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SAM Creates: Dance Like Lynette Yiadom-Boakye Is Watching

Does this painting make you want to dance?! Artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye paints her artworks, like this one, in a single day based on her memory or imagination. Its sense of movement may make you want to join in and move! Try to pose or stand like this figure. Make sure you have enough space. Is it hard to pose like this? How long can you hold this pose for? Below is a perspective on this artwork from choreographer Donal Byrd. Give it a listen as you think about the painting and also about dance as an art form. Then do some dancing yourself and see if you can sculpt a pose! Find a one-page lesson plan based on this artwork designed for grades K–2 and translated into English, Spanish, and Chinese in SAM’s Education Resource Center catalogue. There’s more where that came from—check out more Look and Make Lessons on our website!

Movement Activity: Freeze Dance

  • Pick one of your favorite songs and have a family member or friend begin playing it. Dance around to the music! Move all parts of your body from your fingers to your toes.
  • Have your family member or friend press pause randomly to surprise you!
  • When the music stops, freeze! You’ve just struck a pose! Hold it until the music starts playing again. 
  • Press play on the music and pause again when you’re ready to strike another pose. This time try something different.
  • Repeat!

Art Actvity: Create a sculpture of a person out of aluminum foil!

Materials

  • Aluminum foil
  • Scissors
  1. Cut slits in the foil: One on the bottom for the legs and two at the top for the head and arms.
  2. Squeeze the middle of the foil to make the waist.
  3. Squeeze each leg and arm to make more of a cylinder shape.
  4. Crunch in the foil on top to make a head.

When you’re done, shape it into the pose of your favorite dance move! Remember how it feels to move like this every time you look at it!

Keep Learning with A Story

Watch I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison or Hip Hop Lollipop, by Susan McElroy Montanari read aloud. These picture books are about a young girls who are moved by rhythm and dance.

– Lindsay Huse Kestin, SAM Assistant Manager for Kids and Family Programs, Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator & Lauren Kent, SAM’s Museum Educator for School Programs & Partnerships

Trapsprung, 2013, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 70 7/8 in. (200×180 cm). General Acquisition Fund, 2014.11 © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Corvi-Mora, London. photo: Elizabeth Mann.

SAM Creates: Rubbings Revealed from Wu Liang Shrine

Located in present-day Jiaxiang in Shandong province, the Wu Family Ancestral Shrine built during the 2nd century in the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220) is among the best-known works in Chinese art history. Take a virtual tour of the shrine.

The simple graphic images you see from the Wu Liang Shrine were made from laying paper against the stone carvings that are inside the shrine and rubbing with ink to transfer the images onto paper. Learn more about this rubbing in our Object of the Week series.

The center line in this image depicts the story of a failed assassination attempt on Emperor Qin Shi Huang by Jing Ke. The figures, mostly in silhouette, move across the page presenting many parts of the story in one frame. This is an example of simultaneous illustration. Listen to a lecture on Telling a Story with Pictures to learn more about the differences between Eastern and Western visual narratives.

Create your own rubbing!

What you will need

  • Paper: A few sheets of lighter weight paper, along with some heavier paper or light cardboard (think drawing paper or cereal box).
  • Scissors or exacto knife
  • Pencil, crayon, chalk, or pastel

Warm up: Layer a small piece of the heavier paper under your lightweight paper. Take your pencil or crayon and rub over it, where the edges of the heavy paper sit, the crayon will be darker revealing the shape. Keep this in mind as you make a larger work. 

Next, start with something easy as you consider what story you want to tell with your rubbing. What are you currently watching or reading? Who is the main character? Follow the lead of the artists who carved the stone of the Wu family shrines and use simple shapes to depict your protagonist on the heavier paper. Draw each limb or clothing article as a separate shape, and draw their head in profile. You don’t need any detail, just flat non-dimensional shapes, like a paper doll.

Once you have these basic shapes, cut them out of your paper, and layer them together to make your character. Lay the thinner paper over them and rub with your pencil. You can add interesting textures by adding cuts to your figure’s shapes or by layering materials around the house like bubble wrap, or sandpaper.

