New Topographics: Instantly (in)Famous

When viewing New Topographics, you’ll want to lean in and look closely—on close inspection you discover the dead-pan humor as well as the disquiet in seeing the land sliced up and rapidly developed in this group of photography.

This new installation at SAM brings together a group of photographers who became widely known through a 1975 exhibition at the George Eastman House. What made all the work instantly (in)famous was that the artists turned their back on celebrated landscape imagery.

Landscape as wild and tempestuous (think Bierstadt) or picturesque was set aside. Instead, artists such as Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Stephen Shore, and others trained their cameras on new housing developments that turned farmland into suburbia, or looked at the topography of cities.

In addition to the new subject of man-altered landscape, the photographers also created a new aesthetic: Modern photography had become known for stark black and white contrast and dramatic perspectives, while the New Topographics photographers had a decidedly quiet and descriptive approach.

A lone beer bottle here, wires and hookups there, are anything but grand but then the piles of dirt come with glamorous titles such as Prospector Park.

In addition to some of the artists who were featured in the original 1975 show, included are artworks that are related and expand this vision into other directions. Thus you will find Mark Tobey’s early painting, Middle West, in an entirely new context. You will also discover several of the great artist books by Ed Ruscha—whose work was very influential to this new generation. Last not least, you will find several of Howard Kottler’s “souvenir plates” that are adorned with birds-eye views of downtown Seattle. (Watch out for his dead-pan humor.)

While you’re visiting, sit down with photocopies of the original New Topographics catalogue and text as well as Robert Smithson’s groundbreaking and fabulously written essay: “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey.”

The rapid transformation of the urban and suburban areas of Seattle by new development right now provide a new context for the work of these artists. See New Topographics on view through the end of the year.

– Catharina Manchanda, Jon and Mary Shirely Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Images: Installation view of New Topographics at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photos: Stephanie Fink
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Muse/News: Love at the museum, Afrofuturistic visions, and painting the blues

SAM News

Travel + Leisure was among those sharing the results of OkCupid’s 2018 Dater’s Choice Awards; in Seattle, SAM was singled out as the “Spot That Sparks Conversation.” Come fall in love at the museum!

Wall Street Journal subscribers: Don’t miss this review by photographer William Meyers of New Topographics, an installation now on view on the museum’s third floor.

Jeffrey Gibson: Like A Hammer is now on view at the Denver Art Museum and heads to SAM early 2019; Kealey Boyd of Hyperallergic dives into questions found in the exhibition.

“Does it make sense to distinguish Native American art today from other contemporary art? Does the category perpetuate generalizations and patterns of thinking? By blurring Native and non-Native elements, Gibson keeps these questions alive and insures that the art remains central to our answers.”

Local News

If you miss Mickalene Thomas like we do at SAM, go see the new show at the Henry Art Gallery. Margo Vansynghel of City Arts interviewed the artist about her intimate show that features photography, video, and one of the artist’s signature “living room” installations.

Brangien Davis of Crosscut on Coming Soon, an installation appearing across several Central District parks of construction notice-like signs that appear like “Afrofuturistic visions of a dream deferred.”

Emily Pothast has a fantastic story on Hyperallergic about AFTER LIFE (what remains) at Alice Gallery, a recent group show featuring Indigenous and Asian Pacific American artists.

“What does it mean to own the land? In a nation founded on violence against indigenous peoples, the question invites us to examine our own complicity in perpetuating that violence. Ownership is a powerful designation, and yet it is ultimately fleeting when we consider the possibility of mass extinction. Perhaps the only way to truly inhabit a place forever is to haunt it.”

Inter/National News

The New York Times continues its important Overlooked obituary series, revisiting the fascinating and tragic life of Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941), who they call a “pioneer of modern Indian art.”

“That was Sacha Baron Cohen? What a nutcase. God bless him.” I gotta give this round to Christy Cones. Artnet’s Naomi Rea on how the Laguna Beach art consultant fared on the comedian’s new show, “Who Is America?”

Antwaun Sargent for Artsy interviews Henry Taylor, the 60-year-old Los Angeles-based artist whose first major monograph about his work (once called “the visual equivalent of the blues”) is due out this fall.

“Throughout his career, Taylor has remained committed to uncovering stories—about his family, about black people, about power and despair. ‘My painting is about…trying to be about some love shit, you know what I mean?’ the artist said.”

