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Object of the Week: Crow

In 2016, the Seattle Asian Art Museum invited acclaimed Japanese artist Tabaimo to study the museum’s collection and curate an exhibition. The resulting presentation, Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi, was based on the concept of utsushi, which literally means “copying or paying homage to a master’s work.” Tabaimo selected several historical objects from SAM’s Asian art collection to present alongside her own work, some of which she produced specifically for the show. The last gallery of the exhibition featured the museum’s beloved pair of 17th-century Crows screens and Tabaimo’s response, a video installation that imagines new possibilities for the screens’ depicted action.

The subject of the Crows screens is a murder[1] of black-feathered birds set against squares of gold leaf. Descending en masse from the top left-hand corner of each screen, the crows wind their way down to a rocky crag along the bottom edge. In photographs of the screens, the birds appear as silhouettes, though an in-person viewing reveals the unique texture of each creature’s feathers, eyes, beak, and claws. The dynamism of the scene is created through the movements of the individual crows. In some places, they fly towards each other, suggesting an impending clash; in the upper right-hand corner, two birds take part in a midair tussle; and even those grounded crows spread their wings, look about, and caw. 

In Tabaimo’s video utsushi of Crows, the birds are flattened into black silhouettes floating against a background of gold squares. Here, the squares take part in the action too. One by one, they sink into the pictorial space revealing rectangular hollows into which the feathered-beasts fly. An exhibition text explains:

In Japanese culture, it is a custom to tidy things up at the end of an event. Crows are often associated with untidiness because they look for food among garbage and create litter. Tabaimo does not intend for us to leave the gallery with a clear understanding of the exhibition, but rather, she would like to invite lively discussions by ending it in an ambiguous way, just as the crow brings untidy debris.[2]

– Murphy Crain, Asian Art and Gardner Center Coordinator

[1] Not a killing! A group of crows is called a murder.
[2] Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi exhibition brochure
Images: Crow, 2016, Tabaimo, single-channel video installation, 4 min. 10 sec., Asian Art Acquisition Fund, 2017.5 ©Artist or Artist’s Estate. Crows, early 17th century, Japanese, pair of six panel screens; ink and gold on paper, 61 9/16 x 139 5/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 36.21.1.

Docents Defined: Erin Bruce

SAM is now recruiting new docents to start training for the reopening of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. You don’t need to be an art historian or a teacher to apply! In fact, SAM docents have a variety of interests and experiences. Having a diverse group of docents is how we’re able to offer tours that are engaging to all visitors. Read below and find out more about docents like Erin Bruce who volunteer their time at the museum.

If you still want to learn more about being a docent? Join SAM staff and current docents at our Docent Open House on May 16 from 6–7 pm! Or, apply now to the docent program. Applications are accepted through May 31.

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you decide to become a docent?

Erin Bruce: I have always been inspired by all things visual, whether it is nature, a building, a room and especially art. I studied art in college and made art whenever possible. Now I am a technical stock trader and rely on charts for my work—more visual interpretation! It was a three-year wait for a new docent class to start for me after a friend told me about SAM. The chance to participate with our museum is an honor.

What’s the best part about being a docent?

The best part is all of it: meeting energetic, generous, knowledgeable people; constant learning; leading a tour of young people and engaging them in the art and history of objects. It’s all gratifying. SAM’s collections are a wondrous gift to our city and special exhibitions join and expand experiences as well.

What is your favorite work of art to tour at the Asian Art Museum?

The Deer Scroll. Calligrapher Koetsu and painter Sotatsu collaborated to create this iconic masterpiece. Our 30 feet of the original 72 feet contains 12 poems from the Shin Kokinshu, which took four years to write. The beauty and harmony transports you to another time and place.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

Tours were scheduled the week before Mother’s Day so I made a gallery activity “A Gift for Mom.” Given one exhibition room students got to pick an object that they would give to their Mom if they could. It revealed so many wonderful things such as what objects in our Asian art collection young people were most drawn to, what they found beautiful and why. Crafting future tours improved since I had learned some of their favorite objects. The chance to interact with young people is yet another joy and benefit of leading a school tour.

What advice do you have for people applying for the docent program?

Your interests and life experiences offer wonderful and unique perspectives. You will discover and explore the vast and layered connections of art to our lives. It is so much fun.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

Donor Spotlight: Shawn Brinsfield Supports the Asian Art Museum

It’s nice to know that our community also thinks the future of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is going to be cool! More than the critical infrastructure updates to the Art Deco building that won’t be very apparent to visitors, there’s the long history of Asian culture in the Seattle area made visible at the museum. To Shawn Brinsfield, the modest expansion on the back of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is a physical commitment to expanding the understanding and appreciation of Asia. Read why the Asian Art Museum matters to this donor, learn more about the project, and stay up to date on the progress of the renovation and expansion of the Asian Art Museum.

