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Muse/News: Soul partners, gamechangers, and Kerry James Marshall’s birds

SAM News

Priya Frank, SAM’s associate director for community programs, and Jaimée Marsh, executive director of FEEST Seattle, are the latest leaders to share a message for the city on the Stranger’s Slog. Together, they talk about being “soul partners” and showing up in our relationships.

Barbara Earl Thomas—whose solo show at SAM, The Geography of Innocence, opens later this year—has been commissioned to create a set of windows for a residential college at Yale University; her design will “confront and contextualize the history of the residential college’s name, which originally honored 19th-century statesman and notorious slavery advocate John C. Calhoun.”

Local News

“A gamechanger”: It is with great sadness and appreciation that we say goodbye to P. Raaze Garrison, who has died at the age of 92. Her obituary in Seattle Medium recounts her role as an educator, activist, and becoming one of the first Black docents at SAM in 1995.

Brendan Kiley of the Seattle Times has details on the Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair, in which 40 local galleries have come together to promote shows at their own sites (both online and virtual).

Stefan Milne of Seattle Met asks what an online art world looks like. Discussed: seamless virtual sales, man vs. machine, and Walter Benjamin.

“As images on screens, many look like they’ve been rendered by the algorithm alone—a view of the mind of the machine, intricate and sterile. But in person these are big canvases, emphatically textured with oil paint. The colors look different. The intricate lines wobble humanly. The paintings exist in a hierarchy. And—sadly for our moment when quarantines may come in waves—you need to see them in person to grasp the final step.”

Inter/National News

Julia Jacobs of the New York Times reports that a National Museum of the American Latino has reached a milestone in its path to existence, with a House vote approving it be established.

An intriguing poll from Artnet of over 2,000 of their readers finds that this art-loving group doesn’t plan to change their art-going behavior once venues reopen. Also among the findings: they are most excited about getting back to museums specifically, and their top reasons for wanting to return are a desire for inspiration, to learn, and to support the arts.

Ted Loos in the New York Times on work from Kerry James Marshall now on view online with David Zwirner. The new canvases take John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” as inspiration.

“‘The picture plane is the site of every action,’ Mr. Marshall said. He seemed to be speaking not only about the painting process but also how he conducts his whole life — after all, this is a man who captured a live crow to get to know it better. ‘How things occupy that space,’ he added, ‘matters more than anything.’”

And Finally

Beyoncé’s “Black Is King”: Six New York Times critics say, let’s discuss.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Stephanie Fink. 

SAM Talks: Barbara Earl Thomas on The Geography of Innocence

In anticipation of Barbara Earl Thomas’s exhibition opening in November, Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence, this talented artist describes the development of a new body of work amidst the turmoil and crises of the past year and within the context of broader American history. The conversation follows Thomas’s exploration of grace, storytelling, perception, and process in her art making. Watch this interview with SAM’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Catharina Manchanda and get excited to experience these artworks in person this fall.

Defining herself as a storyteller, Thomas notes, “It is the chaos of living and the grief of our time that compels me, philosophically, emotionally, and artistically. I am a witness and a chronicler: I create stories from the apocalypse we live in now and narrate how life goes on in midst of the chaos.” In this exhibition, the artist will create an immersive environment of light and shadow—inhabited by large-scale narrative works in cut paper and glass—that addresses our preconceived ideas of innocence and guilt, sin and redemption, and the ways in which these notions are assigned and distorted along cultural and racial lines.

Muse/News: Protest art, citizen journalists, and radical quilts

SAM News

Brangien Davis of Crosscut reflects on art that protests and protest art, highlighting an 8-bit video game created by The Black Tones, Barbara Earl Thomas’s intricate paper cuts (to be featured in an upcoming show at SAM), and a “speculative fiction” press release imagining if SAM dissolved (which was erroneously published).

“Some art that erupts during social upheaval is momentary, some persists in minds and hearts, whether a poster, a painting, a flag, a fist or maybe even a video game.”

Local News

Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger continues to cover both the action and the art around the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP); this week, she notes that “The Bathrooms at Cal Anderson Park Look Sick” after a recent paint job by two volunteers.

The Seattle Times features a comic from Lyla Dalnekoff, the 11-year-old creator of drawingthroughit.com. She explores our “new normal” and asks “what are you most excited to do once coronavirus pandemic restrictions are lifted?”

Crosscut’s Agueda Pacheco Flores and Margo Vansynghel interview Omari Salisbury, Tessa Hulls, and Ulysses Curr, three citizen journalists who have been documenting CHOP. With portraits by Dorothy Edwards.

