All posts in “SAM’s Collection”

Reimagining the Galleries at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

When the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens next year, visitors will experience the museum’s renowned collection of Asian art in a whole new way. Most of the original galleries will showcase the museum’s collection, while the building’s new gallery—housed in the expansion—will focus on rotating special exhibitions. SAM’s curatorial team saw the renovation process as an exciting chance to rethink how visitors engage with the Asian art collection. “How often does a museum go offline and move everything out?” notes Foong Ping, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art. She continues, “This was an opportunity to dream a little bit.” 

The curators convened groups of scholars and community advisors to explore approaches to displaying SAM’s artworks. Moving away from the chronological and geographic organization of most museums, they took a thematic approach instead. Each gallery of Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, the new collection installation, focuses on a theme central to Asia’s diverse arts and societies, ranging from worship and celebration, to visual arts and literature, to clothing and identity. For instance, a gallery titled Spiritual Journeys brings many objects together, from a Pakistani Bodhisattva, to an Indian Stupa, to a Chinese demon, to explore spiritual imagery through unifying ideas such as spiritual guides and guardians. The reinstallation provides an experience of great diversity and a broad context within which to engage with artworks.

Boundless also presents varied voices and perspectives on artworks to offer visitors a wide array of approaches to appreciating SAM’s collection. Along with traditional curatorial texts, artists and Seattle community members also offer their perspectives. The Color in Clay gallery presents a large selection of ceramics from China as well as vibrant works from Vietnam to Iran in a natural light-filled gallery without any contextualizing text. Monitors with more information will be available, but Foong’s hope is for visitors to be immersed in looking closely at subtle differences in tones and textures in the clay and the glazes. “I’m particularly excited about this display because it represents a completely different experience than we’ve ever had at the Asian Art Museum,” she says.

The first special exhibition Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art also draws primarily from the museum’s collection. It brings together works by 12 artists born in different parts of Asia—Azerbaijan, Iran, India, Thailand, China, Korea, and Japan—who have all lived outside of Asia and are exploring their Asian heritage from global perspectives. Be/longing features Some/One by Do Ho Suh—a sculpture so large that we were previously unable to exhibit it at the Asian Art Museum. SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art Xiaojin Wu explains, “Some/One is an imposing work that compels the viewer to think about identity and our relationship with society—issues we all care about.” Positioning Some/One alongside works by other contemporary artists, visitors will encounter its powerful resonance in a new exhibition, a new gallery, a new building, in the new year.

Images: Some/One (detail), 2001, Do Ho Suh, stainless steel military dog-tags, nickel-plated copper sheets, steel structure, glass fiber reinforced resin, rubber sheets, diameter at base: 24 ft. 4 in.; Height: 81 in., Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2002.43, © Do Ho Suh. Dish with Foliated Rim, late 15th–early 16th century, Vietnamese, blue and white ceramic, 13 1/4″ diameter, Mary and Cheney Cowles, the Margaret E. Fuller Fund, and the 1999 Maryatt Gala Fund, 2000.118. Seated demon figure, 14th century, Chinese, bronze with gilt, 3 1/4 x 2 x 1 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 52.45. Lined robe (detail), 20th century, Japanese, plain weave silk crepe with paste-resist stencil decoration (Oki., bingata) lined with modern replacement silk broadcloth, 47 3/4″ long (from collar) x 43″ wide, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 89.155, © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Bodhisattva, ca. 2nd–3rd century, Pakistani, Gandhara region, dark gray schist 45 x 15 x 7 in. Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.63.

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OBJECT OF THE WEEK: Study for Aleko’s Horse

Marc Chagall was a prolific artist, producing numerous pieces in a variety of media. Renowned for his richly colored, idiosyncratic style of painting that weds abstraction and Cubism, some of his lesser-known masterpieces revolved around the theater. Chagall’s relationship with the stage began in 1911, when he worked on set designs for the Ballets Russes. He continued to contribute to Russian-based stage designs throughout the ‘20s, before moving to Paris in 1923.[1] While this was an artistically productive period for Chagall, the Nazi occupation of France made living in Paris unsafe for the artist, who was Jewish. With the assistance of organizations working to extricate artists and intellectuals from Europe, Chagall and his wife immigrated to New York for the duration of World War II, arriving in the United States in 1941.  

