Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Alyssa Norling

Alyssa Norling

Aly moved from Hillsboro, OR to Seattle in 2011 to pursue her BFA in Theater from Cornish College of the Arts. After spending a summer working for a trapeze studio in exchange for high flying trapeze lessons, she decided she should find a paying job while in school. She took up her position as a VSO at SAM and graduated with her BFA with a concentration in Original Works in 2015. Aly continues working as a VSO to gain inspiration while working as an actress, playwright, director, dancer, and singer.

SAM: Material Difference: European Perspectives is a new addition to the Big Picture: Art after 1945 exhibition featuring artist Anselm Kiefer. What is your favorite piece in this section?

Norling: Anselm Kiefer’s Die Welle (The Wave). You know something is deeply wrong with the world when you see it, and then you learn that Kiefer is using the myth of Lilith at the Red Sea to evoke the destruction, despair, and death of the holocaust. It’s remarkably haunting and effective. It’s inspired me to take a closer look at the myth of Lilith and create art of my own about her because, to me, the myth sounds like it was created to keep women from demanding equality with men.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

I have to cheat because my favorite was JUST taken down. Untitled by John McCracken,the monolith-type thing with perfectly clear reflective surfaces, became my favorite over time. When patrons took their time and really considered our stainless steel McCracken (in ways other than to fix their hair and take mirror pics) it inspired so much play and creativity. The possibilities for interacting with it were endless. It evoked a wider variety of response from patrons than any other piece in the museum, in my experience. The McCracken was a different work of art every day, every minute, depending on who was in its presence and how they chose to interact with it.

Who is your favorite artist?

My brain goes to playwrights. I’ve been in love with the structure, themes, and feminism that live in the plays of Maria Irene Fornes and Caryl Churchill for a very long time, so probably one of those two. Read one of their plays someday! Seriously.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Spend time with art. More time than you think. More time than you want. I took this job because I was curious about what discoveries I’d make if I spent a ridiculous amount of time in the presence of a work of art. Interesting things happen when you push yourself to give art the time and attention it actually needs from you. This sounds like really basic advice, but spend a day in the life of a VSO and you’ll be dumbfounded by how many patrons experience art at hyper speed through smart phone cameras. Snap. Move on. Snap. Move on. Snap. Move on. So many people don’t experience art through their actual eyes, brains, and hearts. And very few push themselves to really investigate a work of art and discover a relationship with it.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

Rehearsals, performances, or research really just take up most of my time! Currently, I perform at Café Nordo in Pioneer Square Thursdays–Sundays in a crazy, geeky, hilariously weird Christmas, shadow-puppet play called Christmas is Burning that runs all of December. I’m also rehearsing with a group that will be performing a piece at On The Boards in the spring, which I’m really excited about. But when it’s not one of those current projects, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what kind of art I want to make in the future. My education is in theatre, but I grew up a dancer and surround myself with visual art, so I feel a need to explore which of these (or which combination of these) will allow me to tell stories most effectively.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman

After 10 Years, the Grass Keeps Getting Greener

We’re celebrating the Olympic Sculpture Park turning 10 with a laser show! Installed for this year’s SAM Lights on December 15, Greener by Iole Alessandrini and Ed Mannery is an art installation made from light that was originally on view at the grand opening of the park in 2007. Missed SAM Lights? Not to worry! Greener will light up the terrace through January 16.

In the 10 years since the laser grid of Greener cast SAM visitor’s in its net, artist Alessandrini has had some time to reflect on the light sculpture, her practice, and what it means for an artwork and a sculpture park to interact and create visual connections for visitors. A Seattle transplant from Italy, Alessandrini began her Laser Project Series with Optical Engineer Ed Mannery in 2001 during a residency at Bellevue Art Museum. As Iole Alessandrini has had said of her work, “It is the intersection between these two creative expressions—art and architecture—” through which her work moves. At the Olympic Sculpture Park, Greener covers over 2,500 square feet of grass in the Gates Amphitheater between Richard Serra’s Wake and the PACCAR Pavilion.

See this work in the twilight hour between sunset and park closure for optimal viewing!

