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Object of the Week: Country Ball 1989–2012

Summer 2020 is here. The list of what hasn’t, can’t, or won’t, happen is long. No solstice gatherings, no gay pride parades, no powwows, or large family reunions. Instead, we are a stay-at-home culture with hypochondriac tendencies, trying to make it through a pandemic that demands change and suffering, and thrives on confusion. We watch the world largely through our screens, shaking our heads at the horrifying news of an escalating death count due to the virus and to brutality. We fill up on visions of those who are losing loved ones, or Zoom together to process the despair of losing our own. In the face of such turmoil, what art makes sense? I’d like to offer my vote for an artist who offers constant revelations.

Jacolby Satterwhite was introduced to me by Erika Dalya Massaquoi when we teamed up in a search for artists to feature in an exhibition called Disguise: Masks and Global African Art. I was hooked the instant I saw his video work, which relies on an aesthetic of immersion in a multimedia cavalcade of images that take hold of your imagination in a very different way than a canvas on the wall or a sculpture on a pedestal. His screens swallow you up and turn you upside down in a chaos of people dancing and transforming while strange structures jiggle and shapeshift. This was an immediate trigger, reminding me of being in the middle of a masquerade or a carnival procession, where all your navigational skills are put to the test and you get to share moments of complete disorientation with others. I’ve always been convinced that such art is woefully underrepresented in museums, as paintings and sculptures prevail. Mr. Satterwhite is a champion of screens that challenge your mind to suspend belief in what is real, and encourage you to reconsider what about life is important to understand.

So an expedition to get to know what he is doing began. You can do it too. Thankfully, I’m not alone in my fascination with his talent and intellect. He’s got more online interviews than many artists several times his age. Partly, this is because there isn’t a dull minute when he’s on camera. A list of a few interviews to watch follows, and if you want to start with art first, there’s Country Ball––a 12 minute tour of a family gathering in North Carolina that becomes completely reinvented for reasons that the artist can best explain. In this summer of 2020, when we’re recalibrating what matters, Jacolby Satterwhite is a visionary for our time.    

ART21 Videos

March 16, 2012, Jacolby Satterwhite interviewed by Charlie Rose, 4:33.

November 7, 2017, Jacolby Satterwhite excerpt reel, 19:55.

November 6, 2019, Visions of Utopia: Performance in Progress 2017, 6:22.

And most recently:

Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Image: Country Ball 1989–2012, 2012, Jacolby Satterwhite, HD digital video with color 3D animation, sound, 12 min., 39 sec., Modern Art Acquisition Fund, 2013.2

Muse/News: Suiting up, speaking out, and making art

The Seattle Art Museum wants to acknowledge the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black people killed by police. We share in the grief, anger, and frustration that their friends, families, and communities are feeling, which has spread across the country and the world. Read more of our response to the recent events.

SAM News

Last week, Stay Home with SAM serves up social justice binge watch recommendations and freeze dances with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Trapsprung.

Local News

UW’s The Daily shares that the Jacob Lawrence Gallery has launched the fourth issue of the art journal, MONDAY. All pieces were commissioned and edited by resident artist Danny Giles and tackle the relationship of art to race and democracy.

Seattle Met’s Allecia Vermillion recommends ordering takeout from several Black-owned Seattle restaurants.

The Seattle Times has ongoing coverage of this weekend’s protests of the killing of George Floyd, which had their team of reporters and photographers in the streets covering it as it happened. Reporters spoke with Andre Taylor, Rev. Dr. Leslie Braxton, Girmay Zahilay, and other protest attendees. They are also asking protestors to share their stories. And columnist Naomi Ishisaka called for police reform.

“Isn’t the midst of a pandemic — especially one that puts extraordinary stress on people experiencing homelessness and poverty, and people of color — exactly when we need more community responsiveness from the police?”

Inter/National News

Watch this short film, commissioned by the Archives of American Art, in which five contemporary artists—Mickalene Thomas, Jacolby Satterwhite, Maren Hassinger, Shaun Leonardo, and Elia Alba—respond to eight questions for Black artists, first posed by Jeff Donaldson in a historic 1967 letter.

Nick Cave’s Soundsuits debuted in 1992 as a response to the beating of Rodney King. In 2016, he recorded an interview with Art21 in which he talked about a new Soundsuit created in honor of Trayvon Martin. Lately he’s been sharing short videos on his Instagram. Read and watch all about his “suits of armor” in this Artnet story. SAM’s collection includes one of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits.

Artist Carrie Mae Weems is launching a new initiative, reports Artnet’s Taylor Defoe, that “draws attention to how the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately hurts African American, Latino, and Native American communities.”