In 1942, Chagall was hired by the Ballet Theater of New York to design the ballet costumes and sets for a new play. Based on the poem “The Gypsies,” by Alexander Pushkin, the ballet Aleko featured music by Tchaikovsky.[2] The ballet follows the story of Aleko, the protagonist who falls in love with a Romani girl named Zemfira. Their love is not everlasting, however, and by the fourth act Aleko kills Zemfira and her new lover in a fit of jealous rage. While Chagall had worked on set designs before, this was the first time he applied his skills to a ballet. He ultimately designed four backdrops—one for each act—and over 70 costumes. While the ballet’s production was to be completed in New York, union rules forbade Chagall from painting his own sets. As a result, production moved to Mexico City, an environment which greatly influenced Chagall’s designs. Heavily inspired by both Russian folklore and Mexican art and architecture, Chagall produced beautifully whimsical hand-painted ballet costumes and backdrops, including numerous design studies.

Chagall’s Study for Aleko’s Horse is one such study, merging images from both the second and fourth acts of the play. The study’s rich, vibrant colors and whimsical subject matter capture the dynamic and psychological aspects of the story. In the second act, which revolves around a lively carnival, Aleko and Zemfira are still in love. By the fourth act, Aleko dreams of strange and nightmarish fantasies, with images that twist and swirl before his eyes. Aleko’s nightmares take him to the brink of insanity—and, jealous and enraged, he kills Zemfira, in love with another man.[3] The juxtaposition of these two scenes represents the dramatic turn of events, synthesized in Chagall’s study as a densely layered, colorful dreamscape.

Hayley Makinster, SAM Curatorial Intern

[1] Stephanie Barron, “Marc Chagall and Twentieth-Century Designs for the Stage,” LACMA Unframed, 1 August 2017. https://unframed.lacma.org/2017/08/01/marc-chagall-and-twentieth-century-designs-stage
[2] Liesl Bradner, “Marc Chagall Reveals his Theatrical Side in LACMA’s ‘Fantasies for the Stage,’” LA Times, 23 July 2017. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-ca-cm-chagall-lacma-20170714-story.html
[3] Leland Windreich, “Massine’s ‘Aleko,’” Dance Chronicle 8, no. ¾ (1985): 156-160, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1567580
Image: Study for Aleko’s Horse, 1953-56, Marc Chagall, Oil on canvas, 18 × 24 in. (45.7 × 61 cm), Gift of Gladys and Sam Rubinstein, 2014.26.9 Estate of Marc Chagall/Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
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Welcome Home, Ancestral Modern!

Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan-Levi Collection recently concluded a tour to four museums where it opened thousands of eyes to the visionary innovations of a new chapter of art history. When this exhibition first opened in 2012 in Seattle, one critic described it as:

National and international visitors came to Seattle and paid attention to this gathering of art which led to a connection with the American Federation for the Arts through their board member, Kimerley Rorchach. The AFA took on the responsibility for finding other museums and organizing the logistics for traveling the exhibition. During three years, it was seen at the Frist Center for the Arts in Nashville, the Chazen Art Museum in Madison, the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, and the Audain Museum in Whistler. 

Amazingly enough, the entrance to the exhibition often focused on a painting that has the startling quality of a stop sign, by painter Ngilpirr Spider Snell, who is warning you not to get too close to a sacred body of water that is being guarded by a snake. 

That warning leads into looking at dots, mazes and linear patterns that may not always be what they seem. In Australian Aboriginal art, dots can trace the journey of a creative ancestor.

Or dots can punish a boy who has stolen an emu’s heart by turning him into a colorful whirlwind

A maze can be a map of an artist’s homeland filled with sandhills.

And linear dashes of paint may conjure up leaves full of medicinal strength blown across a windswept desert. 

This art constantly offers many new visual experiences—peering underground to see yams grow; trekking over vast salt lakes; following the trail of a blue-tongued lizard or encountering a lightning-spitting serpent in swirling water. It is endowed with the vision of the world’s oldest living cultures whose artists have ushered in an indigenous renaissance since the 1970s. They focus our attention on the remarkable continent these communities have managed for centuries.    

At each venue, the exhibition was accompanied by texts written by SAM, and designers put the art in interpretive themes also established by SAM.  Throughout the tour, the couple whose collection was being featured made their way to the openings to speak with the press, educators, staffs, and members of each museum. Thanks to Robert Kaplan and Margaret Levi for making this extraordinary tour possible, and to all the artists whose creativity continues to challenge our eyes to adjust to what they consider significant. 

– Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Installation view of Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan-Levi Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2012, photo: Nathaniel Wilson. Kurtal, 2005, Ngilperr Ngalyaku Spider Snell, © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VISCOPY, Australia. Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming (detail), 1996, Kathleen Petyarre, © Kathleen Petyarre. Walu (detail), 2008, Tommy Mitchell, © Tommy Mitchell. Yunarla (detail), 2010, Yukultji Napangati, © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VISCOPY, Australia. Leaves (detail), 2002, Gloria Tamerr Petyarre, © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VISCOPY, Australia, photo: Paul Macapia. Audain Art Museum, Whistler, BC, Canada, photo: Pamela McClusky. Audain Art Museum opening with Bob Kaplan and Margaret Levi, and Director, Curtis Collins.
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Docents Defined: David Turner

Do you love art and can’t wait to spend loads of time in the Seattle Asian Art Museum when it reopens? We’ve got the volunteer position for you! SAM is recruiting new docents to start training to lead tours of the newly installed galleries and you have until May 31 to apply.

Our docents have a wide range of interests and background. Take David, for instance—he started volunteering to lead tours to get more involved in the arts community and his favorite artwork in the museum changes with every tour! Want to learn more about being a docent? Join SAM staff and current docents at our Docent Open House on May 16, 2019 from 6–7 pm

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you decide to become a docent?

David: It was a way for me to get to be connected with the community when I came to Seattle.

What’s the best part about being leading school tours?

The exposure to the art and interacting with kids. One visit to a museum is never enough to get to understand or enjoy something. My joy in being in the museum comes from close contact with art over a period of time. It’s more meaningful when I can try to engage a group of kids or even adults in responding to an artwork. It’s a challenge, but it’s really a pleasure.

What’s your favorite work of art at SAM?

That changes every tour. I tell every group I take into the galleries, “I’m going to take you to see my favorite piece.” I want to express to kids, and everyone else on my tours, that I have regard for the work. Yesterday, my favorite piece was Market Scene by Paul Bril.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

The emotional response to Marie Watt’s Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations in the Northwest Coast galleries. My take on it has always been that every blanket has a story and Blanket Stories encapsulates the stories of the people who created the materials in the piece. I ask viewers if they have a blanket story and it’s always very moving. It’s a very meaningful moment when they see it’s not just about a blanket, but that this is a collection of human beings’ lives.

What advice do you have for people interested in the docent program?

Be yourself. That’s it! A mistake that’s easy to make is to think that there’s a canned presentation that you’re going to give. Those are not the most interesting tours by any means. When docents have internalized a piece, it makes a big difference in the way the audience that you’re speaking to reacts.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

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Muse/News: Pie art, Seattle style, and obvious plants

SAM News

Lauren Ko creates stunning pie art on her @lokokitchen Instagram—check out the pie she made inspired by SAM’s show! There’s more details here. Get yourself to SAM: Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer closes this Sunday, May 12!

Ring in wedding season—you know you love it!—with this Seattle Bride look at a beautiful wedding at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Aww.

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald takes a look at the new fashion exhibit at MOHAI on—yes, really—Seattle style.

Watch the Seattle Channel’s CityStream story about the forthcoming return of the historic Louisa Hotel, including the fate of their rediscovered Prohibition-era murals.

Seattle Magazine’s Gavin Borchert and Gwendolyn Elliott on Amazon’s internal creative program, Expressions, which gives employees opportunities to get creative.

“Reverberating beyond the badge-required halls of Amazonia is a bigger conversation about the company’s contributions—or lack thereof—to Seattle’s creative community as a whole, considering how much it’s altered the city’s physical and cultural footprint.”

Inter/National News

John Grade does it again: Check out this stunning installation by the artist set in a clearing of an Italian forest, which turns rainwater into the droplets of a natural chandelier.

An appreciation for the “guardian of Black cinema” by the New Yorker’s Doreen St. Felix of the director John Singleton, who passed away this week at the age of 51.

Artnet’s Melissa Smith talks with Black artists about the paradigm shift of increased interest in their work—and the attendant pressures, including stress, burnout, and exploitation.

“Navigating the limited existing roles for [black artists] is exhausting, and never-ending,” Jemison says. “And black artists are very aware that being selected is super arbitrary and predicated on partial understanding of the work.”

