Temporary Gallery Closures The Seattle Art Museum offers visitors a dynamic and ever-changing roster of exhibitions and installations throughout the year. To do this, the museum occasionally needs to close some galleries for reinstallation which will be happening in the coming months. Closing galleries isn’t something we like to do but we hope you’ll bear with us because the result will be new visual art experiences for you to enjoy.
COVID-19 Update Masks are no longer required to enter the museum, but visitors are encouraged to wear them for their personal safety and comfort. Additionally, the vaccine verification requirement to enter the museum is no longer in effect per the latest guidance from Public Health—Seattle & King County.
Masks Encouraged Visitors are encouraged to wear them for their personal safety and comfort
Physical Distancing Reminder Keep at least six feet between your group and other visitors and staff
Prefer to wear a mask? SAM is offering a mask-required hour in the galleries for visitors that prefer to wear masks and be around others wearing masks. This will occur on the third Saturday of the month through October 15 from 9–10 am at Seattle Art Museum and Seattle Asian Art Museum. We will determine whether to extend the mask required hour beyond these initial dates based on the trajectory of COVID-19 and if there is demand for this additional hour. Online advance purchase is recommended.
Safety protocols change and evolve rapidly. Join our email list to stay up-to-date or refer to this blog post for the latest information.
Keep our community healthy! Please visit at another time if you:
Are feeling unwell
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Live with or care for someone who has been ill
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Special Exhibition tickets are timed and limited, and online advance purchase is recommended. Tickets are released online on a monthly rolling basis.
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Park for less! The Russell Investment Center garage is $8 Friday-Sunday, for up to 4 hours. Museum voucher required. Learn more
Volunteer Park and surrounding street parking is free. Learn more
Pay parking is available in the PACCAR Pavilion garage at the Olympic Sculpture Park.
Recognize Risk SAM has implemented many safety measures and has a state-of-the-art ventilation system, but cannot guarantee zero risk; a risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public setting.
When You Arrive
Seattle Art Museum: Enter at First and Union. The south entrance (the Hammering Man entrance) and the South Hall will be closed.
Seattle Asian Art Museum: Follow marked entrance and exit signs at front doors to maintain one-way visitor traffic and physical distancing.
Check the entry time on your ticket Please have your ticket ready to be scanned at the entrance to the galleries. Tickets to Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure are timed. If you are more than 15 minutes late to the exhibition, we may not be able to accommodate entry.
Check your bags for free Backpacks, large bags, or items larger than 11″ x 15″ are not allowed in the galleries and must be checked.
Expect some areas to be closed Seattle Art Museum: The Ann P. Wyckoff Education Resource Center, Bullitt Library, and children play areas will also be closed. Seattle Asian Art Museum: The Education Studio, Community Gallery, Chen Community Meeting Room, and Library will be closed.
Wash your hands and use hand sanitizers We have instituted rigorous cleaning procedures using EPA registered disinfectants throughout the museum, with a special focus on high-touch and high-traffic areas and restrooms. We ask that you do your part by washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitizers located throughout the museum.
Visit SAM Shop! The Seattle Art Museum Shop and Gallery and the Seattle Asian Art Museum Shop are open.
Please note that if we are unable to reopen or remain open as planned because of changes to public health guidelines, SAM will contact ticket holders via email to present options for moving tickets to a new day and time.
We are working hard to make visitors and staff comfortable during their visit and hope to see you soon!
One of the most influential Black American artists of the 20th century, Jacob Lawrence spent the latter years of his life living and working in Seattle, serving as a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Art. In 1977, seven years after his move, Lawrence painted The Studio, depicting himself in the attic of his Seattle studio. The Studio narrates Lawrence’s artistic journey of growing up in Harlem, moving westward, and his subsequent artistic development. Outside the window, Harlem tenement buildings scatter the view, connecting his relationships between Seattle and New York. In a 2000 interview, Jacob Lawrence spoke about this painting:
Yes, that’s my studio here, in Seattle. Not in this apartment, but it’s Seattle. And this is what my studio looked like going up the steps. And my neighbor, our neighbor is an architect. And these buildings back here bring somewhat of the tenements of New York. In reality, this is an empty wall. So I decided to put that back, to use that as a sort of symbol of my thinking of the big city, of New York.1
Lawrence grew up in Harlem after his mother relocated the family there in 1930 when he was thirteen years old. Wanting to encourage her son’s creative expression, his mother enrolled him in an after-school arts program shortly after their arrival in New York. Due to financial hardships, Lawrence was unable to finish his high school education. Yet, he continued to take classes at the Harlem Art Workshop, where he was mentored by the painter Charles Alston.
Lawrence’s upbringing in Harlem was one of the most formative periods of his life, and he frequently referred to those memories and experiences in his work, regardless of his geographical location. He specialized in scenes from Black American life and culture, taking inspiration from the stories of elders within his communities and transferring them into his paintings.
While best known for his paintings of workers from various professions, The Studio offers a glimpse into his work as an artist and teacher as he welcomes the viewer into his own studio. Lawrence referred to his style of painting as “dynamic cubism,” inspired by the colors and shapes of Harlem. The Studio showcases his use of vivid colors, bold linear movements, and mastery of geometric form.
– Kari Karsten, SAM Emerging Museum Professional Curatorial Intern
The SAM Research Libraries strive to develop digital collections that represent our unique holdings. Here, volunteer Kirsten Painter, discusses her efforts to digitize a unique set of slides that represents the 18th century French porcelain collection of two local collectors, Dr. Ulrich and Stella Fritzsche, and features objects now on view in SAM’s Porcelain Room. Digitization is a key method of preservation for unstable photographic media, and, in this case, preservation was especially necessary as this slide collection is the only visual evidence we have of the collection prior to it being dispersed to museums throughout the world.
A new digital exhibit from the Seattle Art Museum Research Libraries offers an illustrated introduction to the world of eighteenth-century porcelain. The exhibit showcases the Dr. Ulrich and Stella Fritzsche Collection of eighteenth-century works from the Vincennes and Sèvres Porcelain Manufactories, including several objects now in the Seattle Art Museum.
The exhibit offers a fresh view of collecting itself, including Dr. Fritzsche’s philosophy of art collecting and illustrated anecdotes about several of the pieces in his collection. In Dr. Fritzsche’s view, the collector is merely a “temporary guardian” of the art: “You live with the artwork for a while, you preserve it, then you pass it on. It doesn’t belong to you forever.”1
With high-resolution images of several dozen exquisite porcelain pieces, accompanied by explanations of décor, style, color, marks, and historical context, the Fritzsche Porcelain Exhibit also serves as a useful digital guide to anyone wishing to learn more about porcelain history or terminology.
With high-resolution images of several dozen exquisite porcelain pieces, accompanied by explanations of décor, style, color, marks, and historical context, the Fritzsche Porcelain Exhibit also serves as a useful digital guide to anyone wishing to learn more about porcelain history or terminology.
Dr. Fritzsche’s journey as a collector began by chance in 1974, when he happened upon a small tea set in a Seattle antique store run by the artist Jay Steensma; Dr. Fritzsche credits Steensma for inspiring him to become a collector.2
From then on, Dr. Fritzsche aimed not just to assemble a significant collection of porcelain, but also to conduct extensive research about each piece: his philosophy of collecting involved “chasing a piece down and finding out everything about it that I could.”3
It was on Dr. Fritzsche’s initiative that the French Porcelain Society was founded by Kate Foster (Lady Davson) in 1984.4 Read more about Dr. Fritzsche’s experience as a collector here.
Among the items highlighted in the Fritzsche Porcelain Exhibit are seven objects in SAM’s collection, on display in the Porcelain Room, such as the magnificent blue Flower Vase (cuvette à fleurs Courteille), which originally belonged to Madame de Pompadour, and is notable for its painting of the maritime Battle of Solebay. Julie Emerson credits Dr. Fritzsche himself for unearthing this object’s relation to Madame de Pompadour’s inventory, while the vase was part of his collection.5
More easily overlooked, but exquisite in its minuteness, is the Three-Legged Teapot(théière à trois pieds), located in the “Early Porcelain” case on the left (northern) wall of the Porcelain Room.6 Its white body, gilded with a fanciful bird design, stands on paw-like feet with gilded toes. Its surprisingly tiny size could be due to the eighteenth-century custom of brewing a small, concentrated amount of tea, to be later diluted with hot water,7 a custom still prevalent in Russia, among other places. Dr. Fritzsche tells the colorful story of how he acquired this rare teapot in Paris here.
Just to the right of the little Teapot in the “Early Porcelain” case is the elegant Sugar Spoon(cuillière à sucre), whose dual gilded handles are intertwined like sinuous vines. Such spoons, designed most likely by Jean-Claude Duplessis, the artistic director at Sèvres, were exceedingly rare due to the fragility of the handle.8 Stella Fritzsche notes that this spoon was one of her favorite pieces in their entire collection. Read more about Stella Fritzsche’s memories of their collecting years here.
Another inherently fragile structure is the footed eggcup on a narrow stem; like the spoon, it is rare because easily breakable, so this style was later replaced with a more durable footless eggcup model.9 Two such footed Eggcups (coquetiers à pied), on slender stems, each adorned with colorful painted flowers, are in the “Botanicals” display case, on the right (southern) wall of the Porcelain Room.
The Litron Cup (gobelet litron), delicately painted with Chinoiserie décor, is an eye-catching embodiment of the eighteenth-century fad for the Chinese style. It stands prominently at the center of the “West Meets East” display case in the Porcelain Room (left/northern wall). This teacup shape, the Litron Cup(gobelet litron), was the most frequently produced at the Sèvres factory; its straight-sided, cylindrical form was modeled after a traditional wooden measuring cup for salt and grains.10
The Fritzsche Collection contains several examples of the litron teacup style. Read more in the exhibit about other shapes of teapots and teacups (Calabre Teapot, Bouillard Cup), and eighteenth-century tea-drinking habits.
Aside from the objects from the Fritzsche Collection now in SAM’s Porcelain Room (read the complete list here), the Fritzsche Collection contains almost 100 images of porcelain now residing in museums and collections worldwide.
The rich histories of selected distinctive pieces, such as the Catherine the Great Service, are highlighted in the exhibit. Some objects have unexpected backstories. The hunting scene on the pink Wine Bottle Cooler was likely inspired by Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s tapestries, and may represent King Louis XV on a stag hunt.11 Read more in the exhibit regarding the way scenes of hunting parks underscored Louis XV’s domestic agenda and persona as the “hunter-king.”12
The Fritzsche Collection contains a rich variety of bird imagery, from the scientifically inspired Buffon birds on Dodin’s Partridge-Eye Plate(assiette, œil de perdrix) to the fantastical, extravagantly plumed birds on pieces by Thévenet and Chappuis.
