Head from a statue of Pharaoh Thutmosis III

Object of the Week: Head from a statue of Pharaoh Thutmosis III

There are two terms you simply must hang onto in the event that you’re watching Jeopardy and “Art of Ancient Egypt” comes up as a column and pharaonic sculptures features in one of the answers: uraeaus and nemes. The nemes is the distinctive, striped headcloth donned by our Egyptian king here and probably best worn by King Tut himself—whose tomb treasures, coincidentally, featured in one of the most important exhibitions in SAM’s history: the 1978 Treasures of Tutankhamun. My personal all-time favorite photo from the SAM archives features our own Chris Manojlovic, Director of Exhibition Design, enraptured by Tut’s mask. The other term, uraeus, refers to the coiled cobra above the figure’s forehead, which was both a symbolic presence, signifying that its wearer was royalty, and a protective force, whose breath and venom would keep harm from coming to the king.

An installation photo from the 1978 exhibition "Tut"

This cool Egyptian head lives amid our ancient art collection on the 4th floor downtown. S/he has had a long and interesting journey. The Egyptian artist(s) who crafted it worked with simple saws and drills made of copper to carve out the head and a complete, life-size body that was once attached to it. When they had established the form, they created a smooth surface by using stone scrapers over the hard basalt. A lively first life for the statue might have included performance in rituals and standing guard in a festival or funerary temple.

Dating ancient material like this piece is very tricky and relies mostly on judgments of style. SAM’s sculpture has a date of mid-15th century B.C., in 18th Dynasty Egypt (about 1543 B.C.-1292 B.C.), but in the first years after it entered the museum’s collection, expert opinions placed it in the much later Ptolemaic period (305 B.C.-30 B.C.). Because ancient Egyptian art idealized individuals—aiming to show them as gods—even the subject is a matter of debate. We think it depicts Thutmosis III, but it’s possible that instead the face represents Queen Hatshepsut, the woman who totally stole his thunder, usurped his throne, and pushed him to the background for her more than 20 years of rule.

Our Head from a statue of Pharaoh Thutmosis III was cultivated from a 1937 excavation at the Temple of Armant in Egypt. Sir Robert Mond, pioneering chemist, collector, and archaeologist, financed the excavation, and notable archaeologist Oliver H. Myers directed the project. The basalt head was a highlight from their findings. Multiple restorations have the figure looking as good as s/he does now. Sections of the nose, cheek, uraeus, the upper lobe of the left ear, the upper and lower lobes of the right ear, and a segment of the headdress have been restored. One restoration, later reversed, is documented in the photo below, where simulations of the chin and right jaw are affixed to the original.

A historic photo of the Egyptian head documents a restoration to the chin and right jaw, now removed

For some time in 2002-2003, this striking sculpture joined Andy Warhol screenprints of Mick Jagger and Muhammad Ali, as well as Nigerian carved wood figures, for the SAM exhibition Hero/Antihero. Mounted at the same time as a show devoted to George Washington, Hero/Antihero explored the idea of the hero and the effect heroes have had on art and belief throughout history. The Egyptian pharaohs, each worshiped like or as God, offer a fascinating example of people venerating other people.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Head from a statue of Pharaoh Thutmosis III, mid-15th century B.C., Egyptian, basalt, 11 1/2 x 14 x 11 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 52.70. Installation photo from the 1978 exhibition “Tut”, Photo: Paul Macapia, Seattle Art Museum. A historic photo of the Egyptian head documents a restoration to the chin and right jaw, now removed, Photo: Seattle Art Museum
Trapsprung

Object of the Week: Trapsprung

As we welcome 2016, SAM nears its 83rd anniversary as an institution. It’s an organization with a rich and, at points, dramatic history. From its early years SAM has also shown a commitment to being part of history as it develops—not becoming a place where we all gawk at history as it gathers dust.