And Finally

Barbara Kruger for New York Magazine.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Robert Wade
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Object of the Week: Ideas for Zanzibar with Dancer from Parade Triple Bill

A pioneering Pop artist, David Hockney has throughout his career pivoted effortlessly from medium to medium, continuously exploring his visual style. Though perhaps best known for his iconic paintings of Southern California swimming pools, Hockney has produced a much larger body of work, ranging from abstract paintings to photo collages to iPhone drawings. However, arguably lesser known is his work in stage and costume design: he has been involved in productions of Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress and Mozart’s Magic Flute, both at the Glyndebourne Opera in England, and Parade at the New York Metropolitan Opera, for which this drawing was created.

Grouped under the title Parade, the Met Opera’s 1981 triple bill brought together three pieces: Parade, a ballet written by Jean Cocteau with music by Erik Satie; Les Mamelles de Tiresias, an opera with libretto by Guillaume Apollinaire and music by Francis Poulenc; and L’Enfant et Les Sortileges, an opera with libretto by Colette and music by Maurice Ravel. Hockney designed the sets and costumes for all three performances.

Satie’s Parade, first presented at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on May 18, 1917—during the height of World War I—takes place in a world of circus acts and street fairs. Though written in 1903, Les Mamelles de Tiresias similarly premiered during the war, in June 1917. The surrealist play was described by one critic as “high-spirited topsy-turveydom” whose deeper themes are about the need to repopulate a France ravaged by war.¹ Lastly, L’Enfant et Les Sortileges, commissioned in 1915, is a “fairy ballet” exploring the inner emotional world of a child, where toys and animals come to life.

There is a long history of artists collaborating on theater and dance productions. Merce Cunningham frequently collaborated with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, for example, and both the scenery and costumes for Satie’s original Parade were designed by none other than Pablo Picasso. For New York Times theater critic John Russell, Hockney’s designs for the 1981 presentation Parade are “not [Picasso’s] Parade redone from scratch. It is the Parade of 1917 revisited as if in a dream, with Picasso very much in mind, both as the original designer and as the poet of Les Saltimbanques—the tumblers and harlequins who turn up over and over again in the work of Picasso’s Rose period.”²

Largescale painted environment with separate elements based on Hockney’s design for Les Mamelles de Tiresias

Hockney produced many drawings for Parade, but the one in SAM’s collection is for the second opera in particular: Les Mamelles de Tiresias, set in Zanzibar, an imaginary town in France. Taking into account the circumstances surrounding the opera’s 1917 premiere, when the war was at its worst, Hockney incorporated details such as gas masks, helmets, searchlights, and barbed wire, the latter of which is included in this drawing.³ Though the unfinished blue sky suggests a certain incompleteness, it is important to keep in mind that this is, after all, a preparatory drawing. And despite the war-time setting, Hockney still manages to bring his bold, graphic, and colorful style to the mise en scène. In the image above, which more fully depicts Hockney’s playful cubist-inspired world, we get a sense of how such drawings were crucial for his development of these operatic worlds.

–Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Images: Largescale painted environment with separate elements based on Hockney’s design for Les Mamelles de Tiresias, from the 1983-84 Walker Art Center exhibition Hockney Paints the Stage. Ideas for Zanzibar with Dancer from Parade Triple Bill, 1980, David Hockney, Crayon on paper, Framed: 28 x 33″, Paper size: 19 x 24″, Gift of Robert and Honey Dootson Collection, 2010.37.26, © David Hockney.
¹Jeremy Sams, “Poulenc, Francis,” in The Penguin Opera Guide, ed. Amanda Holden (London: Penguin Books, 1997), 282.
²John Russell, “David Hockney’s Designs for Met Opera’s ‘Parade’,” in The New York Times, February 20, 1981, 1.
³ Russell, 1.
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Muse/News: Storme’s cover, Mickalene’s inspirations, and Artemisia’s revenge

SAM News

Hot off the press! On the cover of the current edition of Real Change: Will Wilson’s tintype portrait of artist Storme Webber. Don’t miss Lisa Edge’s review of Double Exposure inside the paper.

“Displaying Curtis’ work alongside contemporary Native artists is part of a growing shift among art institutions, which are becoming more critical of themselves and inviting visitors to do the same. They are becoming more conscious of who is telling the narrative.”

And the exhibition and SAM are both referenced in this New York Times story by Ted Loos on changes at the Art Gallery of Ontario spearheaded by their curator of Indigenous art—and how they reflect changes happening at museums across the U.S. and Canada.

