This blog series is designed to focus on art works on SAM’s collection but this week we’re bringing you a special feature on Spencer Finch: The Western Mystery. This nebulous formation of suspended glass panes is currently installed at the Olympic Sculpture Park in the PACCAR Pavilion and will be on view through March 3, 2019. So, while not actually an artwork owned by SAM, this piece will be hanging above the heads of visitors to the sculpture park for years to come. Find out more about the artist and this mesmerizing art work from Carrie Dedon, Assistant Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art.
Yayoi Kusama’s visual art output is prolific, but did you know that she was also a writer? Beyond penning her autobiography, Infinity Net, in 2002 she is also the author of Hustler’s Grotto (1992), a collection of three novellas written between 1983 and 1992, and various books of poetry. Stay tuned to this blog series for a focus on Violet Obsession (1998), a collection of Kusama’s poems paired with images of her performative work including her Happenings and her activations of her Infinity Mirror Rooms. We’ve invited SAM staff to spend some time with Kusama’s poems and select a piece that speaks to them. We’ll be sharing selections from Violet Obsession alongside the musings and inspirations of SAM Staff. The exhibition, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is on view at SAM through September 10.
SAM’s Copywriter and Content Strategist, and an author in her own right, Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, gets things started with with her thoughts on one of the more light-hearted poems in the collection.
TURBULENT GARDEN (AT THE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL)
it’s a breeding ground of stray cats here
parent cats have mated with their children to produce children
brothers have mated with sisters to produce children
and now the place is teeming with cats
when beams of the crescent moon fell upon the garden
the cats ate that moon
stars adhered one by one to the garden
the cats played with the stars
it’s a garden of cats
where no one dies and the numbers only multiply
it’s an exceedingly strange
cat way of calculating
all the leaves from the treetops fell upon the cats
when the lonely winter comes
the shadows of cats just keep on increasing
they’re playing with one another
in the deathless garden
the rotting tails of fish accumulate
left over rice too is put aside
things human beings have contributed
they’re all disfigured cats
some with only half a tail
some with an ear torn off
not one complete cat in the lot
No one appears to have died
it’s even more turbulent on windy days
“meow, meow”—they run around
they leap about
I’m glad I’m not a cat
I wasn’t born a cat
because I’m not really fond of all that f***ing
– Yayoi Kusama
For me, the first appeal of this poem is the repetition. Kusama’s concerns with reproduction ad infinitum are clearly linked with breeding in this poem in a way that a work like Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field only implies. But in this poem, as in her visual work, what she reproduces is imagery, not just words (though the refrain of “cats” does reverberate throughout). Disfigured cats nibbling on a sliver of moon or batting around stars, never dying and endlessly multiplying are the fish tails and rice (rather than meat and potatoes) of the poem. But, it’s the turn that occurs at the end, when Kusama interjects in the first person, that lifts the poem above a landscape of feral felines into a psychological setting, all too fitting given the subtitle of the poem. We are taken directly into Kusama’s self proclaimed issues with sex at the end of this poem in a straightforward way. In her autobiography she talks at length about her fear of the phallus as the impetus to creating the soft sculptures that have appeared often in her work: in frames on wall, on furniture and boats, and in her Infinity Mirror Room. In contrast to the sheer volume of this motif in her visual work, her quick mention of being glad she’s not a cat allows the poem to be a playful menagerie in some undying garden, only lightly touched by human influence.
I think immediately of Turtle, my childhood cat. For weeks my brother almost had me convinced that she was a robot, until I saw her give birth. My father found her on a construction site in Manhattan on his walk home from work. She must have already been pregnant when he brought her into our tiny apartment. A few weeks later my parents pulled me out of elementary school in the middle of the day to come witness the birth of two kittens. Turtle caused another kind of issue at school: inquiries as to if everything was OK at home in response to the large and numerous scratches on my arms. Turtle didn’t take to domesticity and ran away within the year. We eventually gave her kittens to a neighbor. Turtle might not have liked being a mother, but she taught me how to climb trees.
