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Tour Public Art with Jinny Wright

While you can’t visit City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped a New Seattle currently, you can still experience the artful legacy left behind by Jinny Wright. Discover outdoor art in Seattle with this tour of public art acquired or commissioned by The Virginia Wright Fund. The fund was created for Jinny by her father Prentice Bloedel in 1969. Jinny stated, “Commissioning works of art for public spaces was unheard of in the late ’60s.”

Follow along to see the outdoor art that shaped a new Seattle through the initiative of Jinny Wright.

Broken Obelisk, Barnett Newman, (1963-67)
University of Washington

The representation of the obelisk as broken and inverted is intended as protest and critique of power and colonial ambition. It’s as resonant today as it was in the midst of the Vietnam War when the artist created the work.

Iliad, Alexander Liberman, 1984
Seattle Center

See this piece from all angles by walking both around and through the portal of this bright red constellation of circular forms.

Moses, Tony Smith, 1975
Seattle Center

Originally commissioned as a plywood maquette in the 1960s by the Contemporary Art Council—another brainchild of Jinny Wright—the welded steel piece, coated in black paint was realized with the help of the Wright Fund.

Wandering Rocks, Tony Smith, 2016
Olympic Sculpture Park

Make sure to walk around this five-part installation for a sense of how the artist plays with volume and perspective and geometric forms.

Bunyon’s Chess, 1965 & Schubert’s Sonata, 1992, Mark di Suvero,
Olympic Sculpture Park

Jinny Wright greatly admired Mark di Suvero. Bunyon’s Chess was Jinny’s first private commission made for her garden in the 1960s, while Schubert’s Sonata was commissioned by Jinny and the museum to be installed at the edge of Puget Sound.

Adjacent, Against, Upon, 1976, Michael Heizer
Myrtle Edwards Park

This art by Michael Heizer combines cast concrete forms and granite slabs quarried in the Cascade Mountains.

Curve, Ellsworth Kelly, 1981 & Split, Roxy Paine, 2003
Olympic Sculpture Park

Head to the PACCAR Pavilion and you’ll spot two more works from Jinny’s personal collection. Ellsworth Kelly’s Curve is installed on the entrance wall to the Pavilion and Roxy Pain’s stainless steel tree Split can be seen in the meadow below.

Hammering Man, Jonathon Borofsky, 1992
Seattle Art Museum

Conclude at SAM’s downtown location where the Hammering Man hammers 24/7, only resting once a year on Labor Day. This piece was commissioned for In Public: Seattle 1991 and supported by the Wright Fund.

Extend your tour to Western Washington University in Bellingham for a campus sculpture tour—Jinny’s Wright Fund brought spectacular commissions by artists such as Nancy Holt, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, and Mark di Suvero to campus for all to enjoy.

Images: Hammering Man (detail), 1992, Jonathan Borofsky, Seattle Art Museum 1% for Art funds, Museum Development Authority, Virginia Wright Fund, and Seattle City Light 1% for Art funds, photo: Natali Wiseman. Mark di Suvero, painted and unpainted steel, height: 22 ft., Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, The Virginia Wright Fund, and Bagley Wright, 95.81, © Mark di Suvero. Adjacent, Against, Upon, 1976, Michael Heizer, National Endowment for the Arts, Contemporary Art Council of the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Arts Commission, Seattle City Light 1% for Art funds, photo: Spike Mafford. Curve XXIV, 1981, Ellsworth Kelly, American, born 1923, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2016.17.2, © Ellsworth Kelly. Split, 2003, Roxy Paine, American, born 1966, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, © Roxy Paine.

A Modern Champion: Virginia Wright (1929–2020)

With a heavy heart, we share the news of the passing of Virginia Wright, a pillar of the SAM family. Virginia and her late husband Bagley played pivotal roles in the development, vibrancy, and accomplishments of the Seattle Art Museum for more than half a century. Beyond being generous contributors, the Wrights’ greatest impact on SAM is seen in the art of the collection and in the art shown. Virginia was among a very small group of people who, in the 1960s, pushed SAM to create its first modern and contemporary art program. Virginia and Bagley also contributed to the purchase of many important acquisitions over the years. Above all else, the Wrights amassed one of the most important collections of modern and contemporary art in the world (over 200 works), all purchased with SAM in mind as the collection’s eventual home. When the bulk of it came to SAM in 2014, forming the backbone of its modern and contemporary collection, SAM was transformed from a great institution into a truly remarkable one.

Earlier this month, Virginia said, “When I think about the future of the Wright Collection at SAM, I put my trust in the artists. I trust that future generations will value their work, that SAM will continue to provide meaningful access to it, and that the conversations that their work has inspired will continue.” We are honored by her faith in Seattle’s museum and, because of her support over the last 60 years, we are confident that we can live up to the legacy she established.

