Object of the Week: Trio A

Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A is a masterpiece in movement. The work, choreographed over a period of six months in 1966, is part of a larger work titled The Mind is a Muscle. Currently on view in the contemporary galleries is a solo performance of the same piece, filmed in 1978 on 16-millimeter film in Merce Cunningham’s studio.

Today Rainer is celebrated for her many contributions to modern dance and film. Continually exploring the relationship between dancer and audience, she pushes against the conventions of classical and modern dance. The video of Trio A captures, in a way photographs cannot, the subtlety of her actions. Bending, tapping, gliding, twisting, pacing, turning (all without looking at the camera!) the precision of Rainer’s seemingly simple gestures is mesmerizing.

The simplicity, or ordinariness, of her movements is one of the many reasons Trio A is considered canonical. Indeed, her sequence of small gestures read as ordinary; however, when art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson—who has studied, screened, and analyzed the performance countless times—found herself learning the choreography directly from Rainer in 2008, she found a new appreciation for the exacting nature of the work:

I could not always reconcile what I knew to be the required gesture…with the limitations of my body as I wobbled, tripped, and fell. My knees didn’t bend the way they were supposed to; my sense of my center of gravity and balance was totally off; and as Rainer once said to me, her brow furrowed with concern, “Do you even know how to run?” For it turns out that most of our received ideas about this dance are slightly misleading; it is not full of “everyday” actions (for instance, it includes a free handstand in the middle of the room, and balance en demi pointe while wearing tennis shoes).

Rather, it is exhausting, it is strenuous, it is very physically challenging, and Rainer has incredibly precise ideas about the ways the body needs to configure itself, where exactly the gaze should land, how even the fingers should be positioned. One does not sloppily move through a series of somewhat improvised or random motions; every tiny movement is prefigured, and it takes a great deal of concentration and work. Far from a free-form, unstructured terrain of unconstrained movement, Rainer’s instructions were a reminder that dance, though it can be deeply pleasurable, is equally a discipline, concerned with techniques of training and regimes to shape the body.[1]

After rereading Bryan-Wilson’s “Practicing Trio A,” I had the privilege of going down to Big Picture: Art after 1945 on the third floor and watching the work again. My experience was dramatically different this time around; with extra attention paid to the smallest of Rainer’s gestures (which the film’s “Details” section facilitates), it became clear how much intentionality is imbedded in every action. There is magic in the way Rainer effortlessly configures herself in space, but it is far from effortless—each moment is measured and calculated. Rainer just makes it look easy.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Trio A, 1978, Yvonne Rainer, digital video transferred from 16mm, 10:30 min., Modern Art Acquisition Fund, 2017.13 © Artist or Artist’s Estate
[1] Julia Bryan-Wilson, “Practicing Trio A,” October 140 (Spring 2012): 59. If interested in reading the essay, you can access the PDF here: http://arthistory.berkeley.edu/pdfs/faculty%20publications/Bryan-Wilson/jbwpracticingtrioa.pdf.

 

Share

Figuring History: The Joy and Exuberance of Black culture

What thoughts has Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas inspired in you? Hear from Seattle artist Benji Anderson, a featured artist in Off the Walls: After Dark at the Seattle Asian Art Museum this past September. We love sharing thoughtful community members’ writing, so please reach out if you would like to send a piece for consideration to be published on the SAM Blog!

In February, as I prepared to enter the Seattle Art Museum for the Community Celebration for Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, what seemed like endless thoughts swirled around in my mind. It was Black History month and opening weekend for the movie Black Panther— the joy and exuberance of Black culture was palpable in the air.

This was in stark contrast to just over a year earlier, when the collective anguish and discontent of Black society was reeling in the wake of the latest barrage of Black bodies murdered in the streets and broadcast in ‘real time’ for all to view. I still recall the gut-wrenching emotion of watching a Black father, murdered in his vehicle, minutes away from where my own father lived. I remember this pain so vividly because it was not the first time I’d felt it. It was not the first time the Black community watched their brothers, fathers, and sons murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. It was not the first time we were dehumanized in the public theater. It was not the first time we were criminalized for being. It was history repeating itself.