The new Seattle Asian Art Museum is going to be very cool with more space for SAM’s growing collection, better flow and open ‘look-throughs’ to the outside. I take art lessons and sometimes they take us to Volunteer Park to draw; so I look forward to sitting on my chair outside near the trees and drawing the new large glass-walled rear addition of the museum. Ok, full disclosure—I am still just learning to draw; but it will be fun viewing Asian Art Museum visitors fishbowl-like.

The average museum-goer may not appreciate the museum’s new sophisticated climate control environment, which gives the art ‘eternal life.’ Sometimes I think about the centuries of artists who made the works inside the museum. What kind of challenges and human pressures did they have? I wonder how they would react, knowing that their year-after-year sweat and toil and evolution as artists would be preserved by loving and meticulous conservationists today. It’s my understanding that the Asian Art Museum will be an important national center of conserving Asian art. And conserving art is actually a fascinating process. Really!

My mom and her family are of Japanese descent. They were living a full life here in Seattle back in the ‘good old days.’ Grandma Benko Itoi wrote tanka poetry, the family attended art events at the Nippon Kan Theater, they danced in traditional ways at the Bon Odori. Then when World War II broke out they were compelled to destroy most things related to their Japanese culture. So, 75 years later, it’s important to me to support the expansion of Japanese and Asian culture in the Seattle area.

All the art at the Asian Art Museum tells stories of history, ideas, and ways of life. In addition to enjoying the exhibitions on wooden block prints, folding screens, and Chinese scrolls, I have loved going to the Gardner Center’s Saturday University Lecture Series and listening to experts from all over the world. I value this, especially since I help recruit speakers for an Asian art and history group in Florida.

As for the future of the Asian Art Museum, I expect that the Asian Art Museum’s growth will mirror that of Asia’s increasing presence on the world stage. I hope that it continues expanding its collection of South Asian art and continues reaching out to the growing South Asian community here in the Northwest; as well as reaching out to the non-Asian community. My spending time in India on several trips has had a significant impact on my mind and behavior. I include, in my daily life, some practices and rituals which are indigenous to India and South Asia. I have a warm and friendly feeling towards the people and culture of South Asia.

– Shawn Brinsfield

A Dedicated Collector: Griffith Way (1920–2018)

The Seattle Art Museum is saddened to have lost a tremendous friend of the museum. Griffith Way was appreciated for his gentle nature combined with fine humor that enriched everyone who knew him. He became a Trustee of the Seattle Art Museum in 1995 and received honorary distinction in 2009. A graduate of the University of Washington, Griff was part of the first graduating class specializing in Japanese law. He was also an Adjunct Professor, University of Washington School of Law and spent decades periodically practicing law in Tokyo. In 2007, he was honored with the Order of the Rising Sun by His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito of Japan in recognition of his long-standing support to increase economic and cultural development between the United States and Japan.

Early in their years in Japan, after the conclusion of WWII, Griff and his wife, Pat, became interested in the then-new style of modern Japanese painting executed in traditional media and formats, known as nihonga; a late 19th-century style among artists seeking both cultural continuity and to address Japan’s emergence as a modern nation. Griff and Pat went on to develop a remarkable nihonga collection that they have shared broadly with the public.

In winter of 1999, SAM welcomed Modern Masters of Kyoto: The Transformation of Japanese Painting Traditions, Nihonga from the Griffith and Patricia Way Collection presented at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Their gift to SAM of 150 nihonga paintings has made SAM the repository of the largest collection of nihonga outside Japan.

As a member of SAM’s board, Griff served as Chair of the Seattle Asian Art Museum Committee and then as Honorary Chair of the Seattle Asian Art Museum Campaign Committee. As Trustee Emeritus of the Blakemore Foundation, Griff facilitated critical funding from the Foundation, which has supported SAM since 1992, most notably through the Blakemore Internship Program for Asian Art at the Asian Art Museum.

Griff’s unwavering dedication to the Seattle Asian Art Museum will be remembered by the museum and community in a future reading area named in his honor, of our McCaw Foundation Library. Griff’s commitment to Asian art and culture will continue to inspire us and our role in connecting with Asia as never before.

