Come Back to SAM! Everyone must get tickets online in advance of their visit. Get yours today »

Object of the Week: Broken Arrangement

“I kind of got a bit of an illicit thrill out of cutting them up.”

– Brian Jungen

Though first launched in 1984, a new pair of Air Jordan 1 sneakers still regularly fetches a price tag of $150-250. This past summer, a rare pair of Air Jordan 1 High sneakers worn by Michael Jordan in 1985 sold at auction for $615,000, no doubt propped up by the popularity of the recent Jordan docuseries, The Last Dance, which premiered during nationwide stay-at-home recommendations. The shoes have held their status and notoriety in basketball and sneakerhead culture for decades, so how does their status change when a contemporary artist cuts them apart?

Brian Jungen’s (Dane-Zaa, Canadian) sculptures are rendered from dismantled Nike sneakers and echo the ovoid shapes and abstracted figures prominent in the traditional Indigenous cultural designs of Northwest Coast peoples. Jungen gained wide recognition for his series, Prototypes for New Understanding (1998-2005), which presented reassembled sneakers as Northwest Coast-inspired masks. However, Broken Arrangement (2015-16) presents an even more abstracted form, fluid in what might be perceived from each angle: an open mouth, a staring eye, or perhaps a raised tail.

While attempting to decipher the shapes, what becomes unmistakable is the ubiquitous Nike “swoosh” logo that appears throughout the disassembled and rearranged sneakers. Jungen’s appropriation of Nike’s iconic shoe comments simultaneously on the widespread commodification and cultural cooptation in contemporary society. Not lost on the artist is Nike’s stature as a corporate icon headquartered in the Pacific Northwest, as well as its influence on global consumer culture and problematic history of exploitative labor practices. Jungen’s reassembly of Nike products and iconography into works reflecting Northwest Coast design is an act that confronts the value placed on Indigenous cultures and artworks by Western society—indeed a broken arrangement in its own right.

Jungen has expanded his exploration of the connections between sport and global economic systems. In 2004, Jungen created the enormous installation Court, a full-length basketball court comprised satirically, and somewhat precariously, of sewing machine tables that evoke the scope and scale of sweatshop labor. More recently, Jungen has considered connections between the basketball court, community, and ritual. Just last year he installed new work against the backdrop of a basketball court during the exhibition Brian Jungen: Friendship Centre, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, not necessarily as critique, but as a “. . . site of, you know, incredible pain for people who you know weren’t involved or interested in sports. But it’s also a place for a lot of First Nations people that is a site of ceremony, especially for gatherings and dancing . . . So that’s kind of what how that started—and I wanted to create a space in a museum that seemed a bit more kind of welcoming, or a place that possibly a lot of youth could identify with.”[1]

As with all things, professional basketball looked different in 2020. In the past few weeks, fans watched as the Seattle Storm and Los Angeles Lakers won the 2020 WNBA and NBA championship titles, respectively. The teams and players slogged through a condensed summer of play in the “bubble” on three basketball courts at Disney properties in Orlando, Florida. Daily COVID-19 tests, wristband tracking devices, no fans, and limited contact with family members resulted in zero positive cases during the season. Remarkably, it worked. That’s not to say the season, both in basketball and in America, was without struggle and anger directed at racial injustice and police violence across the country.[2] Players boycotted, made actionable demands of league management and government officials, and used their international platforms to call attention to crises happening in communities across the country. The NBA is a multibillion-dollar global industry, yet the players challenged each other to reconfigure the bubble and their sport’s stature within popular culture to deliver a powerful message for people watching amidst a global pandemic and social upheaval.

As Jungen articulates, “sport fulfills the very basic human need for ceremony, and that used to take place in many different cultures on a much smaller scale, very locally. Now I think that takes place with mass media and professional sports for a lot of people.”[3] Broken Arrangement is about much more than basketball and sneakers, of course. Jungen’s sculpture challenges knowledge and perceptions of Indigenous art and artistry through popular culture’s reverence for mass produced objects. Ripped apart and transformed into an entirely new object, the source material is simultaneously familiar and difficult to decipher in its final form. We’re trying to make sense of a lot of broken things right now, and one can only hope that they will become as beautiful and meaningful as Jungen’s arrangement.

– Philip Nadasdy, SAM Associate Director of Public Engagement

[1]  CBC Radio, As It Happens, “How this B.C. artist uses sliced up Air Jordans to connect with his Indigenous roots,” June 19, 2019, www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-wednesday-edition-1.5181432/how-this-b-c-artist-uses-sliced-up-air-jordans-to-connect-with-his-indigenous-roots-1.5181452.
[2] Sean Ingle, “NBA will return but anger still burns after historic stand on racial injustice,” The Guardian, August 27, 2020, www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/aug/27/nba-takes-historic-stand-on-racial-injustice-milwaukee-bucks-jacob-blake-shooting.
[3] Donnovan Bennett, “Q&A: The intersection of sports and art from an Indigenous perspective,” Sportsnet, October 10, 2019, www.sportsnet.ca/basketball/nba/qa-intersection-sports-art-indigenous-perspective.
Images: Broken Arrangement, 2015-16, Brian Jungen, Nike Air Jordans, painted fir plywood, stainless steel, 20 x 14 x 21 1/2 in., Margaret Fuller Purchase Endowment, 2016.4 © Brian Jungen. Court, 2004, Brian Jungen, sewing tables, painted steel, paint, basketball hoops and backboards, National Gallery of Canada. Friendship Centre (detail), Brian Jungen, June 20 – August 25, 2019, Art Gallery of Ontario.

Object of the Week: Anthony of Padua

Kehinde Wiley’s signature portraits of everyday men and women riff on specific paintings by Old Masters, replacing the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary Black subjects, drawing attention to the exclusion of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives. His portraits are a thoughtful remix of grandiose patterns and hip-hop; there’s an intention behind their gaze, and often-subtle symbolism, which I’ll expand on.

After receiving his MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2001, Wiley’s career flourished. You may have been introduced to Wiley’s art in a number of ways.

1. A Major Commission
In 2005, VH1 commissioned Wiley to paint portraits of the honorees for that year’s Hip Hop Honors program. The theme was “the golden age of hip hop,” evidenced by custom portraits of the pioneering honorees: Notorious B.I.G., Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Ice T, and Salt-N-Pepa.

2. A Major Tour
The Brooklyn Museum organized a national exhibition tour Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic (2015–17), which included a stop at SAM in 2016, and featured SAM’s painting, Anthony of Padua. SAM’s manager of interpretive technology, Tasia Johnson, utilized an app in which visitors could scan the painting with their smartphones and learn more about the symbolism of some of the works on view.

Wiley’s 2013 painting is based on Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ late-19th-century stained glass window depicting Saint Anthony of Padua. In Ingres’ work, the Franciscan Saint holds a lily, the infant Jesus, and a Bible, symbolizing his purity, theological scholarship, and gifts as a preacher dedicated to Christ. Unlike Saint Anthony’s pose, meant to convey a Franciscan commitment to poverty and humility, Wiley’s portrait is infused with worldly seduction: his Anthony’s skin is flawless, his lips are pink, and his gaze, looking down at us, is seductive and empowered. A second depiction of Saint Anthony of Padua, an altar painting in Italy, is even more similar to Wiley’s sitter. Unlike the Ingres version, however, this saint’s body language is more open, facing the viewer. It’s clear that all versions have similarities: Saint Anthony’s left arm holds a book, and his right hand holds a flower or stick.

The orange panther patch on Wiley’s model’s jacket––prominently displayed on his right shoulder––is similar to that worn by the 66th Infantry Division of the US Army during World War II. The black panther was also selected as an emblem of power for the Black Panther Party, which used organized force for political advancement during the 1960s fight for civil rights.

Military jackets like the one worn by the sitter are not only US Army uniforms, but also high fashion pieces worn by celebrities like Queen Latifah. The item became popular for civilian-wear during the 1960s, when counterculture youth subversively wore army green jackets as antiwar commentary. With a young black man replacing a European saint in Wiley’s painting, the jacket’s history as a form of social commentary is further amplified.

3. A TV Cameo: Empire
In season one of Fox’s Empire, Wiley’s paintings were prominently featured in the home of the formidable Lyon family. There is a clear correlation between Empire and Wiley’s work: both are steeped in the bravado and style of hip-hop culture, and serve to upend antiquated notions regarding class, racial identity, and the politics of power. 

