All posts in “SAM Staff”

A Dedicated Collector: Griffith Way (1920–2018)

The Seattle Art Museum is saddened to have lost a tremendous friend of the museum. Griffith Way was appreciated for his gentle nature combined with fine humor that enriched everyone who knew him. He became a Trustee of the Seattle Art Museum in 1995 and received honorary distinction in 2009. A graduate of the University of Washington, Griff was part of the first graduating class specializing in Japanese law. He was also an Adjunct Professor, University of Washington School of Law and spent decades periodically practicing law in Tokyo. In 2007, he was honored with the Order of the Rising Sun by His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito of Japan in recognition of his long-standing support to increase economic and cultural development between the United States and Japan.

Early in their years in Japan, after the conclusion of WWII, Griff and his wife, Pat, became interested in the then-new style of modern Japanese painting executed in traditional media and formats, known as nihonga; a late 19th-century style among artists seeking both cultural continuity and to address Japan’s emergence as a modern nation. Griff and Pat went on to develop a remarkable nihonga collection that they have shared broadly with the public.

In winter of 1999, SAM welcomed Modern Masters of Kyoto: The Transformation of Japanese Painting Traditions, Nihonga from the Griffith and Patricia Way Collection presented at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Their gift to SAM of 150 nihonga paintings has made SAM the repository of the largest collection of nihonga outside Japan.

As a member of SAM’s board, Griff served as Chair of the Seattle Asian Art Museum Committee and then as Honorary Chair of the Seattle Asian Art Museum Campaign Committee. As Trustee Emeritus of the Blakemore Foundation, Griff facilitated critical funding from the Foundation, which has supported SAM since 1992, most notably through the Blakemore Internship Program for Asian Art at the Asian Art Museum.

Griff’s unwavering dedication to the Seattle Asian Art Museum will be remembered by the museum and community in a future reading area named in his honor, of our McCaw Foundation Library. Griff’s commitment to Asian art and culture will continue to inspire us and our role in connecting with Asia as never before.

Photo: Team Photogenic
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Volunteer Spotlight: Kimber Bang

SAM runs on the love and dedication of our talented volunteers. With varied interests and backgrounds, each volunteer brings their unique perspective to the art at SAM and to the community that grows out of it! Kimber Bang is a tennis enthusiast with an interest in Greek mythology, specifically depictions of Leda and the Swan. Our Manager of Volunteers asked Kimber some questions so you can get to know her and give her a smile the next time you have an appointment at the Bullitt Library!
SAM: What is your current role?
Kimber Bang: SAMbassador/library volunteer/SAMVA executive committee chair.
How long have you been volunteering at Seattle Art Museum?
Five years this fall.
Why is SAM important to you?
Art is for everyone! SAM does an amazing job with its variety of exhibitions. I started coming to SAM in the early 80’s when I moved here. Being able to contribute to its mission of connecting art to life and engaging the community is a privilege and a real pleasure. I also enjoy all the volunteers and employees I have met here!
What is one of your favorite artworks in SAM’s collection, and why?
I have two. Leda and the Swan by John Cobert. The simplicity and angles are a joy. I can’t help but also look at the small pencil flower drawing in the bottom right corner that I was told was done by his young daughter. If it is on display I try to get visitors to go to the 4th floor to see the same subject in Leda and The Swan and Her Children by Vincent Sellaer from 1540.
I also love The Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal, Venice by Luca Carlevariis. It could be Venice today if you changed the outfits! The best part is how the perspective/size of the palace and view changes as you walk side to side in front of the art work.
When not at SAM, what do you do for fun?
I am an avid tennis player—particularly mixed doubles with my husband. I play golf, ski, run, hike, and travel. We are headed to the Amalfi Coast this fall. I also do Ikebana.
What is something that most people might not immediately know about you?
I am a retired ER/research nurse. I moved to Seattle in 1981 so I could work at Harborview in the trauma center.
What is a simple hack, trick, or advice that you’ve used over time to help you better fulfill your role?
A smile is never wasted! As a SAMbassador you may encounter visitors that may not want to interact but they always enjoy and appreciate a smile as they get off the escalator or cross paths in the galleries.
I find that knowing an obscure or special fact about an artwork helps to start a conversation while someone is viewing or is just finishing viewing a piece. If I share something interesting it can lead to further conversation or even the visitor teaching me something. I have learned so much about other museums and artists by listening to guests. Everyone likes to be heard! I have gotten many tips about places and things to see when I travel which only helps with my positions here.
– Danie Allinice, Manager of Volunteer Programs
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Introducing SAM’s 2018 Emerging Arts Leaders

“SAM connects art to life.”