Our founding director, Dr. Richard Fuller, set up a regular exhibition program for living Northwest artists. Much of the gallery space at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park was, in the museum’s formative years, a site for rotating displays of contemporary work. Often Dr. Fuller would purchase a painting from a show on behalf of the museum, using money from his own pocket, but representing the museum, and later very informally accessioned it into the permanent collection. For the artists he deemed worthy, he provided complementary display space and buying power via SAM. In addition to his role as an important patron to Northwest artists—notably Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, and Kenneth Callahan—Dr. Fuller also worked out agreements with some artists to support them through living stipends. He employed some of them, like Callahan, to help him at the museum with installing, packing, and shipping art, or promoting shows in the local papers.

Kenneth Callahan

In the photo above, a smiling, sweeping Callahan oozes appreciation—and he should! While employed by SAM, and with the financial and emotional support of Dr. Fuller, he produced powerful work like First Seed into the Last Harvest (1943), a favorite of mine in Pacific Northwest Modernism.

First Seed Into Last Harvest

Our current director, Kim Rorschach, continues to encourage SAM’s engagement with contemporary art. One acquisition representative of her time at the helm is Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Trapsprung (2013), a remarkable oil painting that’s currently hanging in the Brotman Forum near our admissions desk. In the picture, a life-size ballerina emerges from a flat background, full of dynamism and grace in her movement.

Born in 1977, Yiadom-Boakye is a British artist of Ghanaian descent. In her work, Yiadom-Boakye is interested in making interventions in history and reality. Her work features human figures and can be called representational in that sense. The figures are almost always people of color, and they are always posed actively, portraying self-confidence, and not passive presences. They’re figures, but they’re not exactly portraits: Yiadom-Boakye works using her imagination rather than representing specific individuals from life studies or photos.

What makes her work especially compelling is her desire to insert people of color into monumental paintings (and the sometimes exclusive stories that have traditionally played out there), such as her ballerina in Trapsprung. She’s writing a new history, an inclusive one, and it’s freshly assertive, exciting, and imaginative.

Here’s to all that we know 2016 holds—including a blockbuster show for another artist interested in new histories, Kehinde Wiley—and to what we have yet to discover!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Trapsprung, 2013, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, British, b. 1977, oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 70 7/8 in., Seattle Art Museum, General Acquisition Fund. Seattle Art Museum Archives. First Seed into Last Harvest, 1943, Kenneth Callahan, American, b. 1905, tempera on canvas, 14 1/2 x 18 1/4 in., Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection.
Impressionist Self-Portraits in Frontispieces

Impressionist Self-Portraits in Frontispieces

“A frontispiece must 1: please the eye, 2: do credit to the author and the artist, 3: help to sell the book.”
—Artist, Gérard de Lairesse (Flemish, 1640–1711)

A book’s frontispiece refers to the illustrative material facing the main title page. In Europe, frontispieces began to appear in books not long after the dawn of the printed book in the 15th century. They were often designed with elaborate stylistic architectural elements, or a portrait of the author, or an illustration of the book’s subject. The first known printed frontispiece alluding to an author was in Bernhard von Breydenbach’s (German, 1440–1497) Sanctae Peregrinationes, printed in Mainz in 1486.

As artists started to author their own printed books, self-portraits and depictions of the book’s subject—engraved by the artists themselves—began to appear on the frontispiece. Some early examples of this include works by: Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), Hans Holbein, the younger (German, 1497/1498–1543), Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, 1598–1680), and Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577–1640).

Claude Monet

On view currently just outside the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library are more modern interpretations of the artist-portrait frontispiece, featuring the likenesses of artists whose works are exhibited in Intimate Impressionism.

These books offer a sample of frontispieces with artist portraits and self-portraits, produced in the early- to mid-20th century. As publishing converted to machine-produced methods and moved away from the hand-engraved images of the past, it is interesting to see that the use of frontispiece portraits has survived. These works, published from the 1930s through the 1960s, demonstrate how this centuries’ old tradition has endured.