SAM: How does nature factor into your focus on architecture and design?

Iole Alessandrini: Since early studies on light-art at the University of Washington (1996), I have been captured by the symbiotic and antithetic relationship between natural and artificial light. Symbiotic—in that natural and artificial light make things visible; antithetic—as the sun dominates over artificial light. Within enclosed spaces the laser of our installations is free from sun’s interference and it appears radiant. In outdoor environments, the light from both the sun and the laser interplay with each other in a symbiotic and antithetic way. This unique interplay manifests when the sun sets and the sky darkens. During this transition, the light from the art prevails to become visible in itself, while revealing the natural landscape surrounding people.

 What about the interplay between the tangible and intangible interests you and drives your work?

I think of light as a medium that I can model, shape and bend. Perhaps as one who shapes clay; I shape light. The singular wave-behavior of laser, which directs the rays to move parallel to each other, gives the laser-light the distinctive shape of a beam. In the presence of dust or smoke the light-beam becomes visible yet intangible.

With the installation Greener, Optical Engineer Ed Mannery and I used cone optics to direct the beam to form a plane. It is the nature of light to be evident when objects reflect it. In the park, the light-planes intersecting the grass-blades reveal this natural phenomenon and look as if they are lit from within. Both grass and light are evident yet the light remains intangible.

At SAM Olympic Sculpture Park installing Greener for the 10th anniversary of the park’s opening.

A photo posted by @iolealeassandrini on

Is movement crucial to all your light-based works? I’m thinking of something like “Three of Us” which captures movement through laser projections as compared to Greener which inspires movement through laser projections.

Many of our projects involve a direct connection with viewer and light. The Three of Us is a photo of a unique phenomenon of light captured with the camera as people move through the laser-planes. The project Untitled at Jack Straw Production (2004) provided us the first opportunity to document this phenomenon. I photographed a woman’s hands as she moved them back and forth rapidly through the plane. This picture created the series which I titled Shroud as it shows a flat subject taking on a ghostly aspect through the interface with the light plane. The photos are unique as they resemble holograms and they are of great interest to me. I am an avid researcher of motion in photography as seen in the work by Eadweard Muybridge, Jules Etienne Marey and Harold Edgerton.

How is Greener activated by the interaction of park visitors?

Contemplating the work from a distance vs. interacting with it—as in immersing oneself in the light—are distinctive ways in which Greener can be experienced.  Yesterday at the park during its opening, we observed that dynamic at play. In both cases it was satisfying to witness the sense of wonder and engagement coming from people staring at and interacting with 2,500 square feet of light under their feet. Greener visually connects different aspects of the Olympic Sculpture Park, from Serra’s Wake to the PACCAR Pavilion causing visitors to walk and step over the grass and the light of our installation.

Do you see Greener differently after the last 10 years? What does the passage of time lend to the work and it’s relationship to the park?

We were pleased to see that even after 10 years the technology continues to work. It works in function, and it works in keeping visitors engaged and mesmerized. Their appreciation of the art, the landscape, and the architecture speaks volumes, making Greener an aesthetic expression and synthesis of them all.

–Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter/Content Strategist

Photos: Courtesy of Iole Aleassandrini

Object of the Week: South Wind, Clear Dawn (Gaifu kaisei)

Refined compositions and striking color combinations characterize one of the most recognizable Japanese art forms: the ukiyo-e print. Ukiyo-e are woodblock prints produced during the late Edo period (1615-1868) in Japan. In Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi, Japanese artist Tabaimo (b. 1975) honors two acknowledged masters of ukiyo-e: Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858).

Speaking to their impact on her contemporary work in digital media, Tabaimo explains, “I often copy colors and designs from Japanese woodblock prints by Hokusai, Hiroshige, and others. By adding them to my line drawings, I incorporate ‘distinctive Japanese colors’ and ‘distinctive Japanese designs’ into my work. The strong impression and unique power of the prints becomes part of my work, and allows me to complete my original work. Many of my works use this method of art making.”

