SAM’s locations may be temporarily closed, but our curators are still here to connect you to art! Here’s Dr. Theresa Papanikolas, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, to give you an overview of Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations. This installation featuring 17 works by this American master opened just one week before we had to make the difficult decision to close for the safety of our community. Tune in for a lecture developed just for you and learn more about the works on view at SAM. We can still appreciate these artworks and the artist who made them, even if can’t visit them at the moment.
Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations features 17 works from the 1910s to the 1930s. At the heart of the installation is Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1, a recent addition to SAM’s collection and a gift of late Trustee Barney A. Ebsworth. The first complete expression of O’Keeffe’s personal brand of modernism, Abstract Variations brings Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1 together with Music, Pink and Blue, No. 2, from the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, for the first time in Seattle, along with loans from museums across the country.
Stay home with SAM and see inside Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations, zoom in on some early O’Keeffe drawings using our online interactive, and make some art of your own following along with the activity below.
“I found that I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things that I had no words for.”
– Georgia O’Keeffe
These words from a 20th-century artist best known for her paintings of flowers and desert landscapes may be surprising. “She had a very particular iconography, so we don’t typically think of her as an abstractionist,” says Theresa Papanikolas, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art. Abstract Variations offers us a chance to broaden our perspective on this celebrated artist through a focused selection of 15 of her paintings and drawings, as well as portraits of her by Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer who eventually became her husband. The accompanying catalogue examines O’Keeffe’s pioneering innovations into abstraction.
You may be familiar with Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1, O’Keeffe’s first major oil painting, now in SAM’s collection. Abstract Variations also includes Music, Pink and Blue, No. 2, a loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art, bringing these two landmark paintings together in Seattle for the first time. Experiencing them alongside other works from this pivotal period in O’Keeffe’s career offers a glimpse into her practice. “There’s a tangible tension between geometry and curvilinearity in these early works,” says Papanikolas. “When you see them in person, they look as if they’re vibrating.”
Zoom in on Georgia O’Keeffe’s Drawings »
Take a good look at all the details in these charcoal drawings from the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Like many of us right now, these precious drawings have to stay home. O’Keeffe’s earliest works on paper are extremely fragile and therefore unable to travel, but we can still enjoy them—just click or tap on the image above!
Art Making Activity
The painting above by Georgia O’Keefe is called Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1. Like many paintings the artist made, its shapes and colors are inspired by music. Can you make a drawing of a song?
Choose a song that makes you feel happy, sad, calm, or excited. Close your eyes and think about what you hear: What lines, shapes, and images appear? What colors do you see? What more can you imagine?
Find a pencil and a piece of paper and listen to the song a second time. This time, take a deep breath and let your hand move around the paper to draw lines and shapes that connect to the music. You can draw fast or slow, whatever feels natural to you. Try not to think too much, just draw and capture the images from your imagination.
When the song is finished, you can add to or change the drawing that you have started. You might choose to press your pencil down to shade some areas darker and leave some areas light. You might choose to erase some sections and add additional shapes and lines. You might use other materials to add color or texture to your drawing.
When you have finished, display your drawing on the floor, a table, or pinned onto the wall or refrigerator. See what it looks like up close and far away. Ask people around you what looking at your drawing makes them think about or feel. Does it bring any music to their mind?
These process images are an example of Lauren Kent, SAM’s Museum Educator for School Programs & Partnerships, drawing to “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush at her kitchen table. We want to see your artwork! Share a photo of your drawing and the song that inspired you with us via email or on social media using #StayHomewithSAM!
This abstract composition is pieced together from fragments of ordinary things—corrugated cardboard, painted fabric, and wrinkled burlap. The surface is pierced, stained, and gouged, painfully reminiscent of scarred skin. It comes from a series called Sacchi (sacks), which use humble materials to create compositions that hover between painting and sculpture. Alberto Burri, who had been a doctor in the Italian army during World War II, started making art when he was a prisoner of war in Texas in 1943. As much as anything, the Sacchi seem to be about the temporary nature of materials, experiences, life—for many viewers in the 1950s, they seemed to express the suffering and darkness of the war years.