These are the first five words of SAM’s mission statement. Staff and volunteers read these words on the wall every day when arriving at work. It’s the lens through which we view everything we do.

One crucial part of that mission is to work for equity and inclusion within our own walls, knowing that the museum must reflect the community it serves. In 2016, SAM launched the Emerging Arts Leader Internship, a paid internship aimed at candidates who are underrepresented in the museum field. It’s an interdisciplinary internship that allows the intern to interact with diverse aspects of museum work and contribute their unique insights and perspectives. Members of SAM’s Equity Team, representing several departments at the museum, make up the hiring committee for this important internship that is just one way SAM is working to create points of entry into the museum field.

This summer, two more interns begin their work. Near the end of their internship, they’ll lead a free tour in the galleries focusing on some what they’ve learned while contributing to SAM.

Introducing SAM’s 2018 Emerging Arts Leaders:

Dovey Martinez

Born and raised in Seattle, Dovey is triumphantly returning to the city after completing her Bachelor’s in Studio Art at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. As a Honduran American and the child of immigrants, Dovey initially explored becoming an immigration lawyer. Fortunately for the arts and for SAM, she turned her focus to art: to the formal qualities of paint, to depicting the lives of marginalized communities, and to working for equity and inclusion.

Dovey was a member of Rainier Scholars, a Seattle-based college access program. One of her mentors there said this about her work:

“Her paintings convey the real struggle and sacrifice of her family and the millions of other amazing families working in agricultural fields and cleaning houses in order to create opportunities for the next generation of children hoping to benefit from the American promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Thanks to her interest in contemporary art and with working with the public, Dovey will be working primarily with the Curatorial department and with the Education department on public programming.

Seohee Kim

Seohee is preparing to graduate this June from the University of Washington with a degree in Communications and a minor in Diversity. A first-generation Korean American, she grew up in a predominantly white community in the American South. A self-described Third Culture Kid, Seohee had to balance the divergent rules and codes of school and home. It was at college where she learned to “embrace both cultures equally, and to value the challenges as learned opportunities to wield as tools in assisting those who similarly feel wedged between cultural identities.”

Embracing her multifaceted identity and experience is what guides Seohee’s interest in communications, in which she’s excelled. One of her former professors shared,

“Seohee has a longstanding interest in visual cultural production as a medium for communicating about racialized difference. Her schoolwork and previous experiences have long focused on the simultaneous negotiation, power, and disconnections between her various identities.”

Because of her passion for storytelling and multilingual and intercultural fluencies, Seohee will work primarily with the Curatorial and Communications departments, researching and writing about art.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair

Image: Left, Dovey Martinez. Right, Seohee Kim.
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Volunteer Spotlight: Cleone Abrams

What is your current role?

I am currently interning as coordinator for the Volunteer Soiree in April, though I am also helping with additional tasks as the volunteer department is going through a staffing transition.

How long have you been volunteering at SAM?

I started volunteering in January 2018, but I hope to stay connected beyond my internship!

Why is SAM important to you?

I love museums because of the role and responsibility they have in society. They have always been interesting to me as a history major and someone who likes to look at rusted pieces of metal and shards of broken stone. However, when I moved to the Pacific Northwest for school, I connected to the regional art and histories of local museums which made the area feel like home. My work since then has been to increase the presence of museums in the area. I hope to make them more accessible and allow others to explore and connect with different cultures, ultimately building a stronger and more cohesive community.

What is your favorite piece of art in SAM’s collection, and why?

I love the red-figure pottery [figural ancient Greek vase paintings].  With with my background in history and a little experience in ceramics, I greatly appreciate the detail and work that went into their creation process.

When not at SAM, what do you do for fun?

Traveling has become my favorite activity. Whether it is for a day-trip to Westport or a three month study abroad in Europe, traveling has put the world—and my role in it—into perspective. I usually end up going to museums wherever I travel as well!

What is something that most people might not immediately know about you?

