COVID-19 Update: All SAM Locations Currently Closed »

Muse/News: Two-Way Mirrors, Poetic Catharsis, and a New Cultural Deal

SAM News

All SAM locations are currently closed until further notice, but we’re working behind the scenes for when we can reopen the downtown museum (again!). For now, revisit this interview between SAM curator Catharina Manchanda and artist Barbara Earl Thomas about SAM show The Geography of Innocence, which Thomas calls her “two-way mirror” onto the world.

Local News

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig brings her “How to Look At” series to the recent Vogue cover of the Vice President, which received critiques about how it captured the historical occasion.

The Seattle Times’ book beat is working hard, with two great recent features: an in-depth look at the community-centered Estelita’s Library, and the opening of Oh Hello Again, a new bookstore organized by emotions.

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis reflects on the culture-shifting moment of the inaugural poem performance by Amanda Gorman and what can happen when the arts take center stage in our civic life.

“In six minutes, at a formal federal ceremony, the young woman demonstrated how art can crystallize the heft and hope of a historic moment with a few brilliant strokes.”

Inter/National News

Artnet bundles up all the best art world takes on the meme that overtook the world last week.

Hyperallergic invites you to explore the first photograph taken at a US presidential inauguration.

Jason Farago of the New York Times opens up a crucial conversation about the importance of arts and culture to American society, offering ambitious ideas for how the government can support the arts and all of its workers.

“But a soul-sick nation is not likely to recover if it loses fundamental parts of its humanity. Without actors and dancers and musicians and artists, a society will indeed have lost something necessary — for these citizens, these workers, are the technicians of a social catharsis that cannot come soon enough.”

And Finally

Here’s even more about Amanda Gorman.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view of Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence at Seattle Art Museum, 2020, © Seattle Art Museum, photo: Spike Mafford

Muse/News: Amada Reflects, Black Santa, and the Deaf Experience

SAM News

All SAM locations are currently closed until further notice, but in the meantime, reflect on the state of the arts in Seattle with the Stranger’s new online series. It kicked off with an interview between Jasmyne Keimig and Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, in which she shared some of the challenges and endeavors going on at the museum.

“The focus is on maneuvering this big institution through the toughest financial challenge it has ever had. For many museums across the country, this is an existential crisis. 30% of the art museums across the country could close, right? SAM is not in that position, but we’re certainly not immune to the challenges.”

Local News

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel celebrates the “cultural innovators” in the city who creatively responded to the challenges of the pandemic.

Mentioned in the article: New Archives, the local arts journal that launched this year. Catch up with a recent review by Kym Littlefield of Algorithm: Archetype, Christopher Shaw’s show at the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM).

Also at NAAM: Black Santa returns! Seattle Times photographer Bettina Hansen was there to capture the annual tradition, which went virtual this year. She spoke with the museum’s executive director, LaNesha DeBardelaben.

“We have to hold on to our children and protect our joy,” DeBardelaben said. “We are not derailed by the challenges we have faced this year. This is just a glimmer of hope and light in what has been a very difficult year for our community and our nation.”

Inter/National News

Art & Object is just in time with a list of “7 Films About Art to Beat the Winter Blahs.”

Join critic and historian Hal Foster as he contemplates art and lockdown for Artforum’s December print edition.

Artnet’s Kate Brown speaks with Christine Sun Kim about Trauma, LOL, the artist’s exhibition of drawings at François Ghebaly in Los Angeles.

“Kim is fascinated with phrases that can have multiple definitions, that can be translated and mistranslated by different audiences. Her new works illustrate the complicated nature of trauma within Deaf experience—something she says is ‘layered’ due to a lifetime of living in a ‘hearing world.’”

And Finally

Meet Noor and Aziz.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman

Object of the Week: Leaves

Gloria Petyarre’s thirteen-foot-long canvas, Leaves, is a work that stops you in your tracks. It invokes the senses: hearing, seeing, and even feeling. The intricate, seemingly endless, white strokes evoke the movement and gentle patterns of leaves on, or fallen from, trees, the delicate movement of waist-high grass in a wind-swept field, or the long, waving fur of an animal on the move.

This feathery, leafy style that has become a common theme in Petyarre’s work was developed over decades. In the late 1970s, Petyarre came to prominence as a batik painter, before taking up painting on canvas in the late 1980s. Her use of sophisticated batik-making techniques, combined with the referencing of body markings associated with women’s ceremonies, shaped the unique forms of painting done in the Utopia area of Australia’s Northern Territory in the 1980s.[1]

In the 1990s, her work progressively increased in size and painterly precision. She began supplanting her dots and lines with elongated drop-forms in feathery layers “that move over the surfaces of her work with the velocity of wind in foliage or the fluidity of water currents.”[2]

This more painterly leaf design seems a natural progression.