Source: Kusama, Yayoi. Violet Obsession. Translated by Hisako Ifshin and Ralph F. McCarthy with Leza Lowitz. Edited by Alexandra Munro. Berkeley, CA: Wandering Mind Books, 1998.
Illustration: Natali Wiseman.
Alexandrew (Alex) Wong is an artist and native Seattleite, raised in the south end of the city. He attended Franklin High School where he first learned to use wood tools to create art. At the University of Washington, Alex thrived and was accepted into the School of Art as a 3D4M major. He gained skill sets using tools to create multimedia sculptures with glass, wood, steel, and ceramics. Alex joined the SAM as a Visitor Services Officer (VSO) after he graduated. He’s been here for about a year and a half and truly enjoys it.
SAM: Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors opened June 30 and runs until September 10. What is your favorite piece in this exhibition?
Alex: My favorite piece in Yayoi Kusama is The Obliteration Room. The idea of creating a room and sticking colored dots on the living room surface is genius. The concept is so playful and colorful. One thing I struggled with in school was using color, I was terrible at it. But the room itself uses people to contribute to the art and has them color the piece themselves. Genius.
What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
My favorite piece at SAM is the Native American house posts. The skill in creating those posts is phenomenal. Imagine the carver themselves, just chipping away at a log for hours to create the four things that hold your house up.
Who is your favorite artist?
Kendrick Lamar, his music keeps me going. When it’s time to get hyped, I start bumping his tunes. For those wondering put on “m.A.A.d City,” “Swimming Pools,” “HUMBLE,” “King Kunta,” and “Backseat Freestyle.” Tell me these don’t get you hyped up too.
What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
The bathrooms in the forum are to the left at the end of John Grade’s Middle Fork (the south side of the tree).
Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I work at an art co-op in Capitol Hill, Blue Cone Studios, where I create ceramic sculptures. So to whomever is reading this, come check my work out. I’ll teach you a thing or two about clay. I’ll provide materials and lessons. We do art walk every second Thursday. Come by and let’s talk art.
– Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer
All summer long we’re activating your creative side with free drop-in studio hours every Sunday at SAM. Led by local artists and designed for all ages, the art activities taking place between 11 am and 1 pm during Drop-In Studio: Infinite Reflections will touch on themes and ideas behind Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors and how the artwork in the exhibition connects to their own work and process. We’ve asked each of our teaching artists to share what about the Kusama exhibition has inspired them and the art activities that they will be leading.
This Sunday, July 30, features artist Junko Yamamoto.
There are a few things that I can relate to Kusama’s work conceptually and aesthetically. She is interested in the relationships between people and the world by creating infinite imagery of nature and our society. Kusama’s Phalli’s Field has been one my favorite installations of hers since I was young. Organic, white, phallic-shaped soft sculptures with red polka dots in a reflection mirror room create an infinite reality that gives me a chill. All of her paintings are incredible, but I’m always mesmerized by her older paintings from the 1950s to ’70’s. Repetitions of scale- or cell-like small round shapes continues almost outside of the frames. Both installations and paintings can relate to my repetitive shapes and textures.
In my work, I explore space, memories, the space between atoms, cells, between people, objects, air, stars, water and sky; the cosmic glue which holds us and the universe together. My repetitive imageries are often inspired by cell divisions or clusters of atoms. Everything that exists in this world is part of us, we are all related to one another, just like how small atoms accumulated to forms entire universe. Unity, as a whole, is my foundation.
Celeste Cooning, August 3 & 20
In the spirit of Kusama’s process-based studio practice, we’re going to make collaborative cut paper “Infinity Nets.” As this collective infinity net grows into an immersive installation, elements of form, movement, positive/negative space, light, and shadow will all come into play.
I feel a kinship to Kusama’s emphatic nature and I strongly identify with the inherent necessity to keep creating throughout one’s life. Since childhood, I’ve always sought solace through the act of art making. Come explore the resonant power of repetition and accumulation using scissors as your drawing tool!
