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COVID-19 UPDATE: ALL SAM LOCATIONS CURRENTLY CLOSED. LEARN MORE »

Virtual Art Talks: Abstract O’Keeffe

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.

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

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Inside Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations

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!

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

Artwork: Georgia O’Keeffe, American, 1887–1986, Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1, 1918, oil on canvas, 35 x 29 in., Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2000.161, photo: Paul Macapia

Get to Know SAM’s New American Art Curator, Theresa!

Give a warm SAM welcome to Dr. Theresa Papanikolas who joined SAM’s staff last month as our new Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art. Theresa is an expert in 20th-century American art who will oversee the development, research, presentation, and care of SAM’s collection of American art and connect it to the contemporary moment. “We’re thrilled that Theresa has joined us,” says Kimerly Rorschach, Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. “She’s an inspired curator who will continue to build on the wonderful American art program started in 2004 by Patricia Junker.”

Theresa comes to SAM from the Honolulu Museum of Art, where she served as Deputy Director of Art and Programs and Curator of European and American Art. She previously held positions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; National Gallery of Art; Rice University; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. We asked her a few questions so you can learn a little more about what she has planned for SAM’s American art collection in the near future!

SAM: What are your first impressions of Seattle?

Theresa: Well, I got here in December, late at night, although it might have been at about 5 pm. The thing that struck me the most is how early it got dark in the middle of December. I thought I would really struggle with that, but it was no problem. I find Seattle to be such a warm and welcoming city and I’m just so happy to be here.

What has your experience of the art community been so far?

I’ve just started to explore it. I’ve found the immediate community around the museum to be highly professional and very engaged in what’s going on in the world, the art world, and Seattle. Everyone, from the curators to the support staff, is here because they love the museum and they support art. That, to me, has been very energizing. The larger art scene—I’m just starting to get a handle on it.

What do you have planned coming up at SAM?

Right now, I am working on an exhibition that will focus on and celebrate the recent acquisition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Music – Pink and Blue No. 1, a gift from Barney Ebsworth. One of my long-range plans is to reinstall the gallery of American art to tell the story of American art in a way that seems relevant to a contemporary audience and reflects a diverse and multifaceted America.

Tell us about the Georgia O’Keeffe installation!

It’s scheduled for spring 2020. It will be a small show, about 20 works that will look at a moment in O’Keeffe’s early career where she was practicing abstraction rather than flower and desert scenes. I think visitors will find it interesting that she practiced abstraction. This installation will include pretty significant loans.

You’ve focused on O’Keeffe in the past, can you talk a little more about that?

I have done two O’Keeffe exhibitions that reflect time she spent in Hawaii. The Honolulu Museum of Art, where I previously worked, has five O’Keeffe paintings that were all painted in Hawaii. She went there on commission from an advertising firm to do pictures for Dole pineapple juice ads. I was told that she hated Hawaii and was there for only a short period and couldn’t wait to go back to New York. But looking at the pictures, I could not believe that she did not like Hawaii. In the short time she was there she made a connection with the landscape and the things she saw and discovered there. So, I decided to do an exhibition of her work in Hawaii. I was also looking for major artists to show in Honolulu to drive audiences for the museum, and I found out that Ansel Adams had also gone to Hawaii, 20 years after O’Keeffe. He and O’Keeffe were friends. So, I  organized a show of these two artists, both of whom relate to specific places in their work—O’Keeffe with New Mexico and Adams with California and the Southwest—to see what happens when they find themselves in an environment with which they are not familiar, to explore how they developed a sense of place with their work. The show was called Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: The Hawaii Pictures. It opened at the museum in 2013 and it traveled to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. A few years later, I was guest curator for Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawaii for the New York Botanical Garden. In the installation at SAM, I’m excited to focus on an earlier moment in O’Keeffe’s life.

Let’s talk about the collection a little bit.

I’m really looking forward to looking more deeply into the American art collection. I was familiar with SAM’s collection from afar in Honolulu and it has a lot of gems and potential for growth. There are several collectors in town that are dedicated to American art. That’s part of what the reinstall of the collection is—find what is out there, in term of SAM’s collection and local collections, and put together something that speaks to Seattle, American art, and the museum.

Walking around the the American art galleries, is there anything that has jumped out at you?

Certainly Albert Bierstadt’s Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast. It’s just so romantic and big and dramatic. It sucks you in and is obviously a popular piece. I want to build a show around it. It is particularly interesting that the piece tries to evoke a sense of place even though the artist did not visit the location. So, I’ve been thinking about a 19th-century landscape exhibition. One thing that really strikes me about the gallery is the disconnect, the clear separation between the 19th century and the modernist galleries. I have been trying to think about ways to bridge that connection and create more continuity in the chronology of American art.