Born in Seattle and raised in British Columbia, Virginia went East for college and majored in art history. Out of college, she worked for Sidney Janis Gallery in Manhattan and began collecting art. Mark Rothko’s abstract painting Number 10 (1952) was one of her early, daring purchases and it is now part of SAM’s collection.

Virginia has been a SAM member since 1951. She began docent training in 1957 and led her first public tour in 1959. In 1959, the Wrights made their first-ever gift to SAM’s collection: Room with White Table (1953) by William Ward Corley. That year they also provided funding for SAM to acquire Winter’s Leaves of the Winter of 1944 (at the time titled Leaves Before Autumn Wind) by Morris Graves.

In 1964, she and a group of friends persuaded then-director Richard Fuller to let her start the Contemporary Art Council (CAC), a group of collectors at the museum. For the next decade, it functioned as the museum’s first modern art department. The CAC sponsored lectures and supported the first exhibitions of Op art and conceptual art in Seattle. It also brought the popular Andy Warhol Portraits exhibition to Seattle in 1976, among many other important exhibitions. Her role in bringing great art to the Seattle Art Museum also involved the curation of two solo exhibitions for Morris Louis (in 1967) and William Ivey (in 1975).

Virginia joined SAM’s board in 1960, making 2020 her 60th anniversary with the Seattle Art Museum. She temporarily stepped away in 1972 when her husband Bagley joined the Board and rejoined in 1982. She served as President of the Board from 1987–90. Virginia was President of SAM’s Board of Trustees from 1986–1992, years that coincided with the construction and opening of the downtown Robert Venturi building in 1991—the museum’s first major transformation since its opening in 1933 and a major shift in Seattle’s cultural life to downtown First Avenue (with the Symphony soon following).

In 1999, SAM mounted an exhibition of the Wright Collection (The Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection of Modern Art, March 4–May 9, 1999). The Wrights’ entire art collection—the largest single collection of modern and contemporary art in the region—has been gradually donated (and the balance of the collection promised) to the Seattle Art Museum. A significant portion of the collection came to the museum in 2014 when the Wrights’ private exhibition space closed.

When the Seattle Art Museum opened the Olympic Sculpture Park in 2007, many works from the Wrights’ collection were installed there, including Mark di Suvero’s Bunyon’s Chess (1965) and Schubert Sonata (1992), as well as works by Ellsworth Kelly, Tony Smith, Anthony Caro, and Roxy Paine.

SAM’s ongoing exhibition Big Picture: Art After 1945 draws from the Wrights’ transformative gift of over 100 works and is a reminder of their incredible generosity.

Virginia was an active board member up to the end of her life, regularly attending meetings and advising the museum in many important endeavors. About SAM Virginia said, “It’s always been the main arena. I never wanted to break off and start a museum. I wanted to push the museum we already had into being more responsive to contemporary art.” And SAM would like to acknowledge that she did just that, leaving an undeniable mark on the cultural landscape of the entire Pacific Northwest.

As Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, says, “Even having only been in Seattle for a short time, it’s clear that Virginia Wright’s impact on the city and on SAM is beyond measure. Her legacy, and that of her late husband Bagley, is seen in both the very walls and on the walls of the downtown museum, and it fills the Olympic Sculpture Park’s landscapes. I’m honored to have been able to know her and of her hopes for SAM’s continued future.”

Object of the Week: Tangerine (Mandarine)

Crisp contours and soft, natural lines form a focus: a fruit—a tangerine—hanging on its stem, framed by four leaves and suspended against a backdrop of white. There are no colors, fine details, or surrounding imagery that confirm it is specifically a tangerine. Yet there is an impulse to see from minimal curves a familiar shape, the ubiquitous form of tree-bearing fruit. From this abstract presentation, the tangerine exudes simple elegance and playful whimsy.

This piece by Ellsworth Kelly is one of 28 lithographs from Suite of Plant Lithographs, published in 1966. As a medium, lithography involves etching a smooth stone and using the repelling properties of oil and water to transcribe images onto paper. In addition to tangerines, the series includes lithographs of various flowers, branches, seaweed, leaves, and other fruits.

Since his passing in 2015, Ellsworth Kelly remains an influential force in Minimalism, Hard-Edge painting, Color Field painting, and Postwar European abstraction. From an early age, Kelly was drawn to the bright watercolor studies of birds by James Audubon. During World War II, Kelly was enlisted into the Ghost Army, a regiment of artists tasked with developing camouflage strategies and inflatable tanks to confound enemy troops. From this wartime experience, Kelly deepened his understanding of abstract colors, forms, and shadows. 1

On his artistic process, Kelly reflected, “I’m constantly investigating nature – nature, meaning everything,” and noted, “I think that if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract.” 2

Tangerine (Mandarine) is visibly different from Kelly’s more recognizable pieces, including this painting from SAM’s collection, White Curve V (1973). Kelly’s work is often recognized by its geometric patterns and shapes punctuated by bold colors and hard lines.

