For art institutions evolving with technology and visitors’ tastes, it’s a delicate balance. “In the end, it’s, ‘How do you have a meaningful experience of art?’ and the answers will depend. From a curatorial perspective, I just want to make sure that the traditional and core mission of the museum lives on,” Manchanda said.
Antwaun Sargent for Artsy on the recent unveiling at Princeton of a public sculpture by Titus Kaphar, which was commissioned as part of the university’s reckoning with its history of slavery. Kaphar was the inaugural recipient of SAM’s Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize in 2009.
“The long artistic life of Andrew Wyeth—born in 1917, painting by 15, dead at 91 in 2009—is a portrait of a man forever wrangling with secrets. In Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, the secrets are hidden in landscapes, anchored to weather-beaten rowboats moored in fallow fields, and etched in the bends of grass blades.”
“The silence lengthens. It almost reverberates from the shining halls of the Frye Art Museum on a gray November morning. I’ve just asked Juneau-based artist Alison Marks (Tlingit) why she decided to name her first solo museum exhibit One Gray Hair, opening here on Saturday. All she says is, ‘Hmm.’”
Check out the Holland Cotter’s review—and the big, beautiful images!—of Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Add this to your art vocabulary: digital residencies. Here’s Artnet on how Instagram “may be the hottest new exhibition space.”
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a Visitor Services Officer (VSO) at SAM? Well, our VSOs are here to tell you. Learn about these familiar faces in the galleries and find out what artworks they spend the most time looking at. This month, we speak with David Yamato! Originally from Houston, Texas, Yamato earned his bachelor’s degree in Illustration from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. After his graduation, he returned to Houston and worked as an art teacher in the public school system. He decided to start a new career when he moved with his family to Seattle. Inspired by the experience of being surrounded with artwork on the many field trips he took his students on, he jumped at the chance to join the SAM team two years ago.
David Yamato: The first thing that surprised me is the number of works that are in this exhibition. Looking at a painting felt like meditating to me and there sure is a lot to meditate on here. The second surprise was how much thought and emotion Andrew Wyeth put into every single painting. I highly recommend everyone who comes to see the show joins one of our tours.
What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
Although I’m deeply in love with every painting from our Australian Aboriginal collection, I still have to say my favorite thing at SAM is the museum itself. The 2004 to 2007 downtown expansion credited to architect Brad Cloepfil is my favorite part of all. While the building masterfully focuses on and showcases the museum collection, the architecture itself is also a masterpiece of light and space. I really hope more people will notice and talk about the building.
Who is your favorite artist?
My favorite is Vincent van Gogh because behind all the glory, fame, and perfection, the life of an artist can be a very very difficult path to take. As a practicing artist, the story of his life helps and inspires me to keep doing my work. I can’t tell you how many times I have cried when I have seen his paintings in real life.
What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
I remember a patron once asked me the meaning behind some minimalist art on view. I’m still asking myself this question about everything in the museum. Although we might very well find a direct answer in books or from a curator, I think it is very rewarding to search for a personal answer to that question. If you ever feel lost surrounded by all the artworks in the museum, it is time to do some detective work! Look for hints, not just from the artwork and its description, but also in terms of the time period it was made in and its relationship with other works in the museum.
Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I’m a comic book artist who works under a pen name which I prefer to keep secret (If you’re one of the rare few who know who I am, don’t go ruining the fun for everyone!). The styles I’m working in range from mystery to historical fiction to slices of life. I’m also conducting independent research on art censorship with a focus on comics and sequential art around the world. The world of comics is huge and I’m still discovering news and issues from places and countries that I never expected to have this problem. Drop me a note if you know anything interesting in regards to art censorship!
“He’d look at me like a Brahman bull when he walked in the door to criticize my work, and if he was glowering, I braced myself. In a few incisive words he’d bit right at some puny characteristics in my nature.”
– Andrew Wyeth
This unfinished sketch is the only portrait Andrew Wyeth ever made of his father, an imposing figure in the story of Andrew’s life. Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth was an accomplished illustrator with strong opinions. At 19 Andrew made this pencil portrait. The challenge of drawing the man who was not just father but also Andrew’s teacher and toughest critic must have been daunting. Though small in size, the portrait nevertheless conveys a looming figure. In life, N.C. Wyeth was domineering; in death, he haunted his painter son to the end of his life. Wyeth always regretted that he never painted his famous father before the man’s tragic death in 1945.
“The boy was me at a loss really. His hand, drifting in the air, was my hand almost groping, my free soul.”
