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Muse/News: Party people, Black pioneers, and surrealist snacks

SAM News

Last Friday, SAM presented another edition Remix, its creative late-night out featuring music, tours, and art-making. And as per usual, the beautiful people of Seattle showed up and showed out: Check out these colorful photo slideshows from Seattle Refined and Queerspace Magazine. See you at the next edition of Remix in March!

Local News

Andrew Hamlin for Northwest Asian Weekly on the Wing Luke’s new show, Worlds Beyond Here: The Expanding Universe of Science Fiction; Tamiko Thiel, whose augmented reality experience appeared at the Olympic Sculpture Park in 2016, is included in this group show.

The Seattle Times launches Art Outings, in which their critics find places where art and snack & drinks are brought together. First up: The Frye Museum’s just-launched Third Thursday Happy Hours.

Real Change’s cover story this week: Lisa Edge’s review of Tacoma’s Washington State Historical Museum show featuring rarely shown works on paper by Jacob Lawrence about Tumwater founder George Bush.

“Lawrence depicting Bush’s migration is a convergence of two important pioneers. Bush, in the literal sense as he moved out west a century before The Great Migration, and Lawrence because of the barriers he broke within the art world. The series is an opportunity to learn more about two people who thrived in spite of entrenched barriers.”

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Sheila Regan reviews Art for a New Understanding, the new survey at the Crystal Bridges Museum, calling it “a serious attempt to redefine what contemporary Indigenous art means today.”

Brigit Katz for Hyperallergic on Color Problems, a “widely overlooked, yet staggering” book on color theory by Emily Noyes Vanderpoel first published in 1901—it’s now getting a careful reprinting.

Carl Zimmer of the New York Times reports on the extraordinary discovery in Borneo of what scientists are calling “the oldest figurative art in the world”—it’s 40,000 years old!

“The early images and figures might have illustrated stories contained vital information for how to survive in hard times, Dr. Conard said. Or perhaps the drawings helped joined people as a group, encouraging them to cooperate—‘a kind of glue to hold these social units together,’ he said.”

And Finally

Snacks – with a Surrealist manifesto.

Photo: Jen Au
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Toyin Ojih Odutola’s Postures: In This Imperfect Present Moment

We read each other’s body language all day, every day. In the museum, surrounded by artworks depicting a variety of figures and movements, this instinct can be put to an international test of how well we understand gestures and postures. A walk through the galleries can simulate what it’s like to be in another country, where you don’t know the verbal language and need to navigate based on reading bodies.

In the exhibition In This Imperfect Present Moment, a person’s body is telling you to stop and recognize that their moment has come, and you are a vital participant. They are ready to talk. Which language are they likely to speak? Toyin Ojih Odutola was born in Nigeria, grew up in Alabama, went to art school in San Francisco, and now lives in New York. She’s given many insightful interviews that provide a sense of the conversation you might have with her about her work. For now, here’s just one quote: “I’m attracted to the understated in art: moments that can be quickly passed over, but are complex and layered. There’s nothing wrong with bombast, and the maximalist in aesthetic and presentation, and I often exploit those very qualities. But nothing beats the underwhelming, the quiet, the subtle. When you see the economy of line used so effortlessly—that always gets me, because it isn’t easy.”

– Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: In This Imperfect Present Moment, 2016, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Nigerian, b. 1985, charcoal, pastel, pencil on paper, 83 x 24 in., Private collection, © Toyin Ojih Odutola, photo courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. You are welcome, 2012, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Nigerian, b. 1985, pen, ink on paper, 11 x 11 in., Private collection, © Toyin Ojih Odutola, photo courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
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Object of the Week: Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture

Though this 1957 photograph is by Imogen Cunningham, its subject is Bay Area artist Ruth Asawa (1926–2013). For decades Asawa has been little known beyond the West Coast, and is all too belatedly finding herself rewritten into the history of American art. Rather than concentrate on photographer Cunningham, this post focuses on Asawa, her diaphanous wire sculptures, and her complex identity as a Japanese-American woman artist.

