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The Dark, Divine Wonder of Naples Comes to SAM

Ask of Naples, and you will likely receive a description comprised of contradictions. A sprawling Italian city at the foot of towering Mount Vesuvius. A dense metropolis bordered by open sea. A vibrant place with a violent side to its history. Visitors to SAM through January 26, 2020, will become familiar with Naples through the exhibition Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum. Drawn from the collection of one of the largest museums in Italy—dramatically situated in a former palace, atop a hill overlooking Naples—the exhibition brings together renowned artists of the High Renaissance and Neapolitan Baroque periods as it explores the intersection of physical and spiritual existence.

Naples has historically been claimed by a range of ruling powers, including the Spanish Empire for two centuries, beginning in 1503. At this time in Rome Alessandro Farnese was building a monumental collection of works by Italian Renaissance masters, including a powerful portrait of himself as Pope Paul III that he commissioned from Titian in 1543, which is on view in Flesh and Blood. This art collection was ultimately inherited by Charles of Bourbon, who brought it to Naples when he assumed power over the city in 1735.

“I am struck by the way that Neapolitan artists seem to collapse the distance between heaven and earth. This was also my sense of Naples itself—the sea, the dense city, and the hills are all squeezed into a narrow space, so you get the most amazing visual juxtapositions,” says Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture. Juxtapositions are also pronounced in the development of the chiaroscuro style of painting that became a signature of the Baroque era.

In the early 17th century, a uniquely Neapolitan school of painting emerged. Among the school’s founders, was Naples native Battistello Caracciolo (1578–1635), whose stunning painting, The Virgin Rescuing Souls from Purgatory (1622–1623) presents a group of figures—saintly and earthly alike—against a darkened background that at once feels confined and infinite. Also featured prominently is Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652), a Spanish painter who relocated to Naples in 1611. Like many of the works in this exhibition, his dramatic portrayal of Saint Jerome and the Angel of Judgement (1626) echoes the vivid contrasts of Naples, eternally oscillating between an enthralling light and a violent darkness. Visit Flesh and Blood to develop your own sense of Naples.

Images: The Virgin of the Souls with Saints Clare and Francis, 1622–23, Battistello Caracciolo, Italian, 1578–1635, oil on canvas, 114 3/16 × 80 11/16 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. Pope Paul III, 1543, Titian, Italian, 1488/90–1576, oil on canvas, 44 3/4 × 34 15/16 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. Saint Jerome, 1626, Jusepe de Ribera, Spanish, 1591–1652, oil on canvas, 105 1/8 × 64 9/16 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte.
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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.

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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

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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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MAPPING THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Check out the October SAM Gallery show, Mapping the Grid before it closes October 31! Nina Tichava is one of four artists featured, all of whose work responds to maps, grids, and geometry. Tichava uses painting and printmaking techniques, to interweave drawing and collage with a variety of media, including paint, charcoal, ink, tape, ballpoint pen, canvas, and metal. She is a process painter, who creates paintings without a set plan or narrative.

In the works from her Mapping Series at SAM Gallery, Nina says “I was able to source nautical maps of the Pacific Northwest sound, and I had two large, vintage maps of Washington State in my studio. I’m a constant and compulsive collector of vintage maps, papers, postcards, wallpaper, photographs, posters . . . it goes on and on. I’m always searching thrift stores, garage sales and vintage shops, especially when traveling. I also hunt for materials on eBay, mainly when I’m looking for something specific.” Many of the maps in her work at SAM Gallery feature Pacific Northwest locations, such as downtown Seattle, Gray’s Harbor, and the Hood River. As an environmentalist and conservationist, Tichava is also working to help protect the locations shown in her maps. Tichava sells works on her website to support environmental charities, such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council. She was raised by hippy parents in rural New Mexico and Northern California and spent most of her adult life on the West Coast, where awareness of things like water conservation, clean air, and environmental impact are part of the culture and prioritized. She believes that “as climate change intensifies, and everyone is thinking about how to handle the complexities, I feel like it’s a small but tangible way I can participate and contribute to a solution.” 

On top of the maps, Tichava applies numerous overlapping layers of stripes, painstakingly painted with a brush and individually applied strips of tape. “Reproduction and repetition being central themes, my paintings are responses to things mass-produced and processed to an ideal. My paintings are, by nature, imprecise and hand-made objects. Perfection is unattainable therefore each piece is unique—it is this inherent quality that continues to engage me in painting.” The Mapping Series was developed in collaboration with SAM Gallery and for many years was exclusive to the gallery. The idea came from a design project Tichava began in South Lake Union, and grew from there, encouraged by Jody Bento and the many collectors who have supported this series for years. See it for yourself!

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Coordinator

Image credit: Edward Tichava

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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.

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Object of the Week: Aphrodite Torso

Ancient Greek art is often associated with beautiful marble statuary depicting heroic subjects, and beautiful male and female bodies. However, until the Hellenistic period of Greek history, the female nude was not portrayed in large sculptural works, passed over instead for heroic male nudes. This all changed when Praxiteles, one of the most renowned Attic sculptors of the 4th century BCE, designed the first life-sized female nude statue. Purchased by the Temple of Aphrodite at Knidos, his revolutionary nude portrayal of the goddess Aphrodite became famous, and was a well-known tourist attraction in its day. As was the tradition, the Aphrodite statue would have been brightly and realistically painted. According to historians, this produced a statue so lifelike that men would fall in love with her instantly. Praxiteles’ creation led to a new era of Greek sculptural work that now included the life-sized female nude in the artistic repertoire, inspiring thousands of copies and derivations.

Designed during the 2nd century BCE, this statuette in SAM’s collection depicts the nude torso of Aphrodite, carved by an unknown artist. While this statuette is not life-sized, the pervasive popularity of Praxiteles’ work (lasting well into the Roman Empire) would have influenced both the subject and style of this statuette. Although her legs and arms are missing—most likely broken in antiquity—it appears from the curve of her shoulders that Aphrodite would have been adjusting her hair. While she was often depicted emerging from the sea, this statuette might have portrayed the goddess wringing seawater out of her hair. Discovered in Egypt, this statuette was a byproduct of the constant trade between Hellenistic Greece and their colonized counterparts throughout the Mediterranean. Although Egypt was a Greek state by the 2nd century BCE, the Ptolemaic rulers continued to favor Egyptian art and iconography over Greek works. The presence of this statue in Egypt could mean that it belonged to a Greek government official living in Egypt at the time.

Hayley Makinster, SAM Curatorial Intern

Image: Aphrodite Torso (after Praxiteles), 2nd century B.C., Egyptian, marble, 13 1/16 x 5 1/4 x 4 3/8 in., Norman and Amelia Davis Classical Collection, 61.74
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Art Zodiac: The Balanced Ballerina of Libra

For Libra season I’ve chosen to discuss Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. A British artist whose work focuses on people of color, Yiadom-Boakye’s painting, Trapsprung is currently on view on SAM’s third floor. The subject of the painting is a ballerina with her back to you one leg effortlessly lifted into the air in a battement to the side. More than a painting of grace, Yiadom-Boakye is calling attention to the lack of women of color in ballet, in depictions of ballerinas, and to the racism that accompanies a dark-skinned woman in that métier. Listen to choreographer, Donald Byrd on Trapsprung to hear more about the painting.

Yiadom-Boakye was born in 1977. And guess what? Pluto was in Libra from 1971 to 1983 (excluding a part of 1972 when it retrograded into Virgo for a hot minute)! As I mentioned in last month’s article, in evolutionary astrology, Pluto represents the structure of our soul. It is our actions and thoughts, strengths and weaknesses, all accumulated from our previous incarnations. Because Yiadom-Boakye’s soul is represented by Libra, her paintings can be seen as realizing the need to seek justice for the underrepresented and undervalued black body. Yiadom-Boakye wants to bring balance through social justice. This is what the ultimate Libra archetype strives towards. 

Libra is the 7th sign of the zodiac, and the sun transits the Libra constellation from September 23 to October 22. Libras like to get everyone’s input before they make a decision because they are the sign of “we” as opposed to Aries, the sign of “me.” Libras want fairness most of all. They ask all involved their opinions and needs, and then think through the impact on the group. Once things are balanced in their minds, they make a decision that best fits everyone. Libras use their verbal dexterity and charm to cajole others into agreement so a calm resolution is achieved. If you aren’t being treated fairly, then Libra is the friend to call because they will use their diplomacy and tact to help you out. Libra wants equality so that peace can reign. 

Yiadom-Boakye’s soul-need isn’t to prove herself or be seen for her own power, rather she strives to support equity and social justice through her work.

– Amy Domres, SAM’s Director of Admissions 
Amy is also a Psychospiritual Evolutionary Astrologer and Healer at Emerald City Astrology

Image: Trapsprung, 2013, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, oil on canvas78 3/4 × 70 7/8 in., General Acquisition Fund, 2014.11 © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Corvi-Mora, London
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Muse/News: SAM opens up, the Burke goes “inside out,” and art history’s blind spots

SAM News

Recently, SAM announced that the Asian Art Museum will reopen to the public on February 8, 2020. Curbed Seattle and NW Asian Weekly both wrote about the building project, which “gives the historic building both a home of its own and a stronger connection to the park around it.”

Local News

Last week, city council candidates appeared at Town Hall to talk arts policy. The Stranger’s Rich Smith—and candidate Alex Pedersen’s “art tie”—were there.

Dinosaurs, but make it fashion: Seattle Met presents their fall fashion editorial set amongst the new digs (get it?) of the Burke Museum.

And the Seattle Times has wrap-around coverage on the new Burke, including a story from Brendan Kiley, photos, video, and graphics to get you ready to explore.

“This Burke, director Julie K. Stein says, isn’t just a new museum. It’s a new breed of museum, imagined and designed with the incantation ‘inside-out.’”

Inter/National News

Fred Armisen is an art aficionado. No, really! Hyperallergic explores his segments on Late Night with Seth Meyers in which he shares his knowledge of literally “every painting that has ever been painted.”

Here’s the New York Times’ Roberta Smith on the new Roy DeCarava retrospective at David Zwirner; his photographs, she says, “constantly flip between visual fact and a metaphor for difference of all kinds.”

In Artforum’s October issue, Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen reflects on the recent exhibitions Posing Modernity and Black Models, together “one of the most consequential events to take place in the field of nineteenth-century art in Euro-America in recent decades.”

“Murrell achieved something more profound, and more challenging, than archival ‘discovery.’ Her exhibition placed the past blindnesses of art history on very public view, making devastatingly clear the remedial nature of the lesson in seeing required by this discipline—a lesson that could be encapsulated in a question as elementary as: Tell me, class, how many figures are in this picture?”

And Finally

I keep thinking about this squirrel.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: © Tim Griffith
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