"Father Time", ca. 1745, Meissen manufactory

Object of the Week: Father Time

Lurking deep in SAM’s dark halls, a scythe-wielding, wizened figure strides toward you—and he can’t wait to turn the clocks back on Sunday.

As an allegory meant to inspire ruminations on aging, Father Time figures as part of a larger story of allegory in the fine and decorative arts of the 18th century. In paintings and sculpture, as in porcelain, personifications of the four seasons, four elements, four (known) continents, five senses, and twelve months acted out their meaning by looking the part and carrying symbolic items. Artists tapped into established systems of iconography—such as Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1603), which established fundamental characteristics for allegories of the four continents—to create these groupings. For collectors and connoisseurs, the challenge of spotting every symbolic reference in the appearance and accoutrements of the figure provided an opportunity to show off one’s learning.

"Father Time", ca. 1745, Meissen manufactory

Here, the German porcelain figure of Father Time combines a couple of symbolic and mythological traditions in an allegorical mishmash that honors an 18th-century tradition of incorporation. His bald dome, resplendent in hard paste porcelain, marks his advanced age. Wisps of hair cascading over his ears and the long locks of a flowing beard complete his look. He’s not a harvester of death, as his threatening scythe might suggest. The scythe symbol developed from a lack of verbal distinction between the Greek god of agriculture, named Cronus, and their word for time, chronos. Father Time’s wings were a contribution by Renaissance artists to an already confused allegory. A youthful boy lounges at his feet, grasping a yellow flower. The boy’s presence, and the flower, mimicking humanity’s life cycle at an accelerated tempo, reminded viewers that age, and his companion death, would come for all.

Appropriately meta, Father Time presents a watch holder in his left hand. Originally the porcelain figure would have served to store and display a pocket watch, and in the symbolic program of the artwork, the pocket watch fills the place of the hourglass that one would expect to find in representations of Father Time.

"Father Time", ca. 1745, Meissen manufactory

As it allegorizes and visualizes time, SAM’s porcelain figure enters into a long tradition that includes masterpieces dating back to the Renaissance, like Bronzino’s An Allegory of Venus and Cupid. That it aims to incorporate an actual time-keeping element places it more in the line of contemporary thinking. One of the notable, innovative works to do this recently is Christian Marclay’s video installation The Clock (a portion of which can be viewed here). In the same vein, Maarten Baas’s Analog Digital Clock comprises a video work in which the artist manually creates a representation of a digital clock, continually painting, obscuring, and then re-painting the clock’s minute digits as they pass.

However you’re keeping time this weekend, I say forget counting minutes and make your minutes count.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections  Coordinator

Image: Father Time, ca. 1745, Meissen manufactory, German, hard paste porcelain, height: 14 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Martha and Henry Isaacson, 91.103, Photos: Natali Wiseman.
VHS Tapes

Preserving SAM’s Historic Media Collection: Part One

In 2013, an institutional archival assessment was performed that brought to light the Seattle Art Museum’s Historic Media Collection, held in the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library. The collection contains valuable SAM-related content from the 1930s to the present, held on media in various time-based formats, such as reel film, cassette tape, and DVD. Due to the importance of the content and the fragility of the media, it was determined that this collection had the most urgent needs for preservation. The Historic Media Collection has the ability to raise community awareness of SAM’s activities and involvement in Seattle and the region since 1933. Recognizing the community impact and institutional value of the collection, a donation from an anonymous donor and a grant from 4Culture’s Heritage Collections Care have assisted in creating a stewardship project to develop and preserve this notable collection.

The project consists of three phases: surveying and planning, preservation and digitization, and public access. I am currently involved with the first phase of the project, an institutional discovery phase. For the past two months I have interviewed SAM staff at the Olympic Sculpture Park, Asian Art Museum, and Seattle Art Museum to locate any media relating to SAM and institutional history. Through discussions with various institutional departments and tours of the three museum sites, the scope of the collection has grown and the necessity of the project has been substantiated.

So many boxes!

Shelves and AV equipment

Including the items that were known in the Bullitt Library’s holdings, over 2,000 items have been found thus far. An investigation of the nooks and crannies of SAM’s buildings uncovered four film canisters containing thirty rolls of 35-millimeter film in a closet. The search of a storage facility revealed fourteen boxes containing Beta-format tapes, cassettes, VHS recordings, and CD/DVDs. A number of the tapes and CDs found in these boxes were unfortunately ruined due to lack of climate controls in this warehouse, further emphasizing the critical nature of this project.