 

The weight and memory of historical trauma accompanied me into the museum, tugging at my coat with each breath of Black excellence I inhaled. As I stood in gratitude for Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, and Robert Colescott, I also stood in sorrow of the circumstances that produced such beautiful stories and art. In each historical work I found traces of my own story. In Colescott’s Matthew Henson and the Quest for the North Pole, (pictured at the top of this post) the images of Black bodies being simultaneously brutalized and fetishized depict the story of my great-great-grandmother who was raped by her oppressor, giving birth to my great-grandfather who would later be praised for his “passable” complexion, wavy hair, and light eyes. Marshall’s Souvenir II portrays a cloud of witnesses, prominently featuring Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, hallmarks in the home of my own, and many other Black grandmothers across the country, and emblematic of the complicated socio-political relationship we share with this nation.

In Thomas’ Resist, the Civil Rights era struggle of my parents was laid in front of me through a collage of violent vignettes. As I watched this piece I saw my uncle’s resistance, which left him brutally beaten and jailed for having the audacity to seek a human existence. I also saw my father and his siblings, the first to integrate the school systems in North Carolina. I felt the collective fear and courage he carried with him as the only Black student in his school. And as my chest tightened, breath shortened and fists clinched I remembered where I stood—rooted in the past, squarely in the present, carrying my portion of the mantle of Black excellence. As I gathered myself, I walked out of the museum breathing in the joy and exuberance of Black culture. Each breath gradually healing the wounds of my genetic trauma.

– Benji Anderson, Artist (@benjipnewton)

Benji Anderson is an artist, theologian and philosopher. Three identities that suffered separate existences for much of Benji’s life. Born in the South and raised in the Mid West, his early cultural learnings taught Benji that it was not only prudent, but necessary to compartmentalize his identities. Surprisingly it was through his academic journey that Benji began to fully exist as a being capable of complex, and seemingly contradictory identity. As a Master of Divinity student, Benji embarked on a process of deep self-excavation, which, upon completion of his degree, provided Benji with the license to live authentically.

As theologian and philosopher, Benji is concerned with the quality and depth of life. As artist, Benji concerns himself with the creative expression of his theosophical existence. Using a variety of mediums Benji endeavors to create multi-sensory pieces that thrust the viewer into the experience of the artist – not simply as a voyeur, but as a participant.

 

Images: Installation view of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photos: Stephanie Fink, Natali Wiseman. Resist, 2017, Mickalene Thomas, rhinestones, acrylic, gold leaf, and oil stick on canvas mounted on wood panel, 84 x 108 x 2 in., © Mickalene Thomas, video: Natali Wiseman. Photo courtesy of Benji Anderson.
Share

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Last week, SAM’s Associate Director for Community Programs, Priya Frank, appeared on KING 5’s morning talk show New Day NW to talk about Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas and a couple of the dynamic events the Education team has produced for the exhibition. She killed it!

SAM staff was everywhere last week: another member of the Education team, Public Programs Coordinator David Rue, was featured in Seattle Refined’s recurring “Movers and Shakers” series. He talked about the connections between his work for SAM and in the Seattle arts community at large.

“If your heart is in the right place, if you put in the work, and have the diligence to be the best at your craft, and people can see that, they’ll want to help you. When I do my job better, people get to interact with the arts better, so that demands that I rise to the occasion because there’s a lot of other people’s work on my shoulders that I don’t want to disappoint.”

Also: Basquiat—Untitled was highlighted in Lisa Edge’s First Thursday preview in Real Change; the Seattle Times included our upcoming Jono Vaughan solo show in their preview of spring’s hottest events, and KING 5’s Evening Magazine featured Seattle Magazine’s Gwendolyn Elliott talking about their spring arts preview that included our summer exhibition, Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson.

Local News

Gayle Clemans of the Seattle Times on the celebration of the local artist Michael Spafford, with his work on view in an “unprecedented collaboration” among Davidson Galleries, Greg Kucera Gallery, and Woodside/Braseth Gallery.

Brett Hamil of City Arts on Zoo Break Productions, a huge soundstage owned by Mischa Jakupcak and Robyn Miller that’s proposing an “alternate future for Seattle filmmaking.”

In case you missed it: last week saw a new work by choreographer Alice Gosti about the objects we hold onto at On the Boards; Michael Upchurch of Crosscut even donated something to the community “ritual release” of emotionally fraught objects.

“We have a very particular way of relating to objects,” she notes. “They can generate emotion. They can literally transport you to the moment in which you received the object. Or they can tell you the story of your whole family or of your whole culture.”

