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The Western Mystery by Spencer Finch

Ephemeral Art, Lasting Effects: Temporary Installations at the Olympic Sculpture Park

Spencer Finch’s The Western Mystery portrays one of our most familiar temporary experiences: a sunset. This new installation of ninety glass panes suspended from the PACCAR Pavilion’s ceiling opened at the Olympic Sculpture Park in April. The glass panes are sixteen shades of yellows, oranges, blues, and pinks based on the hues found in the artist’s photographs of Seattle sunsets. As the glass squares subtly rotate overhead, their surfaces capture fragmented reflections of the park that fade in and out of view.

The Western Mystery by Spencer Finch

Much like a sunset itself, The Western Mystery is an ephemeral experience. Over the past 10 years, the Seattle Art Museum has hosted 15 temporary installations by local, national, and international contemporary artists. SAM celebrates the sculpture park’s 10th anniversary this summer with Spencer Finch’s installation, as well as a new sculpture by Tacoma artist, Christopher Paul Jordan. Titled Latent Home Zero, Jordan’s “interactive silent film” is experienced through a binocular telescope that integrates collaged imagery related to the migration of African American people across the US with distorted, real-time views of the sculpture park.

SAM first began installing temporary art with Dennis Oppenheim’s five, massive Safety Cones, in the summer of 2008. But, the first temporary work appeared unexpectedly in 2007, shortly after the sculpture park opened. Mimi Gardner Gates, SAM’s Director from 1994–2009, recalled, “Early on, the artist group PDL created Eaglets under Alexander Calder’s The Eagle—a nest with three little Eagles. I loved that because it was Seattle’s artists responding to the sculptures in the park. To me, that really brought the park alive.”

Blue Sun by Victoria Haven

That lively spirit returns to the park every year through the temporary projects SAM commissions. For some artists, the short-term nature of their installations can lead to experimentation they wouldn’t always attempt in a permanently sited piece. In April of 2016, Seattle artist Victoria Haven created Blue Sun, a large-scale wall drawing that was based on the path and reflections of the sun as she experienced them from her studio window in South Lake Union. “I think the process involved a sense of immediacy that gave Blue Sun an energy and an aliveness,” Haven said. “It was like a breath on the wall; it was there and then it was gone. And, there’s something beautiful about the rigor and commitment involved in creating a monumental project that exists for a relatively short amount of time.”

YOU ARE HERE by Trimpin

The sense of immediacy also played a role in Seattle artist Trimpin’s 2014 temporary sound sculpture, YOU ARE HEAR. The installation’s three listening stations were comprised of repurposed tractor seats and oversized sets of “headphones.” Visitors who interacted with the piece experienced sounds created within their immediate environment, both from mechanisms the artist constructed and the sounds that naturally occur around the park. The artist himself became immersed in the sculpture park environment as he installed YOU ARE HEAR over a period of three days.  He explained, “I noticed there were lots of regulars coming through every day and that they were noticing how something unusual was going on. It was great to have a conversation with them . . . . It was an exciting chance to engage with the public as they were walking their dogs or jogging through the park.”

The Olympic Sculpture Park offers a unique experience for both seeing and creating works of art. Just as the spinning reflections of The Western Mystery create a new perspective on the Olympic Sculpture Park, all of the temporary projects have given visitors reasons to rethink their surroundings over the last 10 years, both within the park and out in the world.

—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

This post is the fifth installment in a series of stories exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Over the course of this year, we will continue reflecting on the Park’s evolution over the past decade.