Damaged CDs :(

Another aspect of the project is an appraisal of the materials—what’s on the media and what condition is it in. With the assistance of a personal VCR, cassette, and DVD player, a survey is currently underway of media within this part of the collection. The material that has been discovered has already proven to be rewarding. A CD simply labeled “Data” contained an audio recording of SAM founder and president Dr. Richard Fuller giving a lecture at a Rotarian luncheon in the 1960s, as well as a “Museum on the Air” radio recording with former Educational Director Edith Thackwell (Mrs. A.M. Young).

Film Canisters

Film Canister

A number of the videocassettes have contained a treasure trove of news stories and clips relating to the museum. A KIRO News special from 1987 (“Nightsight”) captures a pivotal time in SAM’s history, documenting the transition from the Volunteer Park location to the opening of the current Downtown location. It features interviews with former SAM director Jay Gates and Seattle arts patron and SAM champion Virginia Wright. Other important findings include recordings of interviews and lectures featuring docents of the Seattle Art Museum, who share their stories of SAM. These recordings offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the amount of time and work SAM docents devote for preparation of their tours and presentations. Finally, the recordings capture the contributions of staff and volunteers, many who no longer work at the museum, showcasing a glimpse into the amazing work (from exhibitions to educational programs) that SAM continually provides for communities in the Pacific Northwest.

Cassette tape

DV

Another dimension of the project is outreach to local experts in the community to aid with the next two phases of the preservation process. I interviewed John Vallier, Head of Distributed Media at the University of Washington’s Media Center to ask questions regarding best practices for preservation and to provide recommendations to local community experts that could assist with the project. A meeting followed this session with Rachel Price and Libby Hopfauf at MIPoPS (Moving Image Preservation of Puget Sound). At least 400 items in the collection are Beta-format, a format not readily viewable on available equipment at the Bullitt Library. Also a recipient of funding from 4Culture, the team at MiPoPS has graciously offered to assist with the appraisal of these materials and to provide budget recommendations for the digitization process. Finally, an interview was conducted with Grammy Award winner and audio wizard Scott Colburn, who graciously offered his time and advice regarding a number of sound recording tapes and cassettes within the collection. The advice and support of these community experts has been invaluable, and will hopefully lead to further collaborations with latter phases of the project.

Audio and 16mm film

This blog will be the first of several continual updates into the surveying and planning for SAM’s Historic Media Collection. Interviews with departments throughout the institution, the appraisal of media materials, and discussions regarding policies are still underway. Once the first phase of the project is completed in December, the next projected steps of preservation and access will begin, with the goal to preserve these valuable cultural materials in order to sustain SAM’s rich history and provide access to these public resources.

If you have any questions about this project, please post them in the comments section below.

–Michael Besozzi, Project Coordinator: Historic Media Collection

Photos: Michael Besozzi.
Standing figure (Nkondi), Congolese

Object of the Week: Standing figure (Nkondi)

SAM’s Congolese Standing figure (Nkondi) meets and enraptures visitors in our African art galleries. Beads, feathers, and knots of string secured to the wooden figure with countless iron nails lend him a startling and uncomfortable presence. Why has he been on the receiving end of this aggressive, symbolic gesture of driving nails?

Across the country, in exhibitions at great museums like the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, San Francisco’s de Young Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Nkondi has confronted viewers with his own appearance—and with wrong assumptions about his purpose.

Standing figure (Nkondi), Congolese

Not only has he been exhibited extensively, the Nkondi has an interesting provenance. He was collected by Merton Simpson (1928-2013), one of the most significant dealers of African and tribal art in the second half of the 20th century. Interestingly, Simpson first opened his gallery—Merton D. Simpson Gallery—in the early 1950s in order to support what he considered his primary work: painting. An artist for life, Simpson served in the Air Force and was asked to paint General Dwight D. Eisenhower, which he did, earning $100 for his effort. Simpson became part of the New York Abstract Expressionist school, crossing paths with artists like Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell, who would critique Simpson’s paintings in the frame shop where Simpson worked. Later he joined the politically focused Spiral Group of artists, which also counted Romare Bearden among its members.1