And Finally

All Alone Bert. Pre-Cracked Egg. Funeral Kazoo. They’re all an Obvious Plant.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

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My Favorite Things: Marc Onetto on “Shipwreck off the Coast of Alaska” at Seattle Art Museum

“This painting is in fact very good when you think about the fact that the painter only had a sketch from the logbook and some description. He had never seen it.”
– Marc Onetto

Take it from a sailor who has been to Lituya Bay—Louis-Philippe Crépin accurately captured the setting of this expedition disaster in his painting, Shipwreck off the Coast of Alaska. Born in Paris, Crépin became a specialist in marine painting and made his debut at the Salon of 1796 with a painting of the port of Brest. His primary patron throughout his long career would be the Naval Ministry of the government. Many of his works are in the National Maritime Museum in Paris, while others are in provincial museums throughout France. This work is likely the first painting by Crépin in an American museum.

Marc Onetto sails to Alaska annually. After finding a publication of explorer Count Jean-François de La Pérouse’s logbook in California, Onetto was inspired to visit Lituya Bay, among other uncharted Alaskan territories where La Pérouse’s expedition traveled in 1786. Thankfully Onetto has not encountered the early morning ebbing current in the pass of the bay that led to the tragic death of 21 sailors in a matter of minutes. Experience the drama of this painting in person when you see it hanging in Extreme Nature: Two Landscape Paintings from the Age of Enlightenment on view through December 9, 2018.

Want to know more about this painting and how it came into SAM’s collection? Read “The Ins and Outs of Acquisitions: A Newly Discovered french Masterpiece.” 

Subscribe to our My Favorite Things playlist on YouTube for more interviews featuring artists, innovators, specialists, and community leaders.

Artwork: Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska, 1806, Louis-Philippe Crepin, French, 1772-1851, oil on canvas, 40 15/16 × 58 11/16 in., Seattle Art Museum, European Art Acquisition Fund; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund; by exchange Gift of Mrs. Lew V. Day in memory of her husband; Gift of Arthur F. Ederer; H. Neil Meitzler, Issaquah, Washington; Col. Philip L. Thurber Memorial; Gift of Mrs. Donald E. Frederick; The late Mr. Arrigo M. Young and Mrs. Young in memory of their son, Lieut. (j.g.) Lawrence H. Young; Phillips Morrison Memorial; Gift of Mrs. Oswald Brown, in memory of her parents Simeon and Fannie B. Leland; Gift of Miss Grace G. Denny in memory of her sister Miss Coral M. Denny; Gift of friends in memory of Frank Molitor; Purchased from funds contributed in memory of Henry H. Judson; Purchased from the bequest of Charles M. Clark; Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr.; Norman and Amelia Davis Collection; Norman Davis Collection; Mrs. Cebert Baillargeon, in memory of her husband, 2017.15.
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Conserving SAM’s Asian Art Collection

Thanks to funding from Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, a pair of important 17th-century Japanese screens, Scenes in and around the Capital, are currently being restored by specialists at Studio Sogendo, a private studio in California. The screens, likely created by a machi-eshi, or “town painter,” present a panoramic view of Kyoto during the Edo period. They show both Kyoto’s center and its periphery, and give insight into the daily lives of different social classes, in addition to representing seasonal festivals.

When the screens first arrived at SAM in 1975, they were already in fragile condition and by the time this conservation work began in 2017, extensive repairs were desperately needed. Painted using ink, color, and gold, and mounted on wooden frames, the screens are being restored using traditional Japanese methods and materials. I was able to visit Studio Sogendo while one of the panels had been stripped of its backings and laid on a light table, allowing a rare perspective of the materials and quality of the painting. The conservation treatment has been invaluable, not just in terms of preserving the paintings, but also in offering opportunities for examination and study. The internal frames must be replaced and expert craftsmen in Japan made new custom frames for the work. The incredibly precise joinery of the new frames can be seen in these images. The conservation phase of the project is nearing completion and the reassembly of the structure, replacement of the mount fabrics, and retouching of the areas of loss is underway.

 

This crucial project would not be possible without Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, one of few programs dedicated to preserving historically or culturally significant artworks. We look forward to the return of Scenes in and around the Capital, which will be on view among SAM’s extensive Asian art collection when the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens in late 2019!