Also: Seattle Business Magazine interviewed SAM director and CEO Kim Rorschach for this feature story on how to collect art; SAM Gallery is also included as a resource for art buyers.

“Most galleries are happy to let you pay over time. And you may need to try out something at home before committing. Says Rorschach: ‘It’s just about having an honest and forthright conversation.’”

Local News

Brendan Kiley of the Seattle Times reports on the future of Pivot Art + Culture, which once presented works from Paul Allen’s private art collection; it will soon house a “putt-putt pub.”

City Arts has a great round-up of visual arts picks, including quilts of Gee’s Bend at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art and photography by and inspiring to Mickalene Thomas at the Henry Art Gallery.

John Stang of The Globalist on The Sea Mar Museum of Chicano/a Latino/a Culture, set to open early 2019 in south Seattle. It will be the “first major museum devoted to Latino history in Washington State.”

“’Latinos have made incredible contributions, not only to the economy, but to the citizens of Washington state,’ said Erasmo Gamboa, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Washington and one of the leaders of the museum project.”

Inter/National News

Those production values tho! Watch this “My Favorite Artwork” video by the New York Times Magazine in which artist Glenn Ligon discusses a self-portrait by Adrian Piper.

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone reports that the Association of Art Museum Directors has launched a paid internship program at museums across the U.S. in an effort to diversify museum staffs.

The Telegraph announces that the National Gallery has acquired a self-portrait by Renaissance artist Artemisia Gentileschi; it is only the 21st painting by a female artist in the gallery’s permanent collection of 2,300 works.

“One of a handful of women who was able to shatter the confines of her time, she overcame extreme personal difficulties to succeed in the art of painting. This picture will help us transform how we collect, exhibit and tell the story of women artists throughout history.”

And Finally

Seattle Met on the local champions of French fry artistry. (Ed. note: The ones at Presse are best.)

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Nina Dubinsky.
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Object of the Week: Model Totem Pole

The black stone used for this carving by Haida artist Charles Edensaw is argillite, a carbonaceous kaolinite shale. Truly unique, this sedimentary rock is found in only one place in the world: Haida Gwaii. Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, the archipelago in British Columbia is home to this very special material and the similarly distinct Haida artistic traditions that have arisen from it. More specifically, argillite comes from the Slatechuck Mountain. And while Haida peoples have accessed the Slatechuck quarry and produced such argillite carvings for centuries, it was not until 1941 that the quarry site (measuring approximately 18 hectares) was officially designated as land belonging to the Skidegate band, assuring that access would remain theirs in perpetuity.[1]

For those who might not identify as geologists, or even amateur geologists, the slate’s black color comes from its high levels of carbon. A kaolinite shale, it is composed of clay material that has been subjected to heat and pressure over geologic time, resulting in a highly uniform and workable rock.[2] For example, it ranks at two and a half on the Moh’s scale of mineral hardness (on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being diamond-hard).[3]

Measuring 19 inches tall, this model totem pole (qwa.a gyaa.angaa) was expertly carved out of one piece of argillite. Perhaps it goes without saying, but the larger the carving, the more difficult it is to do successfully, as natural imperfections in the shale grain can result in fine fractures. Further, argillite is sensitive to its environmental surroundings, and can absorb and desorb moisture quickly; it is essential that freshly quarried argillite is slowly and carefully dried, otherwise it is prone to cracking.

Currently on view in the third floor Native Art of the Americas galleries, this piece makes clear just how skilled and masterful Edensaw was as a Haida carver. The figures on the pole from top to bottom are: a bear holding five stacked cylinders—representing a ringed basketry hat—above an eagle’s head; two human heads on either side, also wearing ringed hats; a bear, holding its tongue; and another bear, holding a seal-like figure with a fish-like tail. Though quite a lot to fit into 19 inches, compositionally, each animal and human figure bears exquisite incising and detail.