Reuse the cutouts to animate your character across the page. What is your character doing? Think about an action that helps tell a story. For each move your character makes rearrange the paper cut outs and lay the lighter weight paper on top. Rub your crayon or pencil over the paper to make an impression, then move the cut outs for the next action and rub again.

We’d love to see your artwork—share it with us while #StayHomeWithSAM.

– Lynda Harwood-Swenson, SAM Assistant Manager for Studio Programs  

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

Wu Liang Shrine: Chinese History and Mythology, ca. 1920s, Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, ink rubbing on paper, 35.587.2

Object of the Week: Wu Liang Shrine

This ink rubbing on paper was made by an unknown hand around 1920. The rubbing captures the carved and incised stone surface of an Eastern Han period (25–220 CE) funerary monument, namely the Wu Family Ancestral Shrine located in Shandong province, China. The Wu family held positions in government according to inscriptions at the site.[1] The stone shrine, and its rubbings, serve as unique extant examples of Han pictorial style, carving techniques, and subject matter, as well as evidence of their funerary traditions.

The shrine’s low relief carvings depict both historical and mythological scenes. The middle register of this rubbing depicts Jing Ke’s failed assassination attempt of King Ying Zheng (259–210 BCE) in 227 BCE. The central pillar in the scene is pierced with the dagger used in the attempt. At left, Jing Ke struggles against the King’s doctor.[2] At right, the King (the largest figure) holds a round jade disc above his head likely to signal his retention of power. The stone carver created the illusion of depth by overlapping and varying the sizes of the figures—the smallest figure, holding a baton and shield, runs to support the King. In the lowest register, serpent-human figures with scaly tails emerging from their skirts, perhaps deities, illustrate a mythological version of the tale.

Ying Zheng lived to unify China in 221 BCE, assuming the title of the First Emperor and founder of the Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE), which was the first power-centralized state in China’s history. A ruthless leader, he was ultimately overthrown by a peoples’ uprising, yet Ying Zheng is known for standardizing communication, currency, and infrastructure in China.

Stone carving and ink rubbing are acts of transference—the story moves from hand to stone, and from stone to paper. (Then, from paper to the digital photograph you and I experience now!) Ink rubbing is a simple method of reproducing the texture and scale of a surface. Here, the background is rough with even vertical tool marks, the raised figures are flat and smooth, and the incised lines delineating their garments are crisp. The right side of this rubbing has a border whereas the left side abruptly ends, indicating that it is a partial capture of the stone image.

Many rubbings of the Wu family shrine have been made over time and have entered institutional collections around the country, such as the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Field Museum, Harvard Libraries, and Berkeley Libraries; of these, some were mounted on textile to be appreciated as hanging scrolls. Portland Art Museum holds a section of a shrine wall itself.

Due to its durability, stone has long been used to commemorate a person or a family’s life as a physical marker of their existence. The practice of gravestone rubbing as a travel souvenir, genealogical document, or historical record continues. Today, during this crisis, we are embracing new rituals to memorialize our loved ones. The New York TimesA New Way to Mourn tells one man’s story of an online gathering he led to celebrate his late wife, and the unforeseen intimacy of sharing stories, music, and remembrances from a distance until a stone can be placed in her honor.

Geneva Griswold, SAM Associate Conservator

Want to learn more? See this bibliography prepared by former SAM Assistant Librarian, Jie Pan, and SAM Volunteer Charles Randles for further reading.

Image: Wu Liang Shrine: Chinese History and Mythology, ca. 1920s, Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, ink rubbing on paper, 35.587.2
[1] Jackie Menzies. 1983. Early Chinese Art. AGNSW cat.no. XXI. Accessed May 10: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/163.1979.17/
[2] Jane Portal (Ed.). 2007. The first emperor: China’s Terracotta Army. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press: 67.

Why Tatami? Conserving Asian Paintings at SAM

One of the most unique features of the newly remodeled Asian Art Museum is the Asian Paintings Conservation Studio. As the only conservation studio on the west coast entirely devoted to the care and conservation of Asian paintings, the studio provides new opportunities to care for SAM’s Asian art collection. Once it is fully operational, the studio will also accept conservation projects from regional museums and private collectors. Designed so that the public can view the studio through large glass doors, the studio is located on the lower level of the Asian Art Museum. When you peer through the glass doors, you will immediately notice a beautiful tatami platform enclosed with sliding shoji doors. This platform will serve as a dedicated work area for a small team trained in the care and conservation of Asian paintings.