Because Tabaimo is looking back to the artists of her culture’s history, borrowing color patterns and design elements, her work feels like the continuation of a conversation. By including some of the same formal elements associated with a traditional Japanese art, Tabaimo picks up that thread of history, honoring it, but also carrying it forward. As her existing and new works are displayed in the Asian Art Museum, interspersed with some of the treasures of SAM’s Asian art collection, we can appreciate even better how art history has informed Tabaimo’s work, the work of contemporary Japanese artists, the work of contemporary digital media artists, et cetera.

Here, we are highlighting one memorable ukiyo-e from Katsushika Hokusai that you’ll find in Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi. Titled South Wind, Clear Dawn (Gaifu kaisei), the print has been commonly referred to as Red Fuji—which, I have to say, turns my mind to produce, and not landscapes. Nonetheless, we can see why the color of the print has been singled out as the identifying characteristic. The mountain peak is a rich, chocolatey brown, and the snowcap leaks down the mountain into textured trails, like an icing stingily applied. Where the snow trails end, brown fades in a gentle gradient to the soft red for which the print is known. Lower down, an army of conical, gray-blue trees (faded from green) carpets the base of the mountain. With the trees’ diminutive size against imposing Fuji, and the way different arms of the forest reach across the mountain’s base and up its side, they are like an invading arboreal-ant army. The line of the mountain divides the print cleanly into foreground and background, where a deep blue sky fends off rolling clouds.

Part of the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei), the Red Fuji would stand out from the rest because it was so rare that the mountain would appear with this hue. It only occurred under special conditions, in late summer or early fall, and when the winds were blowing from the south. SAM’s version is from the second printing, notable because the mountain reveals marbled woodgrain, a poetic remnant of the wooden block from which this scene was printed.

As they have for Tabaimo, may the distinctive colors and designs of your histories also lead you forward.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: South Wind, Clear Dawn (Gaifu kaisei), from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei), ca. 1830-32, Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760-1849), woodblock print, sheet: 9 7/8 x 14 3/4 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Mary and Allan Kollar, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.15.

Film/Life: Viva Italia! Italian film From Neorealism to Fellini

Once again, we again team with Festa Italiana to celebrate classic Italian cinema.

January 12
Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945)
During the World War II Nazi occupation, Roberto Rossellini, a rich man’s son, playboy, and passionate intellectual, whose credo was “freedom above all else,” plotted in secret to attack Italy’s invading enemies with the sword of artistic expression. Believing that “ideas generate images,”  Rossellini sold his possessions, lived with Resistance partisans and, with Federico Fellini, crafted a scenario that celebrated the day-to-day heroism of Romans opposing oppression. In the film a fleeing Resistance leader is sheltered by a pregnant woman (the great Anna Magnani), with a sadistic Gestapo leader (Harry Feist) in pursuit, while an activist priest attempts to deliver money to the freedom fighters. This founding classic of neorealism has the intense immediacy of a documentary, and the heart and soul of a poem. Digital restoration, 101 min.

January 19
Europe 51 (Roberto Rossellini, 1952)
In the post-World War II years, Rossellini reacquainted himself with the pleasures of living well: his beautiful suits, cars, and women. He met the celebrated actress Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca), they fell in love, divorced their respective families, got married, and made films in Italy. A sensualist by nature, Rossellini also had a deep spiritual sensitivity, and had made a moving testament to St. Francis in 1950 (St. Francis, God’s Jester). The director was stirred by Francis’s compassion and devotion to helping others, and one day he said to Bergman, “I’m going to make a modern-day story about Francis, and Francis is going to be you.”  Rossellini had suffered the death of a beloved son, and in Europe 51 Bergman is a wealthy woman who, after her young son dies, shocks her husband (Alexander Knox) and friends by renouncing her privileged life to try to uplift the downtrodden. With Giulietta Masina (star of The Nights of Cabiria, and Federico Fellini’s wife). Digital restoration, 118 min.