Most people do not know, and sometimes I still can’t believe it myself, that I took a gap year after high school and worked with the Nevada Conservation Corps. My greatest memory from the year was leading my crew to chainsaw trees and build a new trail in Great Basin National Park. It is now my favorite park—you should check it out!

What is a simple hack, trick, or advice that you’ve used over time to help you better fulfill your role?

I bought a new notebook specifically for my internship, and I bring it with me every day I come to the museum. This helps me keep track of my tasks for that day, comments to bring up in meetings, and general notes for the Soiree. I look forward to seeing everyone there!

– Chris Karamatas, Chair for the Seattle Art Museum Volunteer Association (SAMVA) Executive Committee

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David Yamato, SAM VSO

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: David Yamato

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a Visitor Services Officer (VSO) at SAM? Well, our VSOs are here to tell you. Learn about these familiar faces in the galleries and find out what artworks they spend the most time looking at. This month, we speak with David Yamato! Originally from Houston, Texas, Yamato earned his bachelor’s degree in Illustration from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. After his graduation, he returned to Houston and worked as an art teacher in the public school system. He decided to start a new career when he moved with his family to Seattle. Inspired by the experience of being surrounded with artwork on the many field trips he took his students on, he jumped at the chance to join the SAM team two years ago.
SAM: Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect opened October 19. What were you drawn to or surprised by in this exhibition?
David Yamato: The first thing that surprised me is the number of works that are in this exhibition. Looking at a painting felt like meditating to me and there sure is a lot to meditate on here. The second surprise was how much thought and emotion Andrew Wyeth put into every single painting. I highly recommend everyone who comes to see the show joins one of our tours.
What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
Although I’m deeply in love with every painting from our Australian Aboriginal collection, I still have to say my favorite thing at SAM is the museum itself. The 2004 to 2007 downtown expansion credited to architect Brad Cloepfil is my favorite part of all. While the building masterfully focuses on and showcases the museum collection, the architecture itself is also a masterpiece of light and space. I really hope more people will notice and talk about the building.
Who is your favorite artist?
My favorite is Vincent van Gogh because behind all the glory, fame, and perfection, the life of an artist can be a very very difficult path to take. As a practicing artist, the story of his life helps and inspires me to keep doing my work. I can’t tell you how many times I have cried when I have seen his paintings in real life.
What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
I remember a patron once asked me the meaning behind some minimalist art on view. I’m still asking myself this question about everything in the museum. Although we might very well find a direct answer in books or from a curator, I think it is very rewarding to search for a personal answer to that question. If you ever feel lost surrounded by all the artworks in the museum, it is time to do some detective work! Look for hints, not just from the artwork and its description, but also in terms of the time period it was made in and its relationship with other works in the museum.
Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I’m a comic book artist who works under a pen name which I prefer to keep secret (If you’re one of the rare few who know who I am, don’t go ruining the fun for everyone!). The styles I’m working in range from mystery to historical fiction to slices of life. I’m also conducting independent research on art censorship with a focus on comics and sequential art around the world. The world of comics is huge and I’m still discovering news and issues from places and countries that I never expected to have this problem. Drop me a note if you know anything interesting in regards to art censorship!
– Emily Jones, SAM Visitor Services Officer
Photo: Natali Wiseman
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Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Adera Gandy

Meet this month’s Visitor Services Officer (VSO), Adera (uh-dare-uh) Gandy, an actress, performance artist, and muse raised in the small waterfront suburb of Des Moines, Washington. After high school, Adera moved to Washington DC to study acting at Howard University. After two years of higher education, she chose to leave school to explore the city while working a receptionist job and paying for acting classes at The Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory. She moved back to Seattle in 2014 to be close to her family and the refreshing landscape of the Pacific Northwest. Prior to working as a VSO at SAM, Adera worked in admissions at the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop), formerly known as the Experience Music Project (EMP).

SAM: What are your thoughts on Troy Gua on view at TASTE Café in SAM?

