SAM Book Club: I am Madame X

Hey, we’re starting an art book club!

SAM staff members tend to be avid book lovers, and when we’re not talking about art, you’ll likely find us talking about books. The books we’re reading now, the books on hold at the library, and the books we stayed up too late last night finishing. The books we couldn’t put down, and the books we just… couldn’t get through. We compare reading lists, meet in lunchtime book clubs, and make mass trips to the library to pick up the next haul. And yet, we still can’t seem to get enough—so I’m bringin’ it to the internet, to talk about books with you.

Introducing: SAM Book Club. Once a quarter, I’ll be selecting a book about art to talk about here on SAM Blog. Fiction or nonfiction, old or new—it’s all fair game! About a month before each SAM Book Club post we’ll let you know what we’re reading this quarter so you can get a copy and read along, then meet back here to discuss it in the comments.

To inaugurate SAM Book Club, we’ll be reading I Am Madame X, by Gioia Diliberto—the fictionalized account of Virginie Gautreau, the stunning subject of John Singer Sargent’s painting, Portrait of Madame X (1883-4). I’m looking forward to learning about the rule-breaking, scandal-raising, modern woman behind Sargent’s most infamous work, and her life in belle époque Paris. So, dear readers, hit up your local library, grab a copy, and meet me back here on May 24 to talk about I Am Madame X!

Happy reading!

—Carrie Dedon, Curatorial Assistant, Modern & Contemporary Art

Italian Room at the Seattle Art Museum

Object of the Week: Italian Room

A powerful quality exclusive to older objects is their ability to spark our imagination as we reflect on where in the world these things have been before they arrived in front of us. It can be totally captivating. The display of historic artworks in our galleries at SAM is only the latest chapter in a long story for each of these pieces. The period room installed on the fourth floor—called the Italian Room a bit anachronistically but not without reason—is a great case study in the life of an art object.

The wood panels hang in a metal stud framework erected during SAM’s expansion in the 2000s, but they are installed at the exact angles and dimensions of the historic room’s specifications. About 145 original pieces comprise the installation. How and why did they come here?

Details of the Italian Room at Seattle Art Museum

An Italian art dealer named Renato Bacchi acquired the room in the 1920s from its original installation in a building scheduled to be remodeled, perhaps “saving” it. The building was located in Chiavenna, a town in northern Lombardy, in a breathtakingly beautiful mountainous region. In the mid-1930s the room, in boards, passed from Bacchi to the German-born antiques dealer Adolph Loewi, who installed it in a Venetian palazzo that served as his gallery space. The Jewish Loewi was persecuted by the Fascist Italian government and moved, with his paneled room, to the U.S. in 1939. Loewi had become one of the most successful international dealers in period rooms, and he proved successful once again, finding a buyer in the notable Northwest architect John Yeon, who had encountered Loewi and his paneled room in Los Angeles. The room enjoyed another interesting chapter as Yeon’s dining room in the architect’s San Francisco flat. This custom installation was a highlight of Yeon’s renovation of the once-rundown building that housed it. Ed Hardy later rented that apartment.

After Yeon passed away in 1994 the building was sold, but Yeon’s partner, Richard Louis Brown, saw that the room was professionally de-installed that it might have another life somewhere else. From his own home in Portland, Brown set about finding a new home for the paneled room, and with SAM, he had a taker. The timing was just right; the museum, in plans for its expansion, would finally have the space to consider a permanent display for such a period room. In 2000, Brown officially donated the Italian Room, doing so in memory of John Yeon. Folks were invited to view the conservation and installation of the room in progress, and since the grand reopening of the expanded SAM in 2007, the Italian Room has been a focal point of the collection.