Delving back into the forgotten lives of the porcelain painters and gilders who decorated these objects, the exhibit also attends to life within the factory community itself. Some of the artists arrived at Vincennes or Sèvres as apprentices, as young as age nine, and stayed there for their entire lives; their wives and children often worked at the factory as well.13 The exhibit includes biographies of these little-known figures and an illustrated sampling of the evocative, mysterious painters’ marks that have fascinated porcelain scholars for generations.
The Fritzsche Porcelain Digital Collection was created between 2017 and 2020. The project included digitization of Dr. Fritzsche’s slides, interviews of the Fritzsches from 2018–19 about their lives as collectors, research into the historical context and style of pieces in the collection, and creation of an exhibition website meant to provide broader context to this magnificent collection, both within the eighteenth century when these objects were made, and within the twentieth century when they were most recently collected.
– Kirsten Painter, SAM Volunteer, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library
1 Ulrich Fritzsche, interview conducted and transcribed by Kirsten Painter, Seattle Art Museum Bullitt Library, November 12, 2019.
4 “Inspired by the collector Ulrich Fritzche of Seattle, who organized a first informal dinner, our founder’s goal was to bring together collectors, museum curators, dealers, auction specialists and enthusiasts so they could enjoy each other’s company, share their passion for French porcelain, and promote its study” (“Our History,” The French Porcelain Society, 2021, https://www.thefrenchporcelainsociety.com/about-us/our-history/).
5 Julie Emerson, “Victory at Sea: A Vincennes Cuvette Painted with a Battle-Scene,” French Porcelain Society Journal 3 (2007): 66n19; Ulrich Fritzsche, “Ulrich and Stella Fritzsche Collection of Vincennes–Sèvres Porcelain,” unpublished manuscript, Seattle Art Museum Library Archives/Special Collections (Seattle, 2018), 7, https://samlibraries.omeka.net/items/show/2991.
7 Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie (1757–80), cited in Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Sèvres Porcelain (London: Trustees of the Wallace Collection, 1988), 2:490.
8 Svend Eriksen, Davids Samling: Fransk porcelæn/The David Collection: French Porcelain (Copenhagen: Davids Samling, 1980), 66; Svend Eriksen and Geoffrey de Bellaigue, Sèvres Porcelain: Vincennes and Sèvres 1740-1800, trans. R. J. Charleston (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), 275.
9 Eriksen and De Bellaigue, Sèvres Porcelain, 305.
10 Rosalind Savill, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Sèvres Porcelain (London: Trustees of the Wallace Collection, 1988), 2:501.
11 Ulrich Fritzsche, “Ulrich and Stella Fritzsche Collection of Vincennes–Sèvres Porcelain,” unpublished manuscript, Seattle Art Museum Library Archives/Special Collections (Seattle, 2018), 14, https://samlibraries.omeka.net/items/show/2991; The Huntington Art Museum Catalog Online, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens (San Marino, CA), no. 27.52, accessed August 2021, http://emuseum.huntington.org/collections.
12 Julie Anne Plax, “J.-B. Oudry’s Royal Hunts and Louis XV’s Hunting Park at Compiègne: Landscapes of Power, Prosperity and Peace,” Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes 37, no. 2 (2017): 102–19, doi: 10.1080/14601176.2016.1169709; Colin Bailey, “A Long Working Life, Considerable Research and Much Thought: An Introduction to the Art and Career of Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686–1755),” in Oudry’s Painted Menagerie: Portraits of Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century Europe, ed. Mary G. Morton (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), 10.
With photography becoming a more common medium than ever before, what can we learn from 20th century photographers like Imogen Cunningham’s whose careers were built on the use of film cameras? In partnership with South End Stories and Mr Santos Creations, this video follows three students from Baile Dior Studios—Yizjuani Watson, Andre Yancey, and Neveah Thompson—as they explore SAM’s ongoing special exhibition, Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective, draw personal connections, and respond through dance. See Cunningham’s works on view at our downtown location through February 6, 2022!
Terrence Jeffrey Santos Regional Emmy Awardee for Cinematography (2016), The Otherside Documentary Design Director of Video Production, UW Athletics Marketing Department (2010-2015) @filipinxfoodseattle @musangtinos @anaktoykompany @loveandpicnics
Donte Felder is the founder and Executive Director at South End Stories where they focus on Trauma-Informed Arts Practice: Healing Through History and Creativity. Donte is a former SPS educator and has been the recipient of WEA’s Humanitarian Award as well as Washington’s Golden Apple Award. Donte comes from a family of seasoned educators and community leaders focused on pursuing social justice by developing anti-racist and anti-oppression practices in schools and communities. More information about Donte and South End Stories can be found at: https://www.southendstories-artsed.com/.
TiQuida “TQ” Spellman has been involved in dance and performing arts for over 20 years. The founder of Baile Dior Studios (Dance Golden Studios), the Pacific Northwest’s first dance studio to specialize in J-sette Majorette dance and focused on connecting youth to the benefits of attending historically Black colleges and universities. A love of performing arts, dance, and a degree in Educational Studies guides TiQuida’s mission to provide youth with self-esteem and courage to showcase their talents, creativity, and imagination. TiQuida works as an Arts Education Consultant and teaches a host of dance classes for youth and adults.
What’s poppin’ y’all, the name is Andre, but I prefer to go by Drizzy Dre. I’m 21 years old, born and raised in Kent, WA. You’ll either catch me laughing, or attempting to make someone else do so. I love to dance and teach, but my passion is for Majorette.
Hi my name is Yizjuani Watson and I am 14 years old. I attend Renton High School. My favorite color is purple. I enjoy art because it gives you another vision of life. The main part of art I enjoy is physical art because it helps you physically express yourself. The type of physical art I do is dance. Dance is my passion, I have danced for 7 years. The reason I dance is because it is a physical art that lets me know that being unique and out of the ordinary is okay.
Hey y’all! I’m 19 yrs old and I was born and raised in Seattle, WA. My name is Neveah, but everybody calls me Veah. My favorite thing to do is to create choreography in the studio with my peers.
Colorful, riotous, and vibrant are but three words that come to mind when thinking about Dr. Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s neon artworks. Burman’s neon lights first appeared on the Tate Britain’s façade in 2020 for her commission Remembering a Brave New World, which disrupted the neoclassical building’s exterior with a roar of color. Her installation was awarded the 2021 Dezeen Award for Design of the Year.1
The artist traces her love for neon to childhood visits to Blackpool, a seaside resort known for its annual lights festival. While traditional glass neon lights were not conducive to achieving the shapes and structures that Burman wanted, new developments in the medium allowed her to bend and shape silicon neon lights to create complex and multi-colored sculptures. Some of her signature works include pouncing tigers, images of Hindu deities, uplifting quotes, and her father’s ice cream van. Burman’s Tate Britain installation was unveiled in time for Diwali, the South Asian festival of lights, but also in the midst of the global Black Lives Matter movement and raging COVID-19 pandemic.
With all of this in mind, Burman communicated an uplifting message, but, more importantly, highlighted the significant role and contributions of Black and Asian British artists in the United Kingdom. Burman has also noted that the neon works are an extension of her previous practice, stating, “paradoxically, [the installation’s] concerns are the same themes I explored back in the 80s along with my colleagues in the Black British Arts Movement [that] are still so prevalent today…”
“It’s undeniable that the Tate Britain commission I was awarded was finally a step in the right direction, in acknowledging the significance of my work and practice—as well as the significant contributions of my contemporaries—that have, to be frank, been overlooked for so long,” Burman said. “In doing so, Tate have sought to re-address the biases and hypocrisy often prevalent in both our British art establishments and the wider art sector. This shift, inevitably signifies a slow erosion of the inequalities prevalent in the art world.”
“That being said,” she continued, “I saw my selection for this commission not as a final step in this process of erosion but as a beginning. I was adamant, therefore, that my commission serve as an opportunity to critique the role of the Tate—and by extension all of our British establishments—in much the same way as I have done throughout my practice.”
SAM acquired one of Burman’s neon works, Kali (I’m a Mess) with funds from the Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Acquisition Fund for Global and Contemporary Art, and additional support from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Previously perched atop the Tate Britain’s pediment, obscuring the statue of Britannia, the piece will be on view in the upcoming exhibition, Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time, opening January 14 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.2
Kali (I’m a Mess) brings both a disruptive and inclusive message of liberation and rebellion. Through this artwork, Burman asks: Can Kali fast forward us into a brave new world where we will no longer be in a mess?
– Ananya Sikand, PhD Candidate, University of Washington
The author wishes to thank the artist, Dr. Chila Kumari Singh Burman, as well as the artist’s studio team, especially Kemi Sanbe, for kindly providing answers to interview questions. Thanks also to Dr. Natalia Di Pietrantonio, SAM’s Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, for providing the opportunity to write this blog post.
When talking about biblical studies, Rabbi Emily Meyer once said, “every translation is a commentary.” This is true, not only for verbal and written languages, but also for the language of visual art, particularly when it comes to biblical interpretation, where artistic design choices can change the context of the narrative. Alessandro Algardi’s Early Modern Italian relief sculpture, The Sacrifice of Isaac, is a prime example of how art can act as its own biblical commentary, both through image alone and in conjunction with verbal interpretation.
The Sacrifice, or Binding of Isaac narrative, is found in Genesis, the first book of Torah, also called the Hebrew Bible, chapter 22. In the chapter, Abraham is told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, but he is stopped at the last moment by an angel, who tells Abraham he has proved his fear of God, and he instead sacrifices a nearby ram (or lamb in some interpretations).
In the original narrative, the angel calls out to Abraham as he is about to strike.1 Abraham simply responds, “Here I am.” Yet, in Algardi’s visual interpretation, the angel grabs onto the knife mid-swing, as if needing to physically halt Abraham’s actions, removing some of the sense of agency Abraham may have had in the original text; it is not Abraham’s choice to pause in his actions, but a result of forceful intervention by the angel. This compositional choice therefore acts as visual biblical commentary, adding to, and expanding upon, interpretations of the original text.
Similarly, Algardi chose to portray Isaac as an older adolescent kneeling on the altar with his head hung low, as if resigned to his fate. Much religious commentary has been written about Isaac’s age, as the story found in Torah does not mention any detail about Isaac, his thoughts, or his actions. Some interpretations portray him as an innocent young boy who is complacent and oblivious to his fate, others as a young man, aware and accepting of his fate. These varying interpretations can change the meaning of the narrative for different religious groups and are reflected in visual depictions across almost 2,000 years. Algardi’s Isaac falls closer to the “aware and accepting” interpretation. This tracks with Christian interpretations of the narrative, in which the character of Isaac is viewed as typological, a precursor or prefiguration to the sacrifice of Jesus. Considering that this object was undoubtedly made in and for a Christian setting, this compositional choice is no surprise.
