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SAM Art: Peru is already at SAM

Drinking vessels incised with monochrome geometric designs, known as keros, were used in pre-Hispanic Peru to consume chicha (maize beer). While keros continued to be made and used during the Colonial period, the decorative form of the vessels changed. Brightly painted and inlaid figural compositions became the favored style. Peru has the longest textile-making tradition in the world, and elegant, elaborately woven textiles were symbols of wealth of the Inca elite, here represented by brightly-patterned tunics being ceremonially presented.

The stunning exhibition Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon opens next week, but Peruvian works from the museum’s collection are already on view at SAM downtown.

Kero (drinking cup) with figures presenting textiles, after 1550, Peruvian, Inca, Colonial period, wood, resin pigments, 6 ½ x 6 in. overall, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 53.52. Currently on view in the Native and Meso-American art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Fantastic Persian Creatures

Contrary to popular belief, Islamic art is bursting with images of humans and animals. The Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, admonishes against the making and adoration of idols, but does not forbid the creation or viewing of images. This tripod, from the 12th century, stands on the legs of three fantastic creatures, possibly lions. Between the main figures, a low relief presents dogs cavorting in gardens. While not used in a religious setting, images of animals such as these have been common in secular Islamic arts since the very advent of Islam in the seventh century.

Tripod stand with fantastic creatures, 12th century, Persian (modern Iran), bronze, 7 x 6 ¾ in. overall, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 52.61. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: An ambiguous procession

“Things that seem whimsical, incidental, inauthentic may be trusted to provide entry into the heart of one’s material.”

– William Kentridge, 2001

William Kentridge’s raw images prompt our imagination in a way that Technicolor realism cannot.  Shadow Procession is set in a featureless landscape that still manages to reference the streets of a Johannesburg of the past. People struggle to move quickly, but we’re not sure if they are fleeing a menace or simply hurrying home. A cat stretches, an eyeball swivels, an Everyman dictator gestures, and a pair of scissors begins to march. Kentridge’s art thrives on ambiguity and unresolved endings.

Shadow Procession, 1999, William Kentridge (South African, born 1955), music by Alfred Makgalemele, 35mm film transferred by telecine to Beta SP PAL video cassette, approx.. 7 mins., The 1999 Maryatt Gala, William and Ruth True, Rebecca and Alexander Stewart, General Acquisition Fund, and James and Christina Lockwood, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2002.51, © William Kentridge and Alfred Makgalemele. On view in the African art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown, starting 18 September.

SAM Art: A charming drawing and a powerful lady

This lively, prancing horse with its soldier rider originally caught the eye of museum staff as a potential memorial purchase in honor of Emma Collins Downey (Mrs. Archibald Stewart Downey). Mrs. Downey was an early museum supporter, whose bequest to the museum allowed for several important purchases of art; one proposed option was this drawing. However, when Mrs. Downey’s niece, Emma Baillargeon Stimson (Mrs. Thomas D. Stimson) saw the sensitively rendered drawing, she liked it so much that she decided to purchase it for her own collection. Mrs. Stimson ultimately did donate the drawing to the museum, in honor of her late husband rather than her late aunt.

Emma Baillargeon Stimson exerted even more lasting influence on the museum than did her aunt. During WWII, while Dr. Richard E. Fuller completed his military service, she became the first female director of the institution. A woman with wide-ranging tastes, she is one of the leading collectors celebrated in A Fuller View of China, Japan, and Korea, now on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

 Cuirassier on Horseback, 1814-1815, Jean Louis Andre Theodore Gericault (French, 1791-1824), sepia and ink on paper, 14 3/4 x 9 5/16 in., Thomas D. Stimson Memorial Collection, 53.78. Not currently on view.

SAM Art: Age-old Japanese fashion

Worn by a Buddhist holy person, the kesa is a one-piece Japanese garment said to be modeled on the robe of the historical Buddha. Early kesa were composed of brown or saffron colored scraps of fabric cut from discarded rags and sewn together in a patchwork fashion, though luxurious robes were later used within the pieced designs . This construction method resonates with the contemporary techniques used by the designers celebrated in Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion.