The tatami platform and shoji doors were built by a local master craftsman, Koji Uchida. Mr. Uchida’s company, Wafu Builders, designs and builds indoor and outdoor spaces using traditional Japanese carpentry techniques. Based on research conducted by our Chief Conservator, Nicholas Dorman, on research trips to Asian paintings conservation studios in Asia, North America and Europe, Mr. Uchida and Mr. Dorman collaborated on the design of the studio. We are so lucky that Mr. Uchida lives within driving distance of the museum!

Mr. Uchida built the tatami platform and shoji doors from the ground up. Before the remodel, this area housed staff offices and is part of the original building footprint. As you would expect in an old building, the floor and walls are not completely square or level. To create a level foundation for the tatami, Mr. Uchida built a two-by-four frame. As you can see in this photo, he used hundreds of custom-cut shims to level the platform.

Once the substructure was complete, Mr. Uchida began to build out the visible elements of the platform. The platform features 12 tatami mats, which are surrounded by a border of fine-grained Alaskan Yellow Cedar. The next image shows the beautifully interlocked corners of the platform. Creating this careful fit required precision cuts and impeccable measurements. Mr. Uchida’s workmanship is meticulous, and he spent many hours carefully fitting and refitting the various pieces of wood until the final composition met his high standards.

Though Mr. Uchida used power tools to rough cut the wood, many details were executed with hand tools. In the image below, you can see that the slot in the vertical beam is hand chiseled. Be sure to notice the unique grain pattern of the vertical post. Made of Kitayama cedar, this post was strategically cut to showcase the wood’s wavy grain. A building material often used in traditional Japanese architecture, Kitayama cedar grows in and around the Kitayama area of Kyoto. The wavy grain is created by pruning branches from the trunk as it grows and tightly binding the trunk with pieces of plastic and wire. Left in place for several years, this wrapping creates a distinctive and highly prized grain pattern.

Below is another view of the same corner. With the horizontal support in place, you can see how careful measuring and cutting creates a perfect fit.

Once the platform and the shoji framing were complete, Mr. Uchida returned to his studio and began making the tatami mats. Using tatami omote (the woven facing) imported from Japan, Mr. Uchida constructed each mat. The blue edging, or heri, is made from hemp and is also imported from Japan. Tatami heri vary from plain colors to subtle patterns. Mr. Uchida felt that for such a unique and special space, hemp heri would be appropriate and signify its importance.

The black metal frame and arms are a lighting system that will allow the conservation team to bring work lights close to the art undergoing conservation

Sliding shoji doors were the final component. Working from his home workshop, Mr. Uchida built the lattice for the doors and carefully glued the paper facing to the lattice. Faced with mino paper from Japan, the doors can be left open for public viewing or closed for when a conservator is working on a tricky treatment. Both the lower shoji and the upper ranma slide smoothly and quietly.

It was a pleasure to observe the work of Mr. Uchida throughout the process. Every day, I feel lucky that my desk is adjacent to this beautiful space. Once the Asian Art Museum can reopen, be sure to stop by and take a peek at the studio. When we are ready, we will offer opportunities for the public to come inside the studio and learn more about Asian paintings conservation and current studio projects. In the meantime, we are making plans for future conservation projects and looking forward to reopening the studio. We can’t wait to welcome you back to the museum!

– Rachel Harris, SAM Asian Paintings Conservation Studio Associate

Photos: Rachel Harris

The Puzzles, T-Shirts, & Online Art of Gregory Blackstock

Seattle artist Gregory Blackstock is known for his encyclopedic works identifying and labeling the world around him. Blackstock uses pencils, markers, and crayons to create his orderly visual lists. He documents and explores items from the natural world such as birds, animals, and plants, as well as items from the manmade world including clothing, cars, and buildings. Each item is clearly labeled and organized, informed by his research from books and work with local librarians. You can see one of Blackstock’s detailed works in The World Landmark Buildings of Greatest Histories & Heights Recorded Puzzle, for sale online now at the SAM Shop. This 500 piece puzzle includes beloved buildings such as the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal, and Big Ben.

