Object of the Week:Study for Nude for Balzac F.

For those familiar with the French writer Honoré de Balzac, and the iconic monument produced by Auguste Rodin in his honor, it might be hard to reconcile this study in SAM’s collection as a related work. Indeed, the bronze sculpture, headless and unclothed, leaning backward as if a Greek god seems—at first glance—to be a far cry from the finished piece, in which Balzac dons a monk’s habit with long, disheveled hair.

Rodin was commissioned to execute a monument of the late Balzac in 1891, much to the chagrin of certain members of the Société des Gens de Lettres (who may or may not have been informed by Emile Zola of the meeting to select the artist for the monument).[1] Still, Rodin took the appointment in stride, writing that, “I have always been interested in this great literary figure, and have often studied him, not only in his works but in his native province.”[2] As a method actor assumes a role in its entirety, so too did Rodin embark on an intense study of all Balzacian iconography and literature before he began his work. According to French journalist and art critic Gustave Geffroy, “Rodin had read and reread not only all the works of Balzac, but also all that has been written about Balzac.”[3]

The subject occupied Rodin’s time for several years, and he produced study after study—nearing fifty in total. Around 1895, he grew dissatisfied with his direction, feeling the sculptures were either too derivative of other portraits or were too realistic. In fact, this study, created circa 1896, “marks an important stage in the development of Rodin’s thoughts about the monument. All ideas of verisimilitude have evidently been abandoned in favor of the creation of a figure that symbolizes the nature of Balzac’s genius.”[4]

By August of 1896, the final accouterments for the piece would be decided, as chronicled by a French journalist:

One or two months ago, M. Rodin finished a maquette which gives him the satisfaction he searched for so untiringly. Balzac will be represented standing, in a strong, simple posture, his legs slightly apart, his arms crossed. He will be dressed in a sort of long robe without a belt, which will fall down to his feet.[5]

By developing the Balzac’s body and head separately but simultaneously, Rodin prioritized the idea of Balzac over achieving a physical likeness. Indeed, Balzac’s creative vitality, power, and energy are conveyed in both the study as well as the finished piece. Lucky for us, the study is currently on view in France: Inside and Out in the European galleries on the Fourth Floor.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Study of Nude for Balzac F., ca. 1896, Auguste Rodin, bronze with black patina, 36 x 15 x 12 1/4 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard C. Hedreen in memory of Anthony Callison and the Modern Art Purchase Fund, 89.181.
[1] John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of August Rodin (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976), 428.
[2] Excerpt from a letter dates July 3, 1891, quoted in L’Echo de Paris, Paris, August 29, 1896.
[3] “L’Imaginaire,” Le Figaro, Paris, August 29, 1893, 1.
[4] Tancock, 440.
[5] Le Temps, Paris, August 19, 1896.
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Museum Bhavan

Museum Bhavan: A Book-Object by Dayanita Singh

During SAM’s current exhibition, Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India featuring the rich artistic traditions of India, SAM’s Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library is showcasing one its own treasures of Indian artistic practice: Dayanita Singh’s artist’s book, Museum Bhavan (2017).

Museum Bhavan

This limited edition artist’s book is an extension of another compelling work created by the artist. Singh initially created a large, structural, non-book version of Museum Bhavan in 2015 as a series of large, wooden portable “museums” that incorporates hundreds of photographs from her many decades of work in an easily alterable display. It is from this original Museum Bhavan that the artist’s book, Museum Bhavan, originated.

Museum Bhavan

Here is the original Museum Bhavan on display at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi in 2013. See a walkthrough of the installation here. (Source: Google Arts & Culture.)

Museum Bhavan

In 2017, Singh published the “book-object,” Museum Bhavan, as an easily transportable “pocket museum,” working with long-time collaborator and publisher Gerhard Stiedl. This Museum Bhavan includes a series of nine accordion-fold books—which she refers to as “museums”—that contain Singh’s black-and-white photography and fold out into long strips. This aspect mimics the series of wooden accordion panels used in the original Museum Bhavan. Additionally, the 2017 version includes a booklet of conversations entitled Conversation Chambers that also reflects an aspect of the original: the structures of the original Museum Bhavan can be opened to act as a wall or they can be pulled inward to form intimate spaces. Accompanying wooden benches and tables help create “chambers” that encourage reflection or conversation. The conversations documented in the artist’s book include one with her publisher, Gerhard Steidl, and another with curator and writer, Aveek Sen. Unlike the original Museum Bhavan, the “book-object” version is enclosed in a handmade clamshell box created in India, covered by fabric designed by the artist.