No slight to Simpson’s visual art, his accomplishments as a dealer of traditional African art surpassed what he did in painting. When Simpson passed away in 2013, a New York Times obituary reflected on his incomparable taste and expertise, his success and renown as an art dealer, and the significance of his doing so as an African American. Heinrich C. Schweizer, then head of the African and Oceanic art department at Sotheby’s, remarks that “Over the course of the ’60s and ’70s Simpson became the most important dealer in the US in this field . . . Worldwide, you could say he was one of the two or three leading dealers, and certainly a powerhouse in the US, and this was especially remarkable for an African-American, who began doing this in the time of segregation.” The same article quotes an equally admiring Lowery Stokes Sims, the highly respected retired Curator Emerita at the Museum of Arts and Design: “When I worked at the Met I would go to the gallery and see some of the most incredible African art I’d ever seen in my life. It was really showstopping. And occasionally he’d show his own work . . . For an African-American who came up in the art world in the 1970s, he was truly one of those unsung pioneers, crucial in establishing our place in the art world.”2

Standing figure (Nkondi), Congolese

SAM’s Nkondi was purchased from Simpson in 1968 by another exceptional collector of African art, Katherine White, whose transformational 1981 gift—of which the Nkondi was part—forms the core of the museum’s African collection.

Since the Nkondi has arrived at SAM, the museum has been telling his true story and deconstructing “fetish” myths about him. Congolese advisor Fu Kiau Bunseki has offered critical insights on the Nkondi’s role as a sign of authority, and as a hearer and keeper of agreements. Check out the SAM website for rich insights on the thoughtful symbolism that informs each element of this memorable figure.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections  Coordinator

Oral history interview with Merton D. Simpson, 1968 November, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Bruce Weber, “Merton D. Simpson, Painter, Collector and Dealer in African Art, Dies at 84,” New York Times, March 14, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/arts/design/merton-d-simpson-artist-and-gallery-owner-dies-at-84.html
Image: Standing figure (Nkondi), Congolese, wood, iron, fiber, beads, string, glass, feathers, chalk, 31 11/16 x 13 3/8 x 8 11/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.836, Photos: Natali Wiseman.
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

SAM Book Club: Up Next – The Sculptor

Welcome back, book lovers! We return with the third edition of SAM Book Club. For those new to the series, here’s how it works: Once a quarter, I’ll be selecting a book about art to talk about here on SAM Blog. We’ll announce the book about a month before the book club date so that you can get your hands on a copy and read along. We’ll meet back here on the blog to discuss in the comments.

I promised in the first installment of SAM Book Club that we’d be mixing up the genres in our reading, and I’m here to make good on that promise. This month we’ll be reading Scott McCloud’s graphic novel The Sculptor. McCloud’s protagonist is a struggling artist who makes a deal with Death to be able to mold any material into anything he can imagine—in exchange for his own life after just 200 days. Author Neil Gaiman described it as “the best graphic novel I’ve read in years. It’s about art and love and why we keep on trying.” If that doesn’t sound like something you want to sink into on a rainy Seattle day, I don’t know what does.

Visit your local library and pick up a copy, and let’s fall into an artful book about art together. Meet me back here on Wednesday, November 23 to discuss The Sculptor!

—Carrie Dedon, Curatorial Assistant, Modern & Contemporary Art

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

 

apsaalooke_fem1

2016 Betty Bowen Award Winner Wendy Red Star

We talked with Wendy Red Star, the 2016 Betty Bowen Award winner, to discuss her art and ideas of cultural archiving, inclusion, expectations, and engaging communities through a creative process. Raised on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, Wendy Red Star works cross-generationally, looking in particular at matrilineal relationships within Crow culture and ceremony. She has critically examined historical portraits of Crow leaders by white photographers and taken apart stereotypical representations of Native American women in a variety of popular culture contexts. Her work centers on photography but sculpture, video, fiber arts, and performance are also important to her practice.

Learn more about this artist’s compelling work which will be featured in an installation at the Seattle Art Museum beginning November 10. And don’t miss an opportunity to celebrate the winner of the Betty Bowen Award during the ceremony on the 10th, beginning at 5:30 pm, honoring Wendy Red Star as well as  Dawn Cerny and Mark Mitchell who both received special recognition this year. The ceremony and reception following the artists’ remarks are free and open to the public.

Seattle Art Museum: You’ve described yourself as a cultural archivist in the past, can you describe how your work fills this role?

Wendy Red Star: My practice is collaborative and research-based. I am in pursuit of an on-going excavation of historical Native American imagery and material culture. I like to bring these “artifacts” to life in a contemporary visual arts context. Through an art practice that is driven largely by process, I want to unpack the fraught relationship and history of Native images, portraits, self-representation, and do so with wit, humor, and subtle satire in order to have levity in my art without sacrificing integrity.

red-star_medicine-crow

SAM: You’ve literally annotated a series of images of Crow chiefs. Do you consider your larger body of work to be an annotation? How are your cultural annotations in conversation with the erasure or removal aspects your other work?

