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The Contemporary American Struggle: Bethany Collins

“My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”—it’s a song that everyone likely knows some version of and Bethany Collins is sharing why she created a chapel space where you can hear layered recordings of it inside of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at SAM. The exhibition questions the stories we’ve been told by amplifying narratives that have been systematically overlooked from America’s history. This exhibition reunites Lawrence’s revolutionary 30-panel series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) for the first time since 1958. These 30 panels are heavily informed by the contemporary issues of Lawrence’s time as they address the history of what it means to be an American. Collins’ installation extends the conversation around what it means to be an American into the art being made today.

Bethany Collins (b. 1984) is a multidisciplinary artist whose conceptually driven work is fueled by a critical exploration of how race and language interact. Her work in the exhibition titled America: A Hymnal is an immersive audio experience within a chapel space where six layered voices sing different versions of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” The altar object within the gallery is a book containing the sheet music to 100 versions of this well-known song which has changed and been used for various purposes since it was first penned as “God Save the Queen” in Great Britain. Collins describes the book as “100 dissenting versions of what it means to be American, bound together.”

Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series interprets the democratic debates that defined early America and echoed into the civil rights movements during which he was painting the series. Works by contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas engage themes of democracy, justice, truth, and the politics of inclusion to show that the struggle for expansive representation in America continues.

Revisiting Reopening the Asian