It is a worthy endeavor to look at different portrayals of the Sacrifice of Isaac from across different religious groups, geographical backgrounds, and time periods to understand how the same original text may change—or maintain—meaning, representation, importance, and impact depending on its context. Each visual translation of the story, from contemporary versions like the painting by Marc Chagall, to late antique portrayals like the mosaics found in the 6th century CE Beit Alpha Synagogue in Israel and Basilical of San Vitale in Italy, truly is its own commentary.
– Abby Massarano, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art
1 10And Abraham picked up the knife to slay his son. 11The angel of the LORD called to him from heaven: “Abraham, Abraham!” And he answered, “Here I am.” 12And he said, “Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me.” 13When Abraham looked up, his eye fell upon a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.” Jewish Publication Society, JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh: The Traditional Hebrew Text and the New JPS Translation, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1999), 40.
Image: The Sacrifice of Isaac, ca. 1638-39, Alessandro Algardi, Terracotta with white paint, 31 1/2 x 22 1/4 x 4 in., Overall h.: 33 in., Overall w.: 24 in., Overall diam.: 6 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 55.109.
Computer-generated liminal spaces and objects are familiar to video gamers—and maybe more so to those who are just not very good at video games, flailing halfway between a corner, or punching through a character that is more background than plot. These virtually possible in-between spaces become perceptible at the moment a player engages with the limits of a game’s designed environment. In Seattle-based artist Gary Hill’s video installation series Liminal Objects, however, it is within the absence of a designed environment where the computer-generated objects themselves interact, and with disregard for each other’s limits.
Each work in the series shows two black-and-white unrelated computer-generated objects on a 14-inch Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitor that has had its housing removed. One object is still, while the other moves back-and-forth and around, indiscriminately slicing the stationary object. In Liminal Objects #5 (1996), it is a stationary tree and a swinging chandelier. Through these shadowless animations, “Hill has avoided the spectacle of computer art and instead embraced the simple fact that the ‘program’ doesn’t care if objects penetrate each other’s solidity.”1 It’s a bit absurd, and in the case of #5, perhaps a touch romantic.
Placing the work among other video art and time-based media of its era, Liminal Objects’ sculptural presence stands out. During the 1990s, contemporary art saw a “cinematic turn,” with a proliferation of large-scale video projection within the gallery space. Video art “forged a link with cinema and its giganticism” as projected images began to engulf entire walls.2 This was a departure from the previous decade, where CRT monitors—the small boxy televisions so different from today’s large flat LCD screens—were the norm (and sometimes only option) for displaying video art. But in the 1990s, many artists sought to loosen video from default connections to sculpture and the domestic in favor of the more immersive experiences that newer technologies could support.
Hill’s Liminal Objects series doubles down on the sculptural qualities of the CRT monitor while also disengaging it from connotations with the domestic: first, by removing the monitor from its casing, thereby “exposing the circuit boards and cathode tubes, and rendering them dangerous and vulnerable sculptural objects;”3 and second, as in Liminal Objects #5, by placing the monitor vertically atop its small steel table. All of these works would originally use laser disc to play the video loops, a common format for video art at the time due to laser disc’s accuracy for synchronization and potential higher quality as compared to tape-based formats.
Engaged in a silent loop, the tree and chandelier of #5 act as ghost-like semaphores: “a compositional practice of electronic linguistics.”4 But in thinking through the considerable questions for how to continue to display such time-based artworks in the future, another riff on ‘liminal’ comes to mind. “[L]iminal or borderline states are anywhere that something is about to undergo a phase transition or turn into something else.”5 As we all know, formats will become obsolete and technology will fail (just look to your smart phone). CRT monitors are not as easily sourced today and the laser disc has long been eclipsed by the digital file.
That time-based artworks can potentially inhabit future hardware, software, and display mechanisms without losing their inherent meaning, highlights a certain liminality too. How will artists like Hill and tomorrow’s conservators imagine the “phase transition” of these works into the future?
– Mia Ferm, SAM Project Manager, Historic Media Collection
1 Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Gary Hill: Selected Works and Catalogue Raisonné (Cologne: DuMont, 2002): p. 196.
2 Laurenson, Pip, “Developing Strategies for the Conservation of Installations Incorporating Time-Based Media with Reference to Gary Hill’s Between Cinema and a Hard Place,” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, Vol. 40, No. 3, 2001, pp. 259-266: p. 261.
3 Laurenson, Pip, “Developing Strategies for the Conservation of Installations Incorporating Time-Based Media with Reference to Gary Hill’s Between Cinema and a Hard Place,” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, Vol. 40, No. 3, 2001, pp. 259-266: p. 261.
4 Quasha, George, An Art of Limina: Gary Hill’s Works and Writings (Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafa, 2009): p. 90.
5 Quasha, George, An Art of Limina: Gary Hill’s Works and Writings (Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafa, 2009): p. 219.
Crafted out of wood, paint, and opercula shells, Calvin Hunt’s monster Feast Dish, is a testament to the importance of food, community, and potlatch culture to the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples of British Columbia. Born in 1956, Calvin Hunt is known for his monumental sculptures and is a well-respected artist from the Kwagu’l band located in Fort Rupert. Hunt’s feast dish provides a remarkable contrast to the typical Kwakwaka’wakw dishes.
As many partake in Thanksgiving celebrations, it is pertinent to recognize the cultural significance of the potlatch for the First Nations, along with the impact of the Canadian potlatch ban that restricted Indigenous peoples from practicing their traditions for over sixty years, only officially ending in 1951. The word potlatch, in Kwak’wala means “to give.” Potlatching for the Kwakwaka’wakw continues to this day and has been practiced for as long as spoken and written history can remember.
Feast bowls are carefully carved and ornamented by their creators, specifically designed for their use at potlatches that will hold delicious foods such as eulachon fish oil, seal meat, cranberries, and cinquefoil roots. Hunt’s bowl, however, was crafted specifically for SAM to coincide with the Chiefly Feasts exhibition in 1994. The feast bowl is modeled after Sisiutl, a three-headed sea serpent from Kwakwaka’wakw mythology, who can change between human and animal, along with morphing into a self-propelling canoe whose owner must feed with seals. Operculum shells encircle the mouth of the bowl. In nature, these shells protect marine gastropods (snails) from predators along with preventing the gastropod from drying up if they are exposed to air. With these operculum shells adorning the mouth of Hunt’s bowl where feast food is placed, along with this piece having been created shortly after the potlatch ban was lifted, it can be inferred that these shells are protecting the sacred tradition of potlatching from predatory laws.
Today, and every day, is an occasion to give thanks to Indigenous communities.
Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.
– Kari Karsten, SAM Emerging Museum Professional Curatorial Intern
The recent restoration and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum presented a special opportunity to completely redesign and reinstall the museum’s galleries. For the inaugural installation, Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, SAM’s Asian art curators collaborated to select outstanding artworks which showcase some of SAM’s most significant holdings of Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and South Asian art.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation, we were able to record a dedicated tour of the Japanese masterworks featured in the museum. Xiaojin Wu, Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation Curator of Japanese & Korean Art, leads this tour, which provides a close look at more than a dozen artworks ranging from a new site-specific contemporary installation to ancient works, including several on view in the Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Galleries.
Xiaojin welcomes us to the museum under Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn’s Gather, the site-specific light sculpture hanging in the Garden Court, and which metaphorically gathers energy from Isamu Noguchi’s The Black Sun, a sculpture sitting outside the museum.
As she makes her way through the galleries, Xiaojin points out a 10th-century sculpture of Tobatsu Bishamonten, a Buddhist guardian figure. Bishamonten stands on the shoulders of Jiten, the earth goddess, in a representation that takes its form from Shinto sculptures. In a gallery focused on sites of worship, Xiaojin discusses the 18th-century screen, View of Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji serves as one of the most significant sites for Buddhist and Shinto pilgrimage in Japan, and this beautiful work paints Mt. Fuji from a famous viewpoint in Miho’s pine forest.
An integral element of the reinstallation was the decision to organize galleries by theme rather than by country of origin. One telling example can be found in one of our unique vaulted ceiling galleries: a 12th-century Japanese scroll of the Lotus Sutra is placed beside a page of a blue Quran from Tunisia. These works refer to two very different religions, but both use similar materials: gold and silver on indigo dyed paper or parchment. Placed beside one another, their shared visual quality creates an intriguing juxtaposition.
Near the end of the tour, Xiaojin directs our attention to a work acquired by Seattle Art Museum’s founder Richard Fuller. Inspired by a haniwa warrior on view in Treasures of Japan, an exhibition SAM hosted in 1960, and a designated national treasure in the Tokyo National Museum’s collection, Dr. Fuller acquired a similar haniwa for the museum the following year. He proudly called the Seattle haniwa “the brother of the Tokyo haniwa,” as they were excavated at the same time in the 1930s and from the same place in Ōta city, Gunma Prefecture.
SAM’s collection of Japanese art is one of the finest outside of Japan and one of the top ten in the United States. The 3,400 objects within the collection include significant examples of painting, sculpture, lacquerware, and folk textiles. Thank you to the Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation for making it possible for us to create this video tour which allows SAM to better share this incredible collection of Japanese art with not only museum members and local audiences, but with the larger community and art-enthusiasts from across the globe as well. Visit the Seattle Asian Art Museum now to see all the amazing artworks featured in this video.
– Sarah Michael, SAM Director of Institutional Giving
This year marks the 26th annual celebration of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) at the Seattle Art Museum and its partnership with local Oaxacan artist Fulgencio Lazo. Each year, Fulgencio and his wife, Erin Fanning, gather members of the community, young people, musicians, and other artists to mark this day celebrating the eternal cycle of life and invite all of Seattle to join in.
Kick off the festivities by getting to know the artist behind SAM’s annual tapete installation when you watch the interview above with Fulgencio filmed in his recent gallery show, Estrellas del Norte Al Sur at ArtXchange Gallery. In this body of work, Lazo addresses the universal migration of families from one place to another—with a special focus on children’s experiences. Using synthesized lines and symbols, Lazo aims to highlight the elements of a culture and reveal the essence of what migrants carry within when embarking on their journeys.
“These paintings, produced over the last fourteen months, focus on themes of transformation. My world, like all of humanity’s, has been upended by the global pandemic, humanitarian crises exacerbated by climate change, and massive movements for racial and social justice. This trifecta requires that we transform ourselves and our institutions. As an artist I must visually show what transformation looks like.”
– Fulgencio Lazo
Fulgencio Lazo is an internationally recognized artist whose vibrant abstract paintings and sculptures are an exploration of cultural identity and the power of community. Lazo once again designed and built a tapete (a floor covering made of sand, flowers, feathers, and other materials and illustrated with playful images of death) in our Brotman Forum. It will be available for viewing in the Forum until November 10 and is free to access.
As part of the celebration, La Banda Gozona’s quartet performed in front of the tapete for people on October 30. Check it out!
And no marking of Día de los Muertos would be complete without art making! Longtime local artist Jose Orantes has designed a mask project for you to take home that will be available to pick up for free in the Forum between October 30 and November 10. Show us what you make from the art activity by sharing it online with #YourSAMStories.
