet filling, like red bean paste or chocolate cream.

So why rabbits? At first glance it would seem odd to connect these bunnies to mochi creation, or Tsukimi at all. However, in terms of mythology, rabbits have a lot to do with both. In the West, we have a fairy tale about the man in the moon, so created by how the moon’s dark craters seem to mimic the features of a face. In many Eastern folktales, however, it is not a human face, but a rabbit. Specifically, it is a rabbit with a mortar and pestle. In China, this is because the rabbit is a companion to the moon goddess, and pounds her medicine of immortality. In Japan and Korea, this rabbit pounds mochi, and has an entirely different reason for being engraved on the moon. In the Konjaku Monogatarishu, a collection of tales from the Heian Period, the story is told like this:

A long time ago, the Man of the Moon came down to Earth in secret in the guise of an old man. There, he came across three friends: monkey, fox, and rabbit, who had all taken a vow of charity. To them, he begged for food.

The monkey, being nimble, brought him fruit. The fox, being clever, brought him fish. The rabbit, only able to gather grass, had nothing to offer. So he asked the old man to light a fire and jumped into it, offering his own body as a meal.

The old man changed quickly back to the Man of the Moon and pulled the rabbit from the fire. He was deeply touched by such sacrifice and said “Rabbit, you are a kind creature, but do not give yourself up for me. As you were kindest of all, you may come and live with me upon the moon.” The rabbit agreed, and was carried to his new home. He is still there to this day. If you look up at the moon, you can see his figure upon it.

Between the flame that the rabbit tossed himself into, and his associations to the moon and food, it seems a little clearer why there would be the image of a mochi-pounding rabbit on a fireman’s coat. The rabbit was miraculously pulled from the flame and provided honor for his sacrifice––the perfect emblem of protection for a fireman.

Listen to actor Hudson Yang discuss this artwork.

Even with social distancing, we can still look up and see the rabbit, pounding away at mochi on the surface of the moon. It makes you wonder if he is an essential worker, too, and whether they have such worries in the night sky. When the Asian Art Museum reopens, you can see this rabbit hikeshi-banten on view in the galleries as a fine example of what would have once defined a fireman.

Kennedy Simpson, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art

Images: Fireman’s coat, 19th century, Japanese, cotton, 49 1/4 x 49 1/4 in., Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.417

I ♥ Asian Art: Sharing First Impressions of the Asian Art Museum

When did you first visit the Asian Art Museum and what impression did it make on you? Before we closed SAM’s original home for a very necessary renovation and expansion, we asked visitors to share what they remember about the Asian Art Museum and why they return to the Art Deco architectural gem that houses SAM’s Asian art collection again and again. We are temporarily closed until further notice in light of the directives issued by the Governor’s office to limit the spread of the coronavirus. But, when you can visit the reimagined Asian Art Museum again, we hope you’ll make your own first impressions or be reminded of why you heart Asian art.

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

Muse/News: Drawing with O’Keeffe, walks and recipes, and a napping lioness

SAM News

SAM’s temporary closure has been extended until further notice, in our effort to do all we can to safeguard the health and safety of the community.

We hope you are enjoying Stay Home with SAM, which connects you with art through videos, interviews, art-making activities, and art spotlights. Don’t miss the latest post, featuring digital and analog art-making experiences for Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations.

Artnet will be spotlighting exhibitions from all over the world during the closures—they started with Abstract Variations.

Local News

Seattle Times’ Gabriel Campanario is back with another sketch. This time, he takes in the Betty Bowen Viewpoint while on a socially distanced walk, mentioning her connection to SAM.

“Don’t skip the Olympic Sculpture Park art detour,” says Alison Williams of Seattle Met in her prescient “15 Best City Trails in Seattle” feature for Seattle Met’s April edition.

Crosscut shares another video in their Art Seen series, created before the stay-at-home order, with a question that is more relevant than ever.