February 2
Voyage in Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1953)
Often called one of the most beautiful films ever made, Voyage explores the interplay between buttoned-up Nordic and relaxed Latin temperaments. An unhappily married couple (Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders) embodies the emotionally cool, rational hyper-efficient ethos of northern cultures. Rossellini, as a boy growing up in Naples, “felt the presence of the miraculous,” but Bergman and Sanders are in Naples for a business deal, to sell the villa they’ve inherited. Each on their own, they make separate excursions in the region that give them a taste of the Italians’ intimate bond with their mythic past, nature and sexuality. Rossellini immerses us in a world that “is for the departed as well as the living, something eternal,” a world that brings two northern visitors to their senses. Digital restoration, 97 min.

February 9
The Passionate Thief (Mario Monicelli, 1960)
This festive romp is a prime example of commedia all’italiana, which mixes laughter, desperation, and satire into a sparkling cocktail. Or many cocktails, since it’s New Year’s eve in Rome, and a movie extra (Anna Magnani) plunges into an all-night swirl of adventures with an actor friend (the comic Toto) and a suave crook (Ben Gazzara). The trio encounters La Dolce Vita’s Trevi Fountain, German aristocrats, and countless parties; they sing and dance, scramble and scheme as Magnani’s effusive persona makes the journey a soulful quest. Digital restoration, 105 min.

February 16
I Knew Her Well (Antonio Pietrangeli, 1965)

This rediscovered seriocomic gem of Swinging-Sixties Italy centers on Adriana (Stefania Sandrelli), a young  provincial beauty who comes to Rome with dreams of becoming a movie star. Innocent, guileless, and sexually alluring, she grows up quickly as she negotiates an obstacle course of tangential jobs and hungry men who “know her well.” But we who see the full arc of her life know her best. As one man says, “She may be the wisest of all.” Digital restoration, 115 min.

February 23
The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1969)

This stunning masterpiece, an adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s novel, melds in-depth character study, Fascist politics and transcendent cinematic beauty in a sensual, operatic flow of images. In the prewar 1930s, a man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) represses his youthful sexual trauma by obsessively seeking conformity, thus endangering everyone he cares about. Ravishing cinematography by world-master Vittorio Storaro. Digital restoration, 115 min.

March 2
Padre Padrone (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, 1975)
This moving autobiographical story of author Gavino Ledda’s life begins in rural Sardinia, where the boy’s father (padre) is also his boss (padrone). The youth (Saverio Marconi) is hungry for learning, but his father (Omero Antonutti) makes him tend sheep in solitude, unschooled. Can a traditionalist patriarch and a creative and ambitious son learn to accommodate each other? Winner of the Grand Prix and International Critics’ Prize, Cannes Film festival. Digital restoration, 113 min.

March 9
City of Women (Federico Fellini, 1980)

“Have you ever explored your female side?” an angry woman asks Marcello Mastroianni, who, as in La Dolce Vita and 8 ½, portrays director Fellini’s alter ego. For three decades Fellini has presented onscreen women of spirit, willpower and unique individuality, and men who are confused, enraptured and overwhelmed by them. In this film Mastroianni finds himself in a fantastical world dominated by women who make fun of his cluelessness. Ultimately, Fellini feels that the “taste of life” is in the mystery of men and women, the way we’re waiting for a message from each other. With Anna Prucnal, Bernice Stegers. Cinematography by Giuseppe Rottuno. Digital restoration, 140 min.

March 16
Night of the Shooting Stars (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, 1981)
Via the viewpoint of a six-year-old girl, the Taviani brothers transform a chapter of Italian history, which they lived as youths, into a poetic legend. During World War II, on a night when wishes come true, a Tuscan farming village challenges their Nazi occupiers as liberating American forces draw near. The film, a highly acclaimed melding of realism and spiritual grace, has the look of early Cézanne paintings. With Omero Andonutti, Margarita Lozano. Digital restoration, 107 min.

Get series tickets now!

—Greg Olson, Manager of SAM Films

Photos: Embassy Pictures/Photofest

For The Love of Art: Sergey Smirnov

SERGEY SMIRNOV
Member since 2006

Why are you a member of SAM?
I wouldn’t have it any other way! The Seattle Art Museum is a big part of what this city is and I think it’s important to support something that has such a vast impact on this city—you can see it anytime a big exhibition comes to town. The whole city changes and everyone’s talking about it.