Adera Gandy: Troy Gua’s work is stunning. At first glance I’m sure my pupils dilated. I love how rich the pigments are and the silky texture. The pieces on display are hard NOT to look at. I especially like Mana 2  for the shades of blue and the gradient effect. Every time I’m in TASTE Café, I walk up to that piece and get as close as I can respectfully. It’s nice to have digital print work in the museum for a change and I hope visitors and staff take the time to check it out.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Currently, my favorite piece on display is Holy Family with St John the Baptist and Saint Catherine by Antonio Guardi. It’s breathtaking. This painting glows and I love the jewel tones. The image is so soft and pillowy and gold and silver all at once. It seems to be shrouded in mystery, yet so inviting. I often wonder if a secret is being shared and what the figures sound like. It’s just so beautiful.

Who is your favorite artist?

Beyoncé, definitely.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Lose the judgement and open your mind. It’s so easy, as the viewer, to look at a piece of art as if it has to prove something to you. We actually do this with people too. This is something I try to practice while viewing myself: Let the piece be what it is. The artist behind whatever work you’re looking at is human, just like you. Their own thoughts, feelings, memories, experiences, traumas, doubts, dreams, passions, prejudices, fantasies, fears, and wishes went into their creation. Relieve yourself of the burden of “understanding” artworks and simply allow them to live. Resist the temptation to judge what a complete stranger has made as “good” or “bad.” And if you find yourself slipping, challenge your own thoughts and feelings; be honest with yourself about what part of your life’s story has led to feeling angered, aroused, or at peace while viewing a particular painting or sculpture. You might discover something within yourself and develop a more meaningful relationship with the work and the artist behind it.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

When I’m not working at SAM, I’m traveling, journaling, reading, auditioning, plotting my next Instagram performance art piece, and working on collaborations with other Seattle artists. I am looking to get into art modeling as well. Right now, I’m developing a website and blog with a friend of mine who lives in LA called Sacred Souls, which is intended to promote practices meant to spread love, cultivate compassion, and heal the collective mind and spirit. I’m really excited for it! I’m also nurturing honeydo, the theatre/movement performance duo I’ve formed with one of my best friends and collaborators, Lindsay Zae Summers. We are debuting at Kitchen Sessions at the Bellevue Art Museum the evening of Friday, November 10.

– Emily Jones, SAM Visitor Services Officer

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Art Champ: Lawrence Cenotto

Lawrence Cenotto, SAM’s multi-talented Events and Group Sales Manager, was selected the crowd favorite in the SAM Staff Art Show that hung in the South Hall Community Gallery, August 30 to September 24. A SAM employee since 2012, Cenotto has been making art for much longer than that. He often feels as if he was born in the wrong era and wishes he could have been a court painter for some king or queen hundreds of years ago (and he would like to point out that if any royalty or rich benefactors are reading this that he is available).

A Washington native, Cenotto grew up in Lakewood (which he reminds us is where COPS was filmed) and went to Gonzaga in Spokane (the other place in the state where COPS was filmed, Cenotto points out). His two passions have long been art and sports, though eventually the art became his focus. He recently combined the two when he got to be on a private, after-hours tour of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors with Russell Wilson and Ciara and take a picture of them in the Obliteration Room, a highlight of his five-and-a-half years here at SAM. This gets us to today, where we’ll be talking with Cenotto about his creative drive and his winning painting, Santa Maria della Salute.

SAM: When did you start painting? 

Lawrence Cenotto: My first memory of making art is drawing animals I found in books at my grandparent’s house or drawing football players on Monday Night Football while watching with my grandpa when I was about five or six years old. I’m sure there was some tempera or finger painting in there somewhere, but I didn’t really start painting until high school when I started making watercolors of The Beatles and landscapes from photos I found in the stacks of National Geographic magazines we had in the art lab.

Did you study art at Gonzaga?

I started as an art major there, yes, but an early morning class my first semester staring at slides of pre-historic art made me feel like I was sitting in Ben Stein’s class in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so I switched to a business major while keeping art as a minor so I could still take the studio classes.

I see a lot of paintings of Venice on your website, did something about that specific location inspire you? Did the Seeing Nature exhibition strike a chord with you?

Venice is my favorite city, along with Paris. I‘ve always been a big fan of architecture. The uniqueness of the city, mixed with my northern Italian bloodline, made me fall in love with the city. I’ve always liked building things and my brain  is wired very much like an engineer, but my heart draws me to the art side of things. Had I gone to a different school I probably would have gone into architecture but Gonzaga did not have an architecture program. I respect the art form from a design perspective and all the planning that goes into it (I am very meticulous) and maybe painting buildings is my way of getting that out of my system like I’m George Costanza pretending to be an architect. Seeing Nature was definitely one of my favorite exhibitions that SAM has had (probably right behind Intimate Impressionism) because it incorporated a lot of paintings of Venice with my favorite art movement, Impressionism.