Regina Schilling, August 27, September 3 & 10
Kusama has artistically given me permission to create my own world and live inside it infinitely. As a painter, I’ve been exploring invisibility using large colorful canvases to create worlds where the invisible is seen. Despite hiding, the women in my paintings are still there. It’s a world where women, daisies, jack-o-lanterns and textile structures can all exist together. Apart from working on this series, I began the publication, Hey Lady, a collection of art honoring one woman per issue. In two years, it has included hundreds of artists internationally, highlighted eight crucial women in various fields, held exhibits around the country, and created a world where women experience a creative outlet that is nurtured, validated, and celebrated. With my workshop at SAM, you’ll be able create your own world exploring your reflection, obsessions and inspiration from the exhibit by making and filling up a handmade zine!
Ellen Ziegler, July 16 & 23
My Vermilion Series is a collection of drawings searching out the interface between the psyche and its influences, between inner and outer worlds. The drawings result from my visceral responses to sensation, emotion, and reaction. The use of the color vermilion began as an investigation of childhood memory and has morphed into a practice of working with only this one color for three years. The drawings are made with acrylic forms painted on paper, which I then draw on with white marker. The circular marks transform the flat forms to three dimensions. I intend to suggest the body with its urges, transformations, and ultimate transcendences.
In a time when we are increasingly distanced from our corporeal selves by technology and stress, this work attempts to bring to the surface powerful and peculiar sensations, emotions, and reactions, so we may act authentically in this shifting world.
The projects we’re doing in the Drop-In Studio begin with the circle or dot, echoing Kusama’s extravagant use of that form. Her focus originated with the hallucinations that caused her to exteriorize her obsessions and fears. Many artists have this phenomenon in common: what would seem to be a departure from sanity or normalcy comes to be the fertile origin of our work. Standing in the center of a black field of tar paper (9’ x 20’), participants draw circles with themselves as the center. Making a mark of chalk on tarpaper is immensely satisfying and is a visceral moment of art made with the body. At the worktables, we’ll use black paper to draw on with opaque markers and circle templates, creating their own take-away artwork.
Images: Manifestation, 2017, Junko Yamamoto, 36 x 36 in., oil on canvas. Still Here, 2016, Regina Schilling, oil on canvas, 4 ft x 4 ft., photo: Regina Schilling.Over the River, 2016, Celeste Cooning, installation, screenprint on hand cut Tyvek, paint, mylar, and light. Untitled (vermilion), Ellen Ziegler, 2017, acrylic and white marker on paper, 15 x 11 in.
You may have noticed SAM’s regal Portsmouth Sofa making our American galleries look super comfy and inviting. With the ubiquity of couches in the US today it’s hard for us to grasp what an item of prestige this sofa would have been 200 years ago. In early 19th century America sofas were the most expensive seating furniture, and fancy ones could be had for about $35 to $46. What else could you have gotten for that price?
In the 1810s in New Hampshire, $40 would buy you
100-150 pounds of beef
40 bushels of beans
a pair of stockings ($1.25), thick shoes ($1.75), and a wool hat ($1.75), every year for 8 years
a sheep weighing in at 133 pounds
two two-year-old heifers
6 tons of hay.1
How long would it take you to save that up? From 1819-1821 a woman tailor worked for $.25 per day—so just about half a year’s salary later, she’d have a sofa. In 1818 a journeyman shoemaker worked eight months for $26 per month. If he could have put away a quarter of his salary he would have had a couch in the same time span. Back then, the working day started at sunrise and continued until sunset, dark, or 9 pm, so I’m sure both of them were busting their bums. That’s when a couch comes in handy!