– Nicholas Dorman, SAM Chief Conservator

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Object of the Week: Model Totem Pole

The black stone used for this carving by Haida artist Charles Edensaw is argillite, a carbonaceous kaolinite shale. Truly unique, this sedimentary rock is found in only one place in the world: Haida Gwaii. Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, the archipelago in British Columbia is home to this very special material and the similarly distinct Haida artistic traditions that have arisen from it. More specifically, argillite comes from the Slatechuck Mountain. And while Haida peoples have accessed the Slatechuck quarry and produced such argillite carvings for centuries, it was not until 1941 that the quarry site (measuring approximately 18 hectares) was officially designated as land belonging to the Skidegate band, assuring that access would remain theirs in perpetuity.[1]

For those who might not identify as geologists, or even amateur geologists, the slate’s black color comes from its high levels of carbon. A kaolinite shale, it is composed of clay material that has been subjected to heat and pressure over geologic time, resulting in a highly uniform and workable rock.[2] For example, it ranks at two and a half on the Moh’s scale of mineral hardness (on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being diamond-hard).[3]

Measuring 19 inches tall, this model totem pole (qwa.a gyaa.angaa) was expertly carved out of one piece of argillite. Perhaps it goes without saying, but the larger the carving, the more difficult it is to do successfully, as natural imperfections in the shale grain can result in fine fractures. Further, argillite is sensitive to its environmental surroundings, and can absorb and desorb moisture quickly; it is essential that freshly quarried argillite is slowly and carefully dried, otherwise it is prone to cracking.

Currently on view in the third floor Native Art of the Americas galleries, this piece makes clear just how skilled and masterful Edensaw was as a Haida carver. The figures on the pole from top to bottom are: a bear holding five stacked cylinders—representing a ringed basketry hat—above an eagle’s head; two human heads on either side, also wearing ringed hats; a bear, holding its tongue; and another bear, holding a seal-like figure with a fish-like tail. Though quite a lot to fit into 19 inches, compositionally, each animal and human figure bears exquisite incising and detail.

Such model poles were primarily made for commercial sale as Haida contact with Americans and Europeans increased during the 1800s. In fact, around the time that this piece was made (circa 1885), argillite carving experienced a surge in output corresponding with an exploration of new forms. As traditional Haida ceremonial objects and practices were increasingly banned by the Canadian government, new forms of creative expression thus emerged.[4] Edensaw was an important figure during this period, whose personal style influenced many other Haida artists living in Skidegate and Masset. With a deeper understanding of argillite’s geological properties, rarity, and cultural significance, this carving by Edensaw is all the more impressive.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Model totem pole (qwa.a gyaa.angaa), ca. 1885, Haida, argillite, 19 x 3 x 2 3/4 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.129
[1] “Haida Argillite,” Simon Fraser University, Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, accessed July 11, 2018, https://www.sfu.ca/archaeology/museum/exhibits/virtual-exhibits/haida-argillite.html.
[2] “Care of Argillite,” Government of Canada, accessed July 10, 2018, https://www.canada.ca/en/conservation-institute/services/conservation-preservation-publications/canadian-conservation-institute-notes/care-argillite.html.
[3] Peter L. Macnair and Alan L. Hoover, The Magic Leaves: A History of Argillite Carving (Victoria, B.C.: British Columbia Provincial Museum, 1984), 17.
[4] Macnair and Hoover, 113.
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My Favorite Things: C. Davida Ingram on Sonny Assu’s Breakfast Series

“I think the value of Sonny Assu’s piece, Breakfast Series in SAM’s permanent collection, has a lot to do with righting the wrongs of history.” – C. Davida Ingram

Consider the value of contemporary Native art through the perspective of Seattle-based artist, curator, educator, and writer, C. Davida Ingram. Visit SAM’s Native Arts of the Americas galleries and the Art and Life Along the Northwest Coast installation to contextualize Sonny Assu’s Native formline design elements in his representation of Tony the Tiger or the “12 essential lies and deceptions” in his box of Lucky Beads. How does your perspective on food and access to land change as you consider the serious history behind this seemingly lighthearted artwork?

Artwork: “Breakfast Series,” 2006, Sonny Assu (Gwa’gwa’da’ka), Kwakwaka’wakw, Laich-kwil-tach, Wei Wai Kai, born 1975, five boxes digitally printed with Fome-cor, 12 x 7 x 3 in. each, of 5, Gift of Rebecca and Alexander Stewart, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.93, © Sonny Assu.
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