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Object of the Week: Uncle Thomas

Despite becoming interested in art relatively late in life, Titus Kaphar quickly built an impressive career by blurring the line between art and activism. Through his use of paint, tar, sculpting, and a wide range of other techniques, Kaphar uses his work to recontextualize and reimagine the way we look at history. This includes literal instances of altering history by crumpling, shredding, and reforming well-known images.

With his 2008 painting Uncle Thomas, Kaphar uses his gift for portraiture to shift an age-old archetype. The term “Uncle Tom,” named after the lead character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, has long been used to promote a picture of blackness that centers on obedience and servitude. In this work from SAM’s collection, Kaphar takes inspiration from his real-life uncle Thomas to display his updated perception of the name. By placing his uncle—a well-respected, land-owning black man—at the center of Uncle Thomas, Kaphar exchanges an image of servitude and oppression for one of strength, dignity, and authority. During Black History Month especially, Kaphar’s art represents an important example of empowerment and support within one’s own community.

This work is less experimental than other pieces Kaphar has created in more recent years, but its bold confrontation of history is representative of the artist’s larger body of work. Kaphar’s willingness to challenge complicated historical narratives directly through images has driven him to work with Time magazine and receive several accolades, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 2018. Through his unique approach, Kaphar is altering the way many view our nation’s past while shining a light on the unheard voices and forgotten faces of history.

Michael Miller, SAM Communications Intern

Image: Uncle Thomas, 2008, Titus Kaphar, tar on paper, 48 x 36 in., Contemporary Art Support Fund, 2009.31 © Titus Kaphar

Muse/News: Sculptures in fall, erasure poems, and the wonderful Kerry James Marshall

SAM News

Curbed Seattle highlights the Olympic Sculpture Park as one of “26 best places to visit in Seattle this fall,” calling a visit to the sculpture park “the easiest way to feel artsy in Seattle without needing to spend half a day inside a museum.”

Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India is featured in the Stranger’s “Complete Guide to October 2018 Events in Seattle.” Diwali Ball, SAM’s annual fundraiser, and Night Heat, the 41st edition of our film noir series, also get mentions.

Did you know that SAM’s design team makes awesome videos? Don’t miss this fantastic My Favorite Things video featuring sailor Marc Onetto talking about the accuracy of Louis-Philippe Crépin’s Shipwreck off the Coast of Alaska, now on view at SAM.

Local News

Mayumi Tsutakawa for the Seattle Globalist on a documentary film about two women who—75 years apart—chronicled the cultures of Melanesia; one of the two held an exhibition on her work at SAM in 1935.

Here’s Emily Pothast for The Stranger on 10 not-to-be-missed gallery shows in Pioneer Square on view in October.

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis has a lovely review of Ballast, the Frye Art Museum’s new exhibition; Quenton Baker’s erasure and invented form poems were inspired by a massive historical research project into a little-known successful 1841 slave revolt.

“On the museum walls, their voices emerge like ghosts from the inky morass: ‘I am a crisis arrived.’ ‘A cargo of alarm.’ ‘Answer me.’”

Inter/National News

Way to go, genius: Three artists, including painter—and SAM Knight Lawrence Prize winner!—Titus Kaphar, were named “genius” grant winners from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Think pink! Hyperallergic’s Dany Chan reviews a new exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology exploring the many meanings—from pretty to punk—of the color pink.

I get Google alerts for Kerry James Marshall, and here’s why: this week Hyperallergic shared a wonderful essay he wrote about Bill Traylor, and ARTNews reported his wonderful reaction to Chicago’s sale of one of his murals.

“Considering that only last year Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and Commissioner [of the Department of Cultural Affairs Mark] Kelly dedicated another mural I designed downtown for which I was asked to accept one dollar, you could say the City of Big Shoulders has wrung every bit of value they could from the fruits of my labor.”

And Finally

Say goodbye to the last good thing on Twitter?

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Olympic Sculpture Park, 2015, photo: Nina Dubinsky.

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

SAM News

Here’s Jennifer Sokolowsky of the Seattle Times on how social media is shaping art; SAM curator Catharina Manchanda speaks about the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors experience.

For art institutions evolving with technology and visitors’ tastes, it’s a delicate balance. “In the end, it’s, ‘How do you have a meaningful experience of art?’ and the answers will depend. From a curatorial perspective, I just want to make sure that the traditional and core mission of the museum lives on,” Manchanda said.

The Stranger’s Slog revived their Short Film Fridays feature to share the winning short films from the Wyeth Film Sprint; the results are appropriately strange and sad and surreal.

SAM earned a reader’s “Rave” in the Seattle Times for Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect; they noted among the patrons “a keen concentration I’ve never seen before.”

Local News

Seattle Magazine recognizes the “Most Influential Seattleites of 2017,” including SAM friends such as C. Davida Ingram, Inye Wokoma, and the KEXP Gathering Space.

Bookend the Jacob Lawrence centennial celebrations with Woodside/Braseth Gallery’s “William Cumming & Jacob Lawrence,” which, the Seattle Times notes, “offers a chance to dig deeper into these two artists’ legacies.”

KING’s Evening Magazine visits MOHAI’s exhibit of the expressive black-and-white photography of Al Smith, which “chronicles 65 years of Seattle history, the Central District neighborhood, and the people who inspired him.”

Inter/National News

Clearly the biggest art world news recently was the dramatic and record-breaking sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.”

Antwaun Sargent for Artsy on the recent unveiling at Princeton of a public sculpture by Titus Kaphar, which was commissioned as part of the university’s reckoning with its history of slavery. Kaphar was the inaugural recipient of SAM’s Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize in 2009.

Madrid’s Reina Sophia unveils “Rethinking Guernica,” a free website—available in Spanish and English—that offers a visual timeline of Picasso’s most famous painting.

And Finally

Hyperallergic on a forthcoming book that investigates the aspirational kitsch of midcentury album art that expressed “an era of shifting desires.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Installation view of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photo: Natali Wiseman.