Paul Gauguin

Two catalogues on French artists from Wildenstein & Company, Paul Gauguin, 1848–1903: A Retrospective Loan Exhibition… (1936) and Édouard Manet, 1832–1883: A Retrospective Loan Exhibition… (1937), demonstrate a mechanically-produced black and white image of Paul Gauguin’s self-portrait, and then a larger color reproduction of Édouard Manet’s self-portrait, respectively. In Cézanne: Biographical and Critical Studies, published by Skira in 1954, the method of “tipping in” an illustration is used—in this case, the self-portrait of Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906).

Édouard Manet

This book installation is on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum during the library’s public hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-4 pm.

—Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Virgin and Child

Object of the Week: Virgin and Child

Wandering through our European art galleries at SAM one day, I overheard a visitor lamenting the space we had given to older art with Christian themes. His voice dripping with disdain, he said, “Oh, pictures of Mary and Jesus. I’d rather look at myself in the mirror!” Besides drawing laughter from his companion and from myself, his comment got me noodling and then writing this blog post.

Allow me to make a case for Mary-and-Jesus pictures this timely week.

A lot has changed since the holiday season of 1967, when SAM sent out a Christmas card with a reproduction of its great Francesco Bassano Adoration of the Magi painting, and since December 19, 1968, when the Beacon Hill News-Journal sported a similar reproduction of the Bassano, while inviting Seattleites to a long list of local Christmas services.

American museums today take the responsibility to honor the diversity of the human race , the American population, and the specific communities they serve very seriously by representing a range of viewpoints in the galleries. Religious as well as ethnic diversity and identity freedom are all at the forefront of these conversations. Diversity and inclusion are necessarily central to museum hiring practices, too. These core concepts represent steps forward to a more equitable global community. I believe SAM is rightly approaching diversity and inclusion with its focus and humility, understanding that it has areas in which to grow, aiming to address those head-on, and setting its sights on better serving our delightfully diverse city and world.

Painting on view at the Seattle Art museum

A painting like SAM’s Virgin and Child by the Master of San Torpè of Siena, dated to the end of the 13th century or early 14th century, does achieve a number of important goals for the museum. Simple in composition and small in scale, Virgin and Child has a very intimate presence. Whatever the artist’s ambition in creating the work—maybe a genuine sense of devotion to God or a devotion to being exceptionally good at his craft—he produced a picture of quality that has handsomely withstood 700 years.

Remarkable as a work of art, the painting shows a high level of craftsmanship and gives us a window onto a significant period in art history. Works produced in this Proto-Renaissance style of the 13th and 14th centuries directly precipitated, well, the Renaissance, with its focus on humanist ideas and a visual art that encouraged scientific perspective and a mimetic approach to representing the world. The religious subject, the Madonna and Child, is very representative of the time and place when it was painted, one of the most important themes for the period. I find the aesthetic really intriguing: the balance of heavenly gold and august blue gives the painting an appropriately impressive air, and the figures have oddly proportioned features like those crazy fingers.

Many of our visitors won’t experience a connection to the roles Mary and Jesus play in Christian theology, but quite a few more—I daresay all of our visitors—were born to mothers. The maternal affection Mary shows for her baby as she cradles him, the kind of loving, protective care that she embodies—these are essentially human feelings. To illustrate the longings of the human soul in visual art is, for me, one of the great challenges for an art museum, and one that this historical piece takes up well.

Very warm wishes to all this holiday season!

P.S. To those who celebrate Christmas, I hope it’s a very merry one!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Virgin and Child, ca. 1325, Master of San Torpè, Italian, active ca. 1290-ca. 1320, egg tempera and gold on wood, 21 1/8 x 14 1/8 in. Seattle Art Museum, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.152. Beacon Hill News-Journal, 1968.

My Favorite Things: Alejandro Guzman on Kane Quaye’s Coffin

Drumroll please…

…we’ve launched another YouTube video series!

