Sometimes our reactions and reflections on artwork do not take the shape of words. Sometimes the most accurate portrayal of emotion and thought is an ephemeral, physical reaction. David Rue, dancer and SAM’s Public Programs Coordinator, had just such a reaction to Robert Colescott’s Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas while leading an Art & Social Justice Tour in January of 2017. Enjoy this video of Rue’s response to the vibrant colors of Colescott’s “outsider’s” perspective. Colescott’s artistic identity as an African American painter led to a lifelong practice of inventing new narrative scenarios to address the persistent racial tensions in the US. See more work by Colescott in Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas opening at SAM, February 15, 2018.
Walking through the Grove at the Olympic Sculpture Park, it’s easy to forget you’re in a city. As the path descends, the flickering Aspen leaves, purple pops of Oregon grapes, and thick layers of ferns make the urban landscape feel suddenly distant. One could almost mistake the path for a hike outside city limits were it not for the landmark that emerges at the end: Tony Smith’s sculpture Stinger, a square, geometric fortress made of slick, black steel.
Northwest, via the innovative design by architects Weiss/Manfredi and Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture. The Z-shaped Mosley and Benaroya paths guide visitors from the PACCAR Pavilion and surrounding cityscape at Elliott Avenue and Broad Street, down 40 feet to the waterfront below, bringing them through four landscapes that reference regional ecosystems along the way: the Valley, the Meadows, the Grove, and the Shore.
When the sculpture park opened in 2007, the plant palettes that filled those environments were 95% native to the region—an unusual accomplishment at the time and one that established the park as an early model for future parks’ design. Julie Parrett, a former project manager for Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture, explained, “Ten years ago, there weren’t a lot of examples of corporate campuses or institutions that were working with native plants extensively. A couple of universities were doing it but it was pretty rare. . . . One of the unexpected outcomes was creating habitats that we didn’t even necessarily know we would create, for both birds and marine life.”
Over the past ten years, the park’s landscape thickened and flourished around the sculptures and architecture, filling in with denser grasses and taller trees. This is due in part to the way the native plant species are maintained with limited human intervention. Bobby McCullough, Head Gardener since the sculpture park opened, described, “Unlike strict, well-groomed, extremely maintained gardens, the sculpture park landscape is meant to constantly evolve, so we have to let it grow as it succeeds and replace what fails.”
Humans aren’t the only species to appreciate this approach. The natural landscape has also encouraged wildlife to return to the once-toxic stretch of Seattle’s urban core. McCullough pointed to the Shore as an example of a new habitat that has become established since the park’s opening: “We allowed the shrubbery and grasses along the waterfront to grow more on the natural side, which has enabled it to become a bird sanctuary. Even though we clean it up once a year to remove the dead grass, we try not to touch it very much because it’s become an active habitat area.”
The Olympic Sculpture Park experience feels especially unique in the moments when the landscape, art, and design come together before our eyes. Whether this happens while sitting on one of Louise Bourgeois’s Eye Benches, spotting a seal on the Puget Sound, or watching crows perch in the steel branches of Roxy Paine’s Split, the land brings new insights to the way we see the art, and the art frames the natural world in ways we wouldn’t ordinarily see. Over time, the park’s sightlines will continue to shift and evolve, promising new encounters with every visit.
—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager
This post is the fourth 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: Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Benjamin Benschneider. Photo: Paul Macapia. Photo: Paul Macapia. Photo: Paul Macapia. Photo: Paul Macapia.
Another week, another story… Or try 10. Here’s Rachel Eggers, SAM’s PR Manager with your weekly round up of the art news you need to read.
SAM’s Next Top Model: In a recent edition of the Seattle Times’ ShopNW, Kusama swag from SAM Shop was featured—and modeled by SAM’s Public Programs Coordinator, David Rue.
Following a visit to Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, Loney Abrams of Artspace leads a tour through each Infinity Mirror Room. SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Catharina Manchanda, shared some fascinating details about Kusama’s connections to Seattle.
“’Initially, she thought she wanted to go to Paris because up until World War II, Paris was the center of the art world,’ SAM’s curator Catharina Manchanda tells Artspace. But then, Kusama stumbled upon a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe—and everything changed. She went to the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, got a mailing address for O’Keeffe, and sent the artist a stack of drawings with a letter asking for advice on how to get to the United States. ‘At the same time, she also wrote to Kenneth Callahan, a member of the school of Northwest Modernists in Seattle,’ says Manchanda. ‘Luckily, Callahan wrote her back a welcoming letter and introduced her to Zoë Dusanne, an art dealer in Seattle who offered her an exhibition.’ So, Kusama moved to Seattle, and the rest is art history.”
