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The Saga of Little David

I recently found myself needing to purchase a dozen replica statues of Michelangelo’s David. Such is my job at SAM – I get to do the sometimes very random tasks associated with promoting the museum’s current exhibitions. This is the story of some amazing on-line merchants and mysteriously multiplying Davids.

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Online catalogue: more than a click

More often than not, museum books and catalogs feature masterpieces—and only masterpieces. But what about the questionable pieces, forgeries, objects in unfortunate condition, or, to be frank, ones that puzzle even the most experienced experts? Aren’t issues like that just as interesting as those surrounding highly acclaimed artworks? Because of the economics of publishing, ‘coffee-table books’, as museum catalogues are sometimes known, miss out on long lists of fascinating ‘second-tier’ objects and intriguing issues that consume much of a curator’s time.

SAM is about to change all that. We’re making our Chinese painting calligraphy and holdings more accessible to the public through a new online catalogue. Under the auspices of the Getty Foundation, we’re designing new ways of presenting information about this rich but little-known collection.  Just like in traditional catalogs, we’ll share relevant information about esteemed works of art. But this catalog will include much more.

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How do museums show that they are engaged with artists at a deep, supportive level?

While the public probably expects art museums to venerate famous creators from the historical past (Michelangelo and Alexander Calder jump to mind), few institutions are practically skilled at paying tribute to younger artists, and still more rare are those that are capable of committing the time necessary to really get to know creative men and women.  Outside of planning exhibitions and acquiring their works of art—professional practices typically reserved for artists who are substantially far along in their careers—how do museums show that they are engaged with artists at a deep, supportive level?  Limited time, limited resources, and basic risk aversion all weigh against engaging deeply with artists as a community.

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SAM video

Our new director Derrick Cartwright gives you an inside look into the Michelangelo Public and Private  and Alexander Calder exhibition galleries with curators Chiyo Ishikawa and Dr. Gary Radke.

All works of art by artist Alexander Calder in the video are  copyright © 2009 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

SAM comes clean about SOAP

As part of a self-stated wish to broaden the dialogue within/about the Seattle Art Museum’s new blog experiment, ideally as quickly as possible, it is worthwhile to respond to some of the questions that have been posted so far about the initial name of this blog. Why SOAP? To help respond to this, I asked Matthew Renton, who leads SAM’s communication efforts, to share some background.

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Deep in listening mode

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Before I became a museum director, I was an art history professor, and made my living by communicating ideas—and then coaxing them back out of bright undergraduates. I was truly happy as an art historian but realize in retrospect that listening carefully wasn’t necessarily a rewarded virtue, and even less a guarantor of success in the classroom. Reading, thinking, and speaking passionately about art and its complex intersection with history was stimulating in itself, but ultimately it didn’t require reciprocation from my audiences, except for asking them to write exams, papers, and fill out teaching evaluations at the end of the term. Since I usually got very good feedback from my students, I confess I didn’t spend much time worrying about what my own active listening might mean to those constituents. I feel differently today.  

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Andrew Wyeth, Rebel

<i>Overflow</i>, 1978, Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917 – 2009, watercolor (drybrush) on paper, 23 x 29 in. Private Collection

Overflow, 1978, Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917 – 2009, watercolor (drybrush) on paper, 23 x 29 in. Private Collection

On Wednesday night at SAM, my colleague Patti Junker delivered a sensational lecture that she titled “Andrew Wyeth, Rebel.”  Few people think about one of the premier realists of the 20th century in terms of rebellion, but SAM’s curator of American art made the case that received wisdom has tended to gloss over the more challenging, less seamless narrative surrounding Wyeth’s long output. 

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