In the wake of COVID-19, this year’s celebration will be somewhat different—less about gathering together, dancing, and hanging out with friends and more focused on honoring the memories of those who have passed away. We will also focus on showing gratitude for the caregivers, friends, and families who have ensured that the rest of us have thrived in this difficult time. Take part through these in-person and online activities for everyone to enjoy between October 29 and November 10.
– Jason Porter, SAM’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement
Located in the far northwest corner of the contiguous United States, Seattle is oriented more to the Pacific than to Europe, and many of its artists looked to Asia in shaping the region’s singular form of modernism. Some practiced sumi-e (ink painting) and calligraphy as pathways to abstraction; others discovered in Zen a model of self-knowledge and unmitigated expression; still others traveled to Japan and China and made contact with those cultures directly. Artists of Asian descent experienced, on balance, an inclusive artistic environment, despite facing discrimination within the larger community, most tragically during World War II.
Alongside Kamekichi Tokita, Paul Horiuchi, and Geoge Tsutakawa, Kenjiro Nomura was one of Seattle’s leading Japanese American artists. Together, their stories reflect the historical diversity of the Pacific Northwest and its artists, adding further depth to 20th-century American art. As Issei (first-generation Japanese American), Nomura was raised in a traditional Japanese family and educated in the arts and culture of his parentage. He immigrated with his family to the United States in 1907, at the age of eleven. When he was sixteen, his parents returned home, but he stayed on and settled in Seattle to build a successful business and career as an artist.
A self-described “Sunday painter” with little formal training, he specialized in the realist style and vernacular subject matter associated with 1930s American Scene painting. Street, with its formal clarity and unmistakable awareness of place, is typical of his regionalism. Yet, even as he mastered this decidedly Western approach, he also maintained expertise in traditional Japanese painting, whose conventions of color, composition, and line inspired him to approach nature intuitively and on his terms.
Street immortalizes the busy intersection of Fourth Avenue and Yesler Way, the epicenter of Seattle’s thriving Japanese American community during the 1920s and 1930s. Here, Nomura launched Noto Sign Co., a signage manufacturer and popular gathering place for artists, and the headquarters from which he and his business partner, Tokita, established themselves on the local exhibition circuit.
In 1933, Nomura exhibited Street at the Seattle Art Museum’s Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists and with it secured the prestigious Katherine B. Baker Award and a place in the permanent collection of the newly formed museum. When SAM officially opened its doors that same year, it was with a solo exhibition of Nomura’s work. His success, however, was cut short with the Great Depression and resulting forced closure of Noto Sign Co. During World War II, anti-Japanese sentiment and hostility led to his forced internment at the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho. When he returned to Seattle three years later, it was to continued discrimination and limited opportunities for Japanese Americans. Yet, Nomura continued to paint and participate in Seattle’s mid-20th-century cultural scene, sharing common cause with his fellow Northwest Modernists.
Nomura’s work is on view at SAM in the exhibition Northwest Modernism: Four Japanese Americans, and at the Cascadia Art Museum in the major retrospective, Kenjiro Nomura, American Modernist: An Issei Artist’s Journey.
– Theresa Papanikolas, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art
Image: Street, ca. 1932, Kenjiro Nomura, Oil on canvas, 23 3/4 x 28 3/4 in., Gift of West Seattle Art Club, Katherine B. Baker Memorial Purchase Award, 33.225.
Every blanket tells a story. From their weaving structure, hems, threads, and wear, one can uncover the many unspoken stories of both the blanket and its owners, past and present.
Marie Watt is an Indigenous artist from the Seneca Nation whose practice deliberates the intricacies of history, community, and storytelling. For Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations, Watt collected blankets through an open call to the public, with some blankets coming from donations from her community. Some of the blankets have visible tags that state the owner’s name and story. These blankets hold the memories and stories of those who donated them, while simultaneously sharing personal connections, community history, and Iroquois creation stories. In the words of the artist:
“As I fold and stack blankets, they begin to form columns that, to me, hold many references: linen closets, architectural braces, memorials (e.g. the Trajan Column), sculpture (e.g. Brancusi), the great totem poles of the Northwest, and the giant conifers among which I grew up. In Native communities, blankets are given away to honor people for witnessing important life events, births, and comings-of-age, graduations and marriages, namings, and honorings. Among Native people it is as much of a privilege to give a blanket away as to receive one.”
– Marie Watt
Raised by her Seneca mother in the Pacific Northwest, Watt was taught the importance of the continuation and celebration of Indigenous culture. In Blanket Stories, she credits the Iroquois story of The Three Sisters, as one of the many sources of inspiration for this piece. The Three Sisters discusses the themes of home, community, and sharing. The three sisters, Corn, Beans, and Squash, spent their days in a field when, one day, they were visited by a young native boy. Curious about the boy, the sisters followed him home, one after the other. Discovering the warmth and comfort of the boy’s home—and because it was getting colder by the day—the sisters decided to stay and keep the dinner pot full for the boy and his family. The stack of blankets represents how the sisters rely on each other throughout the season to feed our people, highlighting the importance of food, family, and oral history within Indigenous heritage.
Living and working in the Northwest, Watt has stacked blankets so that they rise from floor to ceiling, reminiscent of the totems, or welcome figures, seen in this area of the United States. By visually and thematically connecting two vibrant Indigenous cultures from opposite coasts, Watt welcomes viewers and tells of how we are all connected through the stories that we share. Indigenous people look to the past for guidance from our ancestors, while also thinking towards future generations. These blanket stacks illustrate the histories that they hold, while also demonstrating the comfort and security that they have left to offer.
Every blanket has a story. What is yours?
– Kari Karsten, Emerging Museum Professional Curatorial Intern
October 11 is National Coming Out Day, and to celebrate, we are featuring a work created by queer artist Nick Cave, now on view at SAM. SAM’s collection includes many queer artists: from Marsden Hartley, Mickalene Thomas, and Francis Bacon to Paul Cadmus, Nan Goldin, and Catherine Opie. It is important to SAM that we acknowledge and discuss all artists’ identities as part of the conversations we have about their work. While not all of the queer artists in our collection were out during their careers, and not all created works biographically address queerness, sexuality or gender identity, the visibility of queer artists is an important counter to decades of erasure and exclusion, especially for BIPOC LGBTQIA+ artists. Being seen and being yourself is what coming out day is all about, and Nick Cave’s work represents this beautifully.
Cave began making his Soundsuits after seeing the video of Rodney King, a Black man, brutally beaten by police in 1991. He started by collecting sticks in a local park and stitched them together to create a suit that, when worn, allowed him to completely disappear. Once inside, the suit hid his Blackness, his gender, and other facets of his identity to give way to other modes of being that protected him from the outside world and, in many ways, gave him the freedom to move about and perform.
The Soundsuit by Cave in SAM’s collection represents many elements inherent to the process of realizing one’s sexuality, gender identity, and coming out: artifice, performance, and reinvention.
Let’s tackle these elements one at a time.
Artifice: Cave’s Soundsuits are works of art, but they also draw comparisons to costumes. The wearer/performer disappears in them, and, when worn, they create a completely different appearance from that of the person inside. Queer people have always created identities and personas—for adapting to the restrictions of straight spaces, expressing creativity, or for survival in an otherwise intolerant world. Aiding in the wearer’s transformation and disappearance from view, Cave’s Soundsuits are the ultimate type of protective artifice.
Performance: We queer people just cannot stop performing. Be it on Broadway, Drag Race, in Folk music, ballet or video games, there are queer people everywhere in the arts. We love to disappear into worlds of fantasy, to be the centers of attention, to express our ideas about the world, and to do it loudly and without reservation. The Soundsuits are performance objects that demand attention—they are colorful, loud (literally and figuratively), visually arresting, and they tower over and expand well beyond the average size of a person. When worn, they take up space with their presence and are unabashedly on display.
Reinvention: Cave takes ordinary objects—his studio space is basically a flea market of toys, shells, fake fur, and whatever else he finds out in the world—and turns them into Soundsuits that are part sculpture, part percussion instrument, and part costume. This idea of reinvention is a key component of the coming out experience that many queer people experience. The newness of coming into one’s own identity provides an opportunity to take the essence of oneself and re-introduce it to the world in a brand new, inherently strong, and freer form—much like the Soundsuits, whose raffia strands, knitted sleeves, and beads are reborn as a moving and living work of art.
It is for these reasons that I thought Cave’s work was a sound choice (see what I did there?) for SAM’s Object of the Week. But I also chose it because it is an artwork—like each of the dozens of Soundsuits that Cave has made—that evokes joy, much like that of LGBTQIA+ culture. Cave’s suits are alive with celebration, especially when they’re worn by dancers and you experience the full effect of their materials, colors, movement, and the ways they evoke wonder. I hope for anyone coming out, that ultimately it is a process that not only transforms your life but also brings you joy.
– Jason Porter, Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement
Returning to school for K–12 students and educators not only means the beginning of a new school year, but also returning to in-person classrooms, in many cases. Around this time last year, the School & Educators team at SAM was working closely with our school and community partners on modifying the resources that had been created for the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s 2020 reopening, which were designed for in-person groups at the museum or in the classroom. In the following months, those programs pivoted from an in-person museum visit with related educator resources to a guided virtual experience featuring interactive Eyes on Asia videos.
Throughout the development of Asian art educational resources, we have consistently sought the input of those whose work is closest to youth and families. When the prospect of a fully remote 2020–21 school year became clear, we surveyed the educators that had been involved in our school partnerships for their insights on how best to meet the needs of students without high-speed internet, specialized art supplies, and/or the capacity to regularly attend online classes. Based on their feedback, we began developing Asian art resources that could be used in a virtual classroom or on their own. Instead of providing information on many artworks, we created differentiated ways to explore one object. In this way, an educator would be able to facilitate a sense of shared learning among students, even if they were not following the exact same steps.
Working with local videographer Ellison Shieh, the School & Educators team shot three videos in October 2020. Ellison’s experience at the intersection of documentary filmmaking and historical preservation, as seen in their work on “Chinatown-International District: Bush Garden” in #VanishingSeattle’s award-winning series, was incredibly helpful in cultivating a space of learning in the Eyes on Asia videos. In the coming months, we shared these videos and related resources with educators across many school districts, including Seattle Public Schools and Highline Public Schools. Not only was it a joy to see students engaging with SAM’s Asian art collection in a new way, but educators provided feedback as well. In a focus group with educators that used these videos in their classrooms during the 2020–21 school year, participants shared their thoughts on the importance of student engagement and creative responses:
“The [activity] was just cool. They were super excited about it and like, ‘Do we get to work on this again tomorrow?’”
“I’m always looking for projects that have that balance of structure to help them build skills and then having it be really creative. It fit really well with that . . . . And I loved it because it shows that they are thinking about what is inspiring for them and what will help them be really creative.”