SAM’s Sofa once decorated the home of a wealthy ship captain and merchant named George McClean, who helpfully had his name branded on the frame. This was a finely carved sofa by Portsmouth standards and would have set him apart as a man of status. After its life of use, the sofa was acquired by Ruth Nutt, an important collector of decorative arts, and a major SAM patron. From her arrival in Seattle in 1989 until her passing in 2013, Ms. Nutt was heavily involved with SAM, as a board member and committee member, as a financial supporter and art donor. In 2014 SAM was the beneficiary of her exceptional collection of American silver, which you can admire all around the inviting Portsmouth Sofa.
– Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator
1 New Hampshire Commissioners on Bureau of Labor Statistics, Manchester, N.H.: James P. Campbell, 1872.
Image: Sofa, ca. 1810-20, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, mahogany and birch veneer, secondary wood elm or maple, modern upholstery, 34 x 72 x 24 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Ruth J. Nutt, 2005.180
Spencer Finch’s The Western Mystery portrays one of our most familiar temporary experiences: a sunset. This new installation of ninety glass panes suspended from the PACCAR Pavilion’s ceiling opened at the Olympic Sculpture Park in April. The glass panes are sixteen shades of yellows, oranges, blues, and pinks based on the hues found in the artist’s photographs of Seattle sunsets. As the glass squares subtly rotate overhead, their surfaces capture fragmented reflections of the park that fade in and out of view.
Much like a sunset itself, The Western Mystery is an ephemeral experience. Over the past 10 years, the Seattle Art Museum has hosted 15 temporary installations by local, national, and international contemporary artists. SAM celebrates the sculpture park’s 10th anniversary this summer with Spencer Finch’s installation, as well as a new sculpture by Tacoma artist, Christopher Paul Jordan. Titled Latent Home Zero, Jordan’s “interactive silent film” is experienced through a binocular telescope that integrates collaged imagery related to the migration of African American people across the US with distorted, real-time views of the sculpture park.
SAM first began installing temporary art with Dennis Oppenheim’s five, massive Safety Cones, in the summer of 2008. But, the first temporary work appeared unexpectedly in 2007, shortly after the sculpture park opened. Mimi Gardner Gates, SAM’s Director from 1994–2009, recalled, “Early on, the artist group PDL created Eaglets under Alexander Calder’s The Eagle—a nest with three little Eagles. I loved that because it was Seattle’s artists responding to the sculptures in the park. To me, that really brought the park alive.”
That lively spirit returns to the park every year through the temporary projects SAM commissions. For some artists, the short-term nature of their installations can lead to experimentation they wouldn’t always attempt in a permanently sited piece. In April of 2016, Seattle artist Victoria Haven created Blue Sun, a large-scale wall drawing that was based on the path and reflections of the sun as she experienced them from her studio window in South Lake Union. “I think the process involved a sense of immediacy that gave Blue Sun an energy and an aliveness,” Haven said. “It was like a breath on the wall; it was there and then it was gone. And, there’s something beautiful about the rigor and commitment involved in creating a monumental project that exists for a relatively short amount of time.”
The sense of immediacy also played a role in Seattle artist Trimpin’s 2014 temporary sound sculpture, YOU ARE HEAR. The installation’s three listening stations were comprised of repurposed tractor seats and oversized sets of “headphones.” Visitors who interacted with the piece experienced sounds created within their immediate environment, both from mechanisms the artist constructed and the sounds that naturally occur around the park. The artist himself became immersed in the sculpture park environment as he installed YOU ARE HEAR over a period of three days. He explained, “I noticed there were lots of regulars coming through every day and that they were noticing how something unusual was going on. It was great to have a conversation with them . . . . It was an exciting chance to engage with the public as they were walking their dogs or jogging through the park.”
The Olympic Sculpture Park offers a unique experience for both seeing and creating works of art. Just as the spinning reflections of The Western Mystery create a new perspective on the Olympic Sculpture Park, all of the temporary projects have given visitors reasons to rethink their surroundings over the last 10 years, both within the park and out in the world.
—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager
This post is the fifth installment in a series of stories exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Over the course of this year, we will continue reflecting on the Park’s evolution over the past decade.