Burri created Sacco
in 1955 when he was staying in New York. He had become friends with Harold and
Hester Diamond, a young New York couple with an interest in art (Harold, a
schoolteacher, would go on to become a prominent art dealer). Harold’s brother
owned the Upper West Side building where Mark Rothko had his studio, and the
Diamonds, who lived upstairs, arranged for Burri to use the studio. He included
the sleeve of one of Harold Diamond’s discarded shirts in the lower right of
this work, and presented the work to the Diamonds at the end of his stay.
Decades later in 1995, Hester Diamond gave Sacco to the Seattle Art Museum in
memory of the artist, who had died that same year. Harold Diamond had passed
away in 1982, and Hester, with her second husband Ralph Kaminsky, had become a friend
of SAM and a supporter of the Seattle Opera, whose Ring cycle brought her to Seattle numerous times. Over the years
she gave three more works to SAM, all very different from the Burri.
One of them is this wonderfully strange family portrait of
Leda, Jupiter in the form of a swan, and their three children, hatched from
eggs—a work by the mid-16th century Flemish painter Vincent Sellaer. The
combination of appealing and unsettling visual qualities is typical of
Mannerism, a style which attracted Hester’s interest beginning in the early
1990s. Previously devoted to 20th-century art, she fell in love with the refined
technique, inventiveness, and beauty of 15th- and 16th-century European
painting and sculpture and shifted her collecting focus.
Hester Diamond was an enthusiastic and generous friend to
international art institutions, artists, curators, scholars, and gallerists.
The seriousness of her commitment to art was matched by her sense of humor and
love of adventure as she explored new fields. A lifelong New Yorker, Hester had
a close relationship with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and made significant
gifts to her hometown museum over the decades. SAM is fortunate that she also recognized
how works from her collection could make a difference here in Seattle.
Hester’s collecting interests could encompass a post-war collage roughly fashioned out of the ephemeral everyday, as well as a painting superbly crafted to last forever. Both are now valued works in our collection which future generations will be able to enjoy thanks to her generosity. Sadly, they outlast Hester herself, who died on January 23, 2020 at the age of 91. She will be greatly missed.
– Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture
Situated beside the sublime glass and steel edifice of the Seattle Public Library Central branch stands Fountain of Wisdom (1958–60), designed by George Tsutakawa. This piece was the artists’ first public fountain commission after a prolific career as a painter, sculptor, and teacher in the Pacific Northwest. Within the Seattle Art Museum’s collection is Fountain (1971), a bronze metal sculpture that helps tell the story of Tsutakawa’s unique Japanese-American experience.
Tsutakawa was born in Seattle in 1910 and spent his early years in Capitol Hill, not far from Volunteer Park. At the age of seven, like many American-born kibei, he was sent to Japan for an education in Japanese art and culture. When he returned to Seattle a decade later, he studied sculpture at the University of Washington and spent his summers working in the Alaska canaries. Drafted into the US Army during World War II, Tsutakawa returned to UW as a graduate student on the GI Bill. Soon after, he began his teaching career in the School of Art.
During the mid-1950s, artist Johsel
Namkung introduced Tsutakawa to a book called Beyond the High Himalayas.
Included were descriptions of ritually stacked stone structures accumulated by
travelers at mountain passes as private and public spiritual offerings.
The influence of these obos proved to be profoundly impactful on
Tsutakawa, forming the basis of much of the rest of his life’s work. After
creating a series of abstract wooden sculptures, Tsutakawa
translated obos into metal sculptures and public fountains.
Fountain stands over five
feet tall and is composed of a single vertical axis that holds a stack of
abstract forms: a footed base, a pronged shallow bowl, intersecting
parabolic-shapes, and a hallowed ovoid. It is easy to imagine this sculpture as
a fountain, water flowing over and through the bronze forms; the symmetry
adding to its geometry.
From 1960 until his death in 1997, Tsutakawa designed and fabricated over 70 fountains. His work can be found all along the West Coast, as well as in Washington, DC, Florida, Canada, and across Japan. Fortunately for Seattleites, a crowd-sourced map has been created to help us locate this important artists’ public works.