“I’ve been really trying to have a lot of local artists and artists from diverse backgrounds who are currently working that my kids can connect with because they just love to see young, active working artists that look like them. . . . That’s something that I know I would love to get more of.”
In May 2021, after integrating educator feedback, we shot a second round of videos with Ellison. For this second round, SAM invited teaching artist Amina Quraishi to design and lead art activities inspired by works of art on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. In Amina’s activity, she reflects on how Islamic artists in the past have been inspired by the natural world around them. Creating a pattern based on Palampore (bed covering), she reminds us that the process is as important as the product when creating art.
While remote classrooms have now transitioned to hybrid or in-person, we hope that all the Eyes on Asia videos will help educators integrate a strengths-based approach with students, emphasizing their resilience and creativity over the past eighteen months. During this past year, we learned that teachers can adapt interactive video content in their classrooms, looking at works of art in SAM’s collection with their students before or after a future museum visit. With a specific focus on BIPOC artists and cultures underrepresented in our current offerings, we aim to continue improving our work toward community involvement and youth-led learning.
Watch all of SAM’s Eyes on Asia videos on YouTube.
– Yaoyao Liu, Museum Educator, Seattle Asian Art Museum
Yaoyao develops K-12 programs and resources related to other works of contemporary Asian art at SAM.
“The act of kneading clay and creating shapes connects me to the thoughts and memories deep in my heart.”1
– Fujino Sachiko
Form 19-3, a new acquisition, is now on view in Folding Into Shape: Japanese Design and Crafts. It is a recent work by the Japanese artist Fujino Sachiko (born 1950), who began her art practice in textiles and fashion design, and later studied ceramics under the pioneering artist Tsuboi Asuka (born 1932). Inspired by the abstract ceramic works of avant-garde artists such as Yagi Kazuo (1918–1979), Suzuki Osamu (1926–2001), and Yamada Hikaru (1924–2001), Fujino ventured into ceramics, finding that the medium allowed her to express her artistic ideas most freely.2
Drawing on her background in fashion design, Fujino manipulates clay as if folding and shaping fabric. This sculpture’s intricate form is built up from geometric shapes, and balanced with irregular folds in gradations of grey. The folds create beautiful silhouettes like those of a dress, such as the one by Issey Miyake also on view in Folding Into Shape. The elegant texture of the surface was created by the application of matte slip through an airbrush.
Fujino creates her clay sculptures through the laborious process of coil-building and hand-sculpting without the use of maquettes. With an aim to create works that have a dynamic appearance from different angles, she shapes the clay intuitively and does not know the final form of the work until it is complete. Many of her recent ceramic artworks began with geometric forms but turned into more organic forms in the process. While the biomorphic sculpture takes on a floral form, it also invites the viewer to think beyond petals and blossoms. The artist has remarked: “My interest in the mystery of plants has been deeply rooted since my childhood, even though my work is not a direct image of flowers.” Indeed, seen from above, the sculpture evokes a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe.
– Xiaojin Wu, Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation Curator of Japanese and Korean Art
SAM aims to be transparent with what is happening behind the scenes at the museum as it moves forward with its important equity work. You may already be familiar with our internal Equity Team, a staff-driven, cross-departmental advisory group, has been working since 2016 to deepen SAM’s commitment to racial equity in all areas of the institution. Now, we want to share a major, six-month initiative that took place from August 2020 to January 2021: the Equity Task Force.
The goal of this task force was to build on SAM’s commitment to fostering equity and inclusion throughout the museum. Composed of SAM board members, staff, and members of the museum’s Education and Community Engagement Committee, it was chaired by board president Carla Lewis, board member Cherry A. Banks, and SAM’s lllsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, Amada Cruz. The task force as a whole represents a diverse cross-section of SAM staff and community members so that many perspectives could be brought to the table.
Over the course of six months, this group gathered virtually to brainstorm, comb through research, discuss ideas, and ultimately develop recommendations in four critical departments at the museum. We’d like to share some of the broad visions with you:
1. Human Resources: Create a more inclusive work environment and increase representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) at SAM through a focus on recruitment, hiring, and retention practices.
2. Curatorial: Increase BIPOC representation in SAM’s collections, exhibitions, and gallery interpretation; further community collaborations; and expand the scope of programming.
3. Development: Build inclusive fundraising and membership practices that center trust and authenticity to increase connections with BIPOC audiences.
4. Communications: Better understand who our current audiences are and identify those communities where we can more effectively engage. Provide strategic guidance to departments across SAM in communicating equity priorities, goals, and progress both internally and externally.
These are summaries of the expansive, detailed timelines that were generated through this work. Departments are already implementing many of these initiatives as they continue planning and identifying resources for the long term.
Advancing racial equity at SAM is everyone’s responsibility. We want to reflect that commitment within the priorities and plans of every element across the institution. We recognize that this work never ends, and that we each play a role—including you—in creating a museum where everyone feels a powerful sense of belonging and can connect with the art and ideas on view.
Fang Lijun’s No. 19 depicts five people, all bald and dressed in button-up shirts, looking at something together. In the galleries of the Seattle Asian Art Museum, it’s hard to place these figures and understand exactly what they are doing. The gray shadows on their faces and downturned mouths seem to suggest disapproval, or at least resignation. A sense of amusement gives way to an unsettling sense of curiosity about why they are dressed identically and have gathered together.
Fang Lijun’s paintings and woodblock prints often feature groups of these lookalikes. They tend to communicate a singular emotion by simultaneously donning blank stares, maniacal grins, or awestruck expressions. In 1992, art critic Li Xianting described Fang’s work, as well as that of fellow artists Yue Minjun and Zhang Xiaogang, as “Cynical Realism.” This term encompasses works of contemporary Chinese art that, through irony and satire, responded to the societal changes of the 1980s. These artists came of age during the Cultural Revolution, a period marked by uniformity and a staunch ethos of collectivism, only to witness those values fall out of fashion a decade later amidst China’s increasing embrace of free market economics. Reflecting this context, the viewer can see both humor and bleakness in No. 19. In a 2017 interview, Fang remarked that the silly or undignified impressions given off by his figures amounts to “mischievousness, mockery, making fun of people.”1
In this same interview, a quarter century after the term was coined, Fang also voices ambivalence about his work being described as Cynical Realism. But a viewer might interpret No. 19 as commenting on Chinese society in other ways, including the artist’s choice of medium. No. 19 is a woodblock print, which requires carving the negative of an image on a piece of wood, coating the panel with ink, and impressing it onto paper or fabric. Though woodblock printing has been a part of East Asian art for over a thousand years, Chinese artists of the New Woodcut Movement in the 1930s used the art form in a new way: to advocate for social change. These artists committed to “representing the underrepresented,” populating their images with “peasants, beggars, prisoners, rickshaw pullers, boat trackers, famine victims, war refugees, industrial workers, and political protestors.”2 Through easily distributed and visually accessible prints, these artists hoped to give voice to ordinary people and spark political consciousness.
Likewise, the group depicted in No. 19—nameless, without distinguishing features—seems to be fairly ordinary as well. But compared to the protestors crying out for change shown in 1930s woodcuts, they seem quieter and more ominous. No. 19 might prompt the viewer to glance over their shoulder—an instinctive reaction to the feeling that they are missing what everyone is seeing. What could it be?
Returning to Li Xianting’s 1992 article, a younger Fang Lijun is quoted as saying, “A fool is someone still trusting after being taken in a hundred times. We’d rather be lost, bored, crisis-ridden misguided punks than be cheated.”4 Considering that this artwork was completed in 1996, these figures seem to exist in the aftermath of the 20th century and at the dawn of the 21st century in China. Representing a generation caught between a “before” and an “after,” Fang Lijun’s figures witnessed how mass mobilization towards one vision of the future could be invalidated or entirely reversed. While there are only five people in No. 19, it’s not hard to imagine the woodcut print being duplicated many times over, producing 10, 15, or 20,000 of these sullen individuals. Their shabby clothes or slack faces may indeed be mocked by other people, especially those rebounding from upheaval by busily forging ahead in the new millennium. But their unwavering stares seem to see things a little more clearly.
– Yaoyao Liu, Museum Educator, Seattle Asian Art Museum
Yaoyao develops K-12 programs and resources related to other works of contemporary Asian art at SAM, including the Eyes on Asia video series.
In the 15th-16th century, this ivory salt cellar would have belonged to a wealthy European collector, adding precious salt to their meals or variety to their cabinet of curiosities. The crocodile motif, masterfully carved by Sapi artisans in Sierra Leone, would have evoked the “newly discovered” African continent. We can understand this combination of foreign taste and local craftsmanship as an early form of commissioned “tourist art,” and exotic items like this one became increasingly popular in European collections.
The Portuguese arrived on the shores of Sierra Leone in 1460, which began a short period of relative cross-cultural harmony. In the 15th and 16th centuries, urban life on the West African coast did not look vastly different from urban life in Lisbon, so Portuguese merchants were quickly able to establish relationships, trading for vast amounts of gold, ivory, pepper, and other goods. Curiosities like this salt cellar were also valuable African exports, so Portuguese merchants commissioned items to sell to collectors in Portugal. Artistic patronage structures in Sierra Leone were similar to those in Europe, which meant Portuguese patrons could request specific designs be used in commissioned works, often bringing an etching or other model to demonstrate their wishes. This exchange of ideas led to a confluence of European and African designs in many of these exported ivories.
Emma George Ross writes that ivories like this one have been described as “emerging from a period that predates power imbalances and racist imagery. Therefore, the shared African and Portuguese aesthetic that they reflect is one that was achieved through the negotiation of equals.”1 However, the rosy picture of “negotiation among equals” is at odds with the 175,000 enslaved people who were taken from Africa to Europe and the Americas during this early period of Afro-Portuguese contact. The slave trade grew exponentially with increasing Dutch and British involvement in the 17th century.
Because of the consequent power imbalance and rise of white supremacy, the African makers of carved ivories in European princely collections were often erased. Only in the 20th century did researchers rediscover the Sapi and Benin origins of certain carved ivories, returning this cross-cultural collaboration to the art historical narrative and establishing the category of “Afro-Portuguese ivories.”
– Linnea Hodge, Former (and much-missed) SAM Curatorial Division Coordinator
1 Ross, Emma George. “Afro-Portuguese Ivories.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/apiv/hd_apiv.htm (October 2002)
Bortolot, Alexander Ives. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/slav/hd_slav.htm (October 2003)
Ross, Emma George. “Afro-Portuguese Ivories.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/apiv/hd_apiv.htm (October 2002)
Ross, Emma George. “The Portuguese in Africa, 1415–1600.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/agex/hd_agex.htm (October 2002)
Image: Salt cellar, ca. 1490-1530, Sierra Leone, ivory, 8 1/8 x 2 9/16 x 2 11/16 in., Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection, 68.31.