Do you think art is important? Does society need art? Do we need museums?
I think we do need them. I grew up in museums myself. Always going to anything—from natural history museums to art museums—and just being able to see and learn about the world. The dialogue that happens around that is so valuable. Also, the preservation aspect of it. Art is collected in private collections but not everyone can do that. Museums are necessary so everyone can look hundreds or thousands years back in time. There are so many layers to the museum. The more you can engage with the museum, the more you get out of it and learn.

What’s your favorite kind of art?
I really enjoy all sorts of backgrounds of art and different eras. I connect with the artists, their experience, and what they were trying to accomplish at the time. Especially the rebels, the artists who are trying to push against the grain. For example, I love Caravaggio, one of the earliest—he was a very prominent rebel who was using the sort of state-supported art to push his ideals.

Is art a social or solitary experience for you?
I like to enjoy art on my own time versus during an event.When I come to events, I like to bring friends or art members and share in that experience. But we never look at art. We will talk about it, but you know there’s wine in the lobby. I think the social aspect is secondary to art because there wouldn’t be a social component if there were no art.

What do you do as an assistant director of advancement, computer science and engineering?
Working in fund raising for the University of Washington computer science department I work with young alumni who are moving and shaking the city. The city has such connections to the tech industry and it’s great to encourage them to give back and reflect on their experiences and what education has allowed them to accomplish—and encourage them to create the same access for others.

SAM members come in all stripes! We love hearing from them on what they value about SAM and the value that they are bringing to our city in their own way. Like Sergey, we believe that support is reciprocal. Consider showing your support for SAM by donating to the SAM Fund. In turn, SAM can support you and so many others through increasing access to our exhibitions and artistic, educational, and cultural programs.

Object of the Week: Die Orden der Nacht

At times an artwork has so much to say that I approach it and, admittedly, fail to meet the challenge. I’m not able to engage with the artist at the intellectual height or emotional depth that they have established in the piece. I just can’t always get there. One of the ways I encourage myself is by returning to these works to see if they teach me more on the next visit. Lately I’ve been returning regularly to Anselm Kiefer’s Die Orden der Nacht (translated as The Orders of the Night), which is hanging in a haunting installation called Material Difference, part of the larger Big Picture: Art after 1945 show at Seattle Art Museum.

First, it is huge, ambitious, and awe-inspiring. An oppressive energy emerges from the canvas. In the picture, a figure lies supine as giant sunflowers loom above, their seeds black and charred, their wilting stems and downcast petals seeming both sad and malicious. Wide-reaching symbolism informs the picture. When Kiefer says “These sunflowers are black like the firmament,” he assigns cosmic significance to them, to go along with their tremendous proportions.1 The man lying flat on the soil from which the sunflowers grow also links to a range of mythologies that tell of creation sprouting from suffering.

We can say, for sure, that it’s not an easy painting to digest. Kiefer believes firmly that art should be difficult—to make, and to understand—and that the challenge it offers can also bring growth.

He has caked paint all over the canvas in thick sloshings, building the picture outward as he has filled it horizontally and vertically. The surface shows cracks from the artist’s heavy application of paint, and this natural reaction of the medium also contributes to the mood of the painting. Like cracks in dried mud, they leave behind impressions of drying up and drought. Up close, one can see the paint applied aggressively, in big, slashing marks.

One of three really exemplary works by Anselm Kiefer in SAM’s collection, Die Orden der Nacht figured prominently in the two most important recent exhibitions of Kiefer’s work, the first displayed at London’s Royal Academy of Arts from September to December of 2014, and the second at Paris’s Centre Pompidou, from December of 2015 through April of this year. The celebrated Pompidou show was a globally important one, marking the first Kiefer retrospective in 30 years to be held in France, where the artist has made his home since 1992.

Also praised by art critics, the 2014 exhibition of Kiefer’s work at the Royal Academy in London united Die Orden der Nacht with another work of the same name by Kiefer. An earlier work, dating to 1988, this other Die Orden der Nacht is an illustrated book, comprising 40 pages, drawn in lead and bedazzled with diamonds. Though a large book, with dimensions of about three feet by two feet, it represents another face to Kiefer’s work that is different in many ways, including its size. With this and other illustrated books, the artist whose effectiveness seems, at first, so linked to the scale on which he is working—dwarfing viewers with the massive dimensions of his paintings, making grand gestures in lavish outlays of materials—moves into intimate territory, creating poetic images that approach the seemingly un-Kiefer idea of beauty. One artist has produced both bodies of work.