Italian Room at Seattle Art Museum

In the same year that he brought SAM’s Italian Room to the U.S., dealer Adolph Loewi imported another of the period rooms he would end up dealing: the Gubbio Studiolo now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See, old things have wonderful stories—not just about where they’ve been, but about who and what they’ve encountered along the way.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Italian Room, ca. 1575-1600, spruce, willow, and fir, 171 9/16in. x 200 5/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Richard Louis Brown in memory of John Yeon, 2000.218, Photo: Nathaniel Willson. Photo: Collin Shulz. Photo: Collin Shulz. Photo: Nathaniel Willson.
Kehinde Wiley Portrait

Kehinde Wiley’s Galvanizing Impact

“The history of painting by and large has pictured very few black and brown people, and in particular very few black men. My interest is in countering that absence.”

Kehinde Wiley

Experiencing a meteoric rise on the art scene, Los Angeles native Kehinde Wiley has assumed his place as an influential contemporary American artist. Graduating from the influential Yale School of Art, Wiley received his MFA from the program in 2001. The artist went from the Ivy League to a leading art program—residency at The Studio Museum in Harlem. It was there that a lot of things came together for Wiley in the context of the show he was working on: he found inspiration in the assertive and self-empowered young men of the neighborhood. This kicked off the artist’s serious work in portraiture on modes of representation and the black body.

Installation view of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic

“It’s almost like he’s looking back into history to envision a new present and a new future,” said Catharina Manchanda, Seattle Art Museum’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art. Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic is a 14-year retrospective of the artist’s work that features 60 works, including his signature portraits of African American men reworked in the grand portraiture traditions of Western culture, as well as sculptures, videos, and stained glass windows.

Installation view of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic

The Brooklyn Art Museum organized the exhibition, which is traveling to a number of cities around the country, experiencing a rousing reception. “He’s received a great amount of attention in part because the work is so captivating, but perhaps what adds special urgency to the work are the political discussions Americans have been having over the course of the last year regarding the lives of black men and women in this country,” Manchanda said. “There is so much possibility in this moment. It’s my hope that this exhibition will engage viewers in an important conversation, as well as create a galvanizing experience that will last long after they leave the galleries.”

Installation view of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic

Wiley does not copy traditional portraiture styles from the 18th and 19th centuries, but rather creates mashups where he’s drawing from many sources, like a jazz artist improvising or a hip hop artist mixing pieces of songs together using different ideas and references. The same process—mining elements and then combining them from various sources—fuels Wiley’s work: classic portraiture styles and floral wallpaper designs from the 19th century, among others, serve as inspiration. Altered in color as much as detailing, these compositions frame and elevate his contemporary subjects.

Also on view in the exhibition is the full length film, An Economy of Grace, which documents Wiley as he steps out of his comfort zone to create a series of classical portraits of African-American women for the first time. The exhibition includes works from this project and highlights Wiley’s collaboration with fashion designer Riccardo Tisci at the couture firm Givenchy to design gowns inspired by 19th- and 20th century paintings.

Don’t miss this exhibition— which closes very soon on May 8! We also invite you to hear from scholar and independent curator Tumelo Mosaka, who will be at Seattle Art Museum on Thursday, April 14, to explore topics related to the exhibition and Wiley’s unapologetic ability to address the historical absence of the black figure by creating portraits of his own desire.

Images: Photo: Stephanie Fink. Installation views of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at Seattle Art Museum, Photos: Elizabeth Crook, © Seattle Art Museum.
Buddha, ca. 1130, Japanese

Object of the Week: Buddha

Celebrations of spring are happening all around us. It’s opening week for baseball and Masters Tournament time in golf. Here in Seattle, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and all of a sudden it’s like we live in a populous city. You never have a sense for how many people live (and vacation) here until the sun comes out!

Flowers outside of the Asian Art Museum

Flowers bloomin’ outside of the Asian Art Museum

As wonderful and anticipated as these developments are, today we’re focused on another springtime celebration: It’s Buddha’s birthday!

To be precise, it’s Buddha’s birthday in the Japanese tradition; the same event is remembered on various dates in spring across the world. Many Asian countries commemorate Buddha’s birth on the first full moon of the 4th month in the Chinese lunar calendar (which falls in May). Japan adopted the Gregorian, or Western, calendar in the 19th century and moved its celebration of Buddha’s birthday up to April 8, about a month earlier.

