Despite working in the arts, like most people I tend to find more time to really look at art when I’m separated from my day-to-day life. Not only that, though. Wherever I am, I always have trouble separating art history from my perceptions of the world. Spending time someplace unfamiliar, I find that I almost instinctively seek insight into the people and the culture there through what the locals like to look at.
Poor Hammering Man! His arm is coming off this afternoon and will be flown to Michigan for repairs. Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur wrote this great piece last month about his condition.
Recently, Decorative Arts curator Julie Emerson was able to commission a coffee and tea service from silversmith John Marshall for our collection. It’s a very cool process (both commissioning and making), something the Dec Arts department had never been able to do before—that collection had always focused on historic American and European material.
For me, a work of art lives on in part by its association with people, places, and times past and present. When we see objects in museums, in isolation, how do we understand them as expressions of a maker’s personal vision and circumstances and of viewers’ expectations in the artist’s own time and over the course of generations? Each object of historical American art that I work with has endured because someone—a collector, a critic, an artist’s descendant, maybe—has been its champion, often when few others were. Historical American art has for so much of our past been overshadowed by the taste in this country for European art, which signaled for so many the ideal of artistic achievement and good taste.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.