Cunningham’s photograph is a quiet yet evocative image: Asawa sits with her face occluded by the semi-transparent curvature of one of her hanging wire sculptures. She’s surrounded by her four children, ranging from toddler to six years old. Each, including Asawa, is engaged in and absorbed by his or her own activity: reading, playing, observing, drinking, and making. The iconic photograph has often been read in gendered terms, focusing on Asawa’s demonstrated domesticity, femininity, and passivity. Like too many women artists, Asawa has been positioned primarily as a wife and mother—identities that override her identity as an artist, which can and should include these other identities. As curator Helen Molesworth discusses in her recent paper delivered last month at the Smithsonian, “Ruth Asawa: ‘San Francisco Housewife and Mother’,” this image has additional import, positioning art making as a social activity, and Asawa, therefore, as a citizen above all else.

As a child, Asawa would draw and make art while in a World War II internment camp with her Japanese parents. She was not an outside or self-taught artist though, for she attended Black Mountain College and studied for three years and two summers (1946–49) with Josef Albers, Merce Cunningham, and Buckminster Fuller, among others. For Asawa, “Black Mountain gave you the right to do anything you wanted to do. And then you put a label on it afterwards. I think that’s the nice thing about what Black Mountain did for its students. It was like they gave you permission to do anything you wanted to do. And then if it didn’t fit they’d make a category for you. But I think Black Mountain helped make something with weaving and with printmaking, and it gave people the freedom to make something of each category.”¹

Black Mountain was a transformative place and time for Asawa, creatively as well as socially: incorporated into Black Mountain’s utopian environment was an attitude that expanded what art can do for society. Therefore, to be an artist is to be a citizen—engaging actively in the world and making choices alongside others.² Though Cunningham’s photograph captures Asawa in her home, surrounded by her four (of six) children, central to the visual narrative is her artwork, which is inextricable from her role as an artist, wife, mother, and citizen.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture, 1957, Imogen Cunningham, Gelatin silver print, 10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in. (26.4 x 26.4 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.43
¹Ruth Asawa, “Oral history interview with Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier, 2002 June 21-July 5,” interview by Mark Johnson and Paul Karlstrom, Archives of American Art, https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-ruth-asawa-and-albert-lanier-12222#transcript.
²Helen Molesworth, “Ruth Asawa: ‘San Francisco Housewife and Mother’,” filmed September 12, 2018 at Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., video, 1:07:05, https://americanart.si.edu/videos/clarice-smith-distinguished-lecture-series-scholar-helen-molesworth-154476.
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Community Gallery: The 2018–19 WITS Broadsides Collection

The following introduction was written by a patient at Seattle Children’s Hospital who participated in the Writers in the Schools program. Her work was included in the 2016/17 WITS Broadsides, which features a collection of 20 hand-printed poems by students at Children’s Hospital on broadsides created by talented letterpress artists in a partnership with Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts. You can see them all in the current installation of the Community Gallery at Seattle Art Museum through September 2.

I never realized the healing properties writing could have on a person. Being able to express your thoughts onto a page, without needing to worry about what other people might think about it, is freeing. When I let my mind wonder, I find myself writing down whatever is on my mind.

Being in the hospital all the time can really take a toll on a person but having writing as an option can make you feel at ease. I wrote a poem last year that was published in the letterpress broadside project. This poem was about how I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, and what I was going through at that time. While writing this poem with [WITS writer] Sierra Nelson, it made me feel lucky that I was able to reflect on that stressful time in my life. Putting down my thoughts into a poem made it feel whole, and not just some insignificant facts about what I went through.

Writing poetry in the hospital showed me that, yes, when things are hard it can be especially difficult to look past it, but having that outlet to write down all my feelings made it therapeutic. When things are going well for me, I always want to write down what that feeling means to me. That’s what I love about creative writing: even if you’re sad or happy, it brings back all these memories to reflect upon.

Excerpts from Fiona’s poem, Memories of My Six-Year-Old Self 

“I remember having my first surgery. It was an emergency surgery. I was just 6 at the time. I remember not remembering what happened. I remember waking up in ICU and not being able to move … I remember almost not leaving ICU. My doctor said I have a 50% chance. But then I got better. I remember all the nurses’ names. I remember them feeling almost like family … I remember going home and greeting my dog Pooka and seeing my room painted with butterflies, pink and purple … I remember feeling lucky and ready to take on whatever comes next.

– Fiona Lynch, age 18

Photo: Alicia Craven
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Donor Spotlight: The Rivera Family Support Seattle Asian Art Museum

It feels like we came to Seattle at a very exciting time. The Seattle Asian Art Museum is re-imagining an historic building, adding a world class conservation studio, and—very dear to our hearts—creating a beautiful space for education and meaningful hands-on experiences.

Education is very important in our family. Tim was a teacher in the Peace Corps and I have been working and teaching in the arts my entire life. The new education center will make this collection, and the museum in general, more accessible to all. Our family has lived in many different places and Seattle, even more that other cities, seems to be intrinsically connected to the arts. SAM has helped us meet other people that share our passion. But at a recent event we were asked, “Where are all of the other 40 year olds?” We’re not sure but we’d like to invite them all to come and join us. The Builder’s Club is the perfect way to make a mark on Seattle. Literally. Our names will be on the building and we look forward to bringing our family and friends for years to come.

Like so many families, the holidays are a special time for us. Our favorite family event is SAM Lights at the Olympic Sculpture Park. It’s a lot of fun for our three year old twins, our teenage boys, and even the grandparents. The crisp air and beautiful lights make the sculpture park a special experience for the holidays.

–Laura Marie and Tim Rivera

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Object of the Week: Ideas for Zanzibar with Dancer from Parade Triple Bill

A pioneering Pop artist, David Hockney has throughout his career pivoted effortlessly from medium to medium, continuously exploring his visual style. Though perhaps best known for his iconic paintings of Southern California swimming pools, Hockney has produced a much larger body of work, ranging from abstract paintings to photo collages to iPhone drawings. However, arguably lesser known is his work in stage and costume design: he has been involved in productions of Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress and Mozart’s Magic Flute, both at the Glyndebourne Opera in England, and Parade at the New York Metropolitan Opera, for which this drawing was created.

Grouped under the title Parade, the Met Opera’s 1981 triple bill brought together three pieces: Parade, a ballet written by Jean Cocteau with music by Erik Satie; Les Mamelles de Tiresias, an opera with libretto by Guillaume Apollinaire and music by Francis Poulenc; and L’Enfant et Les Sortileges, an opera with libretto by Colette and music by Maurice Ravel. Hockney designed the sets and costumes for all three performances.

Satie’s Parade, first presented at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on May 18, 1917—during the height of World War I—takes place in a world of circus acts and street fairs. Though written in 1903, Les Mamelles de Tiresias similarly premiered during the war, in June 1917. The surrealist play was described by one critic as “high-spirited topsy-turveydom” whose deeper themes are about the need to repopulate a France ravaged by war.¹ Lastly, L’Enfant et Les Sortileges, commissioned in 1915, is a “fairy ballet” exploring the inner emotional world of a child, where toys and animals come to life.

There is a long history of artists collaborating on theater and dance productions. Merce Cunningham frequently collaborated with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, for example, and both the scenery and costumes for Satie’s original Parade were designed by none other than Pablo Picasso. For New York Times theater critic John Russell, Hockney’s designs for the 1981 presentation Parade are “not [Picasso’s] Parade redone from scratch. It is the Parade of 1917 revisited as if in a dream, with Picasso very much in mind, both as the original designer and as the poet of Les Saltimbanques—the tumblers and harlequins who turn up over and over again in the work of Picasso’s Rose period.”²

Largescale painted environment with separate elements based on Hockney’s design for Les Mamelles de Tiresias

Hockney produced many drawings for Parade, but the one in SAM’s collection is for the second opera in particular: Les Mamelles de Tiresias, set in Zanzibar, an imaginary town in France. Taking into account the circumstances surrounding the opera’s 1917 premiere, when the war was at its worst, Hockney incorporated details such as gas masks, helmets, searchlights, and barbed wire, the latter of which is included in this drawing.³ Though the unfinished blue sky suggests a certain incompleteness, it is important to keep in mind that this is, after all, a preparatory drawing. And despite the war-time setting, Hockney still manages to bring his bold, graphic, and colorful style to the mise en scène. In the image above, which more fully depicts Hockney’s playful cubist-inspired world, we get a sense of how such drawings were crucial for his development of these operatic worlds.

–Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Images: Largescale painted environment with separate elements based on Hockney’s design for Les Mamelles de Tiresias, from the 1983-84 Walker Art Center exhibition Hockney Paints the Stage. Ideas for Zanzibar with Dancer from Parade Triple Bill, 1980, David Hockney, Crayon on paper, Framed: 28 x 33″, Paper size: 19 x 24″, Gift of Robert and Honey Dootson Collection, 2010.37.26, © David Hockney.
¹Jeremy Sams, “Poulenc, Francis,” in The Penguin Opera Guide, ed. Amanda Holden (London: Penguin Books, 1997), 282.
²John Russell, “David Hockney’s Designs for Met Opera’s ‘Parade’,” in The New York Times, February 20, 1981, 1.
³ Russell, 1.
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Object of the Week: Aerial View, Tulsa, Oklahoma

There is something peculiar about the way we attribute the clarity of some photographs to the world itself. I try to reinforce that paradox by making photographs that convince the viewer that those revelations, that order, that potential for meaning, are coming from the world and not the photograph.

– Frank Gohlke, 1979

Aerial View, Tulsa, Oklahoma is a photograph by American photographer Frank Gohlke, taken in 1981. One of 10 artists included in the groundbreaking 1975 exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, Gohlke emerged as an important voice challenging then-prevailing trends in modern photography.[1] Working against romanticized depictions of nature, Gohlke and others in the exhibition produced photographs described by the curator, William Jenkins, as “eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion.”[2]

Though Jenkins felt otherwise, one could certainly argue that Gohlke’s Aerial View, Tulsa, Oklahoma is in fact a beautiful and emotive image. Sure, it is far from the Platonic ideal of nature, but the photograph’s composition—with its nested and overlapping arcs, dramatic shadows, and abstract patterning—contains within it a certain beauty. It might not be Ansel Adams’s Half Dome, but it is a photograph that elevates otherwise banal and unattractive subject matter, poetically calling attention to man’s impact on the natural world.

Importantly, Gohlke and his New Topographics cohort reinforced the notion of landscape as a manmade concept. It is a word and idea predicated on a human subject who turns the land into an object and, artistically, into an image. The very definition of the word hinges on an aestheticized understanding of nature. In Aerial View, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Gohlke deftly mobilizes photography to highlight the extent to which the landscape is indeed a manmade image, as well as an object—or resource—to be taken and transformed.

The “new” American topography on offer in 1975’s New Topographics was no longer unspoiled or pristine wilderness, but a country comprised of suburban sprawl, connecting interstates, and parking lots. Whether or not we find that beautiful is up to us to decide. Luckily, this work and others from SAM’s permanent collection are on view in the upcoming New Topographics exhibition on view in the third floor Modern and Contemporary Galleries.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Aerial View, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1981, Frank Gohlke, gelatin silver photograph, 6 1/8 x 16 in., Pacific Northwest Bell, the Photography Council, the Polaroid Foundation, Mark Abrahamson, and the National Endowment for the Arts, 83.69.5 © Frank Gohlke
[1] The other artists featured in the exhibition were Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, Henry Wessel, Jr., and Bernd and Hilla Becher.
[2] William Jenkins, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (Rochester, New York: International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, 1975), n.p.
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Muse/News: Royal treasures, royal brides, and the Sikh Captain America

SAM News

Sebastian Smee for The Washington Post with a glittering review of Peacock in the Desert, now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston—and traveling to Seattle Art Museum this fall. Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India illuminates nearly four centuries of Indian courtly life and opens at SAM on October 18.

“A thoughtful, stately and scholarly exhibition, filled with objects of almost unbelievable refinement, most of which have never left Jodhpur, let alone India.”

Local News

The Henry announced last week that Shamim M. Momin will be their new Senior Curator; Momin’s previous experience includes LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division) and the Whitney.

Naomi Ishisaka, Ramon Dompor, and Corinne Chin of The Seattle Times tell the story of “accidental cartoonist,” performance artist, and activist Vishavjit Singh—AKA the Sikh Captain America.

Rich Smith of The Stranger speaks with Alexandra Gardner, the Seattle Symphony’s composer-in-residence, who worked with queer homeless youth on a new work that debuted underneath SAM’s tree sculpture Middle Fork last Saturday.

“The piece starts off with a lot of bells. It’s very sparkly. Some of the musicians were like, ‘Oh it’s so beautiful and sparkly, I thought it would be more angry,’ but it’s not at all. There are some ever-so-slightly dark parts. Overall the feeling they wanted to communicate was not about their past experiences, which may have been very dark, but rather a hopeful future. And I think that really speaks to the participants’ resilience and imagination.”

Inter/National News

Past Times by Kerry James Marshall, which once hung in a Chicago convention center, sold for $21.1 million at Sotheby’s. The price is a new record for the artist—and among living Black American artists, too.

This May marks the 50th anniversary of Paris’ 1968 student riots; Artsy’s Digby Warde-Aldam reflects on the protests’ legacy on the visual culture of protests.

The sacred, the profane, and the Rihanna: we’re still recovering from the recent Met Gala coverage. Here’s Eleanor Heartney of Artnet with a review of the “gorgeous and unsettling” exhibition that explores the Catholic imagination.

“Contemporary art and religion have long been perceived as antagonists. However, this show suggests that the real chasm is between religion and fashion—the one focused on the realm of spirit and values, the other on luxury and conspicuous consumption.”

And Finally

A couple got married last Saturday, and millions of people watched. The cultural meanings of it all were much discussed; don’t miss The New Yorker’s Doreen St. Félix on the “profound presence of Doria Ragland,” the bride’s mother.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Maharaja Abhai Singh on Horseback, c. 1725, Dalchand, Jodhpur, opaque watercolor and gold on paper, Mehrangarh Museum Trust, photo: Neil Greentree.
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Muse/News: Basquiat Unpacked, Public Poetics, and The Magic of The Shirelles

SAM News

The latest episode of Seattle Channel’s ArtZone features their interview with curator Catharina Manchanda about Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled.

Artsy debuts their “Vanguard” series, recognizing influential contemporary artists at various points in their careers. Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize-winner Sondra Perry is included among the “newly established”—artists at “crucial tipping points in their careers.”

Los Angeles-based magazine Riot Material reviews Figuring History, in advance of its closing on May 13.

“Figuring History is as visually stunning as it is historically significant. For Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas, the show is validation that they succeeded in their passionate quest to make themselves visible. These artists matter and their art will be a beacon for us all, for those who write the histories and create the shows and for those are able to see themselves represented in museums for perhaps the first time.”

Local News

Seattle Times has the first look at the Nordic Museum as it prepares for its grand opening this weekend.

The Stranger staff picks their top 15 art shows in Pioneer Square for the month of May.

City Art’s Margo Vansynghel reviews A LONE, a series of 10 public artworks across the city co-curated by Vignettes and Gramma Poetry.

“Dealing with themes such as gentrification and the mass media’s (biased) coverage of the events in Charlottesville, the works in A LONE blend poetry and visual art and speak to the intricacies of being alone in a big city full of people. ‘You’re alone together,’ Stinson says. ‘That’s kind of a fascinating thing.’”

Inter/National News

The fun we’re not having at Frieze: Roberta Smith of the New York Times goes on the hunt for “artistic gems” at the annual art fair. (There’s a shout-out to Everyday Poetics artist Sonia Gomes!)

The American Antiquarian Society has digitized 225 photographs of Native people; taken decades before Edward S. Curtis began his project, these photos “represent the chapter one of the photographic history of Native people.”

The Baltimore Museum of Art has an “absolutely transformative” plan for their collection: deaccessioning works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Franz Kline, and Robert Rauschenberg in order to acquire works by contemporary artists who are women and artists of color.

“’The decision to do this rests very strongly on my commitment to rewrite the postwar canon,’ Bedford told artnet News. And while institutions sell art to fund new acquisitions every so often, the BMA’s latest deaccession stands out. ‘To state it explicitly and act on it with discipline—there is no question that is an unusual and radical act to take,’ Bedford says.”

And Finally

I will still love them tomorrow—and forever. The New Yorker’s Elon Green interviews Beverly Lee of The Shirelles about a “magical ten seconds” of the legendary group.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Installation view of Basquiat—Untitled at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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