While the avant-garde couture in Future Beauty leaves Seattle next week (this Sunday, 8 September, is the last day to see the show), the more traditional Japanese garments highlighted in Going for Gold will remain on view until December.

Kesa, 18th-19th century, Japanese, silk with metallic threads, 46 x 81 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.667. Currently on view in Going for Gold, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: An uncommon history

While we often have a general understanding, rarely does a museum know specifically where works of art were originally used or seen. We do not know what home most Egyptian vases or Peruvian textiles graced; we do not know what parlor or library was home to German prints or American drawings; so many works in the SAM collection have an equal air of mystery.

A rare exception to this rule, we know the entire history of one Assyrian relief in the SAM collection. This fragment adorned a wall in the Palace of Assurbanipal II at Nineveh starting in the 7th century BC, from where it was excavated by a British team in August, 1854. After being given as a gift to a friend of the archaeologist’s, it remained in that man’s family until just before the museum acquired the work in 1946. The fragment, with its unique history, is now featured in the exhibition Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth, at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art (Willamette University, Salem, Oregon), opening this Saturday.

Bas-Relief Fragment, Neo-Assyrian, ca. 670 B.C., stone, 10 x 8 1/2 x 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection and Hagop Kevorkian, 46.49. On view at Hallie Ford Museum, Salem, Oregon, starting Saturday, 31 August.

SAM Art: Ruth Asawa, in memoriam

A key element in Imogen Cunningham’s photography practice was interaction with fellow artists. This began during her years in Edward Curtis’s Seattle portrait studio, and endured through her many decades of work.

After leaving Seattle, Cunningham lived and worked in San Francisco, where she forged a close friendship with American sculptor Ruth Asawa. Asawa’s woven, hanging sculptures figure prominently in Cunningham’s photographs from the 1950s, recurring motifs that are now associated nearly as closely with Cunningham as they are with Asawa.

In Memoriam: Ruth Asawa, 1926-2013

Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture, 1957, Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976), gelatin silver print, 10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.43, © (1957), 2009 Imogen Cunningham Trust. Not currently on view, but accessible at www.seattleartmuseum.org/emuseum.

SAM Art: A legacy that lives on

A man who sought to use his skills and resources to serve his community, Dr. Richard E. Fuller (1897–1976) acted as Director of the Seattle Art Museum from its founding in 1933 until 1973. His passion for Asian art, at a time when its importance was not yet fully acknowledged in this country, was ignited in childhood by his mother’s “cabinet of curiosities,” full of the treasures she collected in her own youthful travels in Asia. Together with his mother, Mrs. Eugene (Margaret Elizabeth MacTavish) Fuller, Dr. Fuller built for Seattle one of the premier collections of Asian art in the United States.

In recent decades, public appreciation and understanding of Asian art has increased greatly. On the occasion of the museum’s 80th anniversary this year, the exhibition, A Fuller View of China, Japan, and Korea is both a tribute and a celebration of Dr. Fuller’s legacy and special recognition of SAM’s sustained efforts in collecting and researching Asian art.

Dr. Richard E. Fuller holding Ewer with bridge handle, early 17th century, Japanese, Mino ware, Oribe style; glazed stoneware, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 58.12 (on view in A Fuller View, starting this Saturday, 10 August, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park). Photo: Paul V. Thomas, 1964.

SAM Art: Sitting pretty

Summer dancing, yoga, and Zumba in the Olympic Sculpture Park will keep you moving throughout the summer. When you are ready to take a break, look for these witty seating designs by local artist, architect and designer Roy McMakin. McMakin brings impeccable craftsmanship and spectacular finish to his work, making materials perform in new and surprising ways. Matte concrete becomes a warm bench, a plastic lawn chair turns out to be made from monumental bronze, and an enamel stool masquerades as a banker’s box. This is seating with a story.

Suspended between art and design, form and function, McMakin’s artistic practice combines the usually separate creative activities of sculpture, architecture, and design. McMakin coyly uses slight changes in context, scale, and material to alter our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to our environment.

Untitled, 2004-07, Roy McMakin (American, born 1956), concrete, bronze, and steel with porcelain enamel, overall dimensions variable, Gift of the artist and Michael Jacobs, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.32, © Roy McMakin. Currently on view in the Olympic Sculpture Park.