4. Celebrities as Collectors
They’re just like us! Celebrities are also fans of Wiley’s work. Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz apparently own a massive painting, and Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka own three paintings as of 2014.

5. The Obama Portrait
In February 2018, the official portrait of President Barack Obama was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The NPG welcomed record attendance figures that year with 2.3 million, which is due in no small part to the new portrait by Wiley, as well as a portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald.

I visited NPG in November 2018. I stood in line at the main entrance at least 30 minutes prior to opening hours and there were already dozens of like-minded visitors cued in line. When the doors opened, the museum staff––without any prompts––immediately announced which floors the Obama portraits were on. The floodgates had opened. Along the way, there were individual signs giving you clues that you were on the right path.

The painting depicts President Obama sitting in a chair seemingly floating among foliage. Surrounding him are chrysanthemums (the official flower of Chicago), jasmine (symbolic of Hawaii, where Obama spent most of his childhood), and African blue lilies (alluding to the president’s late Kenyan father). When I finally came face-to-face with the portrait, I knew it would be the closest I would ever be to him. 

Tina Lee, SAM Exhibitions and Publications Manager

Images: Installation view of Anthony of Padua, 2013, Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 72 × 60 in., Gift of the Contemporary Collectors Forum, 2013.8 © Kehinde Wiley, photo: Natali Wiseman. President Barack Obama, 2018, Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 84 x 58 in. ©2018 Kehinde Wiley

Virtual Art Talks: Gather with Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn

The next time you are able to visit the Asian Art Museum you will be greeted by a new light installation. Gather by Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn was commissioned to celebrate the legacy of Asian artists working over generations and all over the world. Hear from Kenzan in this artist talk and look forward to gathering under this site-specific installation.

The renovation and expansion of the Asian Art Museum allowed SAM curators to rethink how the artwork would be presented. Previously organized by regions with Japan in one wing, China in the other, and South Asia in the Garden Court, we were limited in the selection of works on view. Now, with more space and the thematic reinstallation, we are able to represent more of our renowned collection from all over Asia. This also created space in the Garden Court to present this new installation.

Learn more about SAM’s history and the Tsutakawa family! Check out this article in the South Seattle Emerald about Gather written by Kenzan’s mother, Mayumi Tsutakawa. You can find out more about Kenzan’s grandfather, George Tsutakawa in this SAM Blog article contributed by the Tsutakawa family and see his work on view at our downtown location when we are able to reopen in Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020.

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

SAM Creates: Suit Up with Walter Oltmann

While a human-caterpillar hybrid such as Walter Oltmann’s Caterpillar Suit I, may seem strange, it’s completely appropriate for these strange times that we’re currently living in. The tiny hairs that encompass the insects referenced in Walter Oltmann’s work are called setae. The function of these hairs are practical—they’re connected to nerve-endings and give caterpillars a sense of touch—as well as a defense mechanism. A recent study showed that the longer and denser the setae, the less likely predators were to eat the caterpillars. 

Looking at Oltmann’s work in the era of coronavirus brings to mind biomimicry. Biomimcry is described by the Biomimcry Institute as “the practice of applying lessons from nature to the invention of healthier, more sustainable technologies for people.”[1] Another way to understand this concept is through antennae-inspired outfits, designed to help with social distancing.

What ways can nature spur ideas to help us adapt to our new normal? Come up with your own biomimicry design for coronavirus through drawing. Oltmann makes more than sculptures, he also creates drawings and prints with similar designs as his sculptures. We’ll use this approach for our activity.

What you’ll need

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Fine-tipped marker or pen.

With drawing, like any physical activity, you may want to start with a warm up. Try sketching some simple shapes to warm up your drawing muscles!

Sketch a figure drawing of yourself or have someone in your home pose for you!

First, draw in pencil, then outline the essential lines in marker or pen. Erase the pencil marks. Your figure should be a very simple form, like a gingerbread man shape.

Next, think about ways that nature, your favorite animal, or an ecosystem protects itself. For caterpillars, it might be a visible attribute, such as setae protecting against predators, but it could also be a non-visible process, like how they consume poisonous milkweed without getting sick. For inspiration check out asknature.org.

Draw this natural defense attribute onto the figure you’ve drawn using lines, shapes, or patterns.