“What do you create or do in life that brings you happiness? The question we asked locals — just before Washington state’s stay-at-home order — takes on new meaning now that individuals and communities are coping with the coronavirus crisis.”

Inter/National News

Last week, Congress passed a $2 trillion aid package in response to the coronavirus. Cultural organizations had requested $4 billion; Artnet’s Eileen Kinsella reports on how “they got, well, less.”

Hyperallergic says skip Netflix, and explore their list of experimental films and video art to stream, gathered with the help of their contributors as well as artists and filmmakers.

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone got 10 famous artists to dish on their favorite recipes getting them through these tough times.

“A fridge full of seafood, a cabinet full of beans, and regular trips to the coffee shop while we still can. Prepping for the worst, but can’t leave this city! So far, pizza is still delivering, so totally OK.”

And Finally

It makes me feel better to know Nikita the Lioness is taking a nap (again).

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Artwork: Georgia O’Keeffe, American, 1887–1986, Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1, 1918, oil on canvas, 35 x 29 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2000.161, photo: Paul Macapia

Object of the Week: Woman Playing a Harp

In honor of Women’s History Month, Object of the Week will highlight works by celebrated women artists in SAM’s permanent collection throughout the month of March.

Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) was born in Switzerland, but she traveled extensively throughout Europe in her early life. She started painting by assisting her father, a muralist, but she was somewhat of a child prodigy who quickly developed her own career as a history painter and portraitist, which soon supported both her and her father. At age 25, she moved to London, where she made such an impact on the arts community and market that a contemporary quipped, “The whole world has gone Angelica-mad.”[1] At age 27, she was elected as one of two female members of London’s newly-formed Royal Academy of Arts (RA). Kauffman’s trademark was to put female subjects first and foremost, and she often used her own likeness. Her Neoclassical personifications of art were more than the inert Renaissance damsels commonly used: they were women artists (see Self-Portrait Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting below). Pretty impressive stuff.

Self-Portrait Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting

But even knowing this illustrious resume, the feeling that pervades this possible self-portrait Woman Playing a Harp (ca. 1778) is one of uncertainty. The woman’s fingers seem too hesitant to be making any sound, and her eyes telegraph a wariness of her audience. My reading could be influenced by the strange times we currently find ourselves in, but I don’t think it’s just me. A Seattle Art Museum staff member, working from home, gave this painting new life as a quality art meme.

The more I looked into Angelica Kauffman’s work, the more I witnessed refreshing moments of “un-confidence.” Just look at Self-Portrait Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting (1791). Kauffman was a talented cellist and singer, and as a young woman she was torn between a career in painting and one in the opera. This self-portrait honestly portrays the common agony of having to choose a life path, decades after Kauffman chose painting. Many women today can likely identify with this feeling: you can be London’s finest hostess, speak five languages, take the art world by storm, and still feel completely unsure and inadequate sometimes. And that’s okay.

Admittedly, there are benefits to being multi-talented. Kauffman was commissioned not only for portraits and history paintings, but also for decorative work that adorned some of England’s greatest estates. However, her practice was not easily categorized in a culture of male super-painters, and this brought its own challenges. In the words of painter and Kauffman scholar Sarah Pickstone, “She was so flexible as an artist, making furniture decorations, ceiling decorations, that when the Victorians came along, they dismissed her as a purely decorative artist, and I think that can sometimes happen to women’s work.”[2] Kauffman’s history as a founding member of the RA was largely erased after her death, and over a century passed before the academy elected any more female members.[3]

Kauffman’s legacy has started to shift, however, as creative historians have come to appreciate her complex life and practice, including those “feminine” decorative arts. It follows a promising trend toward women being valued for their professional activities and qualities outside of a patriarchal framework. The RA is bringing Kauffman back into their history by planning a major exhibition of her work for Summer 2020. Though it may likely be postponed, as the museum is temporarily closed due to the coronavirus, that’s just another uncertainty we will have to embrace.