The Warmth of the Sun Recently, we have really been feeling the heat of the sun! This wonderful and mysterious celestial body is a life-giving force and, without its presence, we would be in darkness with our companion species and without food resources. For millennium, Indigenous Peoples have understood the connectedness of humans to the forces of the land, water, and sky.
Raven, a wily trickster and culture hero, is credited with bringing humankind many important gifts to aid in their survival, like water, light (in the form of the sun, moon, and stars), and ceremony. His questionable deeds and adventures—and especially his voracious appetite—are well documented in orally transmitted stories (later written down by anthropologists) that form a corpus of oral traditions that demonstrate important teachings about Indigenous values and wisdom. These “legends” formed part of the “encyclopedia knowledge,” called hečusəda in the Lushootseed language of our region, whose teachings reveal the knowledge that humans need to live respectfully in the world, and which would be passed down through the generations.
In this famous story, the world is in darkness and humans are suffering. A great chief is the only one with light, which he keeps in his treasure box. Raven disguises himself as a hemlock needle so that the chief’s daughter would drink it and become pregnant, thereby giving the chief a beloved grandson, Raven himself, in the form of a human child. The raven-child is unrelenting in his desire for his grandfather’s treasure box and will not stop crying until he is given it. With the box safely in hand, he reverts to his raven form, flies through the house’s smoke hole, and releases the sun, moon, and stars, thus illuminating the world for all of its creatures.
In this print by George Hunt, Jr., Raven Releasing the Sun, the artist shows the crafty protagonist in the moment after he has opened the chief’s treasure box and released the first of its precious items—the sun—which the artist has depicted as a mask-like face. The rays of the sun are so formidable as to reveal themselves as bold, red tapering lines embedded with formline ovoids, U-shapes, and three-pointed “trigons”—the building block of Northwest Coast design.
George Hunt, Jr. is a part of the renowned Hunt family of artists that goes back generations to the village of Fort Rupert (Tsaxis), British Columbia.1 Descendants of the Kwaguł people, who still live there, trace their occupancy to at least 6,000 years. In 1849 the Hudson’s Bay Company opened a fort there and drew an active exchange between Indigenous People of the coast and the traders.
In the early twentieth century, famed anthropologist Franz Boas collaborated with George Hunt (1854-1933), who provided invaluable cultural material (art objects and cultural information) to Boas’s expanding exhibitions at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, and to the many volumes Boas published on the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl). George Hunt was half Tlingit, the son of a high-ranking chief’s daughter, Mary Ebbetts Hunt (Anislaga) from Klukwan, Alaska, and an English fur trader. He was born in Fort Rupert in 1854 and deeply enmeshed in Kwaguł art, culture, and ceremony. George Hunt, Jr, the artist of this print, is a directly connected to this lineage. He is a well-known carver and painter, like his relatives Mungo Martin, Henry Hunt, and Tony Hunt. Interestingly, his native name Nas-u-niz means “Light Beyond the World.” This story of Raven was likely brought to the Hunt family by George’s great-great-grandmother, Mary Ebbetts Hunt, herself an accomplished weaver.2
The Newest United States Forever Postage Stamp
“Many depictions of this story show Raven with the Sun in his mouth representing the stealing of the Sun. I was trying to showcase a bit of drama . . . The climax of the story is after Raven has released the sun and the moon and has opened his grandfather’s final precious box, which contained the stars. In this design I am imagining Raven in a panicked state of escape—transforming from human form to raven form and holding on to as many stars as he can while trying to escape the clan house.” – Rico Worl
– Barbara Brotherton, SAM Curator of Native American Art
As another breathtaking Seattle summer quickly approaches, our craving for freedom, both from the chilly Pacific Northwest damp and from the seemingly endless shadow of the pandemic, grows ever more desperate.
In this state, we can easily empathize with the two women portrayed in Uemura Shoen’s Summer Evening and Kajiwara Hisako’s Woman in Summer Attire, both painted in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Each of the two works might at first glance be identified within the tradition of bijinga (美人画), a term used to describe idealized images of beautiful women which emerged in the mid-Edo period (around 1603-1868). However, though Shoen and Hisako were both trained in the bijinga genre in Kyoto, they were motivated to resist its conventions by the desire to represent thoroughly modern women. Their subjects have complexity and agency; they demand more than what social convention has prescribed for them, and long for liberation from the domestic interior that confines them.
In Summer Evening, Uemura Shoen (1875-1949) depicts an elegantly dressed young woman whose back is turned to the viewer as she looks out from a covered balcony. In her left hand she holds a paper fan, and the loosely tied, gold-accented sash, subtle bird motif in the kimono’s patterning, and basket weave on the hem suggest the refinement of a geisha. The diagonal lines in the drapery of her kimono indicate motion, and we sense that though she may be paused in observation, the cessation of movement will be brief. We have no way of knowing whether she is awaiting a guest, enjoying the moonrise, or looking longingly after one who has just departed. This ambiguity leaves us wondering, and enhances the appeal of the image.
Kajiwara Hisako (1896-1988) was well known for her unpretentious paintings of working class or professional women, and this work is considered one of the most evocative examples of her distinctive approach. In Woman in Summer Attire, the sitter actively meets the viewer’s eyes rather than passively looking away. She pierces us with a stare that at once reflects a sense of boredom and defiance; her ambiguous expression leaves this work open to a variety of interpretations.
Shoen and Hisako blended traditional media and format with modern themes in their artistic practice at a time when Japan was undergoing rapid industrialization and globalization in response to invasive influence from the West. These and other works by Shoen and Hisako stand out amongst those of their contemporaries because they not only resist the male gaze, but are in fact crafted in the female gaze. There is an overwhelming feeling of anticipation, even impatience, in the women they portray.
– Tori Champion, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art
Images: Summer Evening, ca. 1900, Uemura Shoen, color on silk, 84 7/16 x 24 1/2 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2009.70.11. Woman in Summer Attire, 1921, Kajiwara Hisako, ink and color on silk, 79 5/8 x 22 3/4 in., Gift of Laura Elizabeth Ingham in honor of Amalia Partridge Ingham, 94.149
During his time in New York in 1994, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami developed a style of art he describes as “East-meets-West” or “high-meets-low.” Featuring bright colors and a vivid style that is ingenious in its simplicity, Murakami quickly became a renowned contemporary artist, collaborating with prominent cultural figures such as Kanye West and Pharell Williams.
Flower Ball speaks to the beauty of individuality and diversity. Each flower is unique in its colorations and size, situated harmoniously to create the illusion of a three-dimensional ball. The smiling, emoji-like faces at the center of each flower embody a sense of joy and innocence, and have become one of Murakami’s most featured motifs.
Murakami has become increasingly concerned with using his joyful artwork to balance out what he sees as sorrow or tragedy associated with minority groups in America. This topic is a personal one for Murakami, based on his own experiences as an outsider in New York. The prominence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in response to anti-Black violence has also had an impact on Murakami’s artistic motivations. His simple pop-art images, bold and effervescent, attempt to offer an equilibrium to sadness, highlighting the joy and beauty of diversity. “If my art can effect any change here and now,” Murakami explains, “I want to contribute it not only to give back but to give power to the Black community plagued by the racial injustice.”
This discussion regarding the necessity of celebration and inclusion in the face of tragedy and exclusion is more essential than ever in the current climate of not only the BLM movement, but the recent violence towards Asian Americans as well. The divisiveness and inequities revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic and continued racial discrimination have created unsafe spaces for many groups, with countless instances of vitriol and violence.
Works like Flower Ball remind us that differences between individuals are beautiful and vital––a concept embodied in the diversity of each iconic flower situated together in harmony. As a global art museum, SAM promotes the voices of Black, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), Latinx, immigrant communities, minority groups, and all other diverse actors who contribute to the beauty of art, media, culture, and society here in America and across the globe.
– Caitlin Sherman, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art
Since 1985, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) has held the Naramore Art Show to share the works of its arts students and to celebrate their achievements with their community. Floyd A. Naramore, whose name is honored by this exhibition, was a visionary architect who invested deeply in his community and in the education of students. He designed over 22 schools, including Roosevelt, Garfield and Cleveland high schools, and several middle school buildings.
The Naramore Art show is an annual tradition celebrating the excellence of the Middle and High-School artists of Seattle Public Schools. Seattle Art Museum is a proud partner in Naramore, and each year we look forward to working with graphic design students as they design promotional posters, assisting with the installation of art in our Community Gallery, and honoring artists in the award ceremony. From Lincoln to Chief Sealth International High School, SPS is represented by some of the most imaginative and thought-provoking artists in this city. These are students who are constantly questioning the social issues they’ve seen rise around them and their works show the incredible deep empathy, wisdom, and compassion for this world they’re growing up in.
In March 2020, when COVID-19 forced closure of schools, SPS administrators and teachers pivoted to new ways of engaging students in a world of virtual learning. As our community experienced the traumas of illness, racial violence, and economic uncertainty, SPS turned their attention to the needs of students and families. From establishing meal sites to setting up WiFi hotspots, SPS responded. Some might wonder where art fits into all of this. Throughout history and to the present, art provides a way for us to process, heal, and connect. This time is no different. Over the past school year, our young artists created home studios at kitchen tables and on their bedroom floors. Using visual art kits assembled by art teachers and administrators, paints and ceramics made their way into homes and were put to good use. Whether creating works in defense of Black lives or finding a moment of escape into swirls of abstraction, students used their talent to respond to this moment in their own way. These works are a gift to us all and a statement to the power of art.
This year Naramore will once again be a virtual gallery on the SPS Visual & Performing Arts website and includes 176 works of art by students from across the district. The show will be on view through June 30, 2021 and can be accessed online here! Additionally, students are invited to continue sharing artwork they’ve created at home during quarantine on Instagram under #artistsofsps.
You are also invited to join us for the virtual celebration on Friday, May 21 at 6 pm, co-hosted by Rayna Mathis, SAM’s Assistant Educator for Teen Programs. The celebration will include a viewing of the artwork, keynotes by Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones and Carlynn Newhouse, student video diaries, and more! No registration required, just tune in on YouTube, stream on the Seattle School District webpage, or view on SPS TV Channel 26.
We are so grateful to these young artists and ask that our community take a moment to experience their visionary work. Appreciation is good but action is better. Ask yourself what can I do to make our community more healthy and just for this new generation? We all have a role to play.
– Anna Allegro, Senior Manager of School & Educator Programs
Images: More Than Just One, Xixi Gardner, 11th Grade, Chief Sealth High School. Rainbow Perspective, Alexandra Lawson-Mangum, 11th Grade, Franklin High School.
Intrigue, deception, mistaken identity, and overlapping love triangles carry Chapter 51 of the Tale of Genji to the heights of drama. Caught in between a love for two suitors who could not be more different, except in their indefatigable adoration for her, Ukifune struggles to discover where her heart truly lies. On the one hand, the prince Niou is handsome and charming, but impetuous and inconstant. On the other, the general Kaoru is understated and sensitive, but formal and overly mannered. Isolated from society in a remote mountain residence where Kaoru is keeping her, the desired lady is agonized by indecision, knowing that her life depends on a man’s provision. Ukifune, the central character’s name and also the title of this chapter, means “floating boat,” and is suggestive of Ukifune’s state of adriftness.
The scene depicted in this hanging scroll invites us into a rare moment of calm amidst the turmoil. Niou has managed to evade the watchful eyes of Kaoru’s guards, and has absconded with Ukifune in the middle of the night, to a boat that will take them to a place across the river Uji where they can be alone. Under the gaze of the winter moon, the couple drifts through silent mists and icy waters towards the other shore.
“Without a word, he took Ukifune up in his arms and carried her off. Jijū followed after and Ukon was left to watch the house. Soon they were aboard one of the boats that had seemed so fragile out on the river. As they rowed into the stream, she clung to Niou, frightened as an exile to some hopelessly distant shore. He was delighted. The moon in the early-morning sky shone cloudless upon the waters. They were at the Islet of Oranges said the boatman, pulling up at a large rock over which evergreens trailed long branches.”
The artist, Kiyohara Yukinobu (1643-1682), was one of only a few known women artists permitted to publicly practice her craft in Edo-period (1603-1868) Japan. Yukinobu lived in Kyoto and was likely trained by her father in the tradition of the Kano school. Celebrated for her exacting brushwork and meticulous detail, Yukinobu was also known for her portrayals of legendary women of history. The Tale of Genji, said to be the first novel, was written in the eleventh century by a female writer, Murasaki Shikibu. In another hanging scroll by Yukinobu titled Murasaki Shikibu Gazing at the Moon, the author is captured in the process of drafting Genji.
This moment of passage across the nighttime waters is one that has drawn many artists across the centuries, but Yukinobu’s approach is unique. In the text, the couple are accompanied by a boatman and an attendant, but Yukinobu has chosen to depict them alone, sharing a private embrace. The artist may have been thinking of an exchange earlier in the chapter:
“Niou sent for an inkstone. He wrote beautifully, even though for his own amusement, and he drew interesting pictures. What young person could have resisted him? ‘You must look at this and think of me when I am not able to visit you.’ He sketched a most handsome couple leaning towards each other. ‘If only we could be together always.’ And shed a tear.”
We can compare Yukinobu’s interpretation to that of one of her seventeenth-century near-contemporaries, Tosa Mitsuyoshi, in his five-volume set of handscrolls depicting scenes from the novel. Mitsuyoshi chooses the same scene, but paints Ukifune and Niou sitting apart, looking away from one another, rather than locked in a warm embrace. We are positioned with a bird’s eye view of the couple, and Niou’s back faces us, effectively excluding us from any intrusion we might make on the couple’s private escape. In contrast, Yukinobu encourages us to share this moment that is at once blissfully serene and full of anxious uncertainty. Our view is unobstructed, our gaze unfettered; we see deeply into the emotional state of each of the vessel’s passengers. We are immersed in the scene, traveling invisibly alongside Ukifune and Niou, and are invited to contemplate the tender stillness of time’s passage.
– Tori Champion, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art
 Murasaki Shikibu and Edward Seidensticker (translator), The Tale of Genji (New York: Knopf, 1976), 991.  Ibid., 983.
Images: Hanging scroll, ca. 1670, Kiyohara Yukinobu, ink and color on silk, 13 15/16 × 22 13/16 in., Gift of Frank D. Stout, 92.47.322. Illustrations of Genji Monogatari: Vol. 2, The Sacred Tree, 17th century, Tosa Mitsuyoshi, color and platinum on paper, 10 1/2 in. x 29.9 ft, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 52.40.2
Jacob Lawrence’s iconic series Struggle: From the History of the American People retells key moments in this country’s early history and centers the underrepresented contributions of Black Americans, Indigenous Americans, and women. Lawrence’s vision is an inspiration to young people today as they reflect on historic times. Created in partnership with South End Stories and Mr Santos Creations, this video features insights from Seattle Public School students, past and present. Delbert Richardson, founder and curator of the American History Traveling Museum: The Unspoken Truths, contextualizes this iconic work of American art and draws connection to our current times, from Crispus Attucks to Black Lives Matter. Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle is on view through May 23, 2021.
Terrence Jeffrey Santos Regional Emmy Awardee for Cinematography (2016), The Otherside Documentary Design Director of Video Production, UW Athletics Marketing Department (2010-2015) @filipinxfoodseattle @musangtinos @anaktoykompany @loveandpicnics
Donte Felder Donte is the founder and Executive Director at South End Stories (one of our new community partners) where they focus on Trauma-Informed Arts Practice: Healing Through History and Creativity. Donte is a former SPS educator and has been the recipient of WEA’s Humanitarian Award as well as Washington’s Golden Apple Award. Donte comes from a family of seasoned educators and community leaders focused on pursuing social justice by developing anti-racist and anti-oppression practices in schools and communities. southendstories-artsed.com
Bayje Felder has been acting since the age of 5. She has starred in productions through Stone Soup Theater, Stage Struck, Columbia City Youth Theater Group, Orca K-8 Drama Program, and South End Stories. Some of Bayje’s favorite roles were as Charlie, in an Orca Drama reboot, Lavendar in Matilda the Musical, and as Hamilton in the Stage Struck Summer Program. Bayje is 13, enjoys soccer, basketball, baking, singing, hanging with her best friends, and playing with her pets Tyson the hedgehog and Kairo the Akita. Bayje’s favorite mottos are “Be yourself because everyone is taken.” And “Live everyday like it’s your last.”
Cece Chan is an activist and educator from Seattle, Washington who uses she/her/hers pronouns. She is a second year student at Pacific Lutheran University where she is the student body president and a double major in Gender, Sexuality, and Race Studies and Communications with a concentration in Media Studies. Her passions include decolonizing and diversifying systems of education, criminal justice, and healthcare. She is recognized for her film, For the Culture: An Ethnic Studies Documentary and her curriculum writing with South End Stories. She is, as she describes herself, an imperfect yet fearless leader.
Savannah Blackwell is a senior at Franklin High School and will attend Howard University in the fall. She has performed all over Seattle including the Moore theater with More Music @ the Moore 2019, the Paramount for their annual fundraiser, and the Benaroya Hall, also in 2019, with IBuildBridges. Savannah has participated in several plays & musicals. Some of her favorite roles have been Alice in Alice In Wonderland, a Doowop girl in Little Shop of Horrors, and Dorothy in The Wiz. Savannah believes in the power of music and arts and is grateful she’s able to use it as a vehicle for change and connection.
Mr. Delbert Richardson is a Community Scholar, Ethnomuseumologist, and Second Generation Storyteller, Owner of Global Unspoken Truths, LLC and President, of the National Awarding Winning American History Traveling Museum: The “Unspoken” Truths. With the use of authentic artifacts, storyboards, and the ancient art of “storytelling,” Mr. Richardson teaches “American History” through an afrocentric lens. His work is broken into four sections: Mother Africa, which focuses on the many contributions by Africans in the area of science, technology engineering, and mathematics (S.T.E.M.); American Chattel Slavery, the brutal treatment and psychological impacts on African Americans of the Diaspora; The Jim Crow era, the racial caste system that focused on the creation and enforcement of legalized segregation; and Still We Rise, which focuses on the many contributions in the Americas and Black inventors/inventions. Mr. Richardson’s work is geared towards K-12 students as well as professional development training for (primarily) white female teachers that make up over 79% of the national teaching force. Diversity, equity, and inclusion training is also a part of Mr. Richardson’s portfolio. Awards: 2013 National Campus Compact Newman Fellow, 2017 National Education Assoc. (NEA) Human and Civil Rights, 2019 Seattle Mayor Arts, 2019 Seattle Crosscut Courage in Culture, 2020 Assoc. of King County Org. (AKCHO) Heritage Education, 2020-2021 National Maquis Who’s Who.
Did you know that you can experience art by the famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai at the Seattle Asian Art Museum? Learn all about Hokusai’s Five Beautiful Women, guided by Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO Amada Cruz. A household name in Japan and known widely worldwide, Hokusai is well regarded for his iconic prints of the Great Wave and Red Fuji. Hokusai enjoyed a prolific 70 year career, during which he created an estimated tens of thousands of woodblock prints. His creative energy and genius can also be found in his paintings, which unlike prints, were not produced in multiples and are more rare, such as this work in our collection.
SAM was selected to participate in the Bank of America ‘Masterpiece Moment’ program—a new series of videos that showcase works of art in the collections of 25 museum partners across the United States. For more than three decades, Bank of America has generously supported a variety of programs at SAM. The Art Conservation program is one major initiative that most recently helped restore Alexander Calder’s The Eagleat the Olympic Sculpture Park. Additionally, the Museums on Us program supports SAM’s ongoing operations and gives their cardholders special access to SAM.
Painted in 1810, Five Beautiful Women features women of different social backgrounds in an intriguing hierarchy and differentiated by their clothing. The garments and accessories prompt us to consider clothing and its relationship to our identity. At the top, a woman in a kimono decorated with an iris design and lavish obi sash is from a high-ranking warrior family. Below her, a young woman from a wealthy merchant family wears a shibori tie-dyed kimono and is practicing flower arrangement. In a black kimono with floral designs and butterfly-shaped hat, the woman in the middle is a lady-in-waiting in the residence of a shogun or daimyo, a Japanese feudal lord. A high-class courtesan, identified by her front-tied obi with a peacock feather pattern, is below her. Anchoring the work is a women in a simple brown kimono wearing a checkered obi sash and she reclines on the floor reading a book. Some scholars suggest she is a widow because of her plucked eyebrows and somber colored robes.
Bank of America recognizes the power of the arts to help economies thrive, educate and enrich societies, and create greater cultural understanding. The Masterpiece Moment program was launched to both celebrate great works of art and provide critical funding for museums across the country, including SAM, during a very difficult time. We are deeply grateful to Bank of America for their incredible support of SAM. Learn more about this wonderful Hokusai work in SAM’s collection by visiting the Masterpiece Moment website. New videos are released every other Monday, and we hope you’ll follow along!
This show-stopping bingata robe comes from Okinawa, the southernmost islands of Japan. With brilliant colors and a rhythmic pattern of cherry blossoms, swallows, irises, and flowing water, it is descended from an important textile tradition. See if you can spot it during your next visit to the Asian Art Museum, which reopens to the public at the end of May.