Thankfully for both our regular visitors and out-of-towners, we have a bevy of fine Buddhist art at the Asian Art Museum to help everyone celebrate appropriately. The new installation Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia highlights some of the finest representations of Buddha in the museum’s collection, including this stunning wood sculpture coated with gold lacquer. Called an Amida Buddha for its symbolic form, the figure was crafted during the late Heian period (794-1185) in Japan. Its maker used the yosegi-tsukuri technique, carving wood blocks, hollowing them out, and then assembling them together. The Buddha strikes a meditative pose that exudes total peace.

Installation view of Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia

In Japanese Buddhist traditions special connections exist between Buddha and the flower that make celebrating him in the springtime especially appropriate. Hana-Matsuri, the Floral Festival, is a memorial service performed at temples throughout Japan on Buddha’s birthday. Those who make pilgrimages to the temples bring offerings of fresh spring flowers and libations of tea. For its original installation in a Kyoto temple, this Buddha sculpture would have been seated on a lotus pedestal.

Installation view of Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia

The company he keeps in Awakened Ones, where he is surrounded by sculptures and paintings from China, India, Korea, Nepal, and Pakistan, leaves one with a sense for the wide reach of Buddhist teachings and the many ways Buddha is pictured and remembered.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Buddha, ca. 1130, Japanese, wood with gold lacquer, 37 1/4 x 27 x 17 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Monsen Family, 2011.39, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Awakened Ones:Buddhas of Asia at Asian Art Museum, © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Awakened Ones:Buddhas of Asia at Asian Art Museum, © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman.
Nina Tichava in her studio

Spring into SAM Gallery for Flourishes

Now on view at SAM Gallery—Seattle Art Museum’s art sales and rental gallery—through April 21 is Flourishes, an exhibition featuring three Northwest artists whose work involves embellishments, ornaments, waves, fonts, and graffiti. We talked with each of the artists to learn how SAM Gallery increases their exposure and finds audiences for their work.

 

"Play of Light" by Nichole DeMent

Nichole DeMent
Exhibiting at SAM Gallery since 2011

What has been your experience of exhibiting at SAM Gallery so far?
I am extremely pleased to have my work as a part of SAM Gallery on an ongoing basis. Not only do I benefit through frequent rentals and sales, but I’m elated that part of my commission goes back to support such an important arts organization as the Seattle Art Museum. The entire staff at SAM Gallery is always welcoming and very professional. They are a joy to work with and I feel extremely comfortable sending friends, clients, and collectors to them.

How has showing your work at SAM Gallery impacted your career as an artist?
The other gallery on San Juan Island that represents my work first saw my work at SAM Gallery, and the staff were generous enough to share my info with her.

 

"Queen Bee" by Harold Hollingsworth

Harold Hollingsworth
Exhibiting at SAM Gallery since 2014

What has been your experience of exhibiting at SAM Gallery so far?
It’s been truly wonderful and encouraging, the enthusiasm for the work I make has made a big difference in my approach and experimentation. I’m very happy here.

How has showing your work at SAM Gallery impacted your career as an artist?
I had been wanting to show for some time, and thanks to the staff and interest by SAM Gallery, I’m able to showcase work that I have been showing out of Seattle, in places like Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Portland, Cincinnati, and Berlin.

 

"Pacific Northwest in Orange 1" by Nina Tichava

Nina Tichava
Exhibiting at SAM Gallery since 2010

How did exhibiting your work at SAM Gallery come about?
I had relocated to Seattle from Santa Fe and was looking for gallery representation—so many people that I met in Seattle referred me to SAM Gallery as having “the best artists in the Pacific Northwest.” I’ve been showing exclusively with SAM Gallery as my PNW representation since 2012.

How has showing your work at SAM Gallery impacted your career as an artist?
Through SAM Gallery my work has been introduced to new collectors (especially young collectors, which is often a “missing” demographic for many commercial galleries) and museum patrons—a much larger community of people who are looking at and experiencing art. Additionally, SAM Gallery has connected and introduced me to countless established and emerging artists in the Pacific Northwest—I often leave a SAM Gallery visit totally inspired to paint and excited to be in a strong, supportive (and growing!) arts community like Seattle.