“Hulls says she prefers to see herself as a ‘bullhorn,’ amplifying the voices and stories that larger media outlets or reporters who don’t cover the protests from the ground might miss.”

Inter/National News

This week, opinion pieces by arts and culture leaders from around the country:

Yesomi Umolu of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago outlines “15 Points Museums Must Understand to Dismantle Structural Injustice.”

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, asks, “Are you willing to give up your privilege?”

Dr. Kelli Morgan, a critical-race and cultural historian, addresses the expressions of white supremacy she sees in the museum field.

“If we are to eschew this exclusionary culture in American art and its institutions, it is imperative that we change the value system upon which both our art museums and our art history is founded.”

And Finally

Wrap yourself in the radical quilts of Rosie Lee Tompkins.

Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

My Favorite Things: Barbara Earl Thomas on Georges de La Tour

“I just like the idea of the fact that light can be the subject.”

– Barbara Earl Thomas

Hear from Seattle-based powerhouse Barbara Earl Thomas as she shares the experience of seeing Saint Sebastion Tended by Saint Irene at SAM. More than seeing, Thomas encourages you to listen to the painting, to notice the quiet of the moment being painted.

Georges de La Tour is often mentioned as one of the many followers of Caravaggio (ca. 1571–1610), the Italian artist who pioneered the use of strong contrasts of light and dark to heighten the drama and religious feeling in his paintings. Though De La Tour probably never saw a work by Caravaggio, the innovative style spread across Europe, and the French artist first introduced his own version of “tenebrism” in this depiction of a nocturnal scene of deliverance. It was such a popular image that no fewer than a dozen other versions exist. The original painting is probably lost; this example is one of the best of the other versions, and some scholars believe it came directly from his studio and may have had his direct participation.

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

Artwork: “Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene,” Georges de La Tour, oil on canvas, 42 x 55 7/8 in., Gift of Richard and Elizabeth Hedreen in honor of Mimi Gardner Gates, 2008.67.

Object of the Week: In Case of Fire

In Case of Fire is striking. Disorienting and surreal, the black-and-white landscape unfurls into the supernatural. A tree is anchored in a sea storm, a larger-than-life chicken is perched on the remains of a sinking home, animals and human figures are scattered against scenes of disaster.

Just as the flames and embers of fire possess movement, this linocut—a print carved onto linoleum block—captures the turbulent motion of winds, hills, and water swirling in waves across the surface. This fantastical presentation is of an apocalypse. Yet, despite the chaotic and apocalyptic imagery, In Case of Fire feels intuitively familiar. The fragmented images are contained in a single frame, and recall the nature of dreams with their strangely linear order of otherwise disconnected events and forms. Fishing and work-a-day motifs reflect the roles of labor and personal memory.

Seattle-based artist Barbara Earl Thomas is a storyteller. Though born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Thomas remains deeply connected to her Southern roots: Thomas’s parents had “left behind family and friends and a history rooted in slavery and sharecropping to take up 1940s war jobs.”[1] As an art student at the University of Washington, Thomas studied under Jacob Lawrence, who remained her close mentor and friend until his passing in 2000.

The composition and dramatic scope of In Case of Fire is inspired by folklore, myths, Biblical tales, and magical realism, drawing on the storytelling traditions passed through generations in Black history. An active figure in writing, arts administration, and public art commissions, Thomas maintains a social responsibility in her artwork. She invokes issues of inequity and injustice across communities and writes, “It is the chaos of living and the grief of our time that compels me, philosophically, emotionally, and artistically. I am a witness and a chronicler: I create stories from the apocalypse we live in now and narrate how life goes on in midst of the chaos.”[2]

Rachel Kim, SAM Curatorial Intern

[1]Upchurch, Michael. “Barbara Earl Thomas’ Linocuts Blend the Surreal with the Lyrical.” The Seattle Times, Apr. 12, 2013. https://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/barbara-earl-thomasrsquo-linocuts-blend-the-surreal-with-the-lyrical/
[2] “Barbara Earl Thomas.” Claire Oliver Gallery. https://www.claireoliver.com/artists/barbara-earl-thomas/
Image: In Case of Fire, 2014, Barbara Earl Thomas, linocut, 24 × 36 in., Modern Art Acquisition Fund; Gift of John D. McLauchlan in memory of his wife, Ebba Rapp, by exchange, 2017.14.2. © Artist or Artist’s Estate