To view SAM’s Die Orden der Nacht next to the museum’s other two dark and enigmatic Kiefers, Die Welle (1990) and Untitled (1983), gives one a great introduction to Kiefer, and only an introduction. As much as we like to know artists, the great ones continue to challenge us. As much as we like to define artworks and achieve a sense of resolution,

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

1 Quoted by Christian Weikop in “Forests of Myth, Forests of Memory,” in Anselm Kiefer, exhibition catalogue, London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2014; 38.
Image: Installation view of Die Orden der Nacht, 1996, Anselm Kiefer (German, born 1945), acrylic, emulsion, and shellac on canvas, 140 x 182 1/4 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard C. Hedreen, 99.85, © Anselm Kiefer, Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Felt Suit: The Fabric of Joseph Beuys’s Life

Inspired by the election year and conversations around art and politics, Grace Billingslea, SAM curatorial intern, wrote this blog post on Joseph Beuys’s Felt Suit as her final project. See Felt Suit on view now in the latest iteration of Big Picture: Art after 1945. Big Picture presents vibrant developments in painting and sculpture in the decades following World War II as an ongoing and evolving exhibition. The November re-install introduces works by European artists grappling with their unique experiences and concerns in the wake of World War II, centered more strongly on the figure and the environment. As the galleries change, new connections and points of departure will be uncovered. There’s always a reason to return to SAM!

Felt Suit, modeled after 20th-century German artist Joseph Beuys’s own, appears to be nothing more than a slightly frumpy, plain grey, felt suit. With sleeves a little too wide and a collar one itches to fold down properly, it is the kind of art piece that makes even an avid museum-goer wonder: Why does a felt suit have a place on a gallery wall?

Beuys’s Felt Suit carries a fascinating story complete with adventure, political strife, and fame.

Joseph Beuys was born in 1921 near Kleve, Germany. His great artistic success came from humble and rambunctious beginnings. Beuys was always adventurous and eccentric and memorably ran away with the circus a year before his high school graduation. His character translates strongly to his art, which elicited intense reactions, both positive and negative, over the course of his lifetime and through to today. The artist’s unique blend of sculpture, performance art, and installations dealt with broad themes of social activism, inclusivity, creative freedom, and energy.

Beuys’s choice of materials often informed the meanings of his works—and this feature of his art-making helps explain his notable and frequent use of animal fat and felt. By the artist’s own telling, Tartar tribesmen used those two substances to save his life when, as a member of the German Airforce during World War II, his plane was shot down on the Crimean Front. From this experience (whether myth or fact, no one knows) the Joseph Beuys we celebrate today was born, along with his ideas of felt as a protective and life-giving fabric. Felt Suit can be partially understood through the choice of material but, in this case, the history of the piece plays an especially important role.

One of sixty nearly identical suits, Seattle Art Museum’s Felt Suit was worn with its brothers in the 1978 Fat Tuesday parade in Basel, Switzerland. In the event, sixty felt-clad men, all wearing their suits accessorized with animal masks, marched together to protest the sale of Joseph Beuys’s piece Feuerstelle to their local art museum for $159,000. In their view, this was an exorbitant amount for their city to spend on art. Upon seeing the demonstration, Beuys donned a long felt coat and his iconic hat and raced out to join the protest himself. After the event, the artist collected the suits and included them in an installation titled Feuerstelle II, which he then donated to the same local museum.

Felt Suit’s role in political activism represents only a small fraction of Joseph Beuys’s political inclinations. Beuys was just as much an activist as an artist, and in fact, he considered those two roles fundamentally linked. He famously stated that, “Every human being is an artist, a freedom being, called to participate in transforming and reshaping the conditions, thinking and structures that shape and inform our lives.” This belief informed nearly every work of art he created.