Inter/National News

The Art Newspaper is out with their annual survey of the most popular exhibitions for the year; they’re also celebrating the impressive milestone of their 300th issue. Long live print!

Artsy on the psychedelic cats of British illustrator Louis Wain, who “wine and dine, grin and wink, dress up and boogie down.”

This week, on April 4, marks 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis. The New York Times asks what the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel can tell us about this moment.

“What they’ll find in its permanent collection is a monument to a movement and, secondarily, to a man, in a display that focuses on difficult, sometimes ambiguous historical data more than on pure celebration. And they’ll find, if they are patient, useful information for the 2018 present, and for the future.”

And Finally

“Did somebody mention ART?” Art history + celebrity culture = genius.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at Seattle Art Museum, 2018. Photo: Natali Wiseman
Share

Object of the Week: Eagle Shawl Collar Coat

Wandering through the museum’s Native Art of the Americas galleries on the third floor, you see cloth, basketry, metal works, carved furnishings and more—a variety of objects from the history and life of the Northwest Coast people. Around the corner, it’s hard to miss Preston Singletary’s large work, but look to the left for an understated piece: the Eagle Shawl Collar Coat by Haida designer Dorothy Grant.

In earlier walks through the gallery, I admired the well-structured coat with its contrasting-red appliqué collar and feminine bishop sleeve. I even imagined how wearing the haute couture garment might transform my style and mood on a rainy day.

Eagle Shawl Collar Coat by Dorothy Grant at Seattle Art Museum

But recently, considering pieces in our collection from a lens of social justice, I found new meaning in this coat. Fashion has incredible power (remember this year’s Golden Globes?), and Grant’s work is no exception. The Eagle Shawl Collar Coat links a rich history of innovation with a contemporary mode of expression, capable of transforming and inspiring conversation.

The design of the coat, can be traced to button blankets, the original ceremonial dress of the Haida people1, which Dorothy learned to sew as a young teen. She studied closely with Haida Gwaii elder and knowledge-keeper Florence Davidson, and eventually innovated the traditional garment, altering the neckline so it would hang more comfortably. Grant continued to innovate after her graduation from Helen Lefeaux School of Fashion Design in Vancouver, British Columbia: she launched her haute couture Feastwear line and became the first designer to combine Haida art and fashion.

With the eagle coat in our galleries, Grant gives us opportunity to admire skillful design and innovation. It might also challenge the stereotype that Native American art exists only as commercial art or mute museum pieces. For herself, Grant considers the transformational effect of her work to be her greatest achievement. “I would like to know that I made a difference for First Nations youth, that any idea is possible. That my artwork can make someone wearing one of my garments feel pride in themselves. That through my achievements as an artist and entrepreneur I feel I have broken down stereotypes and changed the perception of a successful native woman.”

– Jenae Williams, Associate for the Curatorial Division

Image: Eagle Shawl Collar Coat, 1990 – 91, Dorothy Grant, wool, cashmere, silk, mother of pearl buttons, 46 × 21 1/2in., Ancient and Native American Art Acquisition Fund, 2014.13 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.
1 Button blankets were introduced as early as the 1840s, after early missionaries denounced the totem poles of the Northwest Coast people. The Haida placed crests of their histories onto cloth instead—elder Florence Davidson referred to button blankets as “totem poles on cloth”—and created a new form of storytelling from the act of oppression.
Share

Inside the Seattle Asian Art Museum Renovation: Plan Today, Exhibit Tomorrow

During the few months between the Seattle Asian Art Museum closing its doors and the start of the renovation and expansion, our staff was keeping busy. While the entire Asian art collection was relocated to our downtown location to store and protect it during the construction, the curatorial staff began thinking about how to display it when the museum opens again in fall 2019. Xiaojin Wu, SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, and Ping Foong, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art made use of the empty museum walls to brainstorm how the future of the galleries will be organized.

L to R: Xiaojin Wu, Ping Foong

One traditional method of curation is to group objects according to the region they come from. When the museum reopens, the goal is to move beyond this method and explore new ways of integrating and presenting the eclectic artworks. “The challenge,” says Wu “is attempting to create accessible art while embracing how complex art and history can be.”

 

Cross-cultural display is interesting but it can be confusing to present as a museum and to understand as a visitor. “We’re more concerned about boredom,” Says Wu. “The key is excitement—making people want to learn.”