– Andrew Wyeth
Throughout Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, the landscape of his neighbors’ farm appears repeatedly. Kuerner’s Hill rears up towards the viewer on occasion and, on others, slopes gradually toward the horizon. At the bottom of this hill are the train tracks where N.C. Wyeth was killed by an oncoming train. A few months later Andrew painted Allan Lynch, the boy who found N.C. Wyeth’s body, running down Kuerner’s Hill. Andrew Wyeth described the sensation of painting Kuerner’s Hill in Winter 1946 by saying that he could almost hear his father breathe. Andrew’s inspiration for the painting came from an afternoon of playing with Allan on Kuerner’s Hill, and yet the ominous and somber tone of the painting indicates the presence of his father in the landscape.
“A hump in the earth. Hell—a nice shape, but it reminds you of your father. Where he’s buried.”
– Andrew Wyeth
One November afternoon as he climbed Kuerner’s Hill, Wyeth looked over his shoulder and saw the Kuerner house mirrored, upside down, in the pond below. He worked in vain on a tempera that might recreate that vision. Betsy Wyeth criticized Andrew’s art process for being so meticulous and unable to take advantage of chance effect. Working on this painting, Andrew began changing this when he threw a watery mix of yellow-brown ochre and red-brown sienna tempera across the panel. Never able to escape the internalized critic of his father, you can see the shadow of Kuerner’s Hill cast across the middle of the painting—the shadow of death. This scene would not appear this way in reality because the lake would not be visible in shadow. Here Kuerner’s Hill becomes emblematic of the mournful loss of his father.
“A hump like a snow-hill”
– Herman Melville, Moby Dick
There is a lot going on in this painting but in the story Andrew Wyeth tells us about his father, this painting is unique for one small detail. This is the only painting that depicts the train tracks at the bottom of Kuerner’s Hill where N.C. Wyeth died. Titled from a quote taken from Moby Dick about the great white whale, once again Kuerner’s Hill, now covered in snow, becomes a metaphor for Andrew Wyeth’s own nemesis, his father N.C. Wyeth.
See Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, on view at SAM through January 15 and learn more about the characters and narratives that dominate the life and art of Andrew Wyeth.
—Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist and Social Media Manager
Images: Installation views of Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photos: Natali Wiseman.
“Go on a hunt for the sleeping dog, the cows, the tin soldiers on a windowsill and the portrait of Wyeth’s young son, Nicholas. Every picture is filled with characters, strong emotions—and an opportunity to tell a story.”
“An upcoming mural project for the Seattle Art Museum, titled The Carpenter’s Fin, will extend that aspiration. Scheduled for completion in fall 2018, the watercolor-and-ink mural consists of 108 sections on six panels of mulberry paper and is about twenty feet long.”
Put down that book for some good news: Seattle is officially a City of Literature. The UNESCO designation means we’ll be able to participate in cultural exchange programs with other cities in the network.
Art historian Linda Nochlin passed away this week at age 86; she made her name with the landmark essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” and worked for over six decades.
“I feel that in some sense, all my work is provisional: that is to say, while I believe in it very strongly, I still remain open to what I hear, learn, and experience…Feminist art history—like feminism itself—is a product of give and take, talking and listening.”
“You know, dogs are the damnedest thing. They just take over the house.”
– Andrew Wyeth
Dig into the life and paintings of Andrew Wyeth and you’ll start to notice that there are dogs all over the place. As a dog owner, it seems Wyeth was as susceptible as anyone to sharing images of his favorite mutts—man’s best friend often makes an appearance in Wyeth’s paintings. Visit Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect and keep your eye out in the galleries for K-9 companions, Rattler, Nell Gwyn, or neighborhood hounds. So how did Wyeth’s love for his four-legged friends influence his artwork?
Old faithful isn’t just a geyser. Ides of March, above, shows Wyeth’s dog lying in front of the cooking fireplace in the Wyeth’s old home. Is this an idyllic domestic dog scene or a metaphor for the murder of Julius Caesar? Why not both? The title helps us see, perhaps, the detailed antique iron fireplace implements as spears and an emperor’s crown, its wearer dead and gone, his pyre or tomb protected by a loyal dog.
These poor pups! The occupant of this decrepit mill kept starving coon dogs tied up outside the old granary. We never promised cute-overload here, but the good news is that eventually Betsy Wyeth purchased the historic mill property and restored it as a new home for the Wyeths. We hope these dogs found better homes and treatment too.
Is this guard dog asleep on the job? Wyeth’s dog, Nell Gwyn, sleeps on a bag: does the bag contain a secret? Does the dog guard the secret? Betsy imagined Andrew would move his studio into the mill house she renovated for them, but he refused. Wyeth was living a double life at the time this painting was made—painting a woman, Helga Testorf, in secret. This dog was named for the mistress of Charles II, which probably amused the artist since he admitted that the painting was an extension of his studies of a sleeping Helga.