WRS: Native voices have historically been silenced, unable to explain or even place our own narrative within the larger society. As a Native person I have witnessed the lack of inclusion for Native artists in particular in the contemporary art world, many of whom struggle for inclusion in important exhibitions. Also troubling is a prevailing but antiquated expectation of what Native art should be, whether from the 19th century or the 21st. This leaves many Native artists feeling segregated into categories of “traditional” work and without a place in the contemporary art world. I consider my practice and the act of annotating, revealing, and erasure a reclamation of my own history and identity. The act is so much more than a rejection of the colonial gaze, it is a deliberate act to take authority and rewrite histories in humanist way.

SAM: How do you see your work in conversation with SAM’s collection, if at all?

WRS: My recent work has had at its center an intensive engagement with my own Crow community and I am seeking to expand that focus into the broader contemporary art world to explore how other artists are grappling with narrative and performative aspects of their work, and how to continue exploring ways of creating greater accessibility and a sense of openness. I am inspired by the work of conceptual artist Fred Wilson who SAM has worked with and the ways in which I could further reappropriate and reimagine the photographic possibilities inherent in portraiture, staging and candid images, institutional critique, and curating museum objects in broader historical and contemporary contexts. SAM is an institution that is open to this process and I find that very exciting and necessary.

SAM: Tell us a bit about your process—how does the fabrication aspect of your creative process add dimension to the final product?

WRS: The actual making of my work happens fairly quick. The majority of my time is spent engaging in research and processing ideas while out walking with my dog in the woods. Once I have settled on an idea the execution happens in many different forms but is almost always image driven witha  focus on richness of color and cultural content.

apsaalooke_fem3

SAM: How does clothing design fit into your practice? Are you intrigued by your work being up at the same time as Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style?

WRS: My grandmother, Amy Bright Wings, made sure I participated in Crow cultural traditions. She provided me with a traditional elk tooth dress, a shawl, beaded belt, and moccasins—all objects that I have since integrated into my artwork. I soaked up as much of my grandmother’s knowledge as I could by watching her continually making. Although she never actually showed me directly how to make traditional Crow regalia, I learned through the process of immersion. Traditional Native regalia has signifiers that state the honors and virtues of the owner and maker of each individual garment. Every piece of traditional clothing is made with intention and striking beauty virtues that I use to help guide me in all aspects of my art making. I am a self taught seamstress learning the basics about nine years ago when my daughter was born. I have a deep admiration for the construction of garments, fine tailoring, and the sculptural aspect of making clothing. I am looking forward to viewing Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style and seeing the elegant construction and display of clothing. I suspect it will provide me with many ideas.

 

ABOUT THE BETTY BOWEN AWARD

Betty Bowen (1918–1977) was a Washington native and enthusiastic supporter of Northwest artists. Her friends established the annual Betty Bowen Award as a celebration of her life and to honor and continue her efforts to provide financial support to the artists of the region. Since 1977, SAM has hosted the yearly grant application process by which the selection committee chooses one artist from the Northwest to receive an unrestricted cash award, eligible to visual artists living and working in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The award comes with an unrestricted cash award of $15,000.

 

Images: Apsáalooke Feminist 1, 2016, Wendy Red Star, digital print on silver rag, 34 x 40 in., Courtesy of the artist, ©Wendy Red Star.
Peelatchiwaaxpáash/Medicine Crow (Raven), 2014, Wendy Red Star, inkjet print with red ink, 16 x 11 in., Courtesy of the artist, ©Wendy Red Star.
Apsáalooke Feminist 3, 2016, Wendy Red Star, digital print on silver rag, 34 x 40 in., Courtesy of the artist, ©Wendy Red Star.

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.

blog-ootw-door-from-venice

Object of the Week: Door from the Ca’Rezzonico, Venice

It’s a fait accompli that countless works of art from cultures across the world can no longer be seen in their original contexts, and the works’ relationship to their original surroundings, including their connection to related pieces, has been forever changed. In SAM’s collection, consider ancient fragments like the Achaemenid Relief from Imperial Reception Hall with servant bearing wine: to whom does he offer his honorary libation? Or, think about the ladies greeting visitors at the top of the escalators on our third floor, in Robert Colescott’s Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas: Their nude counterparts are striking poses in the collection of the Greenville County Museum of Art in South Carolina. When related works end up separated, the relationship between them is not severed but altered. When the landing spot for related works is an art museum, new relationships blossom: between an artwork and its new surroundings, and between its new home and the homes of its fellows.