As an art lover, what else are you excited for at SAM?

I am thrilled about Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer. The way Jeffrey’s work treads on all these different areas: identities, communities, is very interesting to me.

Is there anything else that you want to share? Your new favorite restaurant or…?

Well, I will say that I have been having fun building a wardrobe from scratch. It’s a very different mode of dress in Hawaii—we don’t even wear coats. I live in First Hill so I’m so close to everything and walkability is great. I haven’t had to drive my car once in the two months that I’ve been here!

Photo: Natali Wiseman

10 Surprising Facts about Artist Basquiat

In 27 short years artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has left a legacy far from the same-old same-old. Learn more about the artist’s life and career with 10 facts that might surprise you before you come see the one-work exhibition Basquiat—Untitled at the Seattle Art Museum, on view for the first time on the West Coast through August 13.

1. At the start of his meteoric rise to art stardom, Basquiat was a graffiti artist. Strategically spray painting near hot artist hubs, museums, and galleries—Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz graffitied NYC under the pseudonym “Samo©” which stood for same old sh*t.

2. With exhibitions around the globe 30 years after his death, it’s hard to believe that both the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art rejected Basquiat’s work. Collectors Lenore and Herbert Schorr offered to donate Basquiats to both institutions in the 1980s but they declined.

3. Aside from painting and drawing, Basquiat was also a musician. He started the industrial sound band, Gray, and produced a hip-hop track called “Beat-Bop” featuring artist Rammellzee and rapper K-Rob. Original vinyl of this track featuring artwork by Basquiat sells for thousands of dollars and it’s named one of the most valuable hip-hop records of all time.

4. Basquiat hung out with a lot of celebrities, including pop artist Andy Warhol. Though some questioned the integrity of the friendship between this seemingly unlikely pair, Warhol and Basquiat were close friends and collaborated on a plethora of works and projects until they had a falling out.

5. Growing up in Brooklyn with a Puerto Rican mother and a Haitian father Basquiat was trilingual and spoke English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.

6. Bought at a whopping $110.5 million dollars by Japanese art collector Yusaku Maezawa, Basquiat’s painting Untitled broke the record for the most expensive American artwork ever auctioned.

7. For a period of time while Basquiat was homeless he was able to support himself by dealing drugs and selling postcards and clothing with his art on it.

8. A man of many talents, Basquiat also starred in the 1980s movie Downtown 81 also known as New York Beat Movie. Due to financial reasons, the film was abandoned in the mid-80s only to be released in 2000 at the Cannes Film Festival.

9. Basquiat dated Madonna in 1982 when she was still an aspiring entertainer. In an interview Madonna said that after they broke up he asked for all the paintings he gifted her back then painted them black.

10.Blondie fans you may have seen a familiar face in the “Rapture” music video. In addition to Basquiat making a cameo in their music video, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein bought his first painting for $200.

—Nina Dubinsky, SAM Social Media Coordinator

Image: installation view Basquiat—Untitled at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.

For the Love of Art: Beimnet Demelas

BEIMNET DEMELAS
Patron staff member since 2012

Why do you love art?

I love art because I feel like it’s one of the many ways to express yourself. I go to an art school and it’s really different from other high schools because the focus is on art. Having so many different art classes gives everyone a way to be comfortable with themselves and what they can do and, again, a chance to express themselves.

Do you think museums are important to society?

Yes, because you’re seeing artists’ work and they dedicated themselves to the painting, or sculpture, or whatever it is. People take an interest in art, so it’s important to have a place where it’s possible for them to appreciate it.

What kind of art do you make?

Music. I’m in choir, dance, and photography so I have a lot of elective classes.

What do you want to be when you “grow up?”

I really like writing. Photojournalism is something I’ve been looking at, and social work because I really want to help people, not with their health, but emotionally with the decisions they make. So I haven’t really decided.

Do you have a favorite piece at SAM?

I like this one painting—I don’t remember what the name is—it’s a calm and peaceful country setting. It has a pinkish shade to it and has so many little hidden pictures in it that I spend a lot of time looking at it. I go look at it all the time. That is my favorite picture. It’s so beautiful and I love the color. There is a little house in the corner and there are people outside of it but you can’t really tell if you are just walking past. You have to really pay attention. There are fish in the water and there are so many things in the picture.

A Country Home by Frederick Edwin Church. That’s one of our American art curator’s favorites, too. It’s in the third floor American Art Galleries. Do you come here with your friends or is this a place where you come alone?