L to R: Rachel Harris, Amelia Love

There are 13 galleries in the Asian Art museum to use for the collection works and the items within them will need to rotate regularly since all Asian paintings and textiles are light sensitive and every six months, or so, they need to rest, sometimes for years at a time!

Ping Foong organizing our collection

It’s hard to gain a sense of scale from print outs, but planning how the rich and diverse piece of our Asian Art Museum will fit back together again is underway! Learn more about the entire renovation and expansion process on our website or, if you’re a SAM member, don’t miss Ping Foong and Xiaojin Wu discussing their plans for the museum in more detail at Conversations with Curators, June 20. From large Buddha sculptures to delicate hair clips, how you would place these priceless objects in the newly upgraded museum when it reopens?

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Images: Xiaojin Wu
Share

10 Surprising Facts About Mickalene Thomas

If you’ve visited Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas you’re probably as enamored as we are with the larger-than-life paintings hanging in our galleries right now. This month, we’re putting the spotlight on Mickalene Thomas! Learn more about the woman behind the bright patterns, bold colors, and rhinestones with 10 surprising facts about the artist.

1. She painted First Lady Michelle Obama’s first individual portrait in 2008; the painting, titled Michelle O, subsequently went on view at the National Portrait Gallery.

2. Thomas’ mother Sandra Bush, was a fashion model and influenced her aesthetic.

3. In 2011, she participated in an artist’s residency at Monet’s home in Giverny, France.

4. Growing up in the 1970s, Thomas drew inspiration from the bright colors and patterns from her childhood in her art.

5. Her first short-film, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman: A Portrait of My Mother, was about her mother.

6. Fellow artist Kehinde Wiley painted Mickalene Thomas’ portrait for his painting series Trickster.

7. Thomas did a number of odd jobs to support herself in her 20s including fashion modeling.

8. Mickalene Thomas originally pursued a career in law.

9. Thomas ended up getting a BFA in painting at Pratt in Brooklyn and her MFA at Yale.

10. Her commissioned portrait of Solange Knowles was used for the cover of the R&B singer’s 2013 EP True.

If you haven’t visited Figuring History yet, see Thomas’ work through Sunday May 13!

— Nina Dubinsky, SAM Social Media Coordinator

MT Headshot — Topical Cream, 2016, Courtesy of Lyndsy Welgos
Share
Basquiat—Untitled

Muse/News: Art News from SAM, Seattle, and beyond

SAM News

Definitely not that same old, same old: Seattle Times photojournalist Alan Berner was there to capture opening day of Basquiat—Untitled on Wednesday; his image ran on the front page of the Seattle Times’ Thursday edition. See more of his images in their online gallery.

Stories on the painting also appeared on KOMO News and on Crosscut.

“The piece is a stunner. A thickly sketched, disembodied skull floats on a vivid blue background that disintegrates in places, revealing primary colors and countless more layers of paint. The skull is possibly alive, and definitely vibrating. Its square mouth is agape, exposing piano-key teeth. At lower left, an uppercase A sits next to its lowercase sibling, as in a children’s primer. It looks like it might be a sound, like Aaaah. But is the skull shouting or singing?” –arts writer Brangien Davis.

Local News

Geekwire shares that New York-based conceptual artist Tavares Strachan is the first-ever artist-in-residence at nonprofit research organization the Allen Institute; his show at the Frye Art Museum is on view through April 15.

Lizz Giordano of Crosscut reports on the passage of an ordinance by the King County Council that tightens its control over arts and culture agency 4Culture—and what it will mean for the arts in Seattle.

The National Arts Education Association was in town last week. Here’s a Q&A with their convention speaker, artist Barbara Earl Thomas, on her years as an artist and community leader.

Inter/National News

Never seen a ceiling, but got a lot of walls: six-year-old Blue Ivy Carter placed the winning bid at the Los Angeles’ Wearable Art Gala for a work by Samuel Levi Jones.

“It’s definitely art. I would say. I think…” You’ve got to see Will Ferrell and Joel McHale visiting a contemporary art exhibition, Stories of Almost Everyone at the Hammer Museum.

The New York Times Style Magazine with “an ode to joyful, self-consciously naïve design,” including drawings by Andy Warhol and Gregory Blackstock (now on view at the Greg Kucera Gallery).