Bingata textiles are created with a paste-resist technique using either stencils or freehand motifs. The name refers to this process, not to the fiber or weave of the textile itself. This bingata robe is made of silk, but cotton and ramie were also used as a base. In paste-resist dyeing, a thick, water-soluble paste is applied to a textile in order to keep pigment or dye from coloring selected areas. For bingata, this paste is traditionally made from a cooked rice flour mixture. When the paste is dry, multiple layers of pigment are then brushed onto the open areas with thick, short brushes. Once the pigment has dried, the resist paste is washed away but the color remains. The process can be repeated many times to create detailed designs of many colors.
Okinawa was an independent kingdom known as Ryukyu until it was formally annexed by Japan in 1872. In 1879, Japan’s central government abolished the Ryukyu monarchy and renamed the region Okinawa. Under the Ryukyu monarchy, the production and consumption of bingata was tightly connected to the royal court. Expensive and labor-intensive, bingata was reserved for members of the monarchy. Family workshops, patronized primarily by the royal family, produced bingata from start to finish. The large-scale pattern and yellow ground of this striking robe are characteristic of the garments worn by the highest-ranking members of the Ryukyu royal family.
When the Ryukyu monarchy was abolished, bingata was in danger of disappearing. Without the patronage of the royal family, bingata production collapsed. In the following decades, increasing popularity of western-style dress and the violent conflicts of World War II (some of which occurred on Okinawa) further diminished interest in traditional textiles like bingata. After World War II, descendants of bingata family workshops worked to revive the craft. The patterns of bingata were applied to objects other than garments, including folding screens, greeting cards, calendars, and placemats. Today, Okinawan makers apply the colors and patterns of bingata to a range of garments and accessories in an expression of regional identity.
– Rachel Harris, SAM Asian Art Conservation Associate
 Rathburn, William Jay. “Okinawan Weaving and Dyeing,” in Beyond the Tanabata Bridge: Traditional Japanese Textiles (Thames and Hudson/Seattle Art Museum, 1993), 196.
Images: Lined robe, early 20th century, Japanese, plain weave silk crepe with paste-resist stencil decoration (Oki., bingata) lined with modern replacement silk broadcloth, 47 3/4 in. long (from collar) x 43 in. wide, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 89.155. Paper stencil (katagami), late 19th century, Japanese, mulberry bark paper treated with persimmon juice and silk thread, 19 x 14 1/2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.1782
When I first saw this Javanese sarong on display, its indigo dye was its commonality with other works on view in the 2016 Seattle Asian Art Museum exhibition, Mood Indigo: Textiles from Around the World. The label for this particular textile was striking: “step into a sarong and you enter via a network of symbols that support your place in a cosmic sacred landscape.”
Every label for Mood Indigo, written by Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art,was beautifully informative and poetic, but this sarong was more than a costume or uniform: It promised to be fully transportive—beyond Earth—while recalling living things on our planet, with its plants and depiction of night and day. It is replete with delicate flowers on the trim, intricately veined flora against a dotted night sky, and a lighter sky contoured with broad diagonal lines, with butterflies and birds with trailing tails.
Batik—the Indonesian textile-based process in which designs are applied with wax to cloth that is then dyed—is a celebrated Javanese cultural tradition practiced on a national scale. In its early history, however, batik designs were tightly regulated as a court art, with certain designs reserved for reigning Javanese families to wear, signifying and legitimizing their power within a kingdom. To describe batik as only an aesthetic demonstration of the wearer’s authority, however, falls short of its greater ambitions as a means of contributing to the balance of the cosmos.
Very generally speaking, in the context of the universe within ancient Javanese culture, bringing society to align with the harmony and balance of the cosmos also meant centering the aristocratic family, from which order and prosperity would follow. The practice of wearing certain batik designs differed between courts and regions, but certain symbols would be consistent, such as winged, long-tailed birds, indicative of royalty in reference to the prominent Hindu deity Vishnu, or his son, Skandi-Karkitteya. Patterns of plant life with animals, which were also part of the categories reserved for royalty, referred to fertility and the growth promised by Javanese sovereignty. The design might be dictated depending on the type of clothing (sarong were usually worn around the waist, and in full ensembles, with an accessory such as a type of knife known as a kris), and would complete a ritual ensemble aimed to place the wearer in greater cosmic alignment.
These traditions far preceded this 19th-century sarong. The early symbolism of batik design, and its regulation, was highly influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism, and was worn for a wide variety of ceremonies and more mundane purposes as well. By the time of the production of this particular sarong, Java would have already been colonized by Dutch and British rule, interrupting certain categories of batik design, though the original meaning of specific symbols would persist.
Given the centuries-long endurance of batik to its present-day status as emblematic of Indonesian culture (in Java in particular), its practice and lexicon of patterns are protected, and its practice widely encouraged. In 2009, batik was recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity from Indonesia.
Though it was not part of the original intention for this garment to be worn by just anyone, the transcendental state of being that was extended to the wearer asserts their place on a micro- and macro-cosmic scale: as participating in Javanese culture and sustaining Javanese traditions, as well as as their particular station in the broader context of the universe, as a point from which harmony and growth for a whole kingdom can emanate, wherever they go.
– Hannah Hirano, SAM Coordinator for Museum Services and Conservation
1 Robert Wessing, “Wearing the Cosmos: Symbolism in Batik Design,” Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 2, no. 3 (1986): pp. 40-82, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40860214.
As we prepare to reopen the Asian Art Museum to the public on May 28, we’re sharing some of the work that has happened inside the museum while it has been closed. The Asian Paintings Conservation Center will not be open when we reopen, but there will be a monitor outside of it where you can learn more about what SAM staff is doing to ensure that Asian artworks are cared for and can be enjoyed by generations to come.
Though limited due to the pandemic, conservation activities have continued at the Asian Paintings Conservation Center. With generous, multi-year funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the staff has used this time to ensure the new center operates and is fully stocked with the specialized tools and materials required for the conservation of Asian paintings. Grant funding allowed the team to acquire pigments, tools, adhesives, technical furniture, and many different types of paper in anticipation of reopening.
While waiting, the studio has been used extensively by SAM’s conservation team. Chief conservator Nick Dorman used our new Leica stereo-binocular microscope to examine and document a late 14th-century Tibetan thangka painting scheduled for display. Consisting of pigments painted on a cotton support, the thangka depicts four mandalas, universes of Buddhist deities. To ensure the painting can withstand exhibition, Dorman examined it for evidence of flaking and lifting pigments, as well as delicate areas. He also examined and documented the condition of the cotton fabric support. Given the painting no longer has its original textile mounting fabrics, this work, as in many Western museums, is in a frame with a blue silk-covered mat. The current treatment constitutes the minimum necessary set of measures to ensure the painting is safe for display. The staff looks forward to doing more comprehensive research once the studio is fully operational. In the meantime, we can all look forward to exploring the dense imagery and exquisite detail of this thangka when the Asian Art Museum reopens.
Image: Four Mandalas, Late 14th Century, Tibetan, Watercolor on cloth, 27 x 23 1/4 in. (68.58 x 59.06 cm) Overall h.: 34 5/16 in. Overall w.: 29 5/8 in., Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 66.120.
I hope I have made it clear that the work is about perfection as we are aware of it in our minds but that the paintings are very far from being perfect- completely removed in fact- even as we ourselves are.1
– Agnes Martin
In 1985, Agnes Martin painted Untitled #2. In her distinctive six-feet by six-feet scale, the painting’s composition balances washes of soft color with hand-drawn horizontal graphite lines. Lean in to look closely and you can see the imperfections of a human hand drawing with pencil. Lean back and the painting surrounds you with atmospheric bands of color and space.
This poem, like the paintings, is not really about nature. It is not about what is seen. It is what is known forever in the mind.2
– Agnes Martin
Martin believed that who we are shapes what we see. She thought that paintings could provide transformative and non-prescriptive experiences for the viewer. In her writings, she described that “the life of the work depends upon the observer, according to his own awareness of perfection and inspiration.”3 Rather than asking the artist, “What does this painting mean?” Martin asks the viewer to consider, “What does this painting mean to you?”
When we live our lives it’s something like a race – our minds become concerned and covered over and we get depressed and have to get away for a holiday. And then sometimes there are moments of perfection and in these moments we wonder why we ever thought life was difficult.4
– Agnes Martin
When I first saw Untitled #2 hanging in SAM’s galleries, I felt peace and wonder. The simplicity of the repeating forms encouraged me to stay still. Martin once wrote she liked a painting “because you can go in there and rest.”Untitled #2 offered me that restful space––an opportunity to quiet the mind. I wonder as I write this, what this painting means to you. Is it one you walk by in the galleries or does it also draw you in? I like to imagine Martin would not care either way. She would just hope you found something that gives you a definite response, a moment of perfection, a chance to feel something new.
– Regan Pro, SAM Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement
1 Agnes Martin, Writings, Pace Gallery, 1992, p. 15. 2 Agnes Martin, Writings, Pace Gallery, 1992, p. 15. 3 Ibid, p. 32. 4 Ibid, p. 31. 5 Ibid, p. 36.
SAM stands united with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Asian immigrant families, friends, colleagues and communities locally and across the country, in the wake of rising violence against these communities over the last year and in the aftermath of the recent horrific shootings in Georgia that left eight people dead, six of whom were women of Asian descent. We join the larger Atlanta community and the country in mourning Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng.
In recognition of these lives taken so violently, we invite you to take a moment of silence on the steps of the Asian Art Museum. A community memorial will be available for the public to contribute to and visit from Noon on Saturday, March 27, through 5 pm Sunday, March 28.
As a global museum, we always turn to art and artists to contextualize challenging moments and examine our history and society. Experiencing and engaging with art brings new perspectives to light and broadens understanding across cultures. SAM’s collection was founded in Asian art by the museum’s first director, Dr. Richard E. Fuller. After expanding to downtown Seattle, the original home of SAM was rededicated in 1994 as the Seattle Asian Art Museum and a center of Asian art and ideas. SAM’s Asian Art Museum is the only one of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. We understand our role as stewards of not only art, but also as an important place for Asian communities to come together and where people from all backgrounds can experience and appreciate a wide range of rich Asian cultures.
In June 2020, following the killing of George Floyd and a massive social justice movement for Black lives, we were compelled to increase SAM’s commitment to combating institutional racism by establishing an Equity Task Force. This group of SAM board, staff, and community members worked over six months to conduct a self-assessment and provide recommendations for initiatives in specific operational areas. This work is ongoing as we continue to build on SAM’s commitment to fostering equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout the museum.
The recent shootings in Georgia and escalating incidents of anti-Asian violence in Seattle and elsewhere strengthens SAM’s commitment and resolve to becoming an anti-racist institution. This is some of the most pressing and important work we are undertaking. As we take steps towards evaluating where we can improve and how we can better support the communities around us, the large and diverse Asian populations in Seattle and the surrounding areas, in addition to those on staff at the museum, are a crucial part of our conversations. SAM belongs to the communities it serves.
Support Asian cultural organizations in the Seattle area and get involved.