Images: Installation view of The Western Mystery (detail), 2017, Spencer Finch, American, b. 1962, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Mark Woods.  Installation view of The Western Mystery, 2017, Spencer Finch, American, b. 1962, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Mark Woods. Installation view of Safety Cones, 2008, Dennis Oppenheim, American, b. 1938, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Paul Macapia.  Installation view of Blue Sun, 2016, Victoria Haven, American, b. 1964, acrylic, 57 x 14 ft., Seattle Art Museum Commission 2016, Photo: Natali Wiseman. YOU ARE HEAR, 2014, Trimpin, German, b. 1951, three part sound installation at SAM Olympic Sculpture Park, commissioned by the Seattle Art Museum. © Trimpin, Photo: Nathaniel Willson.
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What Do You Disclose? An Interview with Denzil Hurley

Seattle-based artist and University of Washington professor Denzil Hurley’s glyph paintings are aptly titled. A glyph is a symbol. One that typically conveys an agreed upon or shared meaning. These can be the unique marks of the written word, a graphic element, or an inscription. More broadly, a glyph can be a shape or color that we understand to have an agreed upon purpose separate from language, such as a circle with a slash through it for “no,” or red for “stop.” In Hurley’s work, shape and color are paramount.  Well known for his monochrome paintings and impact on the world of abstract painting, a selection of these glyph paintings currently hang at SAM in Denzil Hurley: Disclosures, on view through November 5.

In Disclosures these paintings become sculptural by being mounted on repurposed sticks and poles. As objects, the glyph paintings become reminiscent of signs and harken back to Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 painting, Black Square which was intimately tied to social and political discussions at the cusp of the October Revolution in Russia. Deceptively simple, there’s a density to Hurley’s black canvases in his layering of the paint and in his use of materials. Spend some time in Disclosures the next time you come by SAM and consider what you derive from a redacted painting involving the form of signs and the framing of the wall. What does your understanding say about our socially constructed meanings of these symbols?

SAM: The works at SAM came out of visits to Barbados. Can you tell us about these trips? I’m thinking specifically about how they informed the material concerns of your work.

Denzil Hurley: The idea of repurposing materials arose out of observations I made over many years, and several trips there. The paintings in the exhibition were selected from a larger body of work that began around 2006–07. Each piece was thought of, and developed individually out of my interests in modular forms and structures involving squares and rectangles.

Do you see these paintings as a whole? If I think about the public protests being referenced through the work, and the “power in numbers” philosophy behind taking to the streets, do you feel that viewers can derive a larger meaning by seeing the group than by seeing a single work in the series?

I exhibited related pieces from this larger body of work in the Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum in 2009, and a Francine Seders Gallery group exhibition in 2012. I welcome the curatorial decision at SAM to select, and present the work in a particular way. It certainly serves to open up the room and bring certain referencing to the fore.

You talk about density in your paintings. In your monochrome paintings how do you use a single color to create layered meaning?

My working process and painting ideas involve color, layering, stacking, erasure and concerns with surfaces that allow individual differences to be developed and realized in each piece.

In a work such as the piece framing the empty wall, does density continue to play a part in the work?

Within the context of one piece relating to another and involving the wall, the floor, and bringing together painting ideas, sculptural form, and installation practice, it allows for conjunctions between differences.

Images: Installation views of “Denzil Hurley: Disclosures” at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photos: Mark Woods.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Christine Kline

April 23–29, 2017 is National Volunteer Week and we want to recognize the amazing 469 volunteers who generously give their time to SAM. Volunteers assist us in a variety of roles (Coat Check, Docents, Information Desk, and Park Stewards, just to name a few), and you probably encounter at least one volunteer each time you visit SAM. Volunteers make it possible for us to do all that we do!

This week we kick off a new feature on SAM Blog: a monthly volunteer spotlight. Volunteer Christine Kline, our current Docent Chair, agreed to be the first volunteer spotlighted!

SAM: How long have you been a volunteer at SAM? 

Christine: I joined the student tour docent training class in 2010.

Why do you like volunteering at SAM?

I have always loved SAM—I’ve enjoyed being a member for many years. In addition to the remarkable array of art at the three sites, the people who volunteer are just wonderful. Since I entered the docent training, I have found volunteers and staff to be warm, caring, and passionate about art and learning—could there be a better combination?

What is your favorite piece of art at SAM?

I think one that I hold dearest is the beautiful little (about 5x9”) ivory belt mask, Belt Mask of Iyoba Idia from the Nigerian Benin Kingdom, carved in the early 16th century. The delicacy of the carving, with the regal resolve in Queen Idia’s face is so compelling. I could gaze at it forever.