Extremely progressive for his time, Beuys was a strong proponent of protecting the environment, effecting institutional change through referendums, and opening universities free of charge to any student who wished to attend. He argued that the government should recognize a woman’s work in the home as an occupation and therefore assign wages to home-makers to help achieve gender equality. In 1967, while a professor at the Düsseldorf Academy, Beuys started the German Student Party. Evolving from class debates into a full-fledged organization, the group supported objectives such as increased access to education, breaking down barriers between the West and the East, eliminating nationalistic interests, and complete disarmament. Beuys went on to create the Organization for Direct Democracy through Referendum (People’s Free Initiative) in 1971, which aimed to increase public participation in forming and shaping governmental policy and legislation. The artist also ran for numerous elected positions, notably running for the European Parliament in 1979 as a member of the Green Party. Although he was not elected, Beuys never weakened in his political convictions. Throughout all of this Beuys was creating and performing, with nearly all of his work political in some respect.

Utilizing his success as an artist, Beuys shared his progressive ideas with a huge audience. In a time before social media, art was an important vehicle for spreading political messages. By organizing public performances/protests, the artist drew attention to the issue of ecological preservation and effected change. In Sweeping out the Grafenberger Wald (1971), Beuys and fifty of his students occupied a tract of woodland set to be cleared and developed into tennis courts, sweeping it with birch brooms and painting white crosses with rings on all the trees. The protest was a great success, encouraging many citizens to join Beuys in the protest or write to city hall. Such a feat, at the time, was made possible through the collaboration of art and politics and Beuys’s masterful melding of the two.

Joseph Beuys was a unique man who dedicated both his artistic and teaching careers to sharing his firmly-held political ideas with his students first, and then with the world. He worked at great lengths to involve students in his mission and even succeeded in opening Free International University in 1973, a tuition-free learning and research space. This, along with his other causes, pushed him to travel the globe and hold interactive performances in various galleries for up to 100 days at a time where audience members could question or debate him on his progressive stances—many of which are still contentious today. Beuys managed to retain the same audacious and original spirit as the boy who ran off to join the circus throughout his whole career, while also becoming an important political figure. Learning Beuys’s compelling personal history, as well as understanding his art and symbolic use of materials, allows one to see his plain grey suit in an entirely fresh way. Felt Suit was created with the fabric that saved his life, worn in the spirit of how he lived his life, and hangs today to share the legacy of his life.

–Grace Billingslea, SAM curatorial intern

Joseph Beuys. Felt Suit, 1978. Wool felt. JACKET: 32 x 33 1/2 in. (81.3 x 114.3 cm). TROUSERS: 45 x 18 in. (85.1 x 45.7 cm). Gift of Joan and Roger Sonnabend, 97.48 © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Object of the Week: Round-corner wood-hinged cabinet

“Why are we drawn to a work of art?” is an interesting question, but it’s also a clumsy one that is too broad to tell us much. “Why are you drawn to a work of art?” That might get us somewhere. What about an artwork compels you, reader, to pull out your phone for a selfie, or take down a note with the artist’s name, or fix an image of it in your head, so you can tell your friends about it later? What makes it resonate with you, in thought or emotion? One person might respond to the look of a piece—qualities like exceptional craftsmanship, a vision of beauty, or a herculean effort of construction—while another cares most about the conceptual content, the artwork’s associations with history, the way it offers timely social commentary, or how it prompts imagination.

Here’s some proof that art rocks: Art, and readings of art, are as diverse as people. Individual perspective colors our experience of art, as it does the rest of life. What we’re looking for, we can find. And different folks might see a wide range of facets to the exact same piece.

SAM’s Round-corner wood-hinged cabinets welcome visitors to the first gallery of Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi. That they are a nearly identical pair, “a set of twins,” fascinated artist-curator Tabaimo, who is interested in how we read multiples. Even though our eyes see and our brains understand that there are two, we can still experience a sense of confusion because the boundary between them is slippery.

The cabinets date to the 16th century, when they were fashioned from a precious wood called huanghuali. The rich marbling of the wood grain acts as a natural ornament for the tall, quietly stunning single-panel doors. While the beauty of the wood itself takes center stage on the panels, the difficult method of construction and finely carved trim provided plenty opportunity for artisans to strut their stuff, and strut they did, notably in the softly rounded upper corners for which the cabinets are titled.