Gregory Blackstock’s artwork is also being featured online through Greg Kucera Gallery. In his fifth solo show at the Greg Kucera Gallery, Blackstock identifies and labels a variety of subjects including crows, shoes, fireworks, lilies, and spices in his limited-edition prints from original drawings. Check it out online through June 27. These works were printed by Stephen Rock, of Rock’s Studio, who is also an artist from SAM Gallery. Blackstock’s work was also featured at the 2019 Seattle Art Fair.

Experience the visual balance and variety of forms that characterize Gregory Blackstock’s art through the SAM exclusive puzzle or this cool t-shirt available online from the SAM Store.

– Pamela Jaynes SAM Gallery Coordinator 

Photos: Natali Wiseman

SAM Creates: Powerful Portraits the Wiley Way

Kehinde Wiley is known for shifting the grand tradition of western portraiture. His work combines contemporary sitters painted in the style of famous 18th-century portraits. Through his paintings and sculpture, he is weaving together ideas of identity, power and beauty. In Anthony of Padua, painted in 2013, his sitter is dressed in contemporary dress, but the title and pose are borrowed from Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ late-19th-century stained glass window depicting Saint Anthony of Padua at the Chapelle St. Ferdinand, Porte des Ternes, Paris. Wiley’s Anthony is wearing an olive green army style jacket with patches and what look like green sweat pants. Wiley did that, he says, to reveal a place in time. He wanted the viewer to see what it looks like and feels like to be in America in this time period.

Wiley also says that seeing is a way of receiving culture. During this unprecedented stay at home order the Zoom lens is shifting our idea of portraiture for our current time. To capture this moment in time let’s do Zoom portraits!

What you’ll need

  • Paper
  • Pen and/or pencil
  • Zoom meeting or other digital gathering allowing you to be face to face with at least one person

Warm up: Do a one minute blind contour drawing. A blind contour drawing is a continuous line drawing done without lifting the pen off the paper and not looking at your paper at all. Keep your eyes on your subject, don’t worry about the outcome. Set a timer, go slowly, its okay to move back over your line. If you want, you can start by tracing what you see with your opposite finger (on your other hand). This process will help train your brain to see simple shapes and improve observational skills. The imperfections will be interesting.

Next, move on to the portraits: Set a timer for 15 minutes. Leave your microphone on so that you can chat without having to break your focus by fiddling with your computer. Start by drawing the grid of boxes. Then use each box to capture your different subjects with just a few lines. This exercise is part gestural and part contour drawing. You can look at your paper, but focus on your subject and try to reveal them in few well-chosen lines. 

Once the timer rings share your work with each other and be gracious, this is less about product and all about process. 

Share your artwork with us using #StayHomeWithSAM! And if you want to keep creating, check out this digital art interactive where you can create Wiley-inspired patterns .

Lynda Harwood-Swenson, SAM Assistant Manager for Studio Programs  

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

Image: Anthony of Padua, 2013, Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 72 × 60 in., Gift of the Contemporary Collectors Forum, 2013.8 © Kehinde Wiley

SAM Connects Community through Letters in Quarantine

Whether seemingly big or small, sustaining connection is more critical than ever. Jenae Williams, Exhibitions and Publications Associate, and Seohee Kim, Division Coordinator for Education and Public Engagement, recently started writing letters to stay connected to their community in quarantine. They’ve shared a Q&A of their wonderful project below.

Not only do handwritten letters support the US Postal Service, brighten up someone’s day, and remind others that they are not alone, but right now your letters can support community by showing love to Chinatown-International District! If you’re feeling inspired, please check out Love Letters to Chinatown-International District #CIDLoveLetters. Share your love letters, and the Wing Luke Museum will collect and showcase submissions in a digital exhibition as part of the Wing Luke Museum’s Resilience Campaign. Deadline is May 18! May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month so we hope you will take some encouragement and inspiration from this post and write a letter to Seattle’s International District or support the USPS by sending a letter a friend or loved one!