Photo: Team Photogenic

Conserving SAM’s Asian Art Collection

Thanks to funding from Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, a pair of important 17th-century Japanese screens, Scenes in and around the Capital, are currently being restored by specialists at Studio Sogendo, a private studio in California. The screens, likely created by a machi-eshi, or “town painter,” present a panoramic view of Kyoto during the Edo period. They show both Kyoto’s center and its periphery, and give insight into the daily lives of different social classes, in addition to representing seasonal festivals.

When the screens first arrived at SAM in 1975, they were already in fragile condition and by the time this conservation work began in 2017, extensive repairs were desperately needed. Painted using ink, color, and gold, and mounted on wooden frames, the screens are being restored using traditional Japanese methods and materials. I was able to visit Studio Sogendo while one of the panels had been stripped of its backings and laid on a light table, allowing a rare perspective of the materials and quality of the painting. The conservation treatment has been invaluable, not just in terms of preserving the paintings, but also in offering opportunities for examination and study. The internal frames must be replaced and expert craftsmen in Japan made new custom frames for the work. The incredibly precise joinery of the new frames can be seen in these images. The conservation phase of the project is nearing completion and the reassembly of the structure, replacement of the mount fabrics, and retouching of the areas of loss is underway.

 

This crucial project would not be possible without Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, one of few programs dedicated to preserving historically or culturally significant artworks. We look forward to the return of Scenes in and around the Capital, which will be on view among SAM’s extensive Asian art collection when the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens in late 2019!

– Nicholas Dorman, SAM Chief Conservator

Muse/News: A princely statue, a punning pie artist, and the eternal queen of soul

SAM News

The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley interviews curator Xiaojin Wu about the new installation Noble Splendor: Art of Japanese Aristocrats. Discussed: An exquisite statue of a two-year-old prince, a 300-year-old clam shell matching game, and the mysterious ballot box stationed outside the installation—and what it will tell us.

We miss her art already: Molly Vaughan was featured in this week’s edition of Real Change. Reporter Lisa Edge discusses the just-closed Project 42 at SAM, Vaughan’s recent Seattle Art Fair performance and Neddy Award nomination, and what’s next for the artist.

Kimerly Rorschach, SAM’s director and CEO, was interviewed by Eileen Kinsella of Artnet about the new tariff on Chinese art coming into the U.S., which has many in the art world concerned.

“It’s overall not good and not helpful,” said Kimerly Rorschach, director of the Seattle Art Museum, which also oversees the city’s Asian Art Museum. “It makes work more expensive, it constrains the market and thus constrains us in bringing these works to our audiences and educating and promoting the cultural exchange that is the museum’s mission.”

Local News

Mason Bryan of Crosscut reports on the disturbing vandalism of Jasmine Iona Brown’s series of adhesive paintings around Capitol Hill called Black Teen Wearing Hoodie.

Erica C. Barnett for Seattle Magazine with an in-depth update on the efforts to “save” SAM neighbor the Showbox from being torn down for a 44-story apartment tower.

The Seattle Times’ Zoe Sayler speaks with Lauren Ko, whose intricate, geometric pie designs created for her @lokokitchen Instagram have catapulted her to a new career—and she doesn’t even have a sweet tooth!

“It’s the great irony of our life,” Ko says. “For the most part, if they’re sweet, we’re just like, ‘get them out of the house’ … If I had somehow gotten into pizza making, then we would be in trouble.”

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic’s Claire Voon on the National Portrait Gallery’s new show about silhouette portraits, which “democratized portraiture long before the advent of photography”—although their history also outlines many ugly truths.

Helen Stoilas, editor of the Art Newspaper, joined in the effort spearheaded by the Boston Globe asking newspapers across the country to run editorials decrying assaults on a free press; Helen connected the issue to the arts.

RIP to the Queen of Soul. Here’s the New York Times’ Wesley Morris on the just a little bit of respect still due, Dream Hampton for NPR on how Aretha embodied Detroit, and the New Yorker’s David Remnick on her legacy.

“Prayer, love, desire, joy, despair, rapture, feminism, Black Power—it is hard to think of a performer who provided a deeper, more profound reflection of her times. What’s more, her gift was incomparable.”

And Finally

Be the change you want to see in the world: Robocop is now an art historian.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Noble Splendor: Art of Aristocrats of Japan at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Some/One

For artist Do Ho Suh, clothing is the “smallest, most intimate habitat that one person can carry. And when you expand that idea, it becomes architecture.”¹ Indeed, Some/One—a monumental armor sculpture made from thousands of military dog tags—embodies the architectural possibilities that Suh sees in clothing.