Museum Bhavan

Through this book form, Singh has pushed the original Museum Bhavan’s concept of the evolving presentation further. This Museum Bhavan is an artist’s book, a photo book, and something that can be displayed as a tabletop exhibition while simultaneously being the catalog of that exhibition. By offering an exhibition in a box, Singh encourages viewers to install and curate the work as they like and where they like. Singh desires “the mass-produced quality of publishing and the uniqueness of the art gallery…,” but she wants to make it accessible. She believes that this kind of work is the museum of the future.

Similar to the original version, the title of each “museum” or book is ambiguous and interchangeable: Museum of Men, Godrej Museum, Little Ladies Museum, Museum of Furniture, Museum of Vitrines, etc. Her photos appear without titles or captions. The ambiguity, she says, is intentional.

Museum Bhavan

“I don’t want to spoon-feed you with photographs, and I don’t need to because photography is such a magical medium…. If you allow it, it will present all sorts of meanings.”

—Dayanita Singh

To get a closer look at these works, another artist’s book by Singh (Sent a Letter, 2008), or other works in our Book Arts Collection, make an appointment to visit the Bullitt Library. Appointments can typically be scheduled Wednesday–Friday, 10 am–4 pm.

– Traci Timmons, Librarian

In consideration of Singh’s intent, the display of Museum Bhavan will change in the case throughout the run of Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India.

Photos: Natali Wiseman
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Muse/News: Jaw-dropping art at SAM, wigs off at Seattle Opera, and David on the subway

SAM News

“My jaw is still on the floor.” Washington Post art critic Sebastian Smee looks back at art in 2018 “from Nanette to the Carters,” naming Peacock in the Desert as one of the year’s best exhibitions.

Peacock in the Desert was also featured in last week’s edition of Real Change by Lisa Edge, who says it “wows right away.”

Artnet includes SAM installation In This Imperfect Present Moment on their round-up of “32 Inspiring Museum Exhibitions to See Across the US Over the Holidays,” one of only seven shows in the western US to be recognized.

At the recent Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition, SAM Education’s Priya Frank and David Rue joyfully represented as judges; don’t miss this Evergrey video with Priya about the event, which raises funds for our neighbor the Pike Market Senior Center.

Local News

The new Seattle Opera building celebrates its grand opening last weekend; Crosscut’s Brangien Davis goes inside the facility’s light-filled costume shop, which includes a dedicated space for wig making.

Local writer Emily Pothast debuts in Art in America with this review of Group Therapy at the Frye Art Museum.

Seattle Times food critic Bethany Jean Clement on “Cook,” an unpretentious cookbook with recipes and illustrations from “artists, gallerists, curators, food-industry types, friends.”

“’The aesthetic of the book is totally an homage to every community cookbook — every church, Junior League, elementary school cookbook — ever made,’ she says. She found an old-school cursive typewriter font to use for some of the recipes. ‘If I could’ve made it on a ditto machine, I would’ve,’ Ito adds.”

Inter/National News

“The butt, yeah—the butt’s great.” Art critic Jerry Saltz takes a statue of Michelangelo’s David into a NYC subway station.

Artnet reports that Kaywin Feldman has been appointed the first-ever female director of DC’s National Gallery of Art. Revisit her essay published earlier this year on “museum leadership in a time of crisis.”

Feldman departs the Minneapolis Institute of Art; speaking of, the Mia just debuted a new in-house smartphone app “that transforms the galleries into a giant escape room.”

“’It’s one of the many ways we are embracing the idea of meeting our customers where they are, welcoming them to the space, helping them find surprise and delight,’ said Douglas Hegley, Mia’s chief digital officer.”

And Finally

She styled songs, she marched in Selma, she stole hearts. Goodbye, Nancy Wilson.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Peacock in the Desert: the Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Robert Wade
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Object of the Week: White Night

Cloud cover in the Pacific Northwest makes stargazing difficult at times, but that didn’t stop Mark Tobey from painting White Night in 1942.

Featuring the artist’s signature “white writing” treatment—a dense and abstract calligraphic mode of painting—White Night manages to evoke a sense of spirituality while also conjuring the night sky. After the artist’s conversion to the Baha’i Faith in 1918 and subsequent study of Zen painting in Kyoto, Japan, Tobey would indeed, throughout his long career, explore the relationship between the spiritual and the abstract in art. In the words of the artist, “I believe that painting should come through the avenues of meditation rather than the canals of action.”

It is a difficult endeavor to paint something felt rather than known. Yet somehow Tobey is able to capture the awesome power and energy of the night sky. Of course, the sky we see today is very different from what Tobey would be giving representation to in 1942. The first satellite was launched into space fifteen years later, ushering in a new era of space exploration and forever altering our relationship with the cosmos. In this context, White Night becomes a rather prescient painting—somehow predicting the invisible activity that would soon populate the night sky, and the images of space such satellites would capture.