Linnea Hodge, SAM Curatorial Coordinator

[1] Brighton Museums, “Angelica Kauffman: An Eighteenth-Century ‘Wunderkind,’” 19 February 2015, https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/2015/02/19/angelica-kauffman-an-eighteenth-century-wunderkind
[2] Royal Academy of Arts podcast, “Sarah Pickstone and Rommi Smith discuss Angelica Kauffman,” 3 April 2018
[3] Annette Wickham, “A ‘Female Invasion’ 250 Years in the Making,” 13 May 2018
Images: Woman Playing a Harp, ca. 1778,Angelica Kauffman, oil on canvas, 34 7/8 x 27 1/4 in., Gift of Mrs. Lew V. Day in memory of her husband, 66.63. Self-portrait of the Artist hesitating between the Arts of Music and Painting, 1794, Angelica Kauffman, oil on canvas, 70 x 98 in., Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire

Inside Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations

Stay home with SAM and see inside Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations, zoom in on some early O’Keeffe drawings using our online interactive, and make some art of your own following along with the activity below.

“I found that I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things that I had no words for.”

– Georgia O’Keeffe

These words from a 20th-century artist best known for her paintings of flowers and desert landscapes may be surprising. “She had a very particular iconography, so we don’t typically think of her as an abstractionist,” says Theresa Papanikolas, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art. Abstract Variations offers us a chance to broaden our perspective on this celebrated artist through a focused selection of 15 of her paintings and drawings, as well as portraits of her by Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer who eventually became her husband. The accompanying catalogue examines O’Keeffe’s pioneering innovations into abstraction.

You may be familiar with Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1, O’Keeffe’s first major oil painting, now in SAM’s collection. Abstract Variations also includes Music, Pink and Blue, No. 2, a loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art, bringing these two landmark paintings together in Seattle for the first time. Experiencing them alongside other works from this pivotal period in O’Keeffe’s career offers a glimpse into her practice. “There’s a tangible tension between geometry and curvilinearity in these early works,” says Papanikolas. “When you see them in person, they look as if they’re vibrating.”

Zoom in on Georgia O’Keeffe’s Drawings »

Take a good look at all the details in these charcoal drawings from the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Like many of us right now, these precious drawings have to stay home. O’Keeffe’s earliest works on paper are extremely fragile and therefore unable to travel, but we can still enjoy them—just click or tap on the image above!

Art Making Activity

The painting above by Georgia O’Keefe is called Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1. Like many paintings the artist made, its shapes and colors are inspired by music. Can you make a drawing of a song?

  • Choose a song that makes you feel happy, sad, calm, or excited. Close your eyes and think about what you hear: What lines, shapes, and images appear? What colors do you see? What more can you imagine?
  • Find a pencil and a piece of paper and listen to the song a second time. This time, take a deep breath and let your hand move around the paper to draw lines and shapes that connect to the music. You can draw fast or slow, whatever feels natural to you. Try not to think too much, just draw and capture the images from your imagination.
  • When the song is finished, you can add to or change the drawing that you have started. You might choose to press your pencil down to shade some areas darker and leave some areas light. You might choose to erase some sections and add additional shapes and lines. You might use other materials to add color or texture to your drawing.
  • When you have finished, display your drawing on the floor, a table, or pinned onto the wall or refrigerator. See what it looks like up close and far away. Ask people around you what looking at your drawing makes them think about or feel. Does it bring any music to their mind?

These process images are an example of Lauren Kent, SAM’s Museum Educator for School Programs & Partnerships, drawing to “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush at her kitchen table. We want to see your artwork! Share a photo of your drawing and the song that inspired you with us via email or on social media using #StayHomewithSAM!

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

Artwork: Georgia O’Keeffe, American, 1887–1986, Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1, 1918, oil on canvas, 35 x 29 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2000.161, photo: Paul Macapia

Object of the Week: Weltempfänger

In honor of Women’s History Month, Object of the Week will highlight works by celebrated women artists in SAM’s permanent collection throughout the month of March.

“My antennas were also meant to be ‘feelers,’ things you stretch out to feel something, like the sound of the world and its many tones.”[1]

– Isa Genzken

Metal antennae extend full-length from a series of seven objects resembling vintage shortwave radios. Heads tilt and ears pique while viewing Isa Genzken’s Weltempfänger—translated literally as “world receivers”—expecting the cast concrete to make audible the signals they’ve received from unknown sources. Although silent, the antennae appear deliberately and mysteriously tuned at slight angles; they must be picking up something. Can’t we hear it, or are we not listening––or looking––hard enough?

Isa Genzken (German, b. 1948) is regarded as one of the most influential contemporary artists of the last 40 years, working in sculpture and a variety of multidisciplinary media. In the late 1970s to early 80s, Genzken gained prominence for her series of floor-based sculptures in the complex and elegant shapes of Ellipsoids and Hyperbolos. Handcrafted in lacquered wood from computer designs created in collaboration with physicist Ralph Krotz, the elongated, colorful sculptures drew from the geometric forms of Minimalism, but offered more nuanced connections to industrial design, digital technology, and commercial production. During this same period in 1982, Genzken exhibited her only stand-alone readymade sculpture, a functional radio receiver entitled Weltempfänger (World Receiver), which solidified her continued interests in consumer culture, value, and material.

By the late 1980s, Genzken departed abruptly from the refined forms of her ellipsoids to rough-hewn sculptures made of concrete and plaster. She began an ongoing series, casting concrete weltempfängersof various sizes and groupings, where the receivers take on symbolic roles of relics or ruins rather than functional devices, such as the 1982 readymade. The simple forms are layered with meaning. Together, the radio, a medium of power or opposition, and concrete, a material of ruin or reconstruction, evoke connections to a postwar Germany that Genzken experienced firsthand. More broadly, the receivers ask us to consider how communication is transmitted and received, and how we decide what is made permanent or temporary.

In this present moment, the receivers offer a resonance more immediate. Facing a public health crisis that compels us to connect more and more through technology, and to seek out news and facts in order to keep our communities safe, these world receivers provide a moment to “stretch out to feel something,” and to contemplate how we look, listen, and decide what we value and make permanent for the future.

Philip Nadasdy, SAM Associate Director of Public Engagement

P.S. Weltempfänger also makes an excellent group costume! Here’s SAM’s curatorial team on Halloween, 2019.

Images: Weltempfänger, 2018, Isa Genzken, concrete, brick, and metal antennae in seven parts, overall: 62 x 54 x 20 in., Purchased with funds provided by Virginia Wright and the Contemporary Collectors Forum. Additional support provided by Jon and Kim Shirley, Ann and Bruce Blume, Lynn and Mikal Thomsen, and Carol Kipling and David Tseklenis., 2018.13 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Isa Genzken, Ellipsoids and Hyperbolos, Kunsthalle Wien, 2014. Weltempfänger (World Receiver), 1982, Isa Genzken, Multiband radio receiver. Photo: Natali Wiseman.
[1] Diedrich Diederichsen, “Diedrich Diederichsen in Conversation with Isa Genzken,” in Alex Farquharson et al., Isa Genzken (London: Phaidon, 2006), 25; reprinted in Lisa Lee, ed., Isa Genzken (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015), 120.

Art is Not a Noun, It’s a Verb: Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

“The real magic of Carpe Fin is in the space between the object and the observer.”

– Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Hear from the artist behind the 6 x 19–foot watercolor mural commissioned for SAM. Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas describes Carpe Fin as “Haida manga.” This unique approach developed by Yahgulanaas blends several artistic and cultural traditions, including Haida formline art, Japanese manga, Pop Art, and graphic novels.

Inspired by a traditional Haida oral story, the story is also linked to a 19th-century headdress in SAM’s collection carved by Yahgulanaas’s relative, Albert Edward Edenshaw. Carpe Fin calls attention to issues of environmental degradation and the rupture of the values that honor human-nature interdependence.

We asked SAM staff to reflect on the work and what stood out to them by answering which panel impacted them most. Have you seen the artwork at SAM or read the book? Read some reflections below and share your thoughts with us in the comments!

  • The very center panel—it’s more free form so it draws the eye. It’s the moment when Carpe realizes he’s been left behind on the island. His phases of expression and gesture really struck me.
  • The central panels—frames break down, creative topsy-turvy!
  • The third panel (upper center) for the transition from the human to the underwater world. The contrast of thick, thin, and detailed brushwork make it come alive.
  • The middle panels stand out because of the dynamic between the sea lions and humans. There’s a chaotic structure that reminds me of the circle of life, but it also shows an imbalance.
  • The central panel and how it just seems to come alive and break out of the typical comic book boxes/outlines; the overall image captivates your attention and makes you want to keep looking at the intricate, smaller details.
  • I was most impacted by the panel in which Carpe swims back wearing sewed-up seal skin. There is something about embodying the animal that he had been killing. I wonder how much the message of “you’re killing our women” would have sunk in without this physical experience or if he would have heard it in a different way?
  • I’m most impacted by the panel where the young boys kill a flicker. This senseless, purposeless killing of a living thing in a microcosm of the imbalance and lack of respect for the environment that has created dire circumstances for this community and communities across the globe. The energy that youth are bringing to climate activism lies in contrast to this detail and gives hope for the future. We all need to take responsibility and enact laws and regulations that will ensure the survival of future generations.
  • All of them together

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

Images: Carpe Fin (details), 2018, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Haida, b. 1954, watercolor and ink on handmade Japanese paper, 6.5 x 19.7 ft., Seattle Art Museum, Ancient and Native American Art Acquisition Fund, McRae Foundation and Karen Jones, 2018.30, © Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas.

I ♥ Asian Art: Making Memories at the Asian Art Museum

Before closing for renovation, we asked visitors to the Seattle Asian Art Museum to tell us why they love Asian art and what excited them about our plans for the museum’s future. The Asian Art Museum reopened on February 8, but is currently closed for the wellbeing of our staff, volunteers, and visitors in light of the directives issued by the Governor’s office to limit the spread of coronavirus. Meanwhile, we are sharing these thoughts to help us all consider why we love the Asian Art Museum.

Today’s Asian Art Museum is inspired. The newly renovated and expanded Asian Art Museum breaks boundaries to offer a thematic, rather than geographic or chronological, exploration of art from the world’s largest continent. The restoration of the historic Art Deco building, improvements to critical systems, expanded gallery and education spaces, and a new park lobby that connects the museum to the surrounding Volunteer Park are just some of the ways the Asian Art Museum has been transformed and preserved as a cultural and community resource for future generations. Learn more about today’s Asian Art Museum.

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

My Favorite Things: Jeffrey Gibson

“I think many people may not know all of the stories behind these objects. They’re not just an image, they’re an object and they’re an object that’s been in use.”

– Jeffrey Gibson

Artist Jeffrey Gibson discusses the sculptural and metaphorical interest of this human-form neck ring used as a piece of dance regalia in Hamat’sa ceremony. Made from cedar and bark, this sculpture is installed hanging as it would be worn around the neck of a dancer. Consider the sound that it would make when activated by movement and the ceremony that it is part of the next time you visit SAM’s Native Art of the Americas galleries.

Artwork: “Bagwikala (Human Being Neck Ring)”, ca. 1910, Mungo Martin (Nakapankam), Kwakwaka’wakw, Kwagu’l, Fort Rupert, British Columbia, ca. 1884–1962, red cedar bark, yellow cedar, paint, human hair, 68 x 12 x 6 in. (172.72 x 30.48 x 15.24 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 83.241. Music: Natali Wiseman.