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Object of the Week: Amulet in Shape of A Human Figure

One way to get closer to a work of art is to begin to imagine the sounds that surrounded the artist as they created it. Two examples illustrating this are both amulets––objects charged with setting up a protective force field. The first is from ancient Egypt, among the oldest objects on the 4th floor galleries, and the other is one of the newest, which has been on view in the Jacob Lawrence Gallery on the 3rd floor since December of last year.

A carver living in Naqada long ago would reside on the west bank of the mighty Nile river. If he was an early riser, and close enough to the river, he would be likely to hear the most aggressive creature in his midst: the hippopotamus. Hippos let loose with a roar each morning at sunrise, and again at sunset.  When gathered in groups, hippos vocalize all day with loud exchanges that help alert humans to their presence. This behavior is helpful, since to startle or challenge a hippo is a dangerous mistake, as they harbor an unpredictable power to outrun a human in short distances, overturn boats, and open their mouths to reveal their ultimate weapon––enormous teeth. Hippo canines are up to one-and-a-half feet long, and the carver of this amulet took just a tiny sliver from one to create an image of a man less than 2 inches tall. In this amulet, the carver captures a man’s form in a compelling abstraction––he has a long triangular beard and piercing eyes, all the better to watch over the owner, placed in a burial to ensure the deceased had a safe, healthy, and productive afterlife.  

Aaron Fowler lets us know immediately what sounds were behind him when he composed his enormous sculpted amulet suspended with a rope. It has the same shape as the logo of Death Row Records, which Rap stars such as Tupac, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre all wore to show allegiance to the record company. Here, Fowler embeds his friend Debo in their musical pantheon. On one side, Debo is depicted incarcerated and in prison clothes, sitting on a flattened armchair, while on the other side he appears free in a djelaba (hoodie) that Aaron designed for him. Fowler frames his friend with electronic lights and an iconic musical form to make Debo Free into a painful and protective tribute.  

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate

Image: Amulet in shape of a human figure, ca. 5000-2920 BCE, Egyptian, bone, 1 3/4 x 3/4 x 1/4 in., Gift of Nasli M. Heeramaneck, 64.33.1. Installation view of Debo Free, 2019, Aaron Fowler, American, born 1988, in the exhibition Aaron Fowler: Into Existence, December 13, 2019- October 25, 2020, photo: Jueqian Fang.

SAM Talks: Aaron Fowler on Into Existence

Hear from Aaron Fowler, the recipient of the Seattle Art Museum’s Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize. Part of the award includes a solo show at the museum. Fowler created a site-specific installation called Into Existence that fills one of SAM’s galleries with larger-than-life works that are at once paintings, sculptures, and installations. They are made from everyday discarded items and materials sourced from the artist’s local surroundings in Los Angeles and St. Louis, among other places. The works in Into Existence are illustrations of dreams and ideas that Fowler is working to bring into being. The title of the exhibition is a nod to words of encouragement—almost a mantra—that the artist’s grandmother has uttered his entire life: “You need to speak it into existence.”

Each work illustrates a poignant subject, event, or action Aaron Fowler wishes to manifest—from portraits of incarcerated loved ones being freed to fantastical scenarios incorporating historical figures alongside friends, role models, contemporary public icons, and often his own likeness. Funding for the prize and exhibition is provided by the Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence and Jacob Lawrence Endowment and generous support from the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation. See it when SAM can reopen, Aaron Fowler: Into Existence will be on view through January 2021 .

Muse/News: A journey to Amerocco, book nerds, and environmental art

SAM News

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley reported on the huge financial impacts of the coronavirus on local arts organizations. He spoke with SAM director Amada Cruz.

“Despite this, Cruz said SAM has been able to preserve all of its 217 staff jobs through June, with a combination of executive pay cuts and a $2.8 million loan from the CARES Act.”

Nancy Kenney of the Art Newspaper also reported on the payroll loan program and the financial status of US museums, mentioning SAM.