Check out My Favorite Things, (the video companion to the in gallery tours by the same name), where artists discuss some of their favorite artworks in SAM’s collection. We have five videos up on our My Favorite Things playlist on the SAM YouTube channel so far, but today we’re focusing on a single artist in the series: Alejandro Guzman. Born in Puetro Rico, Alejandro now works and lives in New York City.

Alejandro is a contemporary mixed media and performance artist who creates “performance sculptures” that have an active life as catalysts, generating what he calls Creative Misunderstandings. His act of giving sculptures a dynamic life has led to the creation of a family of Creative Misunderstandings with titles such as Mendacity, Class Wars, Intellectual Derelict, and The Fatalist. The sculptures were on view at SAM June 18 through September 7, 2015 as a part of the exhibition, Disguise: Masks & Global African Art.

For the exhibition’s opening celebration, Night of Disguise, Guzman collaborated with a team of local artists and dancers for his nGangulero: an activated group of sculptures which came to life, moved around the gallery, and performed unexpected exchanges that integrated music, video, and dance. It was a sight to behold for all in attendance, and an invigorating activation of the museum space.

In his interview, Alejandro discusses one of his favorite pieces at SAM: Mercedes Benz Coffin by Ghanaian artist Kane Quaye. He selected this object because he believes it to be a living form of sculpture that affects both the artist, the deceased one, and the community. This feeling of connectedness and life after creation is exactly what Alejandro aspires to do with his own sculptures and performances.

Watch the interview, and then subscribe to our My Favorite Things playlist on YouTube so you don’t miss a single artist interview.

Qing Dynasty Robe

Object of the Week: Qing Dynasty Robe

In the States, fashion seems like a primarily European product. Italian and French designers command the most respect here. Television and print ads cause us to marvel at how good folks look while just strolling the streets of Paris and Milan.

The Eurocentric focus of today’s fashion culture can make us forget that other cultures of lookin’ really good have existed all over the globe for thousands of years. Traditional China is one of those places where clothing communicates a lot about the wearer.

Qing Dynasty Robe

In this late Qing dynasty (1644-1912) robe at SAM, the wealth and style of the owner shines. The budding flora and curving tendrils of the embroidery blanket the surface of the robe, covering every inch of its fabric with beautiful, precise ornamentation. The sumptuous silk and embroidery in gold-wrapped thread tell us straight away that the owner of the robe was a person of means and importance. This rich purple hue has a visual impact recognized around the world, as in Europe, where, for a long, long time, purple has been the color most associated with royalty.

To be sure, the owner of the robe wanted respect as someone with high social status. History shows us that it’s a very human desire to show off, to draw attention to ourselves, and to set ourselves apart with luxury. That’s nothing new.

Qing Dynasty Robe

Interestingly, clothing in traditional China was also thought to express the internal state of the wearer. Symbols adorning the robe could convey positive traits and blessings of fortune on the person who donned them. Looking at this robe, the large white cuffs feature the shou character—a symbol for the Chinese blessing of longevity— directly at the center. The shou also signals this as a burial robe. Those Qing dynasty elites—always on fleek, even in the grave!

The robe is one of over 900 works that joined SAM’s collection around the 75th anniversary of the museum, an era when the collection grew significantly in size and importance. Come check it out soon at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Robe, late 19th century, silk with gold embroidery, Chinese, Qing dynasty (1644-1912).
"America Her Best Product" by Ed Ruscha

Happy birthday, Ed Ruscha!

“Made in U.S.A.” It’s a familiar phrase. A distinctive feature of the phrase is that it always comes attached to an object. The statement makes no sense when detached from an object because it lacks the first element of any sentence: a subject. What was made in the U.S.A.? Whatever it’s printed on. This is what one might call an index. Where we see the words has a direct relationship to the meaning we draw from them.

American Pop artist Ed Ruscha chose the language carefully. The physical lithograph that he called America Her Best Product was imagined and then printed within the boundaries of the U.S. The Pop movement that it represents was also distinctly American—cleverly responding to a boom in consumerism during the third quarter of the 20th century with a new brand (pun intended) of satire. The American Dream and the drive to buy that supports it are two more products referenced here. Are they the most telling ones?