This study for his painting, Adam, does not include any dogs, so what’s it doing in this blog post about Andrew Wyeth’s dogs? Look closely. Moving across the sketch you can see paw prints. Perhaps Andrew Wyeth left this sketch on the floor of his studio to reference while producing the final painting and one of his dogs wandered in, without care for the artist at work—what does a dog care for fine art? Snoopy might have an opinion on that.
Obviously, Charles Schulz was a fan.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager
I had the amazing privilege of serving as Andrew Wyeth’s conservator for the last 12 years of his life. Conservators dream about being able to speak with the artists and ask them questions while making decisions about treating their works. (When I worked as senior conservator for the treatment of Whistler’s Peacock Room 1988–1992, we joked about how wonderful it would be to be able to have a séance in order to ask Whistler questions such as “just how shiny do you want the final varnish to be?”) And there Andrew Wyeth would be, live and in person, visiting my paintings conservation studio at Winterthur just about once a month, when I was treating one of his works or works by artists he especially admired, including Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth.
He would sometimes give instructions that I might not have intuited without him present: “inpaint this scratch (from handling) but don’t inpaint this other scratch; it makes the stone wall look older and rougher.” The egg medium in his tempera paint sometimes produces a white efflorescence that looks a bit like spray Christmas snow. He would ask me to LEAVE this white powdery substance on areas of snow in his winter landscapes, but to remove it where it took away the “snap” of the brown or black tree trunks. If a part of a gessoed panel had gotten wet and a few areas had flaked away, we would work out together how to inpaint the missing areas after I carried out consolidation and filling; twice we did this jointly.
Additionally I would be invited to cocktails at the Mill with Betsy and Andrew Wyeth; I typed extensive notes each night when I got back to my computer and have about two linear feet of notebooks detailing conversation topics, comments they’d make, and challenging questions they would ask all visitors; cocktails beside the Wyeths’ fireplace was never relaxing. (The pointy fireplace tongs, etc. give you a hint.) Often Andrew Wyeth would be “unveiling” a new tempera and the only faux pas would be NOT to have a lot to say—what does this remind you of? “Princess Diana in the tunnel where she died?” (That was Sparks.) While looking at a new tempera you had to produce a stream-of-consciousness monologue featuring your personal reactions and meaningful associations. Or you might hear Andrew in front of The Carry: “THIS calm area of water represents me doing temperas, but THIS turbulent water represents my ‘wild side’—doing watercolors.” For the same painting, Betsy said, “THIS turbulent water is me during the Helga crisis, but this calm area is after I got over the Helga crisis!” Andrew then said, “DID YOU get over the Helga crisis?” Dead silence in the room. I gave a cheery hostess-type laugh and changed the subject quickly to help retrieve equanimity.
On one occasion when we were walking into the Winterthur Research Building together to look at a treatment in progress, he patted my hair and said, “I like your hair, can I paint you?” (Richard Meryman, Wyeth’s biographer, had told me that he had always regretted saying he was too busy to pose when he was asked.) So I answered immediately: “Send up a flare and I’ll be there!” Wyeth looked puzzled, so I said “Absolutely!” He said, “I’ll call you” and asked what time I came in to work each day, and I said “8:15.” (I regretted this instantly because I don’t usually come in that early, but now I had to.)
Almost a month went by of sitting by the phone each morning. I’d come up with excuses to drive paintings up Route 100 to consult him. Then on one visit to the Mill, Andy and Betsy told me that Anna Kuerner had just died, and the Kuerner family had given Anna’s pink raincoat to Betsy. It didn’t fit Betsy so she asked me to try it on. It fit perfectly, so Andrew took my hand and said, “come on!” He led me into the Granary building, adjacent to the Mill, and began drawing me. This was May 1999. After a few hours he showed me a beautiful drawing and then said “now I’ll turn it into a watercolor.” I almost involuntarily shouted ”NO” because the drawing was so elegant, and my first thought was not to hide it with paint.
Luckily he ignored me, opened his large metal tool box full of tubed watercolors and began painting. He had me posed looking away, out of a window, which was disappointing for me as a conservator—I wanted to watch him paint. I kept trying to sneak little glimpses without being caught. However, I had heard from others that if things aren’t going well, or you’re too wiggly as a model, he closes the sketchbook and says, “that’s all for now, let’s go to lunch” and that’s that. I’d heard that Helga tried to be so still that she fainted at one point. So I tried to be especially still and cooperative, but he’d keep suggesting we take breaks. There were three half-day posing sessions in all, but he didn’t show me the finished work, and I didn’t know it actually was finished. Other models told me “you never know—either it came to naught, or later you might see it hanging at the Whitney.” But he had it framed and presented it to me for the following Christmas! (It hangs in my studio at the Research Building at Winterthur under a special shade which I pull up ONLY when someone is looking; conservators are very concerned about light levels for watercolors.)