Such model poles were primarily made for commercial sale as Haida contact with Americans and Europeans increased during the 1800s. In fact, around the time that this piece was made (circa 1885), argillite carving experienced a surge in output corresponding with an exploration of new forms. As traditional Haida ceremonial objects and practices were increasingly banned by the Canadian government, new forms of creative expression thus emerged.[4] Edensaw was an important figure during this period, whose personal style influenced many other Haida artists living in Skidegate and Masset. With a deeper understanding of argillite’s geological properties, rarity, and cultural significance, this carving by Edensaw is all the more impressive.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Model totem pole (qwa.a gyaa.angaa), ca. 1885, Haida, argillite, 19 x 3 x 2 3/4 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.129
[1] “Haida Argillite,” Simon Fraser University, Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, accessed July 11, 2018, https://www.sfu.ca/archaeology/museum/exhibits/virtual-exhibits/haida-argillite.html.
[2] “Care of Argillite,” Government of Canada, accessed July 10, 2018, https://www.canada.ca/en/conservation-institute/services/conservation-preservation-publications/canadian-conservation-institute-notes/care-argillite.html.
[3] Peter L. Macnair and Alan L. Hoover, The Magic Leaves: A History of Argillite Carving (Victoria, B.C.: British Columbia Provincial Museum, 1984), 17.
[4] Macnair and Hoover, 113.
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My Favorite Things: C. Davida Ingram on Sonny Assu’s Breakfast Series

“I think the value of Sonny Assu’s piece, Breakfast Series in SAM’s permanent collection, has a lot to do with righting the wrongs of history.” – C. Davida Ingram

Consider the value of contemporary Native art through the perspective of Seattle-based artist, curator, educator, and writer, C. Davida Ingram. Visit SAM’s Native Arts of the Americas galleries to contextualize Sonny Assu’s Native formline design elements in his representation of Tony the Tiger or the “12 essential lies and deceptions” in his box of Lucky Beads. How does your perspective on food and access to land change as you consider the serious history behind this seemingly lighthearted artwork?

Artwork: “Breakfast Series,” 2006, Sonny Assu (Gwa’gwa’da’ka), Kwakwaka’wakw, Laich-kwil-tach, Wei Wai Kai, born 1975, five boxes digitally printed with Fome-cor, 12 x 7 x 3 in. each, of 5, Gift of Rebecca and Alexander Stewart, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.93, © Sonny Assu.
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Muse/News: Trickstery art, tree stories, and unfinished histories

Just out in the latest edition of the Stranger: This glowing review of Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson by Rebecca Brown.

“But you should see what SAM has done with Double Exposure. The jolts between Curtis’s ‘noble’ (his word) Natives in traditional dress (their own or others’) standing near the lively, light-filled, trickstery art of Wilson, Rector, Nicolson is just exhilarating.”

Prepare to cry: Juan “Neeto” Old Chief Betancourt honored his great-grandmother Antone with an invite to prom, held recently at the Seattle Art Museum. The Seattle Times’ Lauren Frohne and Erika Schultz share the heartwarming story.

Brangien Davis of Crosscut profiles artist RYAN! Feddersen and all her exciting work on view around the region—including her “Post-Human Archive” installation created for the Double Exposure education gallery.

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley reviews Walla Walla artist Juventino Aranda’s “disarming, arresting” solo exhibition, now on view at the Frye Art Museum.

In their July issue, Seattle Magazine names @seattlewalkreport “the city’s best Instagram account.” The artist’s hand-drawn accounts offer “a charming composite portrait of the city in the midst of a sea change.”

“A cacophony of arboreal anecdotes:” Brangien Davis of Crosscut on artist Katherine Wimble’s crowd-sourced project “Forest for the Trees,” which tells stories through our county’s trees.

“’My hope is that people will read these stories, see trees differently and think about their own connections to trees,’ she says. ‘Their lives are intertwined with ours.’”

Inter/National News

Philanthropist and collector Agnes Gund’s Art for Justice Fund announced another round of grants totaling nearly $10 million, going to artists, writers, and policy makers who are working to advance criminal justice reform.

Cultured Magazine names “9 Curators You Need to Know in 2018,” including Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors curator Mika Yoshitake.

Teju Cole for the New York Times Magazine on photography, cultural appropriation, and “getting others right.” The work of Edward S. Curtis is discussed.

“It is not about taking something that belongs to someone else and making it serve you but rather about recognizing that history is brutal and unfinished and finding some way, within that recognition, to serve the dispossessed.”

And Finally

“In a democracy, we do not put children in cages.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson, Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman
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Object of the Week: Atifofoe Susuavor Adanudo

The beauty of this Ghanaian textile lies not only in its striking colors and bold patterning, but in its deeper message of unity. Made with strips of woven cloth crafted by over twenty Ewe weavers, this vibrant adanudo (which translates roughly as “skilled or wise cloth”) highlights the beauty that can be found in bringing together unique artistic voices and, ultimately, difference.

Kente cloth, which originated in the Asante region of Ghana, is today an iconic and widely-produced textile, but it is important to remember that it initially functioned in a royal and ceremonial context within the Asante kingdom. The Ewe, like their Asante neighbors, have a rich textile tradition, and one that relies on a style of horizontal loom-weaving similar to that of Kente cloth. However, unlike the Asante, the Ewe never united to form an autocratic government; this, among other things, resulted in a distinct brand of creative autonomy. Free from the strict designs that would otherwise be determined by a royal court, Ewe weavers—regardless of their region—have been able to explore their own personal style and visual language.

With its high-keyed color palate and dazzling contrasts between warp and weft (a hallmark of such Kente textiles), this adanudo—titled Atifofoe Susuavor Adanudo (A Cloth of Multiple Designs and Much Skill—Even Difference Can Be Unified)—is replete with intricate geometric patterning and inlaid motifs. The creativity and idiosyncrasies inherent in this piece are again a testament to the liberties Ewe artists can take, not to mention their skill. This piece in particular also has an especially interesting backstory: It was created in 2004 by a community of Ewe artists working together with Gilbert “Bobbo” Ahiagble, who was born into a family of master weavers of Ewe Kente cloth. Led by Ahiagble, twenty four artists created and contributed to this adanudo, chosen by Ahiagble for the Seattle Art Museum as an exemplar work from his community and workshop. Indeed, the piece is a feast for the eyes and an amazing display of craftsmanship on a community-wide level.

The syncopated patterning and visual rhythm of Atifofoe Susuavor Adanudo might be composed of seemingly disparate and irreconcilable elements, but, literally woven together, the piece illustrates the power of diversity and the strength to be gained by working together. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Atifofoe Susuavor Adanudo “A cloth of multiple designs and much skill – even difference can be unified”, 2004, Ghanaian, cotton, 106 x 85 1/4 in., African Art Purchase Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.29 © Gilbert Bobbo Ahiagble
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Muse/News: A brilliant show, subversive sculpture, and the future of art

SAM News

Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson was highlighted by AFAR Magazine as one of “10 Brilliant U.S. Art Exhibitions Worth Traveling for This Summer.”

And our curator, Barbara Brotherton, was interviewed about the exhibition for a story in London-based Huck Magazine.

“’The work of these artists stands in sharp juxtaposition to the elegant Curtis photographs with their romanticized approach that casts Native people in the past,’ Brotherton concludes. ‘Native people did not vanish. They are resilient and deeply engaged in the issues of identity today.’”

Lots of love for SAM and the Olympic Sculpture Park: Both are recommended in the Stranger’s 2018 Visitor Guide on their list of “Best Places to See Art.” Condé Nast Traveler features SAM as one of their “Best Things to Do in Seattle” on their newly revived site, and Dwell Magazine kick off their list of “Top 8 Outdoor Sculpture Parks” with the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Local News

“’Painters Who [Expletive] Know How to Paint’ is not a shy title for an exhibition.” Darn right, Gayle Clemans. Here’s her Seattle Times review of the “vigorous” show now on view at Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA).

Crosscut’s Michael Upchurch reviews Castoffs, now on view at the Henry, calling Martha Friedman’s deconstructed sculptures of dancer Silas Riener’s body “mischievously subversive.”

The July edition of City Arts is out! It’s the Interview Issue; don’t miss the cover story featuring a conversation between Ijeoma Oluo and Emmett Montgomery.

“Freedom and progress look like something I can’t even envision yet. And I think art is very similar—the future of art doesn’t look like anything you see right now. That’s maybe the next five minutes of art.”

Inter/National News

I say, more Beyoncé videos. But seriously: Alina Cohen of Artsy takes a look at the challenges museums face in this article, “How Art Museums Can Remain Relevant in the 21st Century.”

Check out the University of North Carolina’s “Archivist in a Backpack” project that seeks to “make archive creation more accessible by offering resources that can easily launch community partners on memory projects.”

Remember when the Baltimore Museum of Art announced they’d sell big-name artworks to fund purchases of contemporary art by women and artists of color? Don’t you want to know what they bought??

“’You can’t stop now,’” Bedford says. ‘You have to acknowledge that you will never, at least in our lifetime, get to true equity within the museum. But I think there is virtue in continuing to push for it relentlessly.’”

And Finally

A doozy of a Long Read: Thomas Chatterton Williams on Adrian Piper for The New York Times Magazine.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson, 2018, installed at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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