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Muse/News: SAM on the syllabus, Indigenous authors, and fashion under quarantine

SAM News

Seattle Times food writer Jackie Varriano opens the syllabus on legendary restaurant Canlis and their new “community college,” a series of programs to support the restaurant as well as FareStart. Among the “core curriculum,” PE classes, and top-notch cafeteria food, look out for SAM curator Catharina Manchanda’s talk on SAM’s fall exhibitions——featuring collector Virginia Wright and artists Barbara Earl Thomas—on Wednesday, October 21.

Local News

Special to the Seattle Times, Seattle Public Library’s David Wright has recommendations for seven audiobooks by Indigenous authors; a good idea any time, it’s especially resonant in time for Indigenous Peoples’ Day next Monday.

What’s “Currently Hanging”: Inside Out by Marela Zacarías at MadArt. Well, almost hanging. The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig caught a glimpse of the in-progress work—a “mesh temple to the Aztec goddess Cihuacoatl, who provides strength to women during childbirth”—which opens October 15.

For her weekly editor’s letter, Crosscut’s Brangien Davis recommends some visual art to see, some Bruce Lee philosophy to consider, and some dancing from Whim W’Him created with the fraught times in mind.

“For a moment, maybe only mentally, they escape to the beach and do somersaults on wet sand. It’s a good reminder during these fraught days to take a breath, dance around the block, put a houseplant on your head.”

Inter/National News

BOMB Magazine’s fall 2020 issue is out; the visual arts section features an interview with Trenton Doyle Hancock—whose work has graced the Olympic Sculpture Park’s PACCAR Pavilion—about his forthcoming graphic novel, which expands the artist’s narrative universe.

A 25-minute listen: Hyperallergic editor-in-chief Hrag Vartanian interviews National Gallery of Art director Kaywin Feldman on the controversial decision to delay the international tour of a Philip Guston retrospective.

Artnet’s Melissa Smith looks at artist residencies established by high-profile Black artists, including Titus Kaphar, and how they’re reshaping the art world.

“Residencies like Kaphar’s provide young artists an environment outside of art school—where the proportion of Black students (and faculty) still generally maxes out in the single digits—to hone their craft while not second-guessing their worth. ‘It’s just really draining to try to change it all on your own time when really all you want to do is focus on your work,’ says Tajh Rust, a former Black Rock fellow and Yale School of Art alum.”

And Finally

For Seattle Met, boutique owner Adria Garcia interrogates the necessity of fashion under quarantine.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Amada Cruz

Muse/News: Virginia’s legacy, Yardbird goes opera, and the Museum Walk

SAM News

Virginia “Jinny” Wright, a pillar of the SAM family, passed away last week at the age of 91. The Seattle Times obituary of the collector and philanthropist noted that she “lived for art—and dedicated herself to sharing it with others.” KUOW and ARTnews also shared remembrances of her legacy. She will be greatly missed.

KEXP’s Hans Anderson interviewed SAM curators Foong Ping and Xiaojin Wu about the reimagined Seattle Asian Art Museum for their Sound & Vision show; head to their archive for Saturday, February 15 for the story, which started at 7:49 am.

More coverage for the Asian Art Museum appeared in GRAY Magazine, Post Alley, and 425 Magazine.

Local News

You have until this Saturday to check out the Jacob Lawrence works on view at Greg Kucera. The Seattle Times’ Brendan Kiley wrote about the artist’s “big, beautiful panels for real-life superheroes.”

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig keeps an eye out for what’s “Currently Hanging”; right now, it’s Agnieszka Polska’s Love Bite at the Frye Art Museum.

Tom Keogh for Crosscut on Seattle Opera’s “promising, dynamic production” of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, which explores the life of the jazz legend.

“So the piece, like Parker’s music, is full of extremes, pushing the voice’s boundaries,” [tenor Joshua] Stewart says. “When you have a piece this difficult, you have to bring to it everything you have to offer. You have to go on the full journey.”

Inter/National News

OK, this is definitely a thing: Museum Walk gives you back pain. Hyperallergic has tips to alleviate it from posture expert Mark Josefsberg.

Payal Uttam for Artsy on the most recent edition of the India Art Fair (IAF) in New Delhi, and what it said about the market for South Asian art.

Artnet’s Taylor Defoe reports on the Oakland Museum of California’s recent pivot to measuring their success by their “social impact,” rather than by usual metrics.

“This is coming at a time when museums and other cultural institutions are really trying to make a case for their existence,” says the OMCA’s associate director of evaluation and visitor insight, Johanna Jones, who led the project. “We know we make a difference in people’s lives, now we need to really demonstrate it through measurable metrics.”

And Finally

More movies for your list, post-Parasite.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Virginia Wright in her Pioneer Square gallery, Current Editions, August 1967. Photo: © Mary Randlett. All rights reserved.

A Modern Champion: Virginia Wright (1929–2020)

With a heavy heart, we share the news of the passing of Virginia Wright, a pillar of the SAM family. Virginia and her late husband Bagley played pivotal roles in the development, vibrancy, and accomplishments of the Seattle Art Museum for more than half a century. Beyond being generous contributors, the Wrights’ greatest impact on SAM is seen in the art of the collection and in the art shown. Virginia was among a very small group of people who, in the 1960s, pushed SAM to create its first modern and contemporary art program. Virginia and Bagley also contributed to the purchase of many important acquisitions over the years. Above all else, the Wrights amassed one of the most important collections of modern and contemporary art in the world (over 200 works), all purchased with SAM in mind as the collection’s eventual home. When the bulk of it came to SAM in 2014, forming the backbone of its modern and contemporary collection, SAM was transformed from a great institution into a truly remarkable one.

Earlier this month, Virginia said, “When I think about the future of the Wright Collection at SAM, I put my trust in the artists. I trust that future generations will value their work, that SAM will continue to provide meaningful access to it, and that the conversations that their work has inspired will continue.” We are honored by her faith in Seattle’s museum and, because of her support over the last 60 years, we are confident that we can live up to the legacy she established.

Born in Seattle and raised in British Columbia, Virginia went East for college and majored in art history. Out of college, she worked for Sidney Janis Gallery in Manhattan and began collecting art. Mark Rothko’s abstract painting Number 10 (1952) was one of her early, daring purchases and it is now part of SAM’s collection.

Virginia has been a SAM member since 1951. She began docent training in 1957 and led her first public tour in 1959. In 1959, the Wrights made their first-ever gift to SAM’s collection: Room with White Table (1953) by William Ward Corley. That year they also provided funding for SAM to acquire Winter’s Leaves of the Winter of 1944 (at the time titled Leaves Before Autumn Wind) by Morris Graves.

In 1964, she and a group of friends persuaded then-director Richard Fuller to let her start the Contemporary Art Council (CAC), a group of collectors at the museum. For the next decade, it functioned as the museum’s first modern art department. The CAC sponsored lectures and supported the first exhibitions of Op art and conceptual art in Seattle. It also brought the popular Andy Warhol Portraits exhibition to Seattle in 1976, among many other important exhibitions. Her role in bringing great art to the Seattle Art Museum also involved the curation of two solo exhibitions for Morris Louis (in 1967) and William Ivey (in 1975).

Virginia joined SAM’s board in 1960, making 2020 her 60th anniversary with the Seattle Art Museum. She temporarily stepped away in 1972 when her husband Bagley joined the Board and rejoined in 1982. She served as President of the Board from 1987–90. Virginia was President of SAM’s Board of Trustees from 1986–1992, years that coincided with the construction and opening of the downtown Robert Venturi building in 1991—the museum’s first major transformation since its opening in 1933 and a major shift in Seattle’s cultural life to downtown First Avenue (with the Symphony soon following).

In 1999, SAM mounted an exhibition of the Wright Collection (The Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection of Modern Art, March 4–May 9, 1999). The Wrights’ entire art collection—the largest single collection of modern and contemporary art in the region—has been gradually donated (and the balance of the collection promised) to the Seattle Art Museum. A significant portion of the collection came to the museum in 2014 when the Wrights’ private exhibition space closed.

When the Seattle Art Museum opened the Olympic Sculpture Park in 2007, many works from the Wrights’ collection were installed there, including Mark di Suvero’s Bunyon’s Chess (1965) and Schubert Sonata (1992), as well as works by Ellsworth Kelly, Tony Smith, Anthony Caro, and Roxy Paine.