What do you do as Docent Chair of SAM Volunteer Association (SAMVA)? 

A little bit of everything. As part of chairing the Docent Executive Committee (DEC) meetings, I meet and talk with the DEC chairs who work in the areas of docent training, docent program development, special events in the arts, and the care and maintenance of central areas like membership, docent days, evaluations, budget, and records. I meet regularly with education staff members to assist in furthering the work of the docent body. One of the features of being Docent Chair is attending the SAMVA meetings and I have found them to be fascinating and informative.  The meetings give me perspective on all the ways volunteers support SAM—I am really learning!

What do you do for fun?

I love going to museums and galleries, attending interesting lectures at these sites, and just engaging with the art. I also love going to the ballet, chamber music concerts, and jazz concerts. I enjoy cooking and dining out. I recently moved to Seattle from Tacoma and, oh, do I love experiencing the range of eateries in Seattle!

What’s your most memorable moment as a volunteer?

There are so many memorable moments. In working with student groups, the surprise of their observations is a constant delight. One recurring moment that comes to mind, from older students as well as younger, is the query, tentatively but touchingly offered: “Is that painting the real thing? Did she or he [Jacob Lawrence, for example] really paint this with his own hands?” That moment of realization never ceases to move me.

–Jenny Woods, Manager of Volunteer Programs

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For the Love of Art: Mariana Tomas

MARIANA TOMAS
35–44
Change management consultant
Dual member since 2011

Why do you love art?

Art makes us ask questions. It makes us stand on our tippy-toes peeking around the painted street corner. It sparks our curiosity. It inspires us, charges our batteries, and makes our souls richer.

What are your hobbies or passions?

In my free time, I explore caves. When you’re in that cave, there is nothing else. The world outside does not exist, because the possibility that you will never see daylight again is always present. In a way, caving is like space travel, the last frontier, the ultimate mission into unknown. The promise that it holds is breathtaking beauty, exploration, adventure, and, of course, discovery of something we didn’t know about ourselves. You’re testing your own limits, you’re watching your every move, and you’re trying to absorb as much as you can from your surroundings. To me, this is very primal.

Do you see any link between your hobbies of cave exploring and art?

I think it’s curiosity, because what I wrote about art is actually what I used to do when I was a little kid. My aunt had a painting of a street corner that veered off and you couldn’t see where it was leading so I thought if I got myself in the right position, somehow I would see the other side of the street. It’s the same thing about caves—it’s searching for the next thing around the corner and just being curious. The curiosity that we have as the human race, I guess.

You’re a change management consultant. What does that mean?

Change management is an emerging field that’s growing here in the Pacific Northwest. We have an international organization where we help organizations to transition. It could be anything from companies moving or implementing new software or having a merger with another company. We help with preparing people for the new world. I’ve been doing this for 7 years.

What’s your favorite SAM location? Do you have a special spot to visit?

SAM’s Asian Art Museum. The museum has such historical value and it’s just so beautiful. The setting in Volunteer Park—and all of it—is just great. I love to visit Monk At The Moment Of Enlightenment. I found looking at the other Asian art that’s exhibited there from that period that you don’t see a whole lot of expression on the face (in general) and he has this expression of bliss that I think is so hard to capture—even for something that is that old and made in wood. That moment of enlightenment that we all hope—well, maybe not all but some of us hope—to maybe live someday. I think it’s a really uplifting piece of art and pretty unique to what I’ve seen. I don’t claim to be an Asian art connoisseur so I just enjoy it.

Yes, we like the things we like. You’ve been a member since 2011?

Yes. I really didn’t realize how easy it is to be a member. I got a gift membership that year and I was thrilled. I just love coming to the museum and it definitely pays in multiple ways. Not just financially. Here you get that sense that art is accessible and that’s really the appeal to me: being a part of it, being able to support it in some way.