I bring my friends along. I brought my parents, cousins, brother, and sister. A majority of my family has come to the museum because I feel they should come and see it.

Why do you think it’s important for them to come?

Because there are so many beautiful things and it’s really nice to see, especially when it’s so close. I felt the need to bring them in so they could see what I’m around all the time.

Join SAM as a member today and be the first to see Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection at the Member Preview on February 15. A SAM membership means that, like Beimnet, you can visit your favorite artworks as often as you like for free for 12 months. With free guests passes, you can share your love of art with friends and family over the year. Don’t delay, Seeing Nature opens next week!

Object of the Week: Stranger Here

I’m a stranger here
I’m a stranger everywhere
I would go home
But I’m a stranger there.

 I’d rather drink muddy water
I’d rather sleep on a hollow log
Than to stay here in this city
Being treated like a dirty dog.

 That’s why I got up this mornin’
And I put on my walkin’ shoes
I’m goin’ down the road, down the road
Cause I got them walkin’ blues

One of the newest works in the Seattle Art Museum collection is Whitfield Lovell’s Stranger Here. Lovell’s piece was inspired by a police mugshot, circa 1910s, depicting a sharp-dressed man of color, and its title comes from an old blues song, whose lyrics we share above. Stranger Here pays homage to a man whose story has been forgotten but whose image remains.

This three-dimensional portrait uses charcoal on found wood, fringe fabric, and an antique lantern to evoke the spirit of the time when the sitter’s picture was taken. The fringe, draped around the man’s bowler hat like drawn curtains, gives the piece a theatrical presence and also creates a sense that something significant is being revealed. In the theater, it’s a dramatic, expectant moment when the curtain is finally drawn and some anticipated spectacle unveils itself. Here, the curtain frames the image and encourages us to pay notice to what we find behind it.

The idea of anonymity, and being disconnected from one another, is especially important to Lovell’s work. Does it bother us that we don’t know the man? That we are denied his story? That we don’t understand all of what we are seeing or truly grasp its significance? In case we might have passed by, missing this quiet figure softly modeled in charcoal, the artist gives us a lantern by which to see.

One floor above Lovell’s piece, in our special exhibition Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, hangs another stranger’s portrait inspired by a mugshot. Kehinde Wiley’s Mugshot Study from 2006 pictures a young person of color, his anonymity emphasized by the case number printed below his image. In life, these two men were separated by a century, but here at SAM they share more similarities than differences: both gaze out of their frame resolutely, meeting the viewer’s eye, embodying strength, yet expressing a sad tiredness from their life’s walk.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Stranger Here, 2000, Whitfield Lovell (American, born 1959), charcoal on wood, with fabric and lantern, 42 x 29 1/2 x 8 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Norman and Constance Rice, 2016.1, © Whitfield Lovell, Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Meet Multidimensional Artist & Prizewinner Brenna Youngblood

We’re honored to share that the 2015 Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize Winner is Los Angeles-based visual artist, Brenna Youngblood, who incorporates symbols and elements—with strong but not-so-obvious references to everyday life—into her sculptures and atmospheric paintings. The Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize is awarded bi-annually to an early career black artist—an individual who has been producing mature work for less than 10 years.

Youngblood is a prolific artist with a rigorous studio practice where she experiments deeply with aspects of formalism, materials, and processes. Rooted in photomontage, she builds the surfaces of many paintings at once while contemplating the relationships between each object in formation. Mixed with humor, satire, and pure creative freedom, she embraces her intuition fully as she makes decisions about composition, line, form, and content. Abstract with a nod to conceptualism, figuration, and the real, Youngblood makes painterly work that is visually grounded by architectural, social, and political cues. She often refers to many of these beautifully messaged works as landscapes.

Her solo exhibition abstracted realities, which was guest curated by Sandra Jackson-Dumont, SAM’s former Kayla Skinner Deputy Director of Education and Public Programs and Adjunct Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, (now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) is on view now through April 17, 2016.

Watch the artist discuss how her pieces explore the iconography of public and private experiences, as well as issues surrounding identity, ethics, and representation. And be sure to visit abstracted realities next time you’re at SAM!

Object of the Week: Gwendolyn Knight

When Jacob Lawrence was just a teenager in Harlem beginning to explore visual art as a way of commenting on the world around him, a local art teacher walked him straight into the local offices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to apply for an art project. The boy was too young, they were told, but he would be welcome to re-apply when he met the age requirement. Lawrence himself all but forgot about that invitation. His teacher, though, made sure he followed through, and one imagines the two were almost equally excited when Lawrence secured a project—his first paying art job, painting in the easel division of the Federal Arts Project.