Can you tell me more about the two versions of you painting, Santa Maria della Salute and the 10 years between them? You mentioned that you hope that you’ll think back on this painting in 10 years like you think back on the original, what do you mean by this?  

Unfortunately the older version can’t be seen anymore unless you put it through an x-ray (because I painted the new one on top of the old one) but I do have pictures to show the difference. When I look at the newer version I think it is much better than the older version, so 10 years from now I hope to be able to continue to develop my painting techniques. In the meantime I can indulge myself in delusions of grandeur in envisioning future art historians putting my paintings through rigorous x-ray testing like I’m Leonardo da Vinci or something.

Do you often revisit paintings and paint them again? 

Not very often. This might be the second painting I have re-done, though I am currently working on one that I originally completed around the same time period. One of my biggest problems in painting is that I get too excited to start the painting itself so I rush through the drawing process and often find things I wish I had changed, which is hard to fix once the paint is wet. I think I’m saving myself time but it ends up taking longer than if I had just focused on finalizing the drawing. It’s like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football . . . he knows that Lucy is going to pull it at the last second but he can’t help himself.

What inspires you? 

I don’t claim that my art has any deep meaning or significance. I just try to capture moments and places that I find beauty in. Since I don’t have a knack for photography, painting is the way I best express that. Other artists definitely inspire me—I want to be able to see the world as they do and I want to challenge myself to see if I can compare to their skill. I am definitely more of a realist, although I would like to have more of a “painterly” style like Edouard Manet (my favorite artist). I have a hard time not trying to make my paintings look as real as possible. My other favorite artists are Diego Velasquez and Canaletto (who I am probably the most similar to in terms of style and subject matter and last name).

Lastly, how long have you been playing fantasy football? Because I have lost every game! 

I started the SAM league three years ago but I’ve played with my friends for about 15 years and it’s one of the most frustrating things I have ever subjected myself too. The stars aligned once and I won back in college but other than that it’s a never-ending cycle of disappointment and thinking I jinxed someone when they get injured which is why I never draft any Seahawks. To go back to the Charlie Brown example, I know I’m going to be mad at the end of the year and that the fantasy football gods are going to pull the football away from me at the last moment as soon as I get a glimmer of hope, but I can’t help myself from trying to kick it anyways.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter/ Content Strategist

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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Volunteer Spotlight: Chris Karamatas

Volunteer Spotlight: Chris Karamatas

Because SAM relies on it’s nearly 500 volunteers to make the museum run, we’re taking the time to share a bit about them with you, the adoring art lovers that interact with our volunteers every time you enter our doors, whether you realize it or not. Volunteers at SAM lead tours, check coats, staff the information desk, and more. This month we spotlight Chris Karamatas, a SAM volunteer since 2015.

SAM: What is your current role?

Karamatas: I am excited to be the incoming Chair for the Seattle Art Museum Volunteer Association (SAMVA) Executive Committee. We try to address the needs, and improve effectiveness of each of the dozen volunteer groups, in support SAM’s mission—and ultimately improve our patrons’ experience and appreciation of SAM and art. I am also part of the SAMbassador program, so on Saturdays you might find me in the galleries interacting with visitors.

What are your current favorite pieces?

I’m a bit reluctant to say because it seems every time I really like a piece, that is the harbinger for it being swapped out with one of the other 25,000 pieces in the SAM’s catalogue. My favorites change almost weekly. My current Top 10 pieces of the permanent collection that I am really liking are (in no particular order):

10) Canoe Breaker by Robert Davidson

SAM had a beautiful exhibit of Robert Davidson a few years back, so I am grateful to Barbara, and all the curators who have introduced me to so many artists who I would not otherwise have ever known. I appreciate the form lines of Native American art, and the associated stories. In this piece Davidson merges modern art with traditional native techniques (of form lines and the ovoid and u-shape, ); add those great colors: wow!