#LettersInQuarantine

What first inspired you to write letters to people in quarantine?

Jenae: I genuinely miss seeing my colleagues at SAM every day, and I was first inspired by my managers Chiyo Ishikawa and Tina Lee, who do so well at checking in on many of us at SAM. Later, I read about how the US Postal Service is in danger of going out of business, which upset me deeply. USPS provides 600,000 jobs, delivers essential items (medicine! voting ballots!), and it’s the only mailing service that reaches every household across the nation, no matter how rural. I am also reminded that compared to private mailing services, sending a letter or priority mail with the USPS service is equitable. It costs me the same amount of money to send a letter to a friend locally as it does to send a letter to my grandma in Hawaii. 

Seohee: I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while, but I’d always brushed it to the back of my mind because I was unsure of when or how to begin. However, after over a month of being indoors and focusing solely on work, I needed a simple but creative outlet to allow myself to detach from the screen and practice self-care. Then, I was having a brainstorming video call with my dear colleague, friend, and muse, Priya, who showed me the beautiful postcards she’d been designing for her close ones. Insert mind spark here. A few days later, I saw Jenae’s heartwarming Instagram story showing support to USPS with her letters to friends and family, and I felt the need to (finally) take action. 

Ellsworth Kelly stamps!

Where can we buy our own Ellsworth Kelly stamps?

Jenae: USPS released these stamps in 2019, so they may be hard to find. But check your local post office. Some locations, like mine, still have leftover sheets in stock. I’m excited for the Ruth Asawa stamps that are scheduled to be released this year! 

Postcard coloring book from Daiso!

Tell us about the stationery/paper that you’re using for this project?

Jenae: I’m using whatever paper I have at home right now. My mom gave me a pad of stationary for this project that pays homage to the early days of airmail so I’m using that first. With this paper, I like that after you’re finished writing, you fold its edges up, and it turns into its own envelope. I also have Hello Kitty stationery from my childhood that I’ll use later as well.

Seohee: I have been a hoarder of all things stationery since middle school, so I’ve been making use of my ridiculous collection. Among the bunch, my go-to have been these Daiso coloring books that have various images of flowers on the front and postcard layouts on the back of each page. In my free time and whenever I’m feeling stressed, I tear out a page to color while bopping to some good ol’ 90s K-pop. It’s been surprisingly healing for me, and possibly the only routine I’ve maintained over the past four weeks.

What was the response to your letter-writing project after you posted about it on Instagram?

Jenae: A lot of people responded with their address, but some just responded to say that they loved the stamps. I’m so glad. Maybe they’ll go out and buy their own. I especially love that I received notes from friends who I haven’t talked to in a long time.

Seohee: Excitement and support! I received quite a few responses from friends around the country with their addresses! To be honest, I wasn’t expecting them to be as open to sharing such personal information, but that might just stem from the trust issues I’ve developed after watching nothing but serial killer documentaries on Netflix for the past two months. 

Write a love letter to the International District!

Have you found writing letters to be much different than writing emails? Any early letter-writing tips?

Jenae: I send work emails every day, but letters are definitely a different form of writing. I’m still learning to embrace the time and thoughtfulness it takes. If your thoughts start to run amok (this happens to me frequently) as you’re writing, just go with it. I have to remind myself that it’s OK to show my inner life sometimes.

Seohee: Yes! I’ve found that they’re much more personal because I’m not writing with a specific intent in mind as I would for, say, a work email. It allows me to pause and really think about each person and what individual messages I want to send that might bring even a tiny bit of joy to their day. Not exactly a tip, but I’ve been having fun picking out individual postcards based on the image of the flower and their meaning. It adds just another hint of personalization to the entire experience. Also, I’ve been laminating my postcards with packing tape before mailing them out so that people have the option to wipe them down with a sanitizing cloth upon receiving them—just another COVID-19 precaution from a germaphobe. 

Finally, what are you hoping to get from all of this?

Jenae: I hope one of my letters will be a bright spot to someone in quarantine and help them feel connected to me/humanity in a small way.

Seohee: I hope something as small as this could be a reason for someone to smile amidst the chaos that has become our new normal. If we can keep the web of connection and small joys going/growing, even better!