Answering the question “How much space does one need to be an individual?” Suh explores the relationship between individual and collective, redefining how we might perceive this dichotomy. Some/One in particular is informed by Suh’s experience in the Korean military, which is mandatory service for young men. Unified as one coat of armor, the chain mail-like sculpture is comprised of unique metal tags—each one bearing a sequence of random letters and numbers.² The sculpture somehow manages to defy gravity despite the imagined weight of its 30,000-plus stainless steel tags. Additionally, the piece’s large fanning base serves dual purposes: it supports the sculpture structurally, as well as makes physical and metaphorical space to consider the work’s footprint.

Dog tags are inherently a marker of individualism used to identify soldiers, but they also connect a troop to a larger collective and, ultimately, nation. In the words of the artist, “When you see a person, you don’t just see the person standing in front of you—you see their background, their family or ancestors, the invisible webs of relationship or information.”³ When we see one person’s tag, we see so much more than a name, place of birth, or unit—we see their life.

Further, the reflective surface and mirrored interior of Some/One underscores the artist’s desire for viewers to see themselves—literally and figuratively—in the work. Whether the sculpture serves as a monument honoring fallen troops or highligts the anonymity of their service (or carries other readings altogether) is willfully left open to the viewer. This work is not currently on view but it will be exhibited when the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens in late 2019.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Some/One, 2001, Do Ho Suh, stainless steel military dog-tags, nickel-plated copper sheets, steel structure, glass fiber reinforced resin, rubber sheets, diameter at base: 24 ft. 4 in.; Height: 81 in., Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2002.43 © Do Ho Suh. Photo: Justin Gollmer.
[1] C. Carr, “In the House with Do-Ho Suh: World of Interiors,” Village Voice, June 23,  2003, http://www.lehmannmaupin.com/artists/do-ho-suh/press/127.
[2] Do Ho Suh, “’Some/One’ and the Korean Military,” interview by Art21, Art21, 2003, https://art21.org/read/do-ho-suh-some-one-and-the-korean-military.
[3] Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle, “Do-Ho Suh ReflectionBrooklyn Rail, March 7, 2008, https://brooklynrail.org/2008/03/artseen/reflection.

Donor Spotlight: Yucca and Gary Support Seattle Asian Art Museum

The renovation and expansion of our Asian Art Museum is about more than the preservation of art. We’re also furthering our mission to connect our Asian art collection to the life of our community for generations to come. Our donors are sharing how important art is to them in making connections to both the past and the future and the importance of SAM in creating those connections. Learn more about the project and show your support!

We are very pleased to support the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the mission of greater understanding between the US and Asia. We lived several years in Japan and over ten years in China, and feel that art and culture play a major role in more deeply appreciating the history, achievements, and challenges of the Asia-Pacific region.

Seattle is uniquely positioned as a true gateway to the Asia-Pacific, with a number of the industries and technologies that are at the core of the next decades of development. Integrating art and culture into the mix in a more direct way through SAM is something we are very excited to support.

– Yucca & Gary Rieschel

Inside the Seattle Asian Art Museum Renovation: Plan Today, Exhibit Tomorrow

During the few months between the Seattle Asian Art Museum closing its doors and the start of the renovation and expansion, our staff was keeping busy. While the entire Asian art collection was relocated to our downtown location to store and protect it during the construction, the curatorial staff began thinking about how to display it when the museum opens again in fall 2019. Xiaojin Wu, SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, and Ping Foong, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art made use of the empty museum walls to brainstorm how the future of the galleries will be organized.

L to R: Xiaojin Wu, Ping Foong

One traditional method of curation is to group objects according to the region they come from. When the museum reopens, the goal is to move beyond this method and explore new ways of integrating and presenting the eclectic artworks. “The challenge,” says Wu “is attempting to create accessible art while embracing how complex art and history can be.”

 

Cross-cultural display is interesting but it can be confusing to present as a museum and to understand as a visitor. “We’re more concerned about boredom,” Says Wu. “The key is excitement—making people want to learn.”

L to R: Rachel Harris, Amelia Love

There are 13 galleries in the Asian Art museum to use for the collection works and the items within them will need to rotate regularly since all Asian paintings and textiles are light sensitive and every six months, or so, they need to rest, sometimes for years at a time!

Ping Foong organizing our collection

It’s hard to gain a sense of scale from print outs, but planning how the rich and diverse piece of our Asian Art Museum will fit back together again is underway! Learn more about the entire renovation and expansion process on our website or, if you’re a SAM member, don’t miss Ping Foong and Xiaojin Wu discussing their plans for the museum in more detail at Conversations with Curators, June 20. From large Buddha sculptures to delicate hair clips, how you would place these priceless objects in the newly upgraded museum when it reopens?

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Images: Xiaojin Wu