“Petyarre grew up learning traditional techniques of reading the landscape to identify foods, medicinal plants, and everything else that was needed to thrive. Sitting under mulga bushes, helping the elder women prepare their seeds for small cakes, she would see the leaves swirl overhead. At the same time, she could listen to elders discussing the days when grasses and wildlife were more abundant.”[3]

Gloria Petyarre is part of an extraordinary family of women artists. Her six sisters—Kathleen, Nancy, Ada, Myrtle, Violet, and Jean—are all internationally acclaimed artists. Gloria’s niece Elizabeth Kunoth Kngwarray, and great-niece Genevieve Kemarr Loy, are well-known artists, as is her niece, Abie Loy Kamerre, whose work, Awelye “Women’s Ceremony,” is also in SAM’s collection. Petyarre’s and her artistic family’s work draws on the surroundings and rituals of their community in Utopia, in Australia’s Central Desert, Northern Territory. Gloria and her sisters had a classical education in an aboriginal world view that has survived tens of thousands of years in an arid spinifex country. Growing up, they walked across their vast estate, moved according to the principles of rotational land navigation, and honored the other species they learned from.

These Utopian women began painting to enlighten outsiders and rebel against the white cattle ranchers who took over their land. As these outsiders began moving in, they polluted water holes and demonstrated a disinterest in the features of the landscape. An inspiration to create came from recognizing that outsiders were ignorant of the depth of knowledge they had about their environment. These artists turned to painting to demonstrate how they had managed to maintain and honor their country, with all its species, foodstuffs, and medicines. They relied on a seed economy, and noticed that leaves had strong medicines to offer, with particular potency when they were falling off the trees. Petyarre’s work offers an urgent reminder of Indigenous knowledge of the landscape—what may seem like scruffy sandhills can be a utopian ideal, filled with vibrant resources that we need to learn to recognize better.[4] She created this work as a study of leaves swirling through space. With her knowledge of the medicinal properties of certain plants, “she takes it upon herself to focus attention on the moment that the leaves fly.”[5]

The next time you visit SAM, make sure to spend a few minutes with this work, you’ll see it right when you enter the museum. What senses does Leaves invoke in you?

– Traci Timmons, SAM Senior Librarian

[1] Art Gallery of New South Wales, Gloria Tamerre Petyarre Artist Profile, https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/artists/petyarre-gloria-tamerre/, accessed December 2, 2020.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Pamela McClusky, Wally Caruana, Lisa G. Corrin, and Stephen Gilchrist, Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art: Kaplan & Levi Collection ([Seattle]: Seattle Art Museum, 2012): 114.
[4] Interview with Pamela McClusky, December 7, 2020.
[5] Pamela McClusky, “Completing the Map,” in Chiyo Ishikawa et al., A Community of Collectors: 75th Anniversary Gifts to the Seattle Art Museum (Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 2008): 76, 81.
Image: Leaves, 2002, Gloria Tamerr Petyarre, synthetic polymer paint on canvas
70 7/8 x 157 1/2 in., Gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of Virginia and Bagley Wright, and in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2012.21 ©Gloria Petyarre

Muse/News: Aboard the Ark, a Reporter’s Next Move, and a Desert Mystery

SAM News

All SAM locations are currently closed until further notice. But you can still prepare to board the Ark once SAM reopens; UW Daily’s Katie Newman explores the video installation by Lynne Siefert that we can’t wait to push “play” on once again. 

“On a cruise ship, an eerie voice announces the postapocalyptic realities of our capitalist society. In a snowfield, a man walks alone, children play on a beach, and life goes on — all under the shadows of gargantuan, smoke-belching coal power plants. Welcome to Lynne Siefert’s world of film.”

SAM Shop remains open, with safety protocols in place, and its awesomely diverse offerings are popping up in holiday gift guides. Seattle Met says yes to the SAM-exclusive “NO” tote by Tariqa Waters, 425 Magazine recommends a museum membership, and ARTFIXdaily toasts the glass wine bulbs by Oliver Doriss. Or: Shop SAM Shop online. Easy!

2020 may not have been the best, but SAM still is. Thank you to the readers of Seattle Magazine, for naming Seattle Art Museum the best museum!

Local News

Isamu Noguchi’s Floor Frame (1962) was recently installed on the east terrace of the White House’s Rose Garden—the first work by an Asian-American artist to enter its collection. The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig walks us through this unusual art moment

Randy Engstrom, the director of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, will be stepping down after eight years. Here’s the office’s full announcement

And another bittersweet change: Marcie Sillman retires from KUOW after 35 years reporting on the arts. But you won’t be missing her thoughtful stories for long; she’s planning to launch an arts podcast with Vivian Phillips.

“I think mostly what I want to say is that this isn’t a frill,” Sillman said of the arts. “It’s something that is just central to our lives. During this pandemic, where have we all turned for comfort? I’m sure people are really happy that sports teams are playing again, but you’re still listening to your favorite song or watching great movies, streaming online or reading good books or just contemplating beautiful nature in Instagram posts. So, it’s something that we need for our souls.”

Inter/National News

Pumla Dineo Gqola for the New York Times on the Zanele Muholi career retrospective that has finally opened at the Tate Modern, after some delay due to COVID closures. The exhibition includes works from several of Muholi’s series, including Somnyama Ngonyama, which came to SAM in 2019.

“More than a little tumultuous”: The editors of ARTnews reflect on 2020.

A 12-foot-tall polished steel monolith appeared in the Utah desert. Then it disappeared. Then it was pondered. Then there were copycats? We can’t keep up. What does it all mean?

“We are currently in an environment of epidemic over-explanation, a surplus of commercially incentivized information production. That is literally sending people into the desert looking, not for answers, but for questions.”

And Finally

Muse/News Recommends: Poem-a-day in your inbox. 

Installation view of Lynne Siefert: Ark at Seattle Art Museum, 2020, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: Seattle-Centric SAM, Spooky Art, and “I voted” Stickers

SAM News

“Seattle, Go See Some Art This November.” Well said, Seattle Met! In this round-up of shows to see this fall, Stefan Milne recommends SAM’s two “Seattle-centric” shows. City of Tomorrow celebrates the legacy of collector Jinny Wright and is now on view, and The Geography of Innocence, Barbara Earl Thomas’s solo exhibition, opens in November. 

Speaking of Barbara Earl Thomas: the artist was featured in the New York Times’ special arts section about her new work created for the SAM show; the article also discusses a major show for Bisa Butler, who along with Thomas is represented by Claire Oliver Gallery in New York. 

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Megan Burbank reviews Wa Na Wari’s new exhibition, Story Porch, which features installations by Virginia-based artist and historical strategist Free Egunfemi Bangura.

For her weekly editor’s letter, Crosscut’s Brangien Davis leans into Halloween, highlighting some spooky art to experience.

“Start peeking into your elderly neighbors’ living rooms—who knows what you might find.” The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig reflects on the recent exciting discovery of a missing Jacob Lawrence panel. Part of the artist’s Struggle series, the panel will be on view next spring at SAM

“I particularly love the mess of hands and feet on both sides of the work; the rebel farmers’ messy hair and their big, blocky hands; the bright red blood against the scene’s muted tones. Like with a lot of Lawrence’s work, you benefit from a long, good look.”

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic on why New York Magazine commissioned 48 artists to design “I voted” stickers, including Amy Sherald, David Hammons, Barbara Kruger, Hank Willis Thomas, and more.

The New York Times has recommendations for staycations in six American cities; a walk in SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park is included in the tips for Seattle.

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone reports on the ongoing controversy around the Baltimore Museum of Arts’ planned sale of artworks from its collection; last week, the museum pulled the works from auction just hours prior to the sale and after the Association of Art Museum Directors offered clarification on their guidelines.

“‘I recognize that many of our institutions have long-term needs—or ambitious goals—that could be supported, in part, by taking advantage of these resolutions to sell art,’ [AAMD board of trustees president Brent Benjamin] wrote. ‘But however serious those long-term needs or meritorious those goals, the current position of AAMD is that the funds for those must not come from the sale of deaccessioned art.’”

And Finally

The most sacred right

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped a New Seattle at the Seattle Art Museum. Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Donor Spotlight: Washington Greater China-Hong Kong Business Association

Entrepreneurs and professionals from Hong Kong founded the Washington Greater China-Hong Kong Business Association (WGHKBA) in 1994. WGHKBA’s core mission involves facilitating business and social interactions to enrich people’s lives who hold similar interests, while also increasing awareness of Greater China and Hong Kong’s contemporary issues. WGHKBA’s vision is to bolster successful transpacific partnerships and economic development between Greater China, Hong Kong, and Washington State.

This year, WGHKBA has graciously chosen the Seattle Asian Art Museum as the beneficiary of their 2020 Chinese New Year Gala. This year’s gala will also honor SAM’s Director Emerita, Mimi Gardner Gates, for her passion for the arts and for her creation of the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas. Each year, WGHKBA’s lunar new year celebration gathers over 900 guests, and this year’s gala includes a Luly Yang runway fashion show, traditional Lion Dance performance, and many other once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The gala will be held at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel on Saturday, February 8, 2020.

WGHKBA’s Chairman, Benjamin Lee, commits countless hours each year to put on this gala. He shares, “The Seattle Asian Art Museum is an organization I admire and respect, so I’m very excited to help support the museum. I always like giving back to Asian-related causes, so we provide a good platform to help our community reach out and support.”            

If you would like to be a part of WGHKBA’s Chinese New Year Gala, please visit the WGHKBA website for ticket and sponsorship information.

Object of the Week: Couplet

Oracle-bone script (jiaguwen) is a form of Chinese writing that emerged during the Shang Dynasty—dating from the 14th–11th century BCE—and is considered the earliest known form of systematic Chinese script.

Some of the oldest oracle-bone inscriptions were short texts inscribed on the flat shoulder blade bones of oxen and shells of tortoises. Such bones were used for divination, a process which involved the inscription of a question with a bronze pin—lending the script its characteristic angularity—and then heating the bone to reveal cracks, which would be divined for answers.

The symbols used eventually became words, which were later developed into a Chinese script that is recognized today as part of China’s long tradition of calligraphic arts. This work by Rao Zongyi, titled Couplet, utilizes the ancient script, brought to life for a contemporary audience.

Rao—a poet, calligrapher, painter, and scholar of the humanities—produced the couplet in 1971 while a visiting professor at Yale University. Composed by Rao, the poem describes in red ink a kun-style operatic performance by Chang Ch’ung. Together the two scrolls read: The wind makes the snow dance amidst the sunlight, the music hangs like clouds on her garments.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection and Provenance Associate

Couplet, 1971, Rao Zongyi, red ink on paper, 74 5/16 x 14 3/16 in., Gift of Chang Ch’ung-ho and Hans Frankel from their collection, 2010.9.6.1-.2 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

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

Muse/News: SAM gets “radiantly weird,” street stickers, and active landscapes

SAM News

“The show feels like it’s tilted toward some uncanny vision of classical art. In doing so it serves as fine reminder of how much our memories and connotations of periods can get distilled down to a few images.” –Stefan Milne, Seattle Met

“For all their intense realism, the works also show some seriously freaky scenes, both mythological and biblical.” —Brangien Davis, Crosscut

“. . . the unwieldy greens of El Greco, the soft, cloudlike skin of a Titian figure, and all around badassery of Artemisia Gentileschi.” —Jasmyne Keimig, The Stranger

“A stroke of paint seems to connect the viewer across time to the artist, dead now for hundreds of years.” —Sierra Stella, UW’s The Daily

The Seattle press corps seems adequately disturbed/enchanted by SAM’s major fall show, Flesh and Blood: Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum, which opened last week. Come see the “radiantly weird” show for yourself.

Local News

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig adds another beat to her watch: stickers. This time, she finds the Dalí-inspired, the public-transportation-celebrating, and more.

The 2019 Washington State Book Award winners were announced last Saturday, including Joy McCullough for “Blood Water Paint,” her YA novel in verse about Artemisia Gentileschi.

Crosscut’s Agueda Pacheco Flores visits Where Beauty Lies at the Wing Luke, which questions, explores, and celebrates ideas of Asian American beauty.

“Visitors are encouraged to be reflective, and not just by looking in mirrors. People can write down an insecurity on a triangular strip of paper and throw it into a faux fire pit that has a dim orange light at the center. The papers don’t burn, but together resemble flames.”

Inter/National News

The New York Times’ Jillian Steinhauer reviews the modest Betye Saar show at the new MoMA—“dismayingly, the first show the institution has ever devoted to Ms. Saar.”

Artnet’s Javier Pes on Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, London’s National Portrait Gallery’s revisionist show that puts the sisterhood of the British art movement in the foreground.

Cultured Magazine talks with Teresita Fernández, whose mid-career survey—co-curated by SAM’s own Amada Cruz!—opens at the Pérez Art Museum Miami today.

“Her idea of landscape is, in fact, ‘not passive at all. It’s very deliberate and strategized. Even our ideas about what places are—place names, borders and what’s visible—they’re such powerful tools to control how we think of ourselves in relation to land and to place.’”

And Finally

Remembering Elijah Cummings through his most powerful speeches.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view of Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum at the Seattle Art Museum, 2019, photo: Natali Wiseman.