Interested in buying or renting work from SAM Gallery? Find out more information and browse our inventory, or stop by!

Images: Photo courtesy of Nina Tichava. Play of Light, Nichole DeMent. Queen Bee, Harold Hollingsworth. Pacific Northwest in Orange 1, Nina Tichava.
Stranger Here by Whitfield Lovell

Object of the Week: Stranger Here

I’m a stranger here
I’m a stranger everywhere
I would go home
But I’m a stranger there.

 I’d rather drink muddy water
I’d rather sleep on a hollow log
Than to stay here in this city
Being treated like a dirty dog.

 That’s why I got up this mornin’
And I put on my walkin’ shoes
I’m goin’ down the road, down the road
Cause I got them walkin’ blues

One of the newest works in the Seattle Art Museum collection is Whitfield Lovell’s Stranger Here. Lovell’s piece was inspired by a police mugshot, circa 1910s, depicting a sharp-dressed man of color, and its title comes from an old blues song, whose lyrics we share above. Stranger Here pays homage to a man whose story has been forgotten but whose image remains.

This three-dimensional portrait uses charcoal on found wood, fringe fabric, and an antique lantern to evoke the spirit of the time when the sitter’s picture was taken. The fringe, draped around the man’s bowler hat like drawn curtains, gives the piece a theatrical presence and also creates a sense that something significant is being revealed. In the theater, it’s a dramatic, expectant moment when the curtain is finally drawn and some anticipated spectacle unveils itself. Here, the curtain frames the image and encourages us to pay notice to what we find behind it.

The idea of anonymity, and being disconnected from one another, is especially important to Lovell’s work. Does it bother us that we don’t know the man? That we are denied his story? That we don’t understand all of what we are seeing or truly grasp its significance? In case we might have passed by, missing this quiet figure softly modeled in charcoal, the artist gives us a lantern by which to see.

One floor above Lovell’s piece, in our special exhibition Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, hangs another stranger’s portrait inspired by a mugshot. Kehinde Wiley’s Mugshot Study from 2006 pictures a young person of color, his anonymity emphasized by the case number printed below his image. In life, these two men were separated by a century, but here at SAM they share more similarities than differences: both gaze out of their frame resolutely, meeting the viewer’s eye, embodying strength, yet expressing a sad tiredness from their life’s walk.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Stranger Here, 2000, Whitfield Lovell (American, born 1959), charcoal on wood, with fabric and lantern, 42 x 29 1/2 x 8 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Norman and Constance Rice, 2016.1, © Whitfield Lovell, Photo: Natali Wiseman.
Dottie means business!

The Inimitable Dottie Malone

Dorothy C. Malone—“Dottie” to everyone here at SAM—is fondly remembered as one of the most important figures in the museum’s history. No one has worked here longer and very few have left such great legacies.

Dottie Malone in her natural habitat: the Asian Art Museum

The likeness of Dottie Malone in her natural habitat: the Asian Art Museum.

Born in Everett, Dottie attended high school in Seattle and took one year of university classes at the University of Washington. She met and married Coe Malone at UW. The depression made life difficult for them, and Dottie was looking for a job. A friend of theirs, Evelyn Foster, was working at the Art Institute of Seattle (a predecessor to SAM), where they were in need of someone to answer phones. Evelyn connected Dottie with Dr. Fuller, who hired her before the museum’s opening in June of 1933. She was one of the first three employees of the museum, along with her friend Evelyn and the artist Kenneth Callahan.

A young Dottie tidying up the galleries.

A young Dottie tidying up the galleries.

Dottie’s administrative role and her importance to the museum grew over the next half-century. Dr. Fuller trusted Dottie enough that he would leave her in charge of the museum’s operations during weeklong geology expeditions. She’s remembered as very tidy and organized. She also had an exceptional memory and served as the institutional historian. Dottie knew almost everything there was to know about the museum, and she also made a point to know everyone who worked there. Though she finally retired in 1988, she still kept a desk at the Volunteer Park building and continued to volunteer as long as she was able to do it. She really loved SAM. Dottie passed away in January of 1997.