Seattle Weekly profiles SAM’s three-times-a-year event Remix, now in its tenth year. Members of SAM’s Education department—Regan Pro, Philip Nadasdy, and David Rue—are quoted throughout along with choreographer Dani Tirrell, who presented excerpts from the forthcoming Black Bois in this edition:
“’My experience with SAM has been one that they are always pushing conversations forward,’ he told Seattle Weekly. ‘They bring in art and artists that are relevant to the times we live in. SAM does not shy away from things that may make people uncomfortable, and I think that is how they are able to engage with what is taking place in Seattle.’”
Seattle Times’ Gayle Clemans reviews the Frye’s current exhibition, Storme Webber | Casino: A Palimpsest, for which the artist aimed to “indigenize the gallery.”
ICYMI: Here was Emily Pothast’s Seattle Art Fair wrap-up in the Stranger earlier this week.
And here’s Margo Vansynghel for CityArts on BorderLands, on view through October 29 at King Street Station (go!).
“With such poetic, poignant offerings, BorderLands deals with nationalism, allegiance and resistance. The most arresting works on show tackle the flippant use of language—words often thrown around carelessly since last Nov. 8. What do these signifiers mean to the people who saw their land stolen, to the new arrivals in a nation of immigrants and, finally, to the art world? Some of the most impressive works on view—including Feddersen’s and Kahlon’s—ultimately question the enduring complicity in a system that feeds and sells us a too-easily digestible and unchallenged story about identity.”
The New York Times’ Holland Cotter reviews the Pulitzer Arts Foundation’s Blue Black exhibition; curated by artist Glenn Ligon, it includes works by Kerry James Marshall, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and David Hammons (all represented in SAM’s collection).
A new study reveals that your Instagram “may hold clues to your mental health.” (Wait, was does excessive use of the Amaro filter mean??)
– Rachel Eggers, Manager of Public Relations
Image: David Rue, SAM’s Public Programs Coordinator, is still in the running towards becoming SAM’s Next Top Model, photo: Natali Wiseman.
Doing the Right Thing
Jeffrey Hart Brotman
September 27, 1942 – August 1, 2017
When reflecting on the life of Jeff Brotman—one of our region’s greatest business, civic, and philanthropic leaders—it’s no surprise to note that, “Do the right thing” is an employee mantra of Costco, the retail giant he co-founded in 1983.
Jeff was the very definition of a community leader,” says Winnie Stratton, President of SAM’s Board of Trustees. “He was born in the northwest and spent his whole life making it a better place. He built one of our region’s most successful businesses, literally named the best company to work for in the country, all the while tirelessly working to make sure those around him thrived as well. Together with his wife Susan, Jeff volunteered and supported countless organizations focused on everything from the arts and education, to social services.”
Seattle Art Museum was lucky to be one of those organizations. In 1982, while planning for the opening of his very first retail warehouse, Jeff and Susan became members of SAM. It was the first step in a 35-year connection to the museum, one that has grown and strengthened just as rapidly as the business he was leading.
“It’s remarkable when you consider how much SAM, and our city, has developed in that time,” says Stewart Landefeld, Chairman of the Board. “Jeff became involved when Volunteer Park was our only site. As a team with Susan, Jeff had the vision to see SAM’s path to become a great American museum, and the human warmth and natural leadership to help take us there.”
Jeff’s support of SAM was driven by his passion for art. Avid modern and contemporary art collectors, lenders, and donors, he and Susan helped position the museum as a leader in those areas.
Jeff viewed his role as a collector and steward of SAM as one of great responsibility. From his earliest days, he inspired the museum to push itself artistically, and to dream big. There is little doubt that SAM would not have the exemplary exhibitions and programs it has today without him.
While Jeff passed away in August of this year, his unwavering commitment and inspiring vision for SAM, and the community we serve, will always be remembered.
“Jeff left an indelible mark on Seattle’s cultural landscape and it is hard to fathom SAM without him,” concludes Kim Rorschach, Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. “We will be forever grateful for the innumerable ways he has made SAM stronger, and we will all remember him fondly as we enter our downtown museum, and the Brotman Forum named in his and Susan’s honor.”
This summer, thousands of people are stepping into Infinity Mirror Rooms filled with lanterns, polka dots, pumpkins, and 115 mirrors. As of this week, 90,000 visitors in Seattle have seen infinity in Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors. Every Infinity Mirror Room makes the most of mirrors. What you may not realize is that mirrors have a long history in art and you can seen some of that history in SAM’s other galleries. The oldest mirror on view is from the 3rd century BC, an Etruscan bronze with an incised back depicting a woman who only wears a cap, necklace, and fancy shoes. Three figures stare at her, as if wondering if she forgot to put on a dress—but it happens to be a scene of seduction by Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. (48.36)
There are other small mirrors incorporated into sculptures on view: the Box of Daylight Raven Hat (91.1.124) on the 3rd floor and SAM’s very own mirrored room, which suspends 1,000 porcelains in a gilt rimmed infinity in the renowned Porcelain Room. On my walk through the galleries, however, one mirrored object calls out for attention. It only has four mirrors and is not an attention grabber—unless you happen to be tuned into art of the Yoruba culture of Nigeria. (93.157)
What looks like a small temple, or a crown, has an unusual name and concept to back it up. In Yoruba, it is called an ile ori, or House of the Head. One’s ori is not only your head, but your destiny. Before a person is born, he or she must visit the molder of spiritual heads to choose a destiny and personality which guide one’s character and fate. It is inside you, invisible to others, and is your “inner head,” which is embodied by a small abstract sculpture that is kept hidden in its own house. As seen in this house for the head, it has geometric shapes and numerical calculations, like any residence. Cowrie shells coat the entire surface, befitting the head of a wealthy person. Mirrors embellish the openings, flashing to signal the presence of a significant head held inside. When you want to “get your head together,” this house allows you to concentrate on how to align your thoughts with your destiny.
As I look at this quiet shrine, it leads me back to admire what the Yoruba Supreme Being, Odumare, stands for. He is the Prime Mover and Infinite Intelligence who created himself/herself and the universe. One Yoruba diviner and professor, Kola Abimbola, says the Yoruba have a GPS for life with a system and oracle known as Ifa. In search of more GPS and a dose of Yoruba confidence and creativity, I took a spring vacation in Nigeria. I was there to witness friends becoming chiefs and in the process, a spirit from the otherworld sat down to enact a hilarious conversation about the joys and pitfalls of raising children. Here she is making her point, offering her own version of Infinite Intelligence.
– Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art
Images: House of the Head (Ile Ori), 20th century. Nigerian, Yoruba, cloth, mirrors, cowrie shells, leather, Gift of Mark Groudine and Cynthia Putnam, 93.157. Mirror with scene of the Judgement of Paris, 3rd century BC., Etruscan, Bronze, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.36. Sketch of scene on the mirror back. Egungun Mother in Erin Osun, 2017, Photo: Pam McClusky.
Welcome to our newest blog series, Muse/News—your weekly recap of what’s happening in art news at the Seattle Art Museum and across the world. Check back Mondays for updates on the artists and events making headlines around the world. With the Seattle Art Fair come and gone over the weekend, there’s plenty to digest and our PR Manager, Rachel Eggers delivers the scoop here in a perfect bite size. Enjoy!
All was fair in the city this past week as the Seattle Art Fair breezed into town for the third year in a row. What initially seemed an ambitious experiment is quickly becoming a welcome mainstay of the Seattle cultural calendar.
Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture (phew!) has been named Best Curator in Seattle Weekly’s annual readers’ poll. We’re glad everyone loves her as much as we do. Congrats, Chiyo!
Loved this substantial dive into the tensions of “selfie obliteration” in the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibition by Erin Langner for ARCADE.
“…Kusama’s inclination to control and present her own image in the 1960s seems well ahead of its time. Accepting the way images are consumed, she chose to control the construction, proliferation, and obliteration of hers rather than allowing someone else to do so. Some of her true self was left out in the fiction of the performance. But, she also ensured the performance was conveyed the way she envisioned it. To this end, maybe taking selfies, in an Infinity Mirror Room or elsewhere, can have meaning when done with similar intent—when they give us the chance to perform and let go of ourselves at the same time.”
Emily Pothast of the Stranger offered compelling thoughts on the fair and offered her five don’t-miss highlights.
Michael Upchurch of the Seattle Times recently reviewed the Henry show on local sculptor Doris Totten Chase (looks groovy!).
Are you “here for the right reasons”? The New York Times visits a rose-filled one-night show. After the recent casting call here, maybe we’ll see a Seattleite embark on the “journey” next season (ugh, you know you’ll watch again).
Artist Julie Mehretu, represented in SAM’s collection, is working on a monumental commission for the San Francisco MoMA; her paintings “are trying to make sense of where we are in our country right now.”
“What should one do when faced with images of violence?” That’s the question writer and critical theorist Sarah Sentilles took up this week for the New Yorker. She appears tonight at Elliott Bay Book Company to discuss her new book, Draw Your Weapons.
– Rachel Eggers, Manager of Public Relations
Photo: Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, dresses the part while considering Kusama’s multiverse.
“Murillo is an exceptional painter of human emotion, which is one reason why this is my favorite painting in SAM’s collection.”– Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator
This is Jeffrey Carlson’s last Object of the Week post as his last day at SAM was yesterday! 😞
To say goodbye, we live streamed one last our charming Collections Coordinator speaking about his favorite painting in SAM’s collection, Saint Augustine in Ecstasy by Bartolomé Murillo. While working as SAM’s Collections Coordinator Jeffrey contributed 93 Object of the Week posts to our blog, sharing his knowledge and love of SAM’s collection of artwork from around the world with audiences far and wide. He will be missed, but we wish him well on his next adventure!
Artwork: “Saint Augustine in Ecstasy” by Bartolomé Estebán Murillo, 1665–75. bit.ly/SAMArtAug
As Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors continues through September 10, SAM staff is discovering new dimensions to this infinite artist through Kusama’s writing. Violet Obsession, published in 1998 by Wandering Mind Books pairs her poetry with images from Kusama’s Happenings and performative activations of her artworks. Like the threads through the many media this versatile artist has worked in, the themes in Kusama’s poetry continue to extend the driving force behind her creations. They also bring new insights into the personal life, rather than the persona, of Yayoi Kusama. SAM Staff, like the rest of the world, is fascinated by this iconic and impressive woman, and reading her poetry in Violet Obsession has prompted some reflection on the artwork currently installed in our galleries, as well as on our own lives and perspectives.
Hear from Wendy Saffel, a dancer, marketing pro, and killer copy editor, on the demure progressions of time in “Doing Nothing.”
the trees dropped all their colored leaves
the earth is hidden ’neath fallen leaves
time has come ’round to the autumn season
I sit among all the fallen leaves
having become an old gray-haired woman
just stacking up days, doing nothing
all I’ve done, all I do is reluctantly
the wind took all the fallen leaves
carried them off to the ends of the cosmos
empty landscapes wherever you look
here and there crushed bits of rubbish
I go off that way, ramble back this way
falling apart with no rhyme or reason trembling
just idly tagging along as the seasons advance
– Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama is a sextuple threat. She’s a painter, sculptor, film maker, performance artist, installation artist, and, as SAM staff are exploring about her right now, a writer. Reading Kusama’s poems from the collection Violet Obsession is a thought-provoking dive, deep into the artist’s despair. Unrequited love. Depression. Germaphobia. Fear of sex. Sleeplessness. More. The images she weaves are visceral. The language is shocking. The impact—indelible.
But this poem, one of the shortest and quietest of the collection, this is the one that has me thinking curious thoughts and scouring the internet to understand the woman behind SAM’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition. Here, Kusama’s despair is around having grown old, being a gray-haired woman doing nothing, falling apart, and idly tagging along. When I reached the end of the poem and saw that she wrote it in 1983, I thought “whaaaaaaat?” That was 34 years ago! She was a mere 54 at the time!
In the 34 years since, she has been named “World’s Most Popular Artist” multiple times by organizations looking at annual figures for the most-visited exhibitions in the world. She was named to Time magazine’s list of The 100 Most Influential People, has earned lifetime achievement awards, film and literary awards, and . . . oh I could go on about what I found in my hours of internet searching, but suffice it to say that Yayoi Kusama has had a brilliant career in the decades since she expressed feeling old and worthless. Granted, her career seemed to have had a revival in the 1980s, right about the time she wrote this poem, so of course, how could she have seen this all coming. Now at 88, she is still a prolific artist, having created all the massive, eye-popping paintings and sculptures in our exhibition’s first gallery in just the last two years.
I yearn to sit down and talk with her and hear what perspective she has on all of it now. Is she satisfied? Or does she still feel worthless? What drives her still into her ninth decade? I bet some of this is answered in 2011’s Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, which is now going to the top of my nightstand reading stack.
Oh, if only I can do as much nothing as her in my remaining years.
– Wendy Saffel, Marketing Manager
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.
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.