– Steffi Morrison, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art
 Kingsbury, Martha. George Tsutakawa. Seattle: Bellevue Art Museum and University of Washington Press, 1990.
Follow Carla Rossi, an immortal trickster and your unofficial tour guide through Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer. Gibson’s contemporary art combines powwow, pop culture, and punching bags to explore what modernity means within Indigenous cultures. Carla Rossi combines drag, clowning, and entitlement to address complacency, and the confusion of “mixed” identities. See through Carla’s eyes when you visit Like a Hammer.
This video is one of a series presenting Northwest Native American artists responding to Gibson’s work. The character of Carla was created by Anthony Hudson, a multidisciplinary artist, writer, performer, and filmmaker. Hudson, a member of the Grand Ronde tribe, started performing as Carla as an art project in 2010 and has since turned Carla into a full-fledged persona, body of work, and occupation. Hudson prefers the term “drag clown” over “drag queen” because he’s not trying to emulate women. Carla is a tool for critique. When he performs as Carla, Hudson wear whiteface in direct allusion to whiteness, clowning, and as a critical inversion of blackface.
Jeffrey Gibson believes, “everyone is at the intersection of multiple cultures times, histories. . . . that there’s a lot more to be gained at the space in between mapped points then there is at the mapped points. . . . I’m always looking for these in-between spaces of things.” Similarly, Anthony Hudson (Grand Ronde), is interested in “in the edge – that line between satire and sincerity, between critique and reification—as a site where transgression and transformation occur.”
Jeffrey Gibson is of Cherokee heritage and a citizen of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. He grew up in urban settings in Germany, South Korea, the United States, and England, and his work draws on his experiences in different cultural environments. In his artwork, materials used in Indigenous powwow regalia, such as glass beads, drums, trade blankets, and metal jingles, are twined together with aspects of queer club culture as well as the legacies of abstract painting. Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer is a major museum exhibition presenting a significant selection of this contemporary artist’s exuberant artwork created since 2011. The presentation in Seattle closes on May 12.
How many Everlast punching bags has Jeffrey Gibson turned into hanging sculptures? What number did Nina Simone’s “I Put a Spell on You” reach on the Billboard chart? What do these two things have to do with each other? Visit Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer and find out before it closes May 12!
Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer is a major museum exhibition presenting a significant selection of this contemporary artist’s exuberant artwork created since 2011. Gibson’s complex work reflects varied influences, including fashion and design, abstract painting, queer identity, popular music, and the materials and aesthetics of Native American cultures. The more than 65 works on view include beaded punching bags, figures and wall hangings, abstract geometric paintings on rawhide and canvas, performance video, and a new multimedia installation.
Widely regarded as one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century, David Smith once described his early sculptures of the 1940s and 50s, like Royal Incubator, as “drawings in space.” Smith, a welder, often used wrought and soldered metals such as steel, bronze, and silver, arranged in a highly visual and pictorial arrangement. As explained by art historian Richard J. Williams, “[these sculptures] were really only legible as three-dimensional pictures, albeit abstract ones.”
Smith’s early work prioritized the act of viewing from a fixed perspective, and while experiencing his pieces in space—and in the round—is important, Royal Incubator’s legibility as a single plane, much like the Cubist paintings of Picasso, is tantamount. In addition to finding influence in Cubism, the dream-like imagery in such early works evidences the heavy influence Surrealism had on Smith. However, thanks to its location installed in Big Picture: Art after 1945, now on view in SAM’s Modern and Contemporary Galleries, Royal Incubator’s association with Abstract Expressionism is also made clear. In many ways, it can be seen as a three-dimensional equivalent to the active, monumental, and gestural paintings by Pollock, Krasner, and Gorky nearby.
Born and raised in Indiana, Smith first worked as a welder and riveter at the Studebaker automobile plant in South Bend. Later, during World War II, Smith worked for the American Locomotive Company, working to fabricate trains and M7 destroyer tanks. These experiences proved formative, advancing his welding skills and relationship with metalwork. Smith’s early works bring together the real, often in the form of found metal scraps, with the imagined, resulting in a unique and at times deeply autobiographical visual style. For example, in Royal Incubator, metal spigots become birds of flight in a dream-like composition that defies clear interpretation.