blog-ootw-door-from-venice-detail

SAM’s Door from the Ca’ Rezzonico has starred in the decorative arts collection since shortly after the museum’s move downtown—originally as a long-term loan, and eventually as part of the permanent collection. This lacquered and gilt wooden door features chinoiserie designs, elements that reflect the merging of Asian and European aesthetics. The upper panel pictures a figure on horseback with noticeably Caucasian features, donning flowing robes and a turban in a confluence of diverse cultural associations. As it is currently situated in a gallery focused on Venice as a site of exchange, the Door from the Ca’ Rezzonico exemplifies, and symbolizes, a portal to mutual understanding.

blog-ootw-door-from-venice-detail-2

Aside from the visual interest it carries, the door has established for the museum a special connection to its original site and the site of its sister. The door comes from an opulent palace along the Grand Canal in Venice, the Ca’ Rezzonico. At one point an extravagant private residence, the Ca’ Rezzonico now serves as a museum for the decorative arts, and its collection features a lacquered door in the same design scheme as SAM’s door. Another bond exists between SAM’s door and one in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Adolph Loewi, an antiques and decorative arts dealer based in Los Angeles—who also handled SAM’s Italian Room—was responsible for splitting these doors, at one point joined together in the Ca’ Rezzonico, into two.

As artworks shift context over time, silver linings do emerge, and one of them is the persistent hope that separated pieces might one day be reunited again.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Door from the Ca’Rezzonico, Venice, ca. 1760, Italian, wood, oil lacquer, gilt, 110 3/4 x 56 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Richard Louis Brown, in honor of Julie Emerson, 2014.17, photos: Natali Wiseman.
Photo: Natali Wiseman

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Austen Mumper

AUSTEN MUMPER
After earning his economics degree at Gonzaga University, Austen worked for Colliers International, a real estate services company. Austen currently attends The Art Institute of Seattle studying animation and pursuing his life-long interest in music and art. Working at SAM surrounded by artwork and conversations with coworkers and museum patrons provides him constant inspiration.

SAM: Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style opened on October 11. What’s your favorite part of the exhibition?

Mumper: Seeing the life of a fashion designer and the process that goes into clothing design is a very new perspective for me. The rooms alone are beautifully arranged, completely unrecognizable from past exhibitions I’ve worked. Still owning hand-me-downs, I don’t think people should be taking my fashion advice, but any person interested in fashion must see this show.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
Choosing a favorite piece is incredibly difficult. That said, the section I frequent most is the African Art—in particular, Standing Figure (Nkondi), a religious idol made by the Kongo people. Each nail driven into this figure represents an oath between two people. If that oath is broken, the spirit of this vessel will travel out from its base to harm any violators in play. It’s amazing to have something made by a community to help everyone displayed for everyone to see.

Who is your favorite artist?
My favorite artist is Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese film director, producer, screenwriter, animator, author, and manga artist. Miyazaki’s goal was to build a studio where the priority was not success, but making good films. The depth of his characters is amazing, it’s like we know them by the end of the film. His fictional worlds use his personal experience, historical facts, and his opinions to tell you how he sees reality and what he has learned form it. Miyazaki said, “Creating animation means creating a fictional world. That world soothes the spirit of those who are disheartened and exhausted from dealing with the sharp edges of reality.” I keep this in mind each step of the way towards my goals in animation.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
I encourage anyone to ask questions or simply share with us. We all have unique insights that can benefit both speaker and listener, although taking your time to experience the art is understandable. I appreciate all of the people I’ve learned from, and I enjoy when I can talk about the art with someone who enjoys it as much as myself and the rest of the people working at the SAM.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
Most of my time is taken up with work and classes, both of which I enjoy. Working at SAM has been its own education—learning about people, places and pieces all telling great stories. I couldn’t have asked for a better position in my attempts to join the art community.

—Katherine Humphreys, SAM VSO

Object of the Week: Echo

A recent addition to SAM’s collection and an huge impact on the landscape of the Seattle’s waterfront, Echo is the monumental sculpture installed at the Olympic Sculpture Park in 2014. Learn more about this visually confounding sculpture from the artist, Jaume Plensa, and Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. Originally modeled on the nine-year-old daughter of the owner of a Chinese restaurant near the artist’s studio, Plensa elongated and abstracted the girl’s features with computer modeling. The sculpture references Echo, the mountain nymph of Greek mythology. Find out what it took to create and install such an intensely large-scale work.