SAM’s ongoing exhibition Big Picture: Art After 1945 draws from the Wrights’ transformative gift of over 100 works and is a reminder of their incredible generosity.

Virginia was an active board member up to the end of her life, regularly attending meetings and advising the museum in many important endeavors. About SAM Virginia said, “It’s always been the main arena. I never wanted to break off and start a museum. I wanted to push the museum we already had into being more responsive to contemporary art.” And SAM would like to acknowledge that she did just that, leaving an undeniable mark on the cultural landscape of the entire Pacific Northwest.

As Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, says, “Even having only been in Seattle for a short time, it’s clear that Virginia Wright’s impact on the city and on SAM is beyond measure. Her legacy, and that of her late husband Bagley, is seen in both the very walls and on the walls of the downtown museum, and it fills the Olympic Sculpture Park’s landscapes. I’m honored to have been able to know her and of her hopes for SAM’s continued future.”

New Cedar for Bunyon’s Chess

A brilliant conservator[1] once noted that “art conservation is a fight against entropy.” This is especially visible for works sited outside which require conservators, artists, and stakeholders to carefully consider what is essential for an outdoor sculpture to continue to exist for future generations. When the carved cedar elements of Mark di Suvero’s sculpture Bunyon’s Chess were no longer structurally stable, di Suvero and his studio worked closely with the Seattle Art Museum to explore the artwork and discover solutions.

Bunyon’s Chess was created by Mark di Suvero in 1965 for Virginia and Bagley Wright’s residence in Seattle. The family’s documentation of the creative process provides wonderful insight into the artwork.

In 2006 the Wrights promised the work to the Seattle Art Museum and it was moved to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The cedar elements had begun to show degradation in their original site but this accelerated at the park partially due to the exposed location and partially due to the natural deterioration of cedar. As cedar ages in an outdoor setting a number of events occur: the natural biocide slowly migrates out with water, the wood absorbs water at an increasing rate as it deteriorates, fungal deterioration is common, as well as insect and wildlife damage. The logs of Bunyon’s Chess were treated annually with a fungicide to slow the fungal deterioration but without major visual interventions such as end caps or moving the sculpture to an interior location, deterioration continued at a fairly rapid pace.

In 2009 an in-depth condition assessment was performed which determined that the deterioration, particularly on the interior had progressed to a state where the logs were in danger of falling. In 2010, the logs were consolidated, the large losses filled and the exterior coated to prolong the life. During this period research and conversations with di Suvero regarding the replacement were begun as this treatment could not prolong the life of the cedar indefinitely. Di Suvero determined that new logs could be carved to replace the original cedar, as it is the visual integrity of the work that is important.

After much research, new cedar of the similar dimensions and tight ring growth was sourced for carving. Seattle artist Brian Beck peeled the logs in preparation for carving.

Kent Johnson and Daniel Roberts from di Suvero’s studio traveled to Seattle and carved the new logs using the original cedar elements as a guide.

Beck worked with Johnson and Roberts to create the same join between the two logs. Much of the original hardware such as the 36” bronze bolts and galvanized steel eyehooks were presevered and reused on the newly carved elements.

If you look carefully, at the top of the sculpture you will note a slight bend in the top tube. Di Suvero wanted this natural bend to remain but believed this opportunity should be used to reinforce the structure.

Fabrication Specialties Ltd. worked with the di Suvero studio to create an interior support which was welded in place.

The logs were strung with new stainless steel cabling and were carefully measured and marked to the lengths of the original cables to assist with the rigging. Larry Tate, Andrew Malcolm, Tracy Taft, Ignacio Lopez, and Travis Leonard of Fabrication Specialties placed the new logs within the original steel frame working closely with images and a model of the original. The di Suvero studio generously participated in video calls throughout the day.


Special thank you to: Mark di Suvero and Studio, Virginia Wright, Fabrication Specialties Ltd, Equinox Studios, Alta Forest Products, Brian Beck, Christian French, and Catharina Manchanda for helping preserve this public artwork free for everyone to enjoy at the Olympic Sculpture Park year round.

– Liz Brown, SAM Objects Conservator

Photos courtesy of Virginia Wright and Liz Brown.
[1] Lauren Chang

Olympic Sculpture Park: Sculpting a Universe

“How does art come into being? Out of volumes, motion, spaces carved out within the surrounding space, the universe.” –Alexander Calder

Read these words on the silver plaque as you stand beneath Calder’s The Eagle, in the Olympic Sculpture Park, and they resonate deeply. The bolts and bends in its blazing, red steel prompt you to envision the way its parts came together in the artist’s mind. This year, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Olympic Sculpture Park, Calder’s words become especially poignant. Looking out at the park and the surrounding slices of Seattle framed by The Eagle’s wings and legs—the art, the land, and the architecture—we are reminded of the way people came together to build this unique green space in the downtown corridor.

The park’s true beginnings go back to 1996, when SAM trustee, collector, and arts philanthropist Jon Shirley saw the potential for something greater. “My late wife Mary and I were looking at our outdoor sculpture collection around the yard of our home and wondered where it might end up one day. . . . As collectors, we visited many sculpture parks around the world and thought, why not here?”

They shared their idea with arts benefactors and SAM trustees Virginia and Bagley Wright, as well as SAM’s Director from 1994–2009, Mimi Gardner Gates. Later that year, Gates brought those conversations with her on a fly fishing trip in Mongolia with a group of twelve women, where she got to know Martha Wyckoff, volunteer and national board member at the Trust for Public Land. Following a helicopter crash that left Gates, Wyckoff, and the rest of the group unharmed but stranded in the steppes of Mongolia, the two women found themselves discussing a mutual interest in civic engagement that spoke to the aspirations of both organizations: free, public green spaces and art for Seattle’s community. As Martha Wyckoff explained, “Community can include everyone in Seattle and anyone who comes to visit. As we developed the project, we realized it also included the salmon, and the plants, and the future, by making sure there’s more green, natural settings in the downtown core for all to enjoy. Where else has a major city art museum created salmon habitat in partnership with a national nonprofit land conservation group?”

After Gates and Wyckoff returned to Seattle, they began discussing possible sites, along with the Shirleys, the Wrights, and Chris Rogers from the Trust for Public Land, who went on to manage the sculpture park project on behalf of SAM. Rogers and Wyckoff had been mapping park possibilities in King County for over a year and kept coming back to a strip of land on the waterfront beside Myrtle Edwards Park. Still contaminated by its former life as a site for petroleum storage, the space was far from inspiring. Yet, when the team visited, something sparked. Gates explained, “It was much lower, it was fenced in, and people were living on the edges. Plus, it had a railroad track running through it. . . . Jon [Shirley] was particularly visionary in terms of really being able to see what it could be. I was very enthusiastic about the idea of space on the waterfront that was open and free. And so, we started running.”

The Trust for Public Land was familiar with brownfield restorations from their previous projects, so they took the lead on the complex negotiations required to acquire and clean up the site. But the park as we know it fully came to be through architects Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi’s submission to a competition for its design. Gates explained, “We didn’t have a set vision until Marion and Michael presented their plan. Their design went over the road and the railroad tracks, incorporating and integrating the infrastructure of the city into the park while creating a space that was tranquil, quiet, and a place you wanted to be—that vision was critical to what the park has become.”

During the years that passed since the park opened on January 20, 2007, the sculptures, the design, the plants and all of the activities that happen among them have become embedded into the city that has grown around it. Skyscrapers bloom around the thick carpet of green and open span of sky while hundreds of container ships and ferries, otters and seals, pass through the Puget Sound below. When you scan the downtown skyline from the West Seattle shore, between CenturyLink Field’s white arches and the Space Needle’s hovering disc, the park’s patch of green and The Eagle’s spot of red stand out, too. Inside the park, a universe of sorts was carved, by two organizations and many individuals—a universe that continues to be shaped by Seattle itself.

In the months ahead, we will continue reflecting on the Olympic Sculpture Park’s history with an in-depth look at the permanent and temporary works of art, the landscape, the programming, and more. We hope our memories of the last 10 years bring to mind some of your own and, even better, that you’ll visit in 2017 to create new experiences during the park’s 10th year.