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Personal Histories: Community Connections to Figuring History

“So often Black women are made small and the idea of expanding into an exhibition that is so large and so inviting and welcoming is incredible and awe inspiring to see a reflection of myself so large in the world.” – Imani Sims, poet and Central District Forum for Art and Ideas curator

Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas is a chance to reflect on your personal history as well as art history and American history. Take a tip from our Personal Histories video series and spend some time at SAM thinking about how you connect to the work on view because of the history that impacts you. Figuring History brings together three generations of contemporary American artists, whose work challenges a Western painting tradition that underrepresents people of color. The vibrant and monumental paintings by these artists offer bold perspectives on Black culture and representation. Presented together for the first time, the figurative paintings of ColescottMarshall, and Thomas are shaped by distinctive historic events, unique in style, and united in questioning the narratives of history through Black experience. The exhibition closes May 13, so don’t delay!

Looking for more videos related Figuring History? Check out Youtube to hear from the artists!

“Storytelling is very important in hip-hop and I feel like with [Kerry James Marshall’s] pieces that he has in this room, he’s taking the stories and interpreting it in his way and then also giving the next generation something to look at.” – Stasia Irons, rapper and KEXP DJ

“I immediately recognized what I was seeing as happening in my own neighborhood back home in Mississippi.” – Marcellus Turner, City Librarian of Seattle Public Library

Featured artworks: Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet, 2012, Mickalene Thomas, rhinestones, acrylic, oil, and enamel on wood panel, 108 x 144 x 2 in., Sydney & Walda Besthoff, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, © Mickalene Thomas Memento #5, 2003, Kerry James Marshall, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, © Kerry James Marshall. School of Beauty, School of Culture, 2012, Kerry James Marshall, Birmingham Museum of Art, © Kerry James Marshall

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Artnet interviewed Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, for this piece on the different paths to success as a curator of contemporary art.

KOMO’s Seattle Refined also interviewed Catharina for this story about the Jean-Michel Basquiat painting now on view at SAM.

AFAR Magazine highlighted Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas on their list of “10 Art Exhibitions in the U.S. Worth Traveling for This Spring.”

Blaxploitation films, Carrie Mae Weems, and the female gaze: Dazed profiles Figuring History artist Mickalene Thomas.

Local News

“I’ve seen orcas. Twice!” City Arts’ Margo Vansynghel reports that the next arts hub might be just across the water—in Bremerton.

Brangien Davis of Crosscut talks with Victoria Haven about Banner Year, an installation in the windows of her South Lake Union studio that beams out messages to passing motorists like “MONEY BALL” and “CULT CLASSIC.”

Lisa Edge of Real Change on the Tacoma Art Museum’s current exhibition, Native Portraiture: Power and Perception, which addresses issues of identity by juxtaposing older and contemporary works alongside each other.

“’We can say, let’s look at this artwork and appreciate the work that the artist has done to create this, but let’s use a contemporary lens to unpack where these artists were coming from and why they painted the work in this manner,’ said curator Faith Brower. ‘Thankfully our views have now changed over time so we can see this work and critique it in a way that they weren’t capable of critiquing it in the time it was made.’”

Inter/National News

Still “seat of the Muses”? Mitchell Kuga of Hyperallergic explores the trend of adopting the name “museum” to describe commercial enterprises.

Sara Cascone of Artnet interviews author Joy McCullough about her novel on the incredible life of Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi; notably, McCullough used the 400-year-old court records of the trial of the artist’s rapist.

Jason Farago of the New York Times on Beyond the Fall, the current show at New York’s Neue Galerie that explores connections between art and German political history.

“Such was the reality of German and Austrian art, and German and Austrian society, in the initial years of Nazi rule: the awkward coexistence of fascists, democrats and Communists, who heard the rhetoric, who witnessed the hatred, but who still could not see how much horror lay ahead.”

And Finally

“How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose?”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

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

Figuring History: The Joy and Exuberance of Black culture

What thoughts has Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas inspired in you? Hear from Seattle artist Benji Anderson, a featured artist in Off the Walls: After Dark at the Seattle Asian Art Museum this past September. We love sharing thoughtful community members’ writing, so please reach out if you would like to send a piece for consideration to be published on the SAM Blog!