This week, Stay Home with SAM offered Earth Day tips and an art project inspired by El Anatsui, introduced the SAM Book Club’s latest pick (Octavia Butler!), and explored the in-between identities of Aaron Fowler’s Amerocco.

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley included details on Stay Home with SAM in his round-up of “the most intriguing streaming and online arts events” for the week.

And Geekwire’s Lisa Stiffler on the “digital lifeline” provided by local arts organizations, including Stay Home with SAM.

Local News

Special to the Seattle Times, writer Sarah Neilson connects with six creatives on what inspires them about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

Stefan Milne of Seattle Met looks at two “ambitious” streaming events on the horizon, and whether they can fill the void for what would have been a busy summer of festivals and fundraising.

Crosscut Brangien Davis has her weekly editor’s letter, with lots of arts recommendations and on Seattle’s popular Silent Reading Party, which has gone remote.

“At chapter breaks, I’d glance up to check in on my fellow book nerds, who were reading while sipping a drink, rocking a baby or petting an insistent cat. It felt so nice to go to a party — even one that’s silent and virtual — where people allow a camera into their private rooms, just to read and be together.”

Inter/National News

Muse/News recommends: a streamable documentary on Hilma af Klimt, The Rubin Museum of Art’s Daily Offerings, and, well, all the things the Artnet editors recommend.

For Earth Day, Artsy explores “10 Artists. . .Making Urgent Work about the Environment,” including John Akomfrah.

Phillips’ blog talks with art world leaders for their series, How We’re Adapting. Bobbye Tigerman, a curator at LACMA, shares her new Zoom background and thoughts for the future.

“This experience has stimulated my thinking about the role that museums can play for those who are not physically able to visit them, whether for health, economic, or other reasons. I wholeheartedly believe in the transformative experiences by a physical encounter with a work of art, but when that is not feasible, how else can we offer authentic engagement to our visitors near and far?”

And Finally

Test Kitchen Hive, assemble.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman

My Favorite Things: Ramzy Lakos on Amerocco

“As an American Egyptian, born and raised in the Middle-East, living in the US, I could see myself reflected in this piece, which is unique for me, because my identity mostly exists in-between spaces.”

– Ramzy Lakos, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Under the unique circumstances of SAM’s closure, our amazing Emerging Arts Leader Intern, Ramzy Lakos adapted the culminating tour of his internship into a video! Go inside Aaron Fowler: Into Existence with Ramzy as he shares his personal approach to understanding and connecting with the large-scale work, “Amerocco.” The exhibition is slated to be on view through October 25, 2020, and we hope you will have a chance to experience it in person once SAM can reopen.

Aaron Fowler’s larger-than-life works are at once paintings, sculptures, and installations. They are made from everyday discarded items and materials sourced from the artist’s local surroundings in Los Angeles and St. Louis, among other places. Items include cotton balls, security gates, afro wigs, hair weaves, broken mirrors, djellabas, sand, broken-down movie sets, found car parts, ropes, lights, and much more.

Emerging Arts Leader Internships at SAM grew out of SAM’s equity goal and became a paid 10-week position at the museum designed to provide emerging arts leaders from diverse backgrounds with an in-depth understanding of SAM’s operations, programming and audiences.

Muse/News: New art at SAM, a lavender palette, and Donald Byrd’s America

SAM News

Two installations debut at SAM this week:

Susan Delson previews Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020 for the Wall Street Journal, interviewing curator Xiaojin Wu about the movement’s “intimate beauty of honest craft.” The show opens on Saturday.

Aaron Fowler: Into Existence “gleefully disrupts standard boundaries between painting and sculpture,” says Seattle Met, recommending the solo show of the 2019 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize-winner as one of the “Top Things to Do This December.” The show opens on Friday.

Local News

Seattle Met’s cover story for December is “The 30 Women Who Shaped Seattle,” including women with connections to SAM such as Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff and Zoë Dusanne.