And Finally

“Ich möchte eine Weissweinschorle”—“I would like a white wine spritzer”: A new tongue-in-cheek book teaches important German phrases for navigating the art world.

—Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

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

Object of the Week: Mending the Tears

This etching, Mending the Tears, by Winslow Homer is often celebrated for its quiet dignity, beauty, and composition. Scholars look to, for example, “the strong but simple modeling of the two girls, the boldness of their silhouettes against the misty background, and the play of the erect girl’s posture against that of the bent-over mender,” and “the relaxed crossing of feet or the curl of hair casually freeing itself from the formality of a bun,” as examples of Homer’s mastery.[1]

Homer is rightly renowned for his contributions to American painting and printmaking, but less addressed in the scholarship surrounding this work are the actions of the depicted women—mending a net and darning a sock—from which the title bears its name. Once we consider the date of Mending the Tears, made during the middle of the women’s suffrage movement in 1888, this romanticized image of women doing domestic work takes on different meaning.

The women’s suffrage movement, which began in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is inextricable from the history of women’s labor in the United States. At the time, many working class women, enduring 14-hour shifts in garment factories and textile mills, would participate in the kind of work pictured in Mending the Tears, albeit on a much larger scale and in less picturesque settings. However, as early as 1844, women activists were speaking out against the working conditions of these workplaces: women working in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts formed the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA); in 1866, shoe stitchers formed the first national women’s labor union, the Daughters of St. Crispin; and, that same year, newly freed black women in Jackson, Mississippi also formed a union demanding higher wages, The Washerwomen of Jackson. The list of such accomplishments, driven by women workers across the country, goes on.

The labor movement was largely inspired by the republican values of a just society, social equality, and virtuous labor, as well as the socialist theories of David Ricardo. Mending the Tears, based on a watercolor made by Homer in 1882 while in England, beautifully captures one version of 19th-century life—and the role of women within it—but it is an idyllic one, and one at odds with much of the social and political changes taking place in the United States during the late 19th century.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

[1] Philip C. Beam, Winslow Homer at Prouts Neck (Lanham, Maryland: Down East Books, 1966), 58; Doug Gruse, “‘Impressions’ of a master,” The Post-Star, October 5, 2008.
Images: Mending the Tears, 1888, Winslow Homer, etching, 17 3/4 x 22 7/8 in., Josephine and Windsor Utley Purchase Fund, 98.21. Photograph by Lewis Hine. Women strikers in the early 19th century.
Share

SAM Gallery Artists on Seattle: Ryan Molenkamp

Seattle is often cited as a great place to live because of the ease of access to the outdoors. With mountains encroaching on the city’s skyline from every direction and terrains ranging from rain forest to desert in the state of Washington, it’s easy to understand why we’ve got a reputation as a city of landscape painters and nature poets. In Outside Influences, on view in SAM Gallery through April 4, Dan Hawkins, Ryan Molenkamp, Kate Protage, and Chris Sheridan depict both the cityscape as well as our moss and stone backyard—taking their inspiration from everything outside themselves and filtering it through their particular medium to create unique and striking scenes of Seattle and its surroundings. This artwork begs for reflection on the artist life in Seattle and Molenkamp provides.

Ryan Molenkamp

When I moved to Seattle in 2001 to pursue an art career it didn’t make a lot of sense . . . frankly moving anywhere to pursue an art career didn’t make a lot of sense, but I had the bug, the itch, and I found Seattle to be a welcoming place to grow. The city was full of artists and galleries and a lot of DIY spaces to show art, but it always felt like it had a chip on its’ shoulder. Very little attention was ever given to what was happening here, unless it was in music. But the scene was tight. I remember in particular during the recession years strong unity among artists in this town. If no one was going to buy art at least we could all go out and support each other over 2-buck-chuck and a Rainier. Those days have given way to a more expensive Seattle, one that has priced out a lot of artists and venues. At the same time the new Seattle is full of opportunity for artists to actually make a living at this business. The success of the Seattle Art Fair, as well as the continued success of galleries like SAM Gallery and Linda Hodges Gallery (plug—I show with Linda, too) shows that this city is ready to be more than a forgotten corner of the art world. I’m excited to have a small voice in the conversation that gives me the privilege to pursue a career in the city I love.

Image: Cascade 7, 2018, Ryan Molenkamp, acrylic on panel, 40 x 34 in.
Share
Share