In February, as I prepared to enter the Seattle Art Museum for the Community Celebration for Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, what seemed like endless thoughts swirled around in my mind. It was Black History month and opening weekend for the movie Black Panther— the joy and exuberance of Black culture was palpable in the air.

This was in stark contrast to just over a year earlier, when the collective anguish and discontent of Black society was reeling in the wake of the latest barrage of Black bodies murdered in the streets and broadcast in ‘real time’ for all to view. I still recall the gut-wrenching emotion of watching a Black father, murdered in his vehicle, minutes away from where my own father lived. I remember this pain so vividly because it was not the first time I’d felt it. It was not the first time the Black community watched their brothers, fathers, and sons murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. It was not the first time we were dehumanized in the public theater. It was not the first time we were criminalized for being. It was history repeating itself.

 

The weight and memory of historical trauma accompanied me into the museum, tugging at my coat with each breath of Black excellence I inhaled. As I stood in gratitude for Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, and Robert Colescott, I also stood in sorrow of the circumstances that produced such beautiful stories and art. In each historical work I found traces of my own story. In Colescott’s Matthew Henson and the Quest for the North Pole, (pictured at the top of this post) the images of Black bodies being simultaneously brutalized and fetishized depict the story of my great-great-grandmother who was raped by her oppressor, giving birth to my great-grandfather who would later be praised for his “passable” complexion, wavy hair, and light eyes. Marshall’s Souvenir II portrays a cloud of witnesses, prominently featuring Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, hallmarks in the home of my own, and many other Black grandmothers across the country, and emblematic of the complicated socio-political relationship we share with this nation.

In Thomas’ Resist, the Civil Rights era struggle of my parents was laid in front of me through a collage of violent vignettes. As I watched this piece I saw my uncle’s resistance, which left him brutally beaten and jailed for having the audacity to seek a human existence. I also saw my father and his siblings, the first to integrate the school systems in North Carolina. I felt the collective fear and courage he carried with him as the only Black student in his school. And as my chest tightened, breath shortened and fists clinched I remembered where I stood—rooted in the past, squarely in the present, carrying my portion of the mantle of Black excellence. As I gathered myself, I walked out of the museum breathing in the joy and exuberance of Black culture. Each breath gradually healing the wounds of my genetic trauma.

– Benji Anderson, Artist (@benjipnewton)

Benji Anderson is an artist, theologian and philosopher. Three identities that suffered separate existences for much of Benji’s life. Born in the South and raised in the Mid West, his early cultural learnings taught Benji that it was not only prudent, but necessary to compartmentalize his identities. Surprisingly it was through his academic journey that Benji began to fully exist as a being capable of complex, and seemingly contradictory identity. As a Master of Divinity student, Benji embarked on a process of deep self-excavation, which, upon completion of his degree, provided Benji with the license to live authentically.

As theologian and philosopher, Benji is concerned with the quality and depth of life. As artist, Benji concerns himself with the creative expression of his theosophical existence. Using a variety of mediums Benji endeavors to create multi-sensory pieces that thrust the viewer into the experience of the artist – not simply as a voyeur, but as a participant.

 

Images: Installation view of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photos: Stephanie Fink, Natali Wiseman. Resist, 2017, Mickalene Thomas, rhinestones, acrylic, gold leaf, and oil stick on canvas mounted on wood panel, 84 x 108 x 2 in., © Mickalene Thomas, video: Natali Wiseman. Photo courtesy of Benji Anderson.

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Last week, SAM’s Associate Director for Community Programs, Priya Frank, appeared on KING 5’s morning talk show New Day NW to talk about Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas and a couple of the dynamic events the Education team has produced for the exhibition. She killed it!

SAM staff was everywhere last week: another member of the Education team, Public Programs Coordinator David Rue, was featured in Seattle Refined’s recurring “Movers and Shakers” series. He talked about the connections between his work for SAM and in the Seattle arts community at large.

“If your heart is in the right place, if you put in the work, and have the diligence to be the best at your craft, and people can see that, they’ll want to help you. When I do my job better, people get to interact with the arts better, so that demands that I rise to the occasion because there’s a lot of other people’s work on my shoulders that I don’t want to disappoint.”

Also: Basquiat—Untitled was highlighted in Lisa Edge’s First Thursday preview in Real Change; the Seattle Times included our upcoming Molly Vaughan solo show in their preview of spring’s hottest events, and KING 5’s Evening Magazine featured Seattle Magazine’s Gwendolyn Elliott talking about their spring arts preview that included our summer exhibition, Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson.

Local News

Gayle Clemans of the Seattle Times on the celebration of the local artist Michael Spafford, with his work on view in an “unprecedented collaboration” among Davidson Galleries, Greg Kucera Gallery, and Woodside/Braseth Gallery.

Brett Hamil of City Arts on Zoo Break Productions, a huge soundstage owned by Mischa Jakupcak and Robyn Miller that’s proposing an “alternate future for Seattle filmmaking.”

In case you missed it: last week saw a new work by choreographer Alice Gosti about the objects we hold onto at On the Boards; Michael Upchurch of Crosscut even donated something to the community “ritual release” of emotionally fraught objects.

“We have a very particular way of relating to objects,” she notes. “They can generate emotion. They can literally transport you to the moment in which you received the object. Or they can tell you the story of your whole family or of your whole culture.”

Inter/National News

The Art Newspaper is out with their annual survey of the most popular exhibitions for the year; they’re also celebrating the impressive milestone of their 300th issue. Long live print!

Artsy on the psychedelic cats of British illustrator Louis Wain, who “wine and dine, grin and wink, dress up and boogie down.”

This week, on April 4, marks 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis. The New York Times asks what the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel can tell us about this moment.

“What they’ll find in its permanent collection is a monument to a movement and, secondarily, to a man, in a display that focuses on difficult, sometimes ambiguous historical data more than on pure celebration. And they’ll find, if they are patient, useful information for the 2018 present, and for the future.”

And Finally

“Did somebody mention ART?” Art history + celebrity culture = genius.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at Seattle Art Museum, 2018. Photo: Natali Wiseman

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

The spring edition of the Stranger’s Art & Performance Quarterly hit newsstands last week; recommended SAM shows in the visual arts listings include Basquiat—Untitled, Molly Vaughan: 2017 Betty Bowen Award Winner, Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Everyday Poetics, and Sondra Perry: Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY. Don’t miss their recurring “Anatomy of a Painting” feature, which takes you through the finer points of Resist, the incredible painting by Mickalene Thomas created specifically for our exhibition.

And the reviews keep coming in for Figuring History. Lisa Edge of Real Change writes up the exhibition for the cover story of their current edition, and the Stranger’s Katie Kurtz shares her thoughts on the show that’s “about righting the wrongs of erasure” in their arts section lead story.

Also out last week: The New York Times’ annual “Museums” section. Figuring History was mentioned in a round-up of exhibitions around the country showing “art in startling variety.”

“This show of three African-American artists creates a solid counternarrative on general history, art history, black identity and gender identity.”

Local News

The Seattle Times was there as 2,800 high-school students from 39 area schools attended a matinee of Hamilton—and performed raps, songs, and poems inspired by the musical and their own studies.

The art of food: last week, Edouardo Jordan of JuneBaby and Salare was nominated for two James Beard Awards and glowingly reviewed in the New York Times. That oxtail tho!

Rachel Gallaher interviews Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist and choreographer Ezra Thomson; his work The Perpetual State has its world premiere in the ballet’s Director’s Choice program, showing now through March 25.

“One thing I always try to do in my choreography is to make the dancers as human as possible. I want the audience to be able to relate to them as people, as opposed to classical 18th-century ballet figures.”

Inter/National News

Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times broke the news of the sudden firing of MOCA Los Angeles curator Helen Molesworth, which stunned many in the art world last week.

Brian Boucher of Artnet on the historic vote last week by the board of New York arts and engineering school, which approved a 10-year plan to offer free tuition for every student.

Photographer Dawoud Bey’s The Birmingham Project brings to life the four girls and two boys who died violently in 1963, with portraits of children their ages alongside adults the same age that the kids would be if they’d lived.

“It hurts because those Birmingham girls, often commemorated in what look like class portraits, could have been goofy, self-conscious, bookish, or disobedient. Maybe they didn’t even want to go to church that day; maybe one had a sore throat. They were kids.”

And Finally

Former mallrats may be just as moved as the New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino by this video of “Toto’s ‘Africa’ edited to sound as though it were playing in an empty mall.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: Arts New from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Wall Street Journal Magazine features Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas; Sara Morosi interviewed SAM curator Catharina Manchanda and artist Mickalene Thomas for this preview of the exhibition that “retells America’s past.”

Margo Vansynghel of City Arts lauds the exhibition’s “dazzling brilliance” in her review, which includes interviews with both Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas, conducted while the artists were in Seattle for the opening.

“…filled to the brink with visual sumptuousness. Chambers to remember. Spaces filled with Black joy and Black books. Behind every corner, there’s texture and depth, and dazzling brilliance.”

Brendan Kiley of the Seattle Times reports on the recent launch of Beyond the Frame, the regional initiative marking the 150th anniversary of Edward S. Curtis’ birth, which also includes SAM’s upcoming exhibition Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson.

Local News

Donald Byrd, choreographer and executive artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater, shares his experience seeing Black Panther and its “beautiful, awe-inspiring Afro-futuristic vision.”

Rich Smith of the Stranger posted this update on the recent hearing at King County Council chambers on a proposed bill to expand the council’s authority over 4Culture.

Seattle Magazine profiles the Seattle Artist League, a new “people come first” art school in Northgate.

Inter/National News

Artnet with a peek at Basquiat. Boom For Real. now on view at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, which shows the artist’s work in context with the music, text, and city that inspired him.

In what’s definitely the most fascinating interview I read this week, Artnet spoke with Arthur Jafa about intersectionality, blackness, and “not going for ‘good.’”

Hyperallergic reviews the Monarchs exhibition, now on view at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, which features work by “people native to the Americas,” including Jeffrey Gibson, Nicholas Galanin, and Wendy Red Star.

And Finally

What DOES one get Rihanna on the occasion of her 30th birthday?? One artist decided on this.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

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

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Last week, we announced the hiring of SAM’s first-ever Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Manish Engineer, who will oversee technology and digital efforts across the institution. Artdaily and Geekwire shared the news.

Figuring History artist Kerry James Marshall is this month’s cover story in Juxtapoz. Don’t miss their wide-ranging interview with him—plus their online story on SAM’s exhibition.

Local News

The Stranger’s Charles Mudede reviews Everyday Black at the Northwest African American Museum, which features a portrait that he calls “the masterpiece of the show” of SAM’s Public Programs Coordinator David Rue.

Capitol Hill Times reports on the efforts of The Friends of the Benson Trolleys, who hope to retrofit the abandoned vintage trolleys to run on Seattle’s streetcar line.

City Arts’ Margo Vansynghel sits down with Zhi Lin, whose incredible solo show about the 1885 forced expulsion of Chinese inhabitants from Tacoma is on view until February 18 at the Tacoma Art Museum.

“Originally, I wanted to create an old history painting with old buildings, tailors, saloons and so on. I decided not to. Instead, I re-staged the scene in a contemporary setting, with the light rail track, skyscrapers, traffic signage nearby. To say, we are repeating history. Literally.”

Inter/National News

I know we’re all ready for spring, but let’s just enjoy Hyperallergic’s collection of dreamy Instagrams taken during the recent snowstorm in Paris. Scroll and le sigh.

Artnet’s Javier Pes reports on the happenings at art fairs Salon Acme and Material in Mexico City; Everyday Poetics artist Fritzia Irízar is named one of seven memorable artists from Material.

Artnet’s Ben Davis focuses in on the merits of Basquiat’s Untitled, which is now on view at the Brooklyn Museum.

“Untitled (1982) is built to be what it has become, a high-energy icon that can spread easily as a media image. But at the same time it also whispers that it doesn’t want to be reduced to just that; it doesn’t just want to be looked at, it wants to be seen.”

And Finally

Meet Banda Didá, the all-female Brazilian drum group.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Souvenir I, 1997, Kerry James Marshall, acrylic, collage, and glitter on unstretched canvas, 108 x 157 in., Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund, 1997.73, © MCA Chicago, photo: Joe Ziolkowski.

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Kimerly Rorschach, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, is featured in the February edition of Seattle Met as one of the “50 Most Influential Women in Seattle.”

The Stranger put together a list of all the best Black History Month events: SAM exhibitions Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas and Sondra Perry: Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY both make the cut.

The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald recommends seeing Oscar nominees on Cinerama’s big screen—as well as two upcoming SAM Films events: “Alfred Hitchcock’s Britain” series and “David Lynch’s First Seven Films: From The Alphabet to Eraserhead.”

Local News

Seattle Sketcher Gabriel Campanario visited the new Amazon Spheres and came away underwhelmed.

The King County Council has proposed an ordinance that would involve more control over arts and cultural agency 4Culture.

Seattle Times’ Jerry Large introduces the new leader at Northwest African American Museum, LaNesha DeBardelaben; City Arts recently reported on the celebratory opening of their current exhibition, Everyday Black.

‘”Once I stepped foot in this museum, I immediately knew that this is the place for me,’ she said. ‘NAAM has so much potential and so much dynamism to it.’”

Inter/National News

The New York Times on responses from the National Gallery and Seattle University following accusations of sexual harassment against Chuck Close; ARTnews reports on Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ plan.

“It’s often difficult to know which way up a painting should be.” A Morris Lewis painting at the Jewish Museum is on view with a new name—and a new orientation.

Joyce J. Scott’s sculptures, quilts, and necklaces are on view in her most comprehensive exhibition to date at New Jersey’s Grounds for Sculpture; one of the exhibition’s curators is Lowery Stokes Sims, who contributed an essay to the Figuring History catalogue.

“’My work is politically and socially oriented because that’s what keeps me up at night,’ Scott added. ‘It’s important to me to use art in a manner that incites people to look and carry something home — even if it’s subliminal — that might make a change in them.’”

And Finally

What happens when an artist and her emotional support peacock simply try to get from here to there.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Robert Wade

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

As a farewell to Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, enjoy this SAM video featuring Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, author of the exhibition catalogue essay that explores the importance of Wyeth’s portraits of the black community in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

Culture Type takes a look at what’s on the horizon for African American art in 2018, including SAM’s exhibition Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, which opens February 15.

February also brings the return of Seattle Museum Month, during which visitors to participating downtown hotels get half-price admission to area museums (including SAM!). For that, Travel + Leisure and Architectural Digest both included Seattle among their winter travel recommendations.

Local News

KUOW’s Marcie Sillman talks with artists and arts leaders Vivian Phillips, Dani Tirrell, and Tim Lennon to ask the question: can art save the soul of Seattle’s Central District?

Does this count as “art news?” I say YES: Former Zig Zag barman Erik Hakkinen is turning the basement of the Lusty Lady into a cozy cocktail bar—conveniently located across the street of the Seattle Art Museum.

City Art’s Margo Vansynghel interviews Seattle/Baltimore artist Paul Rucker, who was just named one of 20 TED Fellows for 2018.

“There’s nothing that I’ve created in the gallery that’s more horrifying than what’s outside those doors. The lynchings have not stopped, they’ve merely changed forms—from rope to guns. I created a new piece called ‘You Might be Disturbed by Images Beyond This Point.’ I’ll place it at the exit of every gallery I show at, because I can’t make anything more disturbing than reality.”

Inter/National News

Who’s a good museum employee? The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston gets a 12/10 for hiring Riley, a Weimaraner puppy, who will learn how to detect insects and bugs in order to help protect the art.

Artsy tells the fuzzy story behind the first work by a female artist to be acquired by the Museum of Modern Art for its permanent collection.

Hyperallergic interviews Daniel Weiss of the Met about its new admissions policy and how it affect visitors.

And Finally

Everyday Africa is a project that shares images of the ordinary, nuanced, and beautiful in Africa in order to combat harmful, racist clichés.

— Rachel Eggers,