9) The Triumph of Valor Over Time by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

I especially like the freer preparatory sketch we have on display, but then going in to the Porcelain Room and looking up at the ceiling at the finished fresco is stunning. I like the depiction of Valor prevailing over Time (who watches helplessly from the shadows below, his scythe overturned), and over Ignorance (in the lower corner).

8) Aphrodite Torso

Within the stiffness of rock one is able to capture, movement and flow. I am always in awe that over 2,000 years ago as a species we humans were able to create such beauty, and aspire towards certain high ideals. I sometimes wonder what beauty we will leave behind that our descendants will similarly admire 2,000 years from now.

7) Takpekpe by El Anatsui

Based on traditional Kente cloth from Ghana, El Anatsui creates these beautiful glimmering regal textiles from discarded metallic materials like old can pieces, bottle caps, and parts from liquor bottles. I appreciate the reference to his African culture: the significance of cloth which traditionally commemorates significant events, as well as the reference of libations to honor ancestors. But also perhaps a commentary on refuse, abuse, and consumerism.

6) The Orders of the Night by Ansleim Keifer

I am drawn to its scale and textures. In this work the sunflowers represent the stars, and the connection between heaven and earth. There is a companion piece where Keifer is laying on the ground with a star filled sky above.

5) How My Mother’s Embroidered Apron Unfolds In My Life by Arshile Gorky

Gorky created a series of these abstracts helping usher in abstract impressionism here in America. It was a brief moment of relative happiness in an otherwise tragic life, as he recalls memories of his past.

4) Dark Figures with Green by Lester Johnson

Primal, intense, minimal, powerful . . . I can almost picture the artist carving into his canvas in a subtractive manor, perhaps partly influenced by action art of the abstract impressionists, or a reaction to their color fields. And living though the dark times of the Vietnam War, assassinations, etc.

3) Tumbleweed by James Rosenquist

The different materials, overloaded with symbolism. But the cold metal barbed wire, wooden hedgehog barrier, and the light shining within (perhaps spelling something) is like a visual poem to me.

2) Libation by Andre Masson

It’s fresh, it’s colorful, whimsical, and fun. The abstract shapes convey a feeling of perhaps overindulging. I like how Masson experimented with altered states of consciousness and certain fundamental human impulses.

1) Gathering Storm by Lin Onus

The unique perspective (water, land, sky), and how the artist captures dusk—I would love to see the other 11 paintings he did of this same location, but at different times. The combination of different themes, western and Aboriginal in this case, makes this piece special.

(Of course, now that I’ve listed these, another 10 come to mind:

Fishing Boats at Etretat – Claude Monet

Middle Fork – John Grade (not part of the collection, but currently on view)

Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast – Albert Bierstadt

Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene – Georges de la Tour

The Baptism of Christ – Giovanni Foggini

Boys Blowing Bubbles – Michaelina Woutiers

Saint Augustine in Ecstasy – Bartolome Esteban Murillo

Wheat Field – Paul Camille Guigou

Thermometer – Jasper Johns

Two Figures – Emilio Amero

Beyond visual arts, what else inspires you?

When I first moved to Washington I was introduced to local poet Sam Hamill and his collection Destination Zero is still one of my favorites. Films like Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire also move me. The cinematography is beautiful, and his examination of what makes us human and the divine is poetic. I also play guitar and love music. Musician Nick Cave appeals to me (he also appears in the above film). I like a lot of the late 70’s British scene, bands like The Jam. Also like the Icelandic band Sigur Ros.

What is a simple hack, trick, or advice that you’ve used over time to help you better fulfil your role?

I try to always listen, I have learned so much from visitors. I try to be aware of my body language (from not crossing hands, to smiling). Treat people with care and act as if they are guests visiting my house.

Anything else you wish to share?

I just want to express my gratitude to all the outstanding people that make the Seattle Art Museum such a great place; all the volunteers, my SAMbassador colleagues, the SAMVA board, Visitor Services Officers, SAM staff (especially Jenny and Danie), the curators, and of course our director Kimerly. I am always impressed with their generosity, kindness and dedication.

– Jenny Woods, Manager of Volunteer Programs

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SAM Staff Reads: Kusama’s Sleepless Midnight

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

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

SLEEPLESS MIDNIGHT

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

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

(1987)

– Yayoi Kusama

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

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

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

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

– Rayna Mathis, School & Educator Programs Coordinator

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