Delta Air Lines, the Official Airline of the Seattle Art Museum, is a generous sponsor of Big Picture. Their support makes it possible to share this incredible post-war collection with our community.
– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator
 Richard J. Williams, After Modern Sculpture: Art in the United States and Europe, 1965-70 (Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2000), 23.
As part of the For Freedoms’ 50 State Initiative put on by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, we’re contextualizing works in SAM’s collection within today’s political atmosphere. The program is inspired by American artist Norman Rockwell’s paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (1941)—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
For this week’s post, we’re focusing on freedom from fear by looking at Frederic Edwin Church’s A Country Home painted in 1854, just seven years before the American Civil War. The painting illustrates an idyllic landscape, lush with vegetation and a tranquil pond. The mood is calm and serene with the sun casting a warm, comforting glow. Church, a member of the Hudson River School, paints the American landscape as a modern-day Eden. The artist’s view of his time and place is one of optimism, hope, and contentment.
As we compare Church’s work to Mark Rothko’s abstraction #10, painted in 1952, the differences couldn’t be greater. Rothko’s work was completed just 98 years after A Country Home, but during this period humanity witnessed two world wars (the second of which perhaps had the greatest impact on the views of artists). How much did their views of America change, as well as the times they lived in? After the horrors of World War II, how could one paint idyllic landscapes? Yet, even though freedom won the War, fear persevered—the ugly side of the human race was exposed. As a result, art turned abstract and humanity collectively wept.
So this brings us to today: even if divisiveness, racism, and hatred are overcome, what lasting effect will these times have on our art and how we view our time and place? If equality, respect, and compassion win politically, will we still be free from fear? Or is it too late and have we already exposed the darker sides of ourselves?
Born in 1880, Arthur Dove was a master of abstraction, light, and color, always seeking to capture the hidden rhythms and feeling of his given environments—whether natural or man-made. In Power Plant I (1938), Dove transforms a looming building into shifting planes of color and shape. The plant, its smoke stacks, and surrounding telephone poles are in reality solid and immutable, but Dove renders them formless, with all dimensionality equalized on the canvas.
One of four artists recently installed in our American galleries, Dove (like the rest of his cohort) is celebrated for his unique approach to abstraction, which evokes—rather than describes—the world around us. Below is an excerpt from an essay by Dove, titled “Me and Modern Art,” that sheds light on his thinking and approach to painting that sheds light on his thinking and approach to painting:
It is sometimes refreshing just to be painting with no plans; by that I mean pure painting, with no further intention.
It has a tendency to make one feel the two-dimensionality of a canvas, a certain flatness which is so important in the balance of things, and often so difficult to attain.
I have seen a child of five do it beautifully, and after three years in school be absolutely unable to accomplish it again. How well I remember the answer when two grown ups came in and asked the child what he was thinking of when he painted those things. Simply “I wasn’t thinking of anything, I was just painting.”
Pure painting is extremely helpful in finding one’s own instincts. It helps us to see how much stronger is our imagination than our intellect. There is too much of the intellectual in art nowadays, and pure painting tends twoard [sic] the elimination of this intellectual forcing process.
We must learn by our own mistakes and find our own find. Profiting by the mistakes of others, and building up knowledge through the findings of others may make an artist successful but it will never make him creative.
They may say that we cannot create anything, that everything has been done. Perhaps, it doesn’t matter—if we have not done it. That may be the real reason that I am writing this—because I have never done it.,[sic]—instinctively I dislike the idea of writing “about” things and painting “about” things. Have always felt that it is much better to write things and paint things that exist in themselves and do not carry the mind back to some object upon which they depend for their existence. We lean too heavily on nature. I would rather look at nature than to try to imitate it. In the same way I enjoy looking at a Greco, a Cezanne [sic], or an Afircan [sic] sculpture, but have no desire to do one. And if we find at any time that we are depending too much on any one thing, we will also find that it is by just that much that we have missed finding our own inner selves.