If you, like Mariana, love the Asian Art Museum, get enlightened on what’s happening as we begin our renovation and expansion of the historic home of SAM. Members make our world go round and you can help ensure the future of the Asian Art Museum by becoming a member today or making a donation to the renovation of the iconic Art Deco building.

visitsam.org/inspire

Photos: Natali Wiseman
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My Favorite Things: Barbara Earl Thomas on Vuillard’s Dining Room

Fresh for your viewing pleasure, the newest video of our My Favorite Things YouTube series featuring Seattle-based artist, Barbara Earl Thomas.

Thomas’ storytelling and humor move seamlessly across media as she works in both painting and writing. Earlier this year Thomas won the Stranger Genius Award in visual art and later this year she’ll be honored with a Governor’s Arts and Heritage Award. With a social commitment to her community that is broad and inclusive, she values good citizenship and social responsibility. Numbered among the SAM collection is Echo Tides, a 1991 painting by Thomas depicting the tension between transition and stability.

In her My Favorite Things interview, Barbara Earl Thomas unpacks her interest in Edouard Vuillard’s Dining Room, Rue de Naples, ParisDining Room portrays the home of Vuillard’s longtime family friends. Thomas is drawn to the sensuous and gentle responses to color, light, and form in the painting, noting, “My house looks like this, my living room looks like this. But when I paint, I don’t paint like this.” Responding strongly to the use of Vuillard’s established painterly technique, Barbara Earl Thomas explains, “You get an indication to everything, but nothing is in clear view.”

Watch the interview, and head to our My Favorite Things playlist on YouTube to watch more of our artist interviews.

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Norbert Herber on “Mobile Section”

“Everyone has a part to play in this tradition, whether you work with indigo or not. Anyone who wears blue jeans has a part to play in this tradition.” – Norbert Herber

What sound does a seed make? How about compost? Experience how digital images and color can translate to timber in the hands of Norbert Herber.

As you enter Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World you encounter a contemporary compliment to the historic scope of the exhibition exploring this vibrant dye. A collaboration between textile artist Rowland Ricketts and sound artist Norbert Herber, “Mobile Section” is a responsive and immersive installation combining a large-scale, hanging textile and field recordings of Ricketts’ indigo dyeing process synthesized using data from various conditions that produced the dye and color gradations of the cloth in the installation. Sensors in the gallery register people as they move around the installation and accelerate or decelerate the sound mix so that the audio element on “Mobile Section” will never sound the same twice.

See this work before it’s too late—it will be on view through October 9 in the exhibition Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park.

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‘Tis The Season To Be Jolly…

With a permanent collection that spans the globe, featured exhibitions Pop Departures and City Dweller’s: Contemporary Art from India, special Seattle holiday events such as SAM Lights at the Olympic Sculpture Park, and extended hours, a trip to the museum is a great way to spend the holidays.

Bring your family, friends, or out-of-town guests and have fun wandering around the galleries and interacting with fascinating pieces. Stop by SAM Shop or SAM Books for Pop art mementos, and turn your selfies into a work of art by stepping inside our Pop photo booth, selecting a Pop art filter, and snapping a shot!

SPECIAL EXTENDED HOURS

  • 10 am-­5 pm Tuesday, December 23
  • 10 am-­5 pm Tuesday, December 30
  • 10 am­-5 pm Tuesday, January 6 (Pop Departures final week)

The museum is open on December 24 (closing early at 3 pm) and New Year’s Day (10 am to 9 pm which is First Thursday).

HOLIDAY CLOSURES

  • Christmas Day

Please call 206.654.3100 for more information about SAM exhibitions and programs, or visit the our website for up-to-date scheduling and hours.

–Bianca Sewake, Seattle Art Museum Communications Intern

Image: Some lovely SAM visitors in our Pop Departures Photo Booth!

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A Portal to the Past

Have you ever looked at an art work at SAM and thought, “I bet there’s a great story behind that?” I think this all the time. Today, a friend of mine tells us a fantastic story that she imagines lies behind a needlepoint image. Her story, a portal to the past, is about a work that looks like a painting but was made by a young girl from tiny, tiny stitches in thread. This story is written by Lorelei Timmons-Herrin, a fifth-grader at Whittier Elementary school (my friend, and daughter of SAM head librarian Traci Timmons). 