We love you, Dottie!

We love you, Dottie!

Today, the administrative offices at the Asian Art Museum bear her name, and every spring, at SAM’s Volunteer Soiree, the museum presents the Dorothy C. Malone Volunteer Award to “an outstanding volunteer who reflects the highest standards of museum dedication and commitment as exemplified by Dottie Malone.”

Images: Photo: SAM Archive. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: SAM Archive. Photo: Natali Wiseman.
Camel

Object of the Week: Camel

Of the nearly 24,000 objects in SAM’s collection, two sculptures have probably had the broadest impact on visitors’ experience of the museum since it opened in 1933. They have proven a popular attraction for visitors of all ages, newcomers and regulars alike. For a long time, though, they weren’t even physically in the museum. They’re the greeters, the guardians. They are: the camels.

Writing in 1968—35 years after the arrival of our Chinese camels and the opening of our doors—SAM founding director Dr. Richard Fuller proclaimed the camels “unquestionably the most popular items” in the museum’s collection. No doubt this was partly because he enthusiastically encouraged kids to have a go at riding them.

Riding the Camel

Kids on the Camel

Standing on the Camel

Chosen specifically by Dr. Fuller and his mother, SAM co-founder Margaret MacTavish Fuller, to be the symbolic guardians of the museum, they were installed on either side of the front entrance. Former SAM curator and historian Josh Yiu reflected on their significance: “They were the first works of art that children and adults alike experienced at the Seattle Art Museum. The camels achieved an iconic status because they introduced art, the museum, and China to the general public.”1

Asian Art Museum Exterior in 1933

Dr. Fuller also clearly saw in the pair of marble bactrians an impressive aesthetic achievement, one that complemented the striking Art Deco design of SAM’s original building in Volunteer Park and echoed the cultural focus of its artworks. In his personal correspondence from 1933, Fuller wrote the following justification:

“Granting that the sculptor had made no attempt to achieve lifelike forms, I think that there is no question but that his results are great works of art…Viewed purely from the view-point of artistry, I personally think that it would be almost impossible to have modern sculpture designed that could have coincided more perfectly with the spirit that we endeavored to attain in the design of the building, and it seems especially fortunate that they should, at the same time, emphasize our interest in Oriental art.”

Camel

In 1986 conservation concerns won out, and the camel-riding tradition came to a sad, but necessary end (hundreds-of-years-old marble sculptures, folks). We no longer sanction it, at least! The Chinese camels journeyed downtown for the inaugural installation here in 1991, and today replicas flank the front doors to the Asian Art Museum.

Camel replica being installed

You can still see (not ride) the originals in our grand stairway.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

1 Josh Yiu, A Fuller View of China, Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum, 2014; 46.

IMAGES: Camel, Chinese, late 14th-mid-17th century, marble, each 101 1/2 x 56 x 36 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.814.1, 33.814.2, Photo: Jasmine Boothroyd. Photos: SAM Archive.

My Favorite Things: Sandra Jackson-Dumont on Mickalene Thomas’ “Hair Portrait #20”

As one of the most beloved collection works currently hanging at Seattle Art Museum, we weren’t surprised when SAM’s former Deputy Director of Education and Public Programs and current Chairman of Education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sandra Jackson-Dumont, chose Mickalene Thomas’ Hair Portrait #20 to be the subject of her My Favorite Things video.

When i walk in here I see reflections of people who look like me, but i also see a major contribution to the art-historical cannon.

Noting the exclusion of black women from portraiture in western art, Thomas turns her subject into a dazzling, glamorous icon. The work packs a walloping visual punch, spanning 300 inches wide with each face tiled in a different hue, moving from light to dark, from visibility to near invisibility, the Warholian repetition of a single image is given entirely new meaning.

Also, we really miss Sandra.

We love Sandra Jackson-Dumont!