Despite these labels, Kelly transcends them. In White Curve V, the composition initially appears to be flat, simple, and non-representational. Another reading reveals a striking similarity to a close-up of the moon and sky. The color block curves appear to be moving, as they follow natural processions of receding or expanding horizons and seas.

Kelly once said, “I think what we all want from art is a sense of fixity, a sense of opposing the chaos of daily living, What I’ve tried to capture is the reality of flux, to keep art an open, incomplete situation, to get at the rapture of seeing.” 3 From Kelly’s admiration and curiosity for the natural world, it is through his art we are encouraged to see our realities with eyes of wonder and reverence.

– Rachel Kim, SAM Curatorial Intern

1 Rachel Gershman, “Ellsworth Kelly: American Painter and Sculptor.” ©2019 The Art Story Foundation, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-kelly-ellsworth.htm

2 Rachel Gershman, “Ellsworth Kelly: American Painter and Sculptor.” ©2019 The Art Story Foundation.

3 Holland Cotter, “Ellsworth Kelly, Who Shaped Geometries on a Bold Scale, Dies at 92.” New York Times, Dec. 27, 2015.

Images: Tangerine (Mandarine), 1964-65, Ellsworth Kelly, lithograph on Rives BFK paper, 35 1/4 in. x 24 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 67.46, © Ellsworth Kelly. White Curve V, 1973, Ellsworth Kelly, oil on canvas
93 1/4 × 91 1/8 in., Gift of Virginia and Bagley Wright (by exchange) with funds from the Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund and with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, 76.10, © Ellsworth Kelly.

Object of the Week: Attic stater

Big and small both have their place at SAM. Touring through the Modern and Contemporary galleries, you might be struck by the visual of Ellsworth Kelly’s Blue Green Red II, conspicuous at over seven feet tall and more than eight feet wide. You’ll have to look much harder to find our Object of the Week in the Ancient Mediterranean gallery.

The Attic stater with Athena in Corinthian helmet and Nike measures slightly smaller than a US dime, at just 11/16 of an inch in diameter. That means you could fit 18,828 of these staters (at .37 square inches) inside the blue and green half-ovals (about 6,966.52 square inches) of the massive Ellsworth Kelly.

Enough about the big and Modern; today we’re looking at something little and old. If you could hold it, the Attic stater would feel very solid and heavy. It weighs 8.52 grams—which doesn’t sound like a lot, but compare it to the US quarter, at 5.67 grams, and the one Euro coin, at 7.5 grams. Significantly smaller, the Attic stater out-hefts them both, and that is because of its density as pure gold.

Attic Stater with Athena in Corinthian Helmet and Nike

This coin was struck in the 4th century BCE in the region of the world called Macedonia, then controlled by Alexander the Great. On the front, or obverse, appears the head of Athena, the Greek goddess linked to wisdom and learning. She wears a triple-crested Corinthian helmet that is ornamented with a coiled serpent. The portrait of Athena may be based on her likeness in the monumental bronze sculpture by Phidias that once dominated the Acropolis, Athena Promachos. On the back, or reverse, one would find Nike, whose presence on the coin was meant as a forecast of victory for Alexander’s troops, and Greek lettering that spells out “of Alexander.”

Coinage offers a less-traveled route to understand one of history’s most fascinating people. Alexander the Great’s policies in this area—the new coin types he created, the standards he used, and his impressive list of mints, or production centers—have shown him to be a brilliant economist. His choice to honor the Greek gods Athena and Nike on his coins reflects his well-known admiration for Greece and her culture, but it also seems to have been a political move aimed at flattering Athens, whose fleet Alexander needed for a military excursion to Persia. Alexander, whose father Philip had followed the Thracian standard in some of his coinage, hitched his wagon full to the Attic standard, which was the strongest economically and promised to maintain the flow and value of his monies in the future. This Attic stater was struck at Amphipolis, one of two principal royal Macedonian mints (the other being Pella, the main city in Macedonia). While Philip produced more coinage from Pella, Alexander moved his headquarters to Amphipolis, which had the practical advantage of proximity to the gold and silver mines, importantly increasing wealth in his rapidly expanding empire. 1

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections  Coordinator

1 Charles Seltman, Greek Coins, A History of Metallic Currency and Coinage Down to the Fall of the Hellenistic Kingdoms, London: Methuen, 1955; 204-207.
Image: Attic stater with Athena in Corinthian helmet (obv.) and Nike (rev.), 336-323 B.C., Greek, Macedonia, gold, diameter: 11/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Norman and Amelia Davis Collection, 62.181.