The Geminid meteor shower is tonight, and while we might not be able to experience it through the winter clouds, we can still look up and recall this painting’s dynamic and mysterious energy.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: White Night, 1942, Mark Tobey, tempera on paperboard mounted on composition board, 22 1/4 x 14 in., Gift of Mrs. Berthe Poncy Jacobson, 62.78 © Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum
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WSHSPC

Happy Fall! Here's a little video to learn a little bit more about us and how the competition works!

Posted by Washington State High School Photography Competition on Saturday, November 18, 2017

Community Gallery: Winning Photographs by High School Students

Every year, SAM’s Community Gallery features the winning photographs from the Washington State High School Photography Competition (WSHSPC). This year 33 photos were selected from nearly 4,000 entries by judges Mel Curtis, Claire Garoutte, and Bruce Hudson. One of our many amazing community partners, WSHSPC has been providing a prestigious public platform for student photography since 1995 and we are excited to share the lens of today’s talented youth with everyone. Stop by the Community Gallery on the ground floor for free the next time you swing by SAM—these winning photos will be on view through December 30.

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Muse/News: Party crashers at SAM, Seattle’s Instagrammable library, and Zanele Muholi’s self-portraits

SAM News

Claire Partington: Taking Tea is now on view! This site-specific installation brings out the untold human stories of the 1,000 European and Asian porcelain pieces in SAM’s Porcelain Room, reminding viewers of the reality of precarious ocean voyages and human exploitation. Brangien Davis of Crosscut offers this review of this “intervention” that will be on view for the next two years.

“Now, smack in the middle of the room — unprotected except by a guard at the door — stand six ceramic people in old-fashioned dress, positioned as if having tea. Suddenly, our focus is shifted to the figures, who don’t have any teacups in hand, but seem to get their pick of the room. These party-crashers might just change the space forever.”

This Thursday, light up the dreary days of December with SAM Lights. The Seattle Times has all the details on this annual event in their feature, “Holiday sights light up the night.”

Local News

The Seattle Times’ David Gutman talks with artist Laura Hamje about why she can’t stop taking pictures—and making paintings—of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Volunteer Park Trust and Kaiser Permanente announced a new partnership in support of programming at the Capitol Hill park that also houses the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Brangien Davis of Crosscut has a great story about the Central Library, which was just named the “most Instagrammable library” in the world.

“A recent Tuesday afternoon at the library didn’t turn up a single photo snapper. Instead, people could be found using the lofty building for a range of purposes: a man excitedly picking up a stack of books that had just come available; a chatty cluster of folks having coffee at the cafe; people with all their belongings in bags using the computer stations in the so-called Mixing Chamber; a young adult practicing violin in one of the reservable music rooms; one woman seeking documentation of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s debut; another in search of a name steeped in Seattle history for a new restaurant.”

Inter/National News

Roberta Smith, Holland Cotter and Jason Farago of the New York Times look back at “The Best Art of 2018,” including Hilma af Klimt at the Guggenheim, Charles White at MoMA, and Delacroix at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hyperallergic broke the news that a board member of the Whitney owns a company that produces tear gas that’s been used at the border; both the Whitney staff and its director have offered their powerful replies.

Yrsa Daley-Ward of the New York Times reviews Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, the new book on South African artist Zanele Muholi; the portrait exhibition comes to SAM in 2019.

“If storytelling is one of humanity’s most powerful gifts, then visual activism feels like alchemy. Especially when the work in all of its detail, subtle or overt, moves you in a way you don’t all the way understand.” 

And Finally

The most wholesome content on the Internet last week happened at SAM.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Claire Partington: Taking Tea at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman
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Object of the week: Box with the Sound of Its Own Making

Honoring the life and legacy of Robert Morris, who passed away last Wednesday, this week’s Object of the Week highlights his iconic 1961 piece, Box with the Sound of Its Own Making.

A founder of Minimalism, Morris’s 1966 series of essays Notes on Sculpture cemented his reputation as a pioneering sculptor as well as a critical thinker. Among his many contributions to contemporary art of the 1960s and 70s (and beyond) was the prioritization of the relationship between viewer, artwork, and environment. Such hallmarks of Minimalism as repetition, scale, and an absence of expressive content were key elements in many of his works, forcing viewers to consider the spatial arrangement and scale of the sculptures themselves. In the words of New York Times art writer Ken Johnson, “Because the [minimalist] sculptures lacked the complex internal relationships of traditional composition, the viewer would focus on the object’s relationship to the architecture of the room and its effect on his or her perceptual experience of space, light and shape.”[1]

Rebelling against the notion of an artwork as something precious or finely crafted, Morris often worked with simple, everyday materials like plywood, felt, and mirrors. Throughout his decades-long career, Morris worked in a wide array of modes that explored the experiential nature of art and sculptural possibilities of space, ranging from labyrinths and performance to earthworks and environments with sound systems.

Box with the Sound of Its Own Making is an exemplary work in this regard. The piece is, cheekily, exactly what the title suggests: a seemingly ordinary box with a soundtrack of its own construction—three and a half hours of sawing, sanding, and hammering. Morris deftly does away with the mystery of artistic creation, pulling back the curtain to reveal a document of the physical labor necessary to create the work itself. What might otherwise be interpreted as precious, mute, and opaque is, in fact, a dynamic, narrative sculpture that highlights duration, process, and provisionality. See this piece at SAM, on view in Big Picture: Art after 1945.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

[1] Ken Johnson, ‘Robert Morris, 87, Dies; Founding Minimalist Sculptor With Manifold Passions,” The New York Times, November 29, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/29/obituaries/robert-morris-dead.html.
Image: Box with the Sound of Its Own Making, 1961, Robert Morris, wood, internal speaker, wooden cube: 9 3/4 x 9 3/4 x 9 3/4 in., overall: 46 x 9 3/4 x 9 3/4in.; TRT 3.5 hours, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 82.190 © Estate of Robert Morris
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Muse/News: A princess at SAM, Jimi in Seattle, and a return to form

SAM News

Reads this review by Nalini Iyer for The International Examiner of Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India.

Peacock in the Desert offers Seattle a wonderful opportunity to experience Indian history, culture, and art and will appeal to visitors of all ages.”

And watch Princess Shivranjani Rajye of Marwar-Jodhpur share why she thinks our exhibition is so special.

Local News

Seattle Magazine has a great list of event recommendations for the month of December—mark your calendars, buy tickets, go to there.

“I Returned to The Nutcracker as an adult.” Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne watches the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker and floats between its various worlds.

Daudi Abe for Crosscut reviewing Bold As Love, the new exhibition at the Northwest African American Museum that explores Jimi Hendrix’s Seattle roots.

“The display highlights Hendrix’s quintessential experience growing up in the Central District—from a photo of 5-year-old Jimi at a family picnic at Leschi Park to some of his impressive drawings that include what appears to be the Miss Circus Circus hydroplane.”

Inter/National News

Mwatana for Human Rights has released a document—titled “The Degradation of History”—that lists 34 archeological and cultural heritage sites that have been damaged in war-torn Yemen.

Artnet reports: “The American sculptor Robert Morris, a shape-shifting artist, `and pioneer of minimalism, has died of pneumonia at an upstate New York hospital. He was 87.”

The New York Times on the just-released report that calls for France to return pieces of African cultural heritage to their home countries; there have already been initial responses from African officials.

“France holds at least 90,000 sub-Saharan artifacts, of which 70,000 are in the Quai Branly Museum. The report estimated that up to 95 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage is held by institutions outside of Africa.”

And Finally

A compelling piece of post-post-modern video art about those now 7-5 (!) Seahawks.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Peacock in the Desert: the Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman
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Object of the Week: Ai-Apec Stirrup Spout Vessel

Among their many achievements, Mochica (also known as Moche) society is well-known for their innovations in and mastery of ceramics. Celebrated for their figurative vessels—often resembling animals, plants, deities, and even adult activities—Mochica ceramicists produced a variety of exquisite forms whose painted and sculpted surfaces reflect the vibrant life, religion, and culture of the Mochica people.

Mochica stirrup spout vessels, in particular, would take on complex and figurative scenes. Named for their resemblance to stirrups, such vessels are identifiable due to their wide body, which connects to an elegant circular hollow handle. Though unsure of exactly what was stored in these vessels (until recently it was believed that their purpose was mainly funerary), it is likely that they contained beverages like corn beer (chicha). Equal parts beautiful and versatile, stirrup spout vessels were also functional: in the high elevation deserts of Peru, the narrow spout would prevent the evaporation of the vessels’ liquid contents.

In this Ai-Apec Stirrup Spout Vessel on view in the exhibition Cosmic Beings in Mesoamerican and Andean Art, an anthropomorphic figure stands surrounded by six peaks topped with snail shells, which also share anthropomorphic features. Holding a staff, the stoic figure—Ai-Apec, the chief deity of the Mochica—dons a patterned tunic and pendant earrings in the form of feline heads, as well as a helmet with two more feline figures.

Generally, Mochica vessels are slip-painted and bichrome, with red decoration on a white or cream background. However, this Ai-Apec vessel is much darker—a type of ceramic known as blackware; the dark color is achieved through a firing process that removes oxygen from the kiln, causing iron compounds in the clay to turn black. Not only does this piece represent a mythical continuity between the Mochica and later Chavín and Chimú cultures, but it represents an artistic continuity as well—such blackware ceramics were also made by the Chavín and Chimú.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Ai-Apec Stirrup Spout Vessel, ca. AD 200-500, Mochica, blackware ceramic, 10 × 8 1/2 × 8 in., Gift in honor of Assen Nicolov, 2018.3.2

 

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