Do you have any stories to tell about the art at SAM, or the art in your home? If so, please share it with us in the comments!

Sarah Berman, Curatorial Associate for Collections

Needlework mourning picture, ca. 1805-07, Eliza Gravenstine (American, Philadelphia, 1792-1821), embroidered and painted; watercolor paint on silk, approx. 24 x 28 in., Gift of Ruth J. Nutt, 2014.24.44

 

NEEDLEWORK MOURNING PICTURE

I made this picture to remind people of what cholera did to us living in the 1800s.

It was a cold sad day as I trudged through the mud to my brother’s grave. He had died of cholera two years ago. I was only eight years old then. I miss him a lot. I shall tell you all my story.

“I want John to get better mother” I whined.

“I know you do, but we haven’t found a cure yet” my mother said. I could see she was getting inpatient. My mother was a strong woman, she had raised all three of us all alone. My brother, John loved reading and writing, he was a caring young man. My sister, Samantha loved reading like John. She also likes playing with our kittens. And there’s me, I love doing needlework.

You can see that my mother (in the middle) is decorating the grave. My sister (on the right) is holding an olive branch, a sign of good luck. I am (on the left) mourning for my dead brother. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I cried many times in the making of this picture.

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With Unlimited Power and Unlimited Funding, I Would…

This summer, intern Sholeh Hajmiragha has been working with me on two projects. Her first project was to sift through years of accumulated notes on SAM’s maiolica collection, and update our records according to the best and most recent information. Her second project was different. She tells you more, below.

-Sarah Berman, Curatorial Associate for Collections

 

In the last three weeks of my curatorial internship at the Seattle Art Museum, I was given a project – to imagine that I had the power and the unlimited funding to acquire any and all art from contemporary artists in the Middle East.  This exercise was consuming and exciting, and it allowed me to gain a much greater insight into the acquisition process and research required in acquiring art.  On this last day of my internship, and for my farewell blogpost, I’ve decided to share one of my favorite artists that I researched during this exercise – ninety-eight year old Saloua Raouda Choucair.

Saloua Raouda Choucair represents an oversight in the western conception of contemporary art history.  Born in Beirut in 1916, Choucair is heralded as a pioneer of abstract art in the Arab world, though until recently Choucair was largely unknown outside of Lebanon.  Now in her ninety-eighth year, Choucair’s most recent exhibition at Tate Modern in 2013 was the first time her work has been shown publicly on a global scale.  In this regard, Choucair’s work can be considered new, with herself an unknown artist.  Yet, what makes her work significant is the reality that Choucair has been working as a female artist in the Beirut art scene from the 1940s, studying in the studio of Fernand Léger in Paris, and producing abstract art alongside the historical western modernist art movement.  Maymanah Farah writes in her essay “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Reinventing Abstraction”, “One of the many myths of the Western canon is that European modern artists invented abstraction…At the moment, there is a multidisciplinary campaign to correct the shortcomings of this history of Modernism by looking past the borders of Euro-American art centers.   It is within the experiments of artists who are noticeably absent from the Western view of art history, despite having been in pursuit of modern aesthetics, that examples of pre-modern abstraction are beginning to be reevaluated.”[1]  Choucair’s work is a perfect example of this as her abstract, modern forms and figures reflect both modernism aesthetics as well as historical Islamic art forms.

Choucair’s art encompasses the intersections of time, space, and place.  Though existing in the artistic school of western modernism, Choucair’s abstraction is distinct and notable.  As Samir Sayigh writes, “this abstraction, despite its proximity to that characterized by modern art in the great artistic capitals of the world, and despite its singularity in Lebanon and the Arab nation, remained an abstraction converging with the contemporary characteristics which characterize Eastern art, and more specifically Arab Islamic art, much more than with Western abstraction as perceived by Kandisnsky, presented by Mondrian, and realized in the Bauhaus Collection.”[2]  In addition to this dialogue of east and west lies another relationship of the object and space.  Not only does Choucair manipulate her paintings to reflect depth and form, but her three-dimensional sculptures present not only an abstraction of architecture and space and the manipulation of shape and form, but also bridge the divide between language and text and art and space.  Choucairs complex, interlocking sculptures are a clear example of this.  Choucair creates sculptural poetry that is constructed through various building blocks and carefully molded shapes that fit together and connect, creating a larger holistic form.  As Choucair has stated, “The way I organized my sculptural poems, for example, was inspired by Arabic poetry.  I wanted rhythm like the poetic meter, to be at once more independent and interlinked, and to have lines like meanings, but plastic meanings.”[3]  In this manner, Choucair translates the very deeply rooted Arabic cultural tradition of poetry into a modern and abstract art form that physically embodies a simultaneous interlocked dependence with a detached and separable independence.

Besides her sculptural work, her paintings reflect dualities as well.  In her painting Paris-Beirut, Choucair depicts an Islamic star, Cleopatra’s Needle, and the Arc de Triomphe in their most basic forms and shapes, both juxtaposed geographically and culturally, yet balanced compositionally, reflecting both an exchange between the east and west, while also hinting toward Choucair’s own decision to return to Beirut, rather than stay in Paris.  In her piece Les  Peintres Célèbres, Choucair presents a scene reminiscent of Fernand Léger’s Le Grand Déjeuner, while transforming it to reflect a new representation of women, presenting a contemporary artistic exchange between Choucair in Beirut and Léger in Paris.  Adrian Searle of The Guardian compares this painting to her former instructor Fernand Léger’s Le Grand Dé jeuner, writing, “The differences are telling, not least because the women don’t seem bothered by our gaze.  Instead, they look at art books, one of which has the title Les Peintres Célèbres (The Famous Painters), which also gives the title of these small studies.  Where Léger’s bodies are polished and overblown, these are wonkier, offhand and much more human.  Choucair’s little paintings depict women among women, oblivious to whoever stares at them.”  Finally, her painting Two=one, which Tate Modern chose to include in its exhibition, contextualizes Choucair within the time and place of Lebanon in the late twentieth century.  Riddled with glass shards, chipping paint, and a large gaping hole in its center, this painting was damaged by a bomb blast during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).  Though no longer in the state it was intended, this piece highlights the reality of Choucair’s life in Beirut.  As Kevin Jones of ArtAsiaPacific writes, “Already in her 60s, with decades of study and practice behind her, when conflict broke out in Lebanon, Choucair simply had no artistic language to admit the war into her practice: her work was entirely rational, scientific, engineered almost to the exclusion of the human and the social.  The incursion of the war literally into the flesh of her practice with Two=one illustrates the potentially destructive force of forgetting: occluded memory, as much as the war itself, was Choucair’s nemesis.”[4]

For me, reading about and researching Choucair and her art was both inspiring and incredibly humbling.  The vast amount of work that she produced over her extensive life, with little to no recognition beyond her local art scene, is really profound.  This exercise in acquisition research highlighted for me the power and significance of displaying and curating art.   The power of her work lies not only in the art itself, but in the fact that it is now able to be seen and appreciated, showing not only her artistic achievements, but also her own life history.

 

-Sholeh Hajmiragha, Curatorial Intern, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Maymanah Farahat, “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Reinventing Abstraction”, Saloua Raouda Choucair, ed. Jessica Morgan (London: Tate Publishing, 2013), http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/14828/saloua-raouda-choucair_reinventing-abstraction-.

[2] Samir Sayigh, trans. Anna Swank, “Saloua Raouda Choucair: Distinctiveness of Style and Individuality of Vision”, ArteEast (2008), <http://www.arteeast.org/2012/03/04/saloua-raouda-choucair-distinctiveness-of-style-and-individuality-of-vision/>.

[3] Quoted in Mulhaq al-Nahar, 23 September 1995, p. 10, as recorded in Tate Modern summary of Poem (1963-5): <http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/choucair-poem-t13278/text-summary>.

[4] Kevin Jones, “Memory, Corrected: Saloua Raouda Choucair”, ArtAsiaPacific, Issue 88, May/June 2014, <http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/88/MemoryCorrected>.

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