The teacher was Augusta Savage, a well-known sculptor who had studied in Europe and in New York City, with Hermon MacNeil of the National Sculpture Society, among others. Her name carried a large amount of respect in the art community of Harlem, because she had talent and because she had settled back among her people after gaining education and exposure. She achieved a “professional” status that made her the admiration of students and local artists. There were moments in Savage’s career when her skill and grit brought financial and critical success: She earned commissions for portraits of race activists W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey, and also for a monumental piece displayed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

"Gwendolyn Knight" by Augusta Savage

Partly by her choice, and partly for the difficulty of her time, which was marked by economic depression and racial discrimination, Augusta Savage’s legacy would be her students. Through her Harlem Art Workshop, affiliated with the State University of New York, Savage directed one of the largest free art instruction programs in New York City. Her efforts earned her an appointment as director of the Harlem Community Art Center, supported by the WPA. Through these programs, Savage’s Harlem students were offered a rare technical training and art education.

Savage once said “I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting”—and we might debate her on this point—“but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work.” We can safely say she accomplished what she set out to do: Jacob Lawrence, for one, listed her first among the people who encouraged him as a young artist. We might also like to thank Augusta for bringing together, through her studio, Jacob and the woman who would become his wife and muse, Gwendolyn Knight. It might have been Gwen’s sense of self-assuredness that inspired Augusta to create the memorable portrait we are looking at today.

Newspaper clipping featuring "Gwendolyn Knight" by Augusta Savage

SAM’s painted plaster portrait of Gwendolyn Knight perfectly illustrates Augusta Savage’s devotion to Gwen and all of her students. Masterfully made, it captures the nuances of Gwen’s facial features and exudes the grace and dignity for which the subject was known. Savage’s training in classical realism shines through in the portrait. It’s moving to consider that Savage had shown her work in such a hallowed space as the Grand Palais in Paris, but she debuted this portrait of Gwendolyn Knight in an exhibition of student work, held at the Harlem Y.W.C.A. in February, 1935. Not only that, but it was cast in fragile plaster and then painted; with few exceptions, Savage never had the funds to cast her works in lasting, costly bronze.

The students’ art at the 1935 Y.W.C.A. show, like Savage’s, drew on the culture and experiences of African Americans. It was a celebration of their solidarity. Augusta Savage’s lasting achievement was to create a place where aspiring artists could learn the skills of their craft while proudly exploring who they were, where they could be built up and encouraged, and made to believe in their value. Hers is a legacy worth considering as we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this weekend.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Gwendolyn Knight, 1934-1935, Augusta Savage (born Green Cove Springs, Florida, 1892; died New York City, 1962), painted plaster, 18 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 9 in. Gift of Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, 2006.86, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Gwendolyn Knight detail, Photo: Natali Wiseman. “Negro Students Hold Their Own Art Exhibition,” New York Herald Tribune, February 15, 1935, Reproduced from the Collections of the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Happy birthday, Ed Ruscha!

“Made in U.S.A.” It’s a familiar phrase. A distinctive feature of the phrase is that it always comes attached to an object. The statement makes no sense when detached from an object because it lacks the first element of any sentence: a subject. What was made in the U.S.A.? Whatever it’s printed on. This is what one might call an index. Where we see the words has a direct relationship to the meaning we draw from them.

American Pop artist Ed Ruscha chose the language carefully. The physical lithograph that he called America Her Best Product was imagined and then printed within the boundaries of the U.S. The Pop movement that it represents was also distinctly American—cleverly responding to a boom in consumerism during the third quarter of the 20th century with a new brand (pun intended) of satire. The American Dream and the drive to buy that supports it are two more products referenced here. Are they the most telling ones?

America Her Best Product came to SAM as part of a 12-piece art portfolio titled Spirit of Independence, which also featured print works by artists such as Robert Indiana, Alex Katz, and Jacob Lawrence, and which celebrated the country’s 200th year in 1976. The portfolio assembled works symbolizing American creativity and freedom. Curtis H. Judge, president of the donor Lorillard Co., wrote that Spirit of Independence “reflects and projects American independence as interpreted by 12 of America’s foremost artists.”

As Ruscha points out, one of the great parts about freedom is the ability to question the direction of one’s own country.

Happy birthday, Ed Ruscha!

Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: America Her Best Product, 1974, Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937), lithograph, 31 3/8 x 23 1/2 in. Gift of the Lorillard Co., N.Y.