Share your innovative ideas with us by posting using the hashtag #StayHomewithSAM and celebrate everyone working hard in the midst of this pandemic to find practical ways of protecting us from the coronavirus.

– Kelsey DonahueSAM Assistant Manager for Gallery Learning & Lynda Harwood-Swenson, SAM Assistant Manager for Studio Programs

1 https://toolbox.biomimicry.org/about-the-toolbox/
Image: Caterpillar Suit I, 2007, Walter Oltmann, anodized aluminum and brass wire, 46 7/16 x 23 1/4 x 16 9/16 in., Gift of Josef Vascovitz and Lisa Goodman in honor of Kimerly Rorschach, 2019.25.1, © Walter Oltmann.

SAM Connects Art to Social Justice with Tours

Every January, SAM honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a week of spotlight tours led by museum staff, focused on artists and artworks currently on view in SAM’s galleries that speak to themes of race and social justice. Free and open to the public, the tours are also a big draw for SAM administrative staff, who step away from their desks on the fifth floor and head down to hear from one of their colleagues. Grounded in a love for, and knowledge of, the collection, the tours are often deeply personal, as the speaker finds resonances in the art with their own experiences of race and social justice.

Since launching the series in 2015, there have been many memorable tours. In 2017, Public Engagement Associate David Rue danced his tour in front of Robert Colescott’s Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas, a major work by the Black artist that had been recently been brought into the museum’s collection. He moved to the sounds of The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” simultaneously celebrating the increased visibility of Black artists and wondering whether it was just lip service—or the beginning of a new future of true equity.

Actress and performance artist (and SAM Visitor Services Officer) Adera Gandy led a tour in 2018 that visited the current show Lessons from the Institute of Empathy. Anchored by an immersive installation by contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk, the show includes works selected by the artist from SAM’s African art collection. Adera focused on Fulani and Ghanaian gold jewelry, reminding us that just as practitioners of alchemy attempted to find a universal elixir by turning base metals into gold, we must work towards equity not only with external steps—measurable policies and practices—but with internal shifts to transform the collective mind and create authentic and sustainable change.

In 2019, Social Media and Communications Coordinator Nina Dubinsky visited the current installation Body Language and discussed Akio Takamori’s ceramic sculpture Willy B. It’s inspired by a famous 1970 photo of German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling down and silently bowing his head at a monument to the thousands of Poles killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Nina connected Takamori’s interest in this evocative gesture as a political statement to her generation’s use of social media to unite in social movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #TransRightsMatter, and #MuteRKelly.

Also this year, we expanded the series beyond staff to include tours by Dr. Cherry Banks, a SAM trustee and Professor in Education Studies at the University of Washington Bothell, and Celeste Ericsson, a SAM docent who participates in the SAM docent corps’ Equity Working Group. The Art and Social Justice Tours continue to change the way we all experience the works in our collection. Including more perspectives only deepens their impact. Join us next year when we continue this tradition of honoring the radical and loving legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman

Object of the Week: Needlework Sampler

“What does it actually truly mean to be educated? And what would it mean to decolonize the idea of being educated?” – Chris Jordan

Every artwork has a story. For our Object of the Week Tacoma-based artist Chris Jordan shares Charlotte Turner’s story and asks us to question what education looks like in the face of the violent history of the slave trade. Consider this and more when you visit SAM’s collection and see Needlework Sampler in person. Want to hear more from local artists and creative community members? Check out our My Favorite Things playlist on YouTube for more perspectives on SAM’s collections.

Our Summer with SAM

This summer, two very bright and curious high school seniors helped out in the museum’s curatorial division. Milo and Henry spent their summer helping organize our object records, and researching several works in the SAM collection. Here, they write about their experience.
 

Protecting Art in an Earthquake

When a natural disaster strikes, like the recent earthquake in China1, saving human lives is naturally the first concern. In the aftermath however, the loss of cultural artifacts and historic sites can be devastating to communities as well. Art and architecture provide evidence of our shared histories and give us a foundation on which to build a common identity. Living in Seattle, an area of the world prone to seismic activity, one might ask what Fremont would be like without its troll, or the Seattle skyline without the Space Needle? Hopefully, we will never know.

Read More