These were high-ticket items, reserved for the court and elite classes. They acted as status symbols, speaking wealth and prestige over their owners, and also fulfilled the most basic of utilitarian functions, as storage for books, scrolls and other scholar’s accoutrements. Grand wardrobe cabinets like these took the place of closets in traditional Chinese homes, and when you picture a closet in your head, and then you look at these cabinets, you understand why. They looked really good while they were hiding stuff.

Because huanghuali wood was a choice material during an important period in the making of Chinese furniture, it still carries an association with that time and culture, kind of like how marble sculpture can bring to mind Golden Age Greece for those of us familiar with the European art tradition. Tabaimo is not the first artist to pick up the historical associations of huanghuali wood and bring them into a conversation about contemporary ideas. Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has used huanghuali wood in spherical constructions like LACMA’s Untitled, Divine Proportion that are boldly un-utilitarian, contrasting the storied functional use of huanghuali.

Don’t miss Tabaimo’s playful installation at the Asian Art Museum that animates these cabinets with the artist’s unique vision, and remember to bring your perspective to the equation.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Round-corner wood-hinged cabinet (gui), 16th century, Chinese, huanghuali wood, 72 x 37 x 20 in. Seattle Art Museum, Sarah Ferris Fuller Memorial Collection and an anonymous donor, 89.20.1 and 89.20.2, Photo: Paul Macapia.

Something Great in Something So Small: The SAM Research Libraries’ Pamphlet File Collection

Library visitors might not expect materials like pamphlets to constitute a substantial place in the Seattle Art Museum Research Libraries’ collections. In fact, reflecting on their own use of pamphlets and the fact that they are generally small in comparison to other published materials, many might even view them as disposable items. Yet, despite their small stature, they contain a powerhouse of information!

Pamphlets are relatively small, ephemeral publications which generally focus on a specific event, artist, or piece of artwork. Many pamphlets contain biographies, lists of exhibits and artwork, as well as artist or curator statements. In addition, they often contain reproductions of artworks illustrating the design preferences and artistic styles of an era. For many artists, particularly lesser known Pacific Northwest artists, pamphlets may be the only form of written material available making them incredibly important for the overall history of art in the Pacific Northwest.

Many pamphlets of different, ages, colors, sizes, and exhibitions!

Pamphlets are generally published by the museum or gallery hosting the exhibition, and may have originally been intended as takeaway items for visitors. The Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library at SAM, in particular, houses pamphlets from institutions large and small, and has been actively building its collection with items from smaller galleries throughout the Pacific Northwest. This collection of materials enables researchers to build a more complete picture of a gallery’s history including locations, curators and directors, name changes, and more. The collection also includes pamphlets from around the world giving users a glimpse at the reach a particular artist might have at a given time. Following the progression of pamphlets through the years provides an interesting look into the changing views and portrayals of cultural issues such as race, indigenous rights, women’s rights, etc. It’s a great visual means of understanding the issues of importance to artists, museums, and the public at large.

Glossy pamphlets!

Over the past few months, we’ve created a more bona fide pamphlet collection, adding incoming pamphlets there, rather than into our general book collection (where we had been putting such things in the past). We’ve also begun the process of relocating pamphlets currently in our book collection to the pamphlet collection. Collocating all of the pamphlets provides better access to the materials overall and allows researchers to get a clearer picture of the type of information they might find. For example, if you were looking for critical theory on Picasso, you may not find the pamphlets particularly helpful given the amount of other materials pertaining to Picasso within our collection. However, if you were looking to put together a timeline of a lesser known artist, you would likely find pamphlets very useful.

We’ve made the pamphlet collection as easy to find as possible. When searching the library catalogue, just look for the term “pamphlet” either at the end of the title or in the call number to determine whether or not the record you are accessing is a pamphlet. To see a full list of the pamphlets we’ve acquired thus far, see the Pamphlet Collection title list.

–Terri Ball, Volunteer, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Photos: Terri Ball.