America Her Best Product came to SAM as part of a 12-piece art portfolio titled Spirit of Independence, which also featured print works by artists such as Robert Indiana, Alex Katz, and Jacob Lawrence, and which celebrated the country’s 200th year in 1976. The portfolio assembled works symbolizing American creativity and freedom. Curtis H. Judge, president of the donor Lorillard Co., wrote that Spirit of Independence “reflects and projects American independence as interpreted by 12 of America’s foremost artists.”

As Ruscha points out, one of the great parts about freedom is the ability to question the direction of one’s own country.

Happy birthday, Ed Ruscha!

Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: America Her Best Product, 1974, Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937), lithograph, 31 3/8 x 23 1/2 in. Gift of the Lorillard Co., N.Y.
SAM Lights Pro Tips

SAM Lights Pro Tips

Our second annual SAM Lights event is happening this Thursday evening, December 17 from 6-9pm! To help you make the most of your experience at this popular event, we’ve come up with a list of pro tips from SAM staff members to ensure a fabulous time is had by your friends and loved ones.

Pro Tip #1: Arrive throughout the evening
The entire evening is filled with art, lights, music, and more. Feel free to arrive at the time that makes sense for you, your family, and your personal preferences!

Pro Tip #2: Get out and enjoy the park beyond the PACCAR Pavilion
Come bundled up and show everyone how Seattle does winter! Take part in the energetic procession of music and light down the Z Path led by the Chaotic Noise Marching Corps at 7:15 pm. Don’t miss your only chance to see Andy Behrle’s light installation, apparition.

Pro Tip #3: Take public transportation
Garage parking will not be available this evening, so be sure to bus to the sculpture park!

Pro Tip #4: Grab a hot drink
Keep toasty while you explore the park’s lights. Buy a warm drink from Taste or Hot Revolution Donuts, or bring your own.

Pro Tip #5: Hang out in the Garage
The Garage will be decked out with lights, DJ Sharlese from KEXP will be spinning for you all night long, and food trucks will be serving up some sweet and savory treats. Check out 314 Pie and Hot Revolution Donuts and take a break from the rain and enjoy your eats in the City Arts Lounge.

Pro Tip #6: Become part of the show
Wear your best light-inspired ensemble and become a part of the art experience.

Pro Tip #7: Take the event program with you
Know before you go by accessing the SAM Lights program from your mobile device at visitsam.org/samlights.

See you there!

Photo: Nathaniel Willson
Support Ai Weiwei!

Donate Legos to Ai Weiwei

We have a unique opportunity to help contemporary Chinese artist/dissident Ai Weiwei create commissioned artworks that will be a part of an Australian exhibition starting this month. How can we help him, you might be thinking? By sharing our LEGOs!

The Danish toy company LEGO refused Ai Weiwei Studio’s request for a bulk order of LEGOs to create artwork to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria as “they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works.” This triggered a flood of responses on social media criticizing LEGO for “censorship and discrimination” by refusing Ai’s order. Since then, thousands of anonymous supporters have offered to donate their used LEGOs to Ai.

The tiny toy bricks Ai receives will be part of two works for an exhibition titled Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei, which will explore the concept of freedom of speech and be on view through April 24, 2016 at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia. According to The New York Times, one piece will re-envision his 1995 photo triptych “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” and the other will feature 20 LEGO portraits of Australian proponents of Internet freedom and human rights.

BMW Car LEGO Collection Point at the Asian Art Museum

To participate in this site-specific project and show our support, the Seattle Art Museum has signed up as an official Lego collection point for local and visiting art enthusiasts to drop LEGO bricks through the sunroofs of a secondhand BMW. Our collection point is parked right in front of the Asian Art Museum, and the roof will be open during museum open hours now through January 10, 2016.

Want to check out some of Weiwei’s work in person? Visit his installation Colored Vases, Ai’s first work acquired by the SAM, at the Asian Art Museum.