Images: Installation view of The Western Mystery (detail), 2017, Spencer Finch, American, b. 1962, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Mark Woods. Installation view of The Western Mystery, 2017, Spencer Finch, American, b. 1962, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Mark Woods. Installation view of Safety Cones, 2008, Dennis Oppenheim, American, b. 1938, Seattle Art Museum site-specific installation, Photo: Paul Macapia. Installation view of Blue Sun, 2016, Victoria Haven, American, b. 1964, acrylic, 57 x 14 ft., Seattle Art Museum Commission 2016, Photo: Natali Wiseman. YOU ARE HEAR, 2014, Trimpin, German, b. 1951, three part sound installation at SAM Olympic Sculpture Park, commissioned by the Seattle Art Museum. © Trimpin, Photo: Nathaniel Willson.
Seattle-based artist and University of Washington professor Denzil Hurley’s glyph paintings are aptly titled. A glyph is a symbol. One that typically conveys an agreed upon or shared meaning. These can be the unique marks of the written word, a graphic element, or an inscription. More broadly, a glyph can be a shape or color that we understand to have an agreed upon purpose separate from language, such as a circle with a slash through it for “no,” or red for “stop.” In Hurley’s work, shape and color are paramount. Well known for his monochrome paintings and impact on the world of abstract painting, a selection of these glyph paintings currently hang at SAM in Denzil Hurley: Disclosures, on view through November 5.
In Disclosures these paintings become sculptural by being mounted on repurposed sticks and poles. As objects, the glyph paintings become reminiscent of signs and harken back to Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 painting, Black Square which was intimately tied to social and political discussions at the cusp of the October Revolution in Russia. Deceptively simple, there’s a density to Hurley’s black canvases in his layering of the paint and in his use of materials. Spend some time in Disclosures the next time you come by SAM and consider what you derive from a redacted painting involving the form of signs and the framing of the wall. What does your understanding say about our socially constructed meanings of these symbols?
SAM: The works at SAM came out of visits to Barbados. Can you tell us about these trips? I’m thinking specifically about how they informed the material concerns of your work.
Denzil Hurley: The idea of repurposing materials arose out of observations I made over many years, and several trips there. The paintings in the exhibition were selected from a larger body of work that began around 2006–07. Each piece was thought of, and developed individually out of my interests in modular forms and structures involving squares and rectangles.
Do you see these paintings as a whole? If I think about the public protests being referenced through the work, and the “power in numbers” philosophy behind taking to the streets, do you feel that viewers can derive a larger meaning by seeing the group than by seeing a single work in the series?
I exhibited related pieces from this larger body of work in the Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum in 2009, and a Francine Seders Gallery group exhibition in 2012. I welcome the curatorial decision at SAM to select, and present the work in a particular way. It certainly serves to open up the room and bring certain referencing to the fore.
You talk about density in your paintings. In your monochrome paintings how do you use a single color to create layered meaning?
My working process and painting ideas involve color, layering, stacking, erasure and concerns with surfaces that allow individual differences to be developed and realized in each piece.
In a work such as the piece framing the empty wall, does density continue to play a part in the work?
Within the context of one piece relating to another and involving the wall, the floor, and bringing together painting ideas, sculptural form, and installation practice, it allows for conjunctions between differences.
Images: Installation views of “Denzil Hurley: Disclosures” at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photos: Mark Woods.
A window is what I wanted. A gap in the wall where light could come in and color the dim room of my world and hopefully the world of those around me. But how do you crack open a wall of bias and expectation? How do you get to the human behind the facade? The goal with Color is Everything was this very idea; to find the bridge from one person to another, a path through the forest of differences so we can embrace what makes the individual truly and beautifully individual. Longing, pain, love, desire; So much binds us to one another beyond things like religion, gender choice, or race. I wanted to photograph individuals that not only celebrated what made them unique but even further—used that as a source of their power. But differences scare people. So often we see something unlike what we understand and it is seen as dumb, threatening or foolish. That is why I attempted to open the window of joy in all the people who participated in the project. I wanted their joy to shine brighter than anything an observer could find bias against. Because in a time of cultural tension, amongst all the things that bind us, why not choose joy to let some light in?