“The death toll in these communities is staggering. This fact affords the nation an unprecedented opportunity to address the impact of social and economic inequality in real time. Denial does not solve a problem.”

And Finally

Dreaming about reading outside together.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Lessons from the Institute of Empathy at the Seattle Art Museum. © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman. 

Muse/News: Sculpture park safety, new horizons, and world-building with Jacolby Satterwhite

SAM News

During the temporary closure of SAM locations, we hope you can safely continue to enjoy the Olympic Sculpture Park, carefully following physical distancing guidelines by staying six feet away from other park visitors. SAM will continue to align with any City guidance on parks usage.

Here’s Zach Mortice for Landscape Architecture Magazine on how sculpture parks are “offering one of the few bits of unfettered culture still available.”

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced that it is awarding $22.2 million in grants to 224 humanities projects across the United States, including SAM Libraries’ project to digitize 3,000 audiovisual recordings.

Stay Home with SAM continues to take your imagination outside. Last week, we investigated “The Case of the Weeping Buddha,” got macro with the photography of Imogen Cunningham, and offered a virtual curator talk of the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition with Theresa Papanikolas. Join us!

KOMO’s Seattle Refined and Seattle’s Child both share resources for online experiences and homebound art activities; Stay Home with SAM is featured.

Local News

Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne on the fight to fund Seattle arts, focusing particularly on nightlife and performance venues who are particularly reliant on people in seats.

Rich Smith of the Stranger reports on the forthcoming launch of Northwest Arts Streaming Hub (NASH), a “Netflix for local performances” created by a coalition of Seattle art world heavies.

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis takes in ever-retreating horizons as Seattle’s art world responds to a situation with unknown ends; finally, former Seattleite Yann Novak’s video piece Stillness: Oceanic offers a more substantial anchor.

“The congregational aspect of the arts scene has been boxed up for later. Stillness abounds. But, just as in Novak’s video, the atmospheric conditions are causing changes. Artists are shifting slightly every day, in ways we might not perceive until we see the composite picture.”

Inter/National News

“Running a Gallery in My Apartment Showed Me a Different Side of the Art World.” Scott Indrisek for Artsy on how his now-closed Brooklyn apartment gallery might have lessons for the art world’s disruption.

For the Wall Street Journal, Cammy Brothers, an associate professor at Northeastern University, shared her experiences navigating online resources to keep kids learning via art history.

As part of “Art on Video, a collaboration with Art21, Artnet jumps into world-building with Jacolby Satterwhite, who once found escape with video games like Final Fantasy.

“For Satterwhite, world-building is a form of self-care. Speaking to Art21 back in February, his words ring true today: ‘Art became a form of escapism for me to reroute my personal traumas. And now I think I’m trying to pursue something more present.'”

And Finally

Sports broadcasters adjust to being stuck inside.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Benjamin Benschneider

Muse/News: Physicality at SAM, labs at the new Burke, and the wonder of Beverly Pepper

SAM News

Fall arts previews continue hitting newsstands! The New York Times and The Seattle Times both recommend our major fall exhibition, Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum.

“. . . physicality will be on full, glorious display at the Seattle Art Museum.”

Artnet and In Other Words released their findings and features on the representation of women in the art world. SAM was one of 26 prominent American museums to share data about their acquisitions and exhibitions. The takeaway? While all museums claim greater attention to women artists, “just 11 percent of all acquisitions and 14 percent of exhibitions over the past decade were of work by female artists.”

Local News

Don’t miss the Seattle Times’ full fall arts coverage—which recommends getting out of the house to experience art, with recommendations for music, theater, books, and more.

Crosscut’s Samantha Allen asks what’s lost when a city defined by its beloved neon signs makes the shift to LED.

Press got to visit the new Burke Museum recently. Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne wasn’t overly impressed with the mastodon and T-rex skulls, but loved the labs.

“All over the museum—sometimes behind glass, but also out in the open—you see people doing the actual work of keeping natural history and science alive.”

Inter/National News

Artsy is out with its “Vanguard” list for 2019, with their picks for artists who are “emerging,” “newly established,” and “getting their due”—including SAM favorites Jeffrey Gibson, Ebony G. Patterson, and Jacolby Satterwhite.

Here’s Artnet on a weathered oil painting depicting Saint Jerome that turned out to be by Anthony van Dyck. Art collector Albert B. Roberts picked it up at an auction for $600; it’s now on view at the Albany Institute of History & Art.

Megan O’Grady for the New York Times Style Magazine on Beverly Pepper, the sculptor whose Persephone Unbound and Perre’s Ventaglio III grace the Olympic Sculpture Park.

“Public art can sometimes feel ponderously corporate or impersonal, but the unroofed splendor of Pepper’s site-specific works can prompt unexpectedly potent encounters . . . They are framing devices for wonderment.”

And Finally

A Friday for the future.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Danae, 1544–45, Titian, Italian, 1488/90–1576, oil on canvas, 34 15/16 x 44 3/4 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte.

Muse/News: Jeffrey Gibson’s iconic forms, Tschabalala Self’s avatars, and a maybe-Caravaggio

SAM News

Reviews for Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer continue to hit! The Seattle Times, GRAY Magazine, KEXP’s Sound and Vision, UW Daily, The Spectator, and family blog An Emerald City Life all wrote up the exhibition. What they’re saying:

“Rather than offering an evolutionary tour of style, the exhibition exudes a feeling: a bold, fluid simultaneity, grounded in striking pattern, color and craftsmanship and provocative references to music, personal stories and indigenous practices.” – Gayle Clemans

“Personal, brilliantly hybridized, and seriously eye-catching.” – Blake Peterson

“It’s the type of honest, colorful, modern and inclusive art that speaks to your heart and I really want my kids to see it.” – Terumi Pong

In honor of his 50th anniversary at SAM, UW grad and SAM Films curator Greg Olson is the cover story of the alumni magazine Columns, with a profile by Sheila Farr and a photospread worthy of the big screen.

Artist Jacolby Satterwhite created an animation sequence for Solange’s film that accompanies her new album; Complex speaks with the artist, whose Country Ball 1989-2012 is now on view at SAM.

Local News

Crosscut’s Agueda Pacheco Flores spoke with students who learned yesterday that their school, The Art Institute of Seattle, would be permanently shut down—today.

The Stranger has a round-up of 15 Pioneer Square gallery shows to see this month, including Mary Coss at METHOD and Ryna Frankel at 4Culture.

Hyperallergic’s Jasmine Jamillah Mahmoud spoke with artist Tschabalala Self about her Frye Art Museum show and her avatars of Black womanhood.

“You can choose your identity through an avatar. This freedom is power. This freedom subverts subjectivity and allows an individual to escape the cultural attitudes they are subject to.”

Inter/National News

Artsy shares the news that the arts and cultural sector contributed over $763.6 billion to the American economy in 2015, making the case for the economic impact of the arts.

Hyperallergic shares the 43 extraordinary nominees for the 2019 World Press Photo Contest, including Finbarr O’Reilly’s “Dakar Fashion” and John Moore’s “Crying Girl on the Border.”

Unveiled in London this week: a 17th-century canvas of Judith and Holofernes that may be a Caravaggio—but there is no consensus among experts. The New York Times’ Scott Reyburn zooms in on the details.

“It’s perhaps not what an auctioneer—or a billionaire collector—wants to hear about a painting valued at more than 100 million. The market demands that geniuses like Caravaggio work alone.”

And Finally

Nothing made me happier last week than Alston’s singing mice.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer at Seattle Art Museum, 2019, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Country Ball 1989-2012

In 2013 SAM acquired a video work by contemporary artist Jacolby Satterwhite that would later feature in the SAM-organized exhibition Disguise: Masks and Global African Art (an iteration of which has just opened at the Brooklyn Museum to wide recognition). Though Disguise was still in the planning stages, Satterwhite’s video, called Country Ball 1989-2012, had so much eclectic visual interest, and it was displayed with such a distinctly digital vision, that it was chosen early on as a representative piece for the Seattle show.

"Country Ball 1989-2012" by Jacolby Satterwhite

Country Ball 1989-2012 is a maelstrom of dancing figures and neon elements, a wild ride for its nearly thirteen minutes of running time. Here’s the artist himself talking through his thoughts and creative process:

Using the whole computer-generated landscape and the various vignettes that appear throughout the video, the artist brings together different modes of communication to create a new way of expressing that is distinctly his. Dance comes to the fore as a versatile language with meaning in a range of contexts. As the artist narrates, the genus of the work lies in a Mother’s Day cookout in the park (by the way, thank you to all the moms!), enlivened by choreographed dance. The artist himself performs dance in eccentric dress to add his own movement and personality to the work. Even the viewer’s perspective seems to dance as it meanders through this dynamic virtual landscape.

Re-presenting a home video and introducing the artist’s original dance performance, and itself being a museum-owned artwork, Country Ball 1989-2012 illustrates what a wide spectrum of contexts and environments feature dance as an act of importance and value.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Country Ball 1989-2012, 2012, Jacolby Satterwhite, HD digital video with color 3D animation and sound, running time 12:39 mins., Seattle Art Museum, Modern Art Acquisition Fund, 2013.3, © Jacolby Satterwhite.