Images: Lauren Farris, Seohee Kim, Jenae Williams. 

Fuller Travel Slides: Art & Architecture of Mexico

A new digital collection from the SAM Research Libraries has just been launched on our Digital Collections Site, born out of an extraordinarily lucky find.

Many years ago, the Seattle Art Museum’s Libraries held sizeable slide collections (commonly known as slide libraries) until digital images prevailed as the preferred medium for presentations and study. In 2017, when the Asian Art Museum closed for renovations, staff were forced to deal with a number of long-forgotten slide cabinets—and their contents—tucked away in a staff changing room in the building’s lower level. Within these cabinets, several previously-unknown glass slide collections were discovered. One of these groupings was a personal slide collection created by SAM founder and long-time director, Dr. Richard E. Fuller (1897–1976). It includes images of early 20th century views of art and architecture taken during his 1940s geological work on the Parícutin Volcano, a volcano that suddenly appeared in 1943, in the Mexican state of Michoacánin. Exceptionally well preserved, these slides were immediately transferred to the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library, where work soon began on their digitization. Now, all 150 images can be viewed in an online exhibit as the Richard E. Fuller Travel Slides: Art and Architecture of Mexico.

In addition to serving as SAM’s director from 1933-1973, Fuller was also a respected professor of geology, a subject he studied in great depth at the University of Washington, where he steadily acquired a second Bachelor’s degree (1924), a Master’s degree (1926), and ultimately a Ph.D. (1930). Between 1944 and 1948, Fuller served as Chairman of the U.S. Committee for the Study of Parícutin Volcano. As this new digital collection makes clear, alongside his academic work with this committee, Fuller made several personal trips to various cities and historic sites in Mexico over these years, on which he took numerous color photographs.

Though it is unknown how large this collection once was, or whether Fuller even took these photographs for a specific purpose, it is nevertheless clear that some effort was expended on their description and organization. The transfer of these images to glass slides, and their meticulous hand-labeling, helped to ensure that they not only survived to the present day, but did so with a surprising degree of contextual data intact. A similar effort was therefore made to guarantee that the digitized collection could stand as a reasonable facsimile of its physical counterpart, capturing not only Fuller’s images, but also the exact wording of his labels. We hope this collection will be of use to those studying Mexican art and architecture in the  early 20th century, as well as those interested in the Parícutin Volcano area.

The SAM Research Libraries invite you now to explore in its entirety this remarkable collection, which will enable you to peer back through time at a range of striking and historic objects and locations, as documented by SAM’s own founder.

– Jessica Robbins, Volunteer, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

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

Images: Fuller, Richard E. (Richard Eugene), 1897-1976, Seattle Art Museum Libraries: Digital Collections: “Tula, Pyramid or Temple of the Moon, front view,” “Mexico City, façade of Sagrario,” “Oaxaca, Church of Santo Domingo interior ceiling polychrome genealogical tree of the Virgin with figures,” “Cholula, view of the Catholic church built on top of the ancient pyramid,” “Guadalajara, Hospice orphanage, entrance into another patio,” “Huejotzingo, fresco, black and white on cloister wall,” “Xochicalco, wall of temple on top of the pyramid showing detail of the decoration,” “Huejotzingo, arched gateway to the atrium of Franciscan monastery,” “Xochicalco, detailed view of the base of the pyramid showing human figure, hieroglyph, and part of serpent,” “Morelia, street scene showing portales or arcaded sidewalks with shops from colonial times.”

Object of the Week: GrandMa’sPussy

GrandMa’sPussy (2013), by American sculptor Tony Feher (1956–2016), is one of SAM’s most recent acquisitions––it entered the collection just months ago––and hasn’t even been seen fully installed by museum staff. It currently lives in one of the museum’s storage areas, its glass chalices––with fluted, elaborate bowls, long and short stems, and frilled lips of the cups, each a singular jewel-tone color––carefully compartmentalized on two carts, divided by pieces of Ethafoam. In its fully realized form, 69 of these goblets, chalices, grails, cups, candy bowls (or any other name for special occasion glassware), are suspended at equal intervals, lengths of fine steel chain attached to their stems by metal wire, so as to dangle like a great, chunky bead curtain from the ceiling. None of the cups touch the ground, or each other, and the work’s dimensions are variable.

Feher is known primarily for his installations that employ everyday items such as these glass cups, as well as plastic bottles, water tinted with food coloring, rocks, plywood, marbles, cardboard, pennies, generic plush rugs, and disposable packaging. In Feher’s spare, deliberate compositions, these quotidian objects become more like artifacts, placed with restraint and attention to their colors and forms. Feher, who was HIV positive, died of cancer-related causes in 2016 at age 60; throughout his career, observers drew meaning from the transience of the objects he chose and the fragility of life. His ephemeral materials, often sourced from inside his own home––a theater of objects––are ubiquitous and ready-made. Installed, they recall their origins enough to be familiar to us in a domestic setting, but are reconstituted and choreographed in a way that our attention is drawn to their aesthetic qualities and poeticism. GrandMa’sPussy isn’t made of the most ephemeral objects, but the life of the glasses becomes just as conditional in their suspended form, particularly in our earthquake-anxious region, as Senior Objects Conservator, Liz Brown, pointed out to me in a phone call in April.

Throughout his oeuvre of assembled and sculptural works, Feher would often choose titles based on their form, such as Perpetually Disintegrating Sculpture(1993), a cardboard box painted silver and filled tightly, but neatly, with rectangular sponges; or, more descriptively, like Untitled (Ruby Begonia)(2000), composed of a circle of pennies and dimes with carefully interspersed marbles.

With the first part of this work’s title, I think of a sweet grandmother who aligns with the archetypal and perhaps nostalgic image of a gracious and generous giver we might be lucky enough to have or have had in our lives. There is comfort in the ritual of visiting grandma, who implores you to eat more and not leave so soon; her home becomes a site of care, with multiple bowls and plates and jars of things from which she encourages you to help yourself. The glass cup and candy bowl––icons of domesticity and hospitality––are somehow always stocked and ready for you. Her cabinet of glasses is almost kitsch, though it doesn’t mean to be (and in being unintentional, rather really becomes kitsch).

As for the full title of GrandMa’sPussy: it could refer to how the glasses are chalice-like, symbols of containing and giving, emphasized by the possessive “GrandMa.” The choice in capitalization and spacing (or lack thereof) gives the full title of GrandMa’sPussy a sense of specificity and personal relation. While the work was made in 2013, and the word “pussy” has taken on different meaning since 2016, the title has a descriptive function above anything meant to disrespect. Its tongue-in-cheek nature is at once transgressive and playful, drawing attention even more to the elaborate glassware, and simultaneously pushes against our tendency to regard such objects in quite the saccharine way I admittedly did above.

In our current moment, imagining grandma and a visit to her home is especially distant and nostalgic for a time not long ago. Now we wave to our elderly loved ones, friends, and neighbors from outside the window, or from our homes, and have to save our embraces for the future. For me, there is comfort in knowing that these glass bowls lived with Feher for quite a while before they took on another kind of poetry outside of his home. The glass chalices in GrandMa’sPussy will eventually live their public lives again, frozen mid-tumble and visible from every candied angle, when installed at SAM in the future. For now, Feher’s work is patiently waiting to emerge from its inner life at the museum––quietly in storage, cushioned by foam––and will take on entirely new meanings, recalling rituals we’re unsure we might easily return to, once it can be realized in its intended form and seen by museum visitors.

Hannah Hirano, SAM Coordinator for Museum Services and Conservation

Think about Tony Feher’s work while you take a moment to look at the objects you surround yourself with in a new light. What small or numerous items are in your household that are uniquely shaped by your habits or whose meaning transcends the mundane because of your relationship to it? SAM’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Catharina Manchanda is sharing what she calls accidental artworks made by her husband’s busy hands while on phone calls!

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

Images: GrandMa’sPussy, 2013, Tony Feher, glass, galvanized steel wire, and chrome-plated steel chain, dimensions variable, Gift of the Estate of Tony Feher, 2020.8 © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Photos courtesy of Anthony Meier Fine Arts