Crosscut’s Agueda Pacheco Flores reports on the Snoqualmie Tribe’s acquisition of Eighth Generation; it was announced concurrent with Governor Inslee’s proclamation of Native Arts Week in Washington State.

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley reviews The Lavender Palette, a new exhibition at Cascadia Art Museum curated by David Martin. It features early- to mid-20th-century gay and lesbian artists from the Pacific Northwest.

“Honestly, I wanted to avenge them,” Martin said. “At Cascadia, you will never see wall text that says ‘Morris Graves and his close friend’ like a lot of museums do — even in New York and Los Angeles, even in Seattle. No. Here you will always see ‘Morris Graves and his boyfriend’ or ‘and his partner.’

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Taylor Defoe reports: The four artists nominated for the 2019 Turner Prize—Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo, and Tai Shani—will receive the award as a collective, at their request.

Artsy gives us a look at Mickalene Thomas’ celebratory new show, Better Nights, at The Bass in Miami Beach, replete with her signature installations and the work of her fellow artists.

“Can Dance Make a More Just America? Donald Byrd Is Working on It” is the fantastic headline in this New York Times profile of choreographer Donald Byrd, timed to the exhibition at the Frye Art Museum.

“Despite the proliferation of dance in museums over the past decade, exhibitions focused on the work of a single living choreographer remain rare. The America That Is to Be presents an in-depth portrait of a bold, enigmatic artist.”

And Finally

Scrolling the deep sea.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Derion, 2018, hot tub cover, wood, children’s cotton and nylon coats, cotton balls, enamel paint, acrylic paint, broken mirrors, theater seats, concrete cement, 115 x 95 x 28 in. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Image courtesy of the artist © Aaron Fowler.

Muse/News: Awards, enchantments, and a lullaby from Rita Moreno

SAM News

Last week, SAM announced that Aaron Fowler is the recipient of the 2019 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize. Fowler will receive a $10,000 award, and his work will be featured in a solo exhibition at SAM in fall 2019. ARTnews, Culture Type, Artdaily, Artnet, and Hyperallergic were among those who shared the news.

“Seattle, prepare to be enchanted by Gibson.” The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley takes a “Look Ahead” at February events, recommending our upcoming exhibition, Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer.

Local News

The Seattle Times debuts an occasional series that asks, “How do they do that?” Up first: Moira Macdonald tries to understand the en pointe balancing poses in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty.

“It’s OK Not to ‘Get’ Art” The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig reminds us in this review of the Danny Giles show at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery.

Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne previews the durational performance piece Cherdonna Shinatra: Ditch, one of three shows opening at the Frye tonight.

“We call her MomDonna, this huge sort of matriarchal ruin in the space. MomDonna is in the space as if she’s been there for thousands of years seeing humans just keep trying.”

Inter/National News

Who else was obsessed with the sculptures created by the character Fonny in If Beale Street Could Talk? Artnet’s Sarah Cascone goes behind the scenes to learn how they did it.

This week in journalism: The New York Times reports that the building housing the Newseum in DC has been sold, and about 1,000 media workers at Buzzfeed, HuffPost, and Gannett were laid off.

Hyperallergic on the portraits of Hugh Mangum, now on view at the Nasher Museum of Art. His glass plate negatives were rediscovered in an old barn and offer a compelling look into turn-of-the-century American South.

“In the scratches, cracks, fingerprints, and delicate color shifts that surround and sometimes cover the sitters’ faces, we are looking at portraits of individuals through the unmistakable portal of time.”

 And Finally

Here’s Rita Moreno singing “It’s You I Like” accompanied by Mister Rogers.

Image: Derion, 2018, hot tub cover, wood, children’s cotton and nylon coats, cotton balls, enamel paint, acrylic paint, broken mirrors, theater seats, concrete cement, 115 x 95 x 28 in. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Image courtesy of the artist © Aaron Fowler.