To do so was not hard. It was a simple recipe of music, dancing, and kindness. Lindsey Watkins helped choose the wardrobe from the outfits the individuals brought from their own closets. From that we chose color combinations in the backdrops. It wasn’t until later that I was honored to be put in touch with Imani Sims who took the project to the next step of tapping into the actual recipe of what gave everyone their own personal joy. When given the opportunity to exhibit the project I knew that scale was important. Joy, no matter what the recipe, is not small, it is a force writ large against the darkness and I wanted the joy of these amazing individuals to be imposing and fully immersive.
This project was co-curated by David Rue and Priya Frank of Seattle Art Museum.
Color is Everything is on view through July 30, 2017 in the Community Corridor Art Gallery. Stop by to see work by these large-scale photo portraits for free through the end of the month!
Joyeux quatorze juillet! As our French friends celebrate La Fête nationale, we’re looking at a painting by Paul Camille Guigou, an artist we categorize as French—although he really identified only with the region of southern France called Provence, where he was born and spent much of his life. His story illustrates that national identity is complex and nuanced, and being French—or American, or anything else—means different things to different folks.
Guigou was immensely proud of Provence. Its landscape, inseparable from the unique quality of light that illuminates this part of the world, inspired nearly all of Guigou’s paintings. A reclusive type, he would wander the hills near town by himself, a solitary figure seeking communion with his muse. On his hikes Guigou would make a point of going to out-of-the-way spots where few had visited, and where the views were unknown. The un-fame of these places seems to be part of what drew Guigou there; by visiting and painting them, he was drawing attention to something he knew was special and yet somehow overlooked. We can read his visions of rural Provence as a kind of journalism, enlightening those who wouldn’t see it for themselves.
Guigou’s program as an artist involved more than producing realistic, flattering pictures of places that were meaningful to him. He painted during the 1850s and 1860s, a period when France, under Louis-Napoléon, made efforts to naturalize its southern citizens, who had maintained a sense of cultural independence and local pride. Much of the Provençal cultural heritage revolved around the language spoken there, langue d’oc. Guigou and many others who cherished the region’s culture and history saw the government insist that French, and not the local language, be spoken in Provence schools. The threat to their language was a literal and symbolic one, and for Guigou, part of a larger problem in the lack of appreciation for Provence’s identity. Meanwhile, the industrialization of the area exacerbated Guigou’s sense of cultural loss. With his paintings, he became an advocate for the land, its people, and its story.
In Wheat Field, the artist’s heartfelt connection to Provence shines. Waving strands of golden wheat, warmly lit from above, and enlivened by flecks of red and blue, fill the center of the painting. Three working figures wading into the field honor the region’s agriculture. Rugged hills loom above quiet valleys. Guigou is a very textural painter, leaving nothing refined or smooth, visibly preferring a coarseness evocative of the country. I love the little footpath that he includes on the left. This unassuming trail seems just the type he would have sought out on his painting excursions.
Poet and activist Frédéric Mistral, who had been a fellow champion of Provence with Guigou, wrote in 1908:
I consider Paul Guigou the greatest painter of Provence. No one could paint better than him the luminosity of our beautiful land, the rugged poetry of its rocky and powdery soil. With great sincerity of vision, he made a truthful and faithful portrait of his little nation. He does not yet have the place in the world of art which he deserves, but that will come.¹
Anything but a detached observer, Guigou makes no attempt to hide his nationalistic affection for his subject. His way of romanticizing Provence will be too sentimental for some, but I appreciate that he clearly loved what he painted. He felt it worth recording and celebrating, especially in the face of cultural domination and industrial intrusion.
– Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator