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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

10 Surprising Facts About Artist Mickalene Thomas

If you’ve visited Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas you’re probably as enamored as we are with the larger-than-life paintings hanging in our galleries right now. This month, we’re putting the spotlight on Mickalene Thomas! Learn more about the woman behind the bright patterns, bold colors, and rhinestones with 10 surprising facts about the artist.

1. She painted First Lady Michelle Obama’s first individual portrait in 2008; the painting, titled Michelle O, subsequently went on view at the National Portrait Gallery.

2. Thomas’ mother Sandra Bush, was a fashion model and influenced her aesthetic.

3. In 2011, she participated in an artist’s residency at Monet’s home in Giverny, France.

4. Growing up in the 1970s, Thomas drew inspiration from the bright colors and patterns from her childhood in her art.

5. Her first short-film, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman: A Portrait of My Mother, was about her mother.

6. Fellow artist Kehinde Wiley painted Mickalene Thomas’ portrait for his painting series Trickster.

7. Thomas did a number of odd jobs to support herself in her 20s including fashion modeling.

8. Mickalene Thomas originally pursued a career in law.

9. Thomas ended up getting a BFA in painting at Pratt in Brooklyn and her MFA at Yale.

10. Her commissioned portrait of Solange Knowles was used for the cover of the R&B singer’s 2013 EP True.

If you haven’t visited Figuring History yet, see Thomas’ work through Sunday May 13!

— Nina Dubinsky, SAM Social Media Coordinator

MT Headshot — Topical Cream, 2016, Courtesy of Lyndsy Welgos

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

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,

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

SAM News

“Lust and death”? Sign us up! The Stranger’s Charles Mudede features the upcoming Ingmar Bergman film series in the latest edition of the paper.

“Look at it this way: A film like The Commuter, which must not be missed, is your fat-rich steak, and a movie like Bergman’s Through the Glass Darkly or Silence or Persona is your broccoli. You just can’t eat steak all of the time. You will die from just eating steak. You need your veggies. You can almost live forever on a diet of just films of the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.”

Tiffany Y. Ates featured the “redefining art history” work of Mickalene Thomas in the January/February edition of Smithsonian Magazine. Thomas will be one of three artists featured in Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas.

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires (The Three Black Women), part of a new group exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, depicts the subjects in a mosaic of vibrant colors, fragmented shapes, rhinestones and glittered Afros. ‘These women are so grounded and perfectly comfortable in their own space,’ says Catharina Manchanda, a curator at the museum. ‘While we might be looking at them, they are also sizing us up.’”

Local News

City Arts released their annual Future List: the “artists and trailblazers who will illuminate the year to come.” On the list are some SAM friends: Sculptured Dance alum Randy Ford and Wyeth Film Sprint fan favorite director Claire Buss.

Gayle Clemans of the Seattle Times takes note of the recent growth of galleries in homes, garages, and Airbnbs, as artists and curators try to work around rising rents.

The Stranger’s Emily Pothast features Natasha Marin (of the Reparations.me project) and her latest collaboration at CORE Gallery, BLACK Imagination: The States of Matter.

“It’s home-baked bread with butter for a stomach tight with growling. BLACK Imagination is for black people first. It’s a celebration of ourselves.”

Inter/National News

Major news: The Metropolitan Museum of Art abandons its pay-what-you-wish policy for out-of-towners, requiring those visitors to pay a mandatory admission fee of $25.

Artsy has an appropriately visual feature highlighting 25 people who defined the visual culture of 2017, including Agnes Gund, Beyonce and Solange, and da Vinci (still got it!).

Victoria L. Valentine of Culture Type recalls “the year in black art,” including Sondra Perry winning SAM’s Knight Lawrence Prize among many other moments.

And Finally

Please enjoy Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ recent epic Tweetstorm as he watched his seatmate on an airplane watch Notting Hill.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Courtesy of Photofest.

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

SAM News

City Arts’ Margo Vansynghel interviewed Sondra Perry, winner of the 2017 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize, about her newly opened installation at SAM.

“When I meet her in the darkened gallery, she speaks softly and fast, her ideas and sentences tumbling over each other like waves without arrest. One can find a similar sense of intellectual excitement and multiplicity in Perry’s work.”

The winter edition of the Stranger’s Art & Performance Quarterly is out! Zoom in on Winter 1946, a painting from Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, in their recurring “Anatomy of a Painting” feature.

Zagat features their picks for best restaurants and bars near SAM—hey, thanks for the tips!

Local News

City Arts on the impending closure of INCA in Queen Anne; this avant-garde gallery hosted Sondra Perry’s first solo show back in 2015.

Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, lent her thoughts to this KUOW story by Marcie Sillman on the artistic and civic legacy of the Tsutakawa family.

City Arts names the local artists of the year in a colorful two-page spread, with illustrations by Kelly Björk.

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic reviews Mentors, Muses, and Celebrities, Mickalene Thomas’ show that’s now on view at the Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis.

“[It] is not only about looking at black women, it is about them observing the world around them and finding their place in it, and even amidst the trials and tribulations waged against them, finding ways to rejoice.”

Kerry James Marshall has designed a monumental public sculpture for Des Moines honoring the National Bar Association, the nation’s oldest network of African-American attorneys and judges.

Rumaan Alam for the New Yorker with a charming piece about bringing his children to art museums—and how they’ve changed how he sees and experiences art himself.

And Finally

Kendrick Lamar’s video “ELEMENT.” was inspired by the photography of Gordon Parks; now, the Gordon Parks Foundation presents an exhibition of the video and the works that inspired them.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Sondra Perry: Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photo: Natali Wiseman.