While I was posing it had to be a secret from everyone except Betsy, who had given me the pink coat; I would have occasional teas with Helga, but I wasn’t allowed to tell her. You weren’t welcome in Wyeth World if you couldn’t keep secrets. Other paintings Helga would know about, but then they would be a secret from Betsy. I don’t believe Wyeth ever gave Helga a Helga painting (he did give her drawings he did of her four children). I wondered for a while why he gave me my portrait. I now think that he knew exactly what he was doing. As one artist told a group of conservators, “You are our pediatricians; you take care of our children!” He knew that as a conservator I would now in the future never turn down a request to see about one of his paintings.
– Joyce Hill Stoner, Conservator
See Sparks and The Carry in person when you visit Andrew Wyeth: InRetrospect, on view at Seattle Art Museum through January 15. The exhibition features over 100 of the artist’s finest paintings and drawings and reveals new perspectives on his work and influences.
“This isn’t a best-of show, nor a hagiography. It’s an expansive view of the artist’s life and the lives of those around him through his work, an exhibit that will satisfy both longtime fans and first-time audiences. More important, it is a chance to have a conversation about the role of art—what agendas it has served in recent history and what wisdom may yet be found in it.”
Your daily dose of cuteness: Here’s what a day at Tiny Trees preschool at the Olympic Sculpture Park sounds like, thanks to Rachel Belle of KIRO Radio.
Seattle/Baltimore artist Paul Rucker’s Birth of a Nation Project appeared (unforgettably) at Out of Sight 2016; York College recently decided to close his Rewind exhibition to the public, citing the “potentially disturbing” work.
Andrew Wyeth’s studio was an old schoolhouse near his childhood home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. His bookshelves there hold numerous titles on film. From movie rental catalogues to a Marlon Brando biography, to Classics of the Silent Screen, this view inside the American icon’s creative space sets Wyeth against a backdrop of the movies.
Wyeth is sometimes considered a realist in an abstract art world; however, this limited focus on his realism glosses over his strange and eerie images. But on the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth, Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect examines what creates Wyeth’s haunting effect on us and shows the influence of cinema on his art through his 75-year career. This major exhibition presents more than 100 of the artist’s finest paintings and drawings, including rarely seen loans from the Wyeth family.
“In the 1950s and ’60s, critical favor was given to abstraction and formal investigations into painting. Exhibitions and critical thinking about fine art didn’t include media, like films,” Patricia Junker, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art points out. “Now that our concepts of fine art have broadened, Wyeth can be understood in the realm of modern filmmaking, as well as painting. He connected with an art form that used the human figure as a form for storytelling and was not abstract.”
Betsy Wyeth likened her husband to Swedish director Ingmar Bergman: “He’s creating a world they [his models] don’t realize and they’re acting out a part without any script.” In the 1989 painting Snow Hill, Wyeth’s Chadds Ford models, living and dead, dance on Kuerner’s Hill—a meaningful motif in Wyeth’s paintings—and recall Bergman’s dance of death from the iconic final scene of The Seventh Seal. Just as Death dances the players off to their graves in the film, Wyeth danced his characters off to their art-muse graves, and he would never use them again.
An owner of King Vidor’s 1925 silent masterpiece, The Big Parade, Wyeth claimed he watched these film reels hundreds of times. A young man running down Kuerner’s Hill in Wyeth’s Winter 1946 echoes the film’s hero hobbling down a hillside into the arms of a lost love. The Big Parade used objects to convey emotional states and inspired Wyeth to depict belongings and interiors as portraits, as in a pair of weathered doors that represent the deceased brother and sister in Alvaro and Christina (1968).
“Think of Wyeth’s paintings as movie stills—each as a frozen moment within some ongoing action,” says Junker. “What story do they tell?” Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect offers a chance to piece together the story of Wyeth himself—his figures are characters acting out a role in the artist’s life, allowing us to understand him. The exhibition is an epic, the story of a great American artist told through the people and places he portrayed.
Widen your view into Wyeth’s World through SAM’s screenings of these, and other, films that either influenced Andrew Wyeth or vice versa. The Big Parade will be screened on November 15 and The Seventh Seal is presented as part of an Ingmar Bergman series on January 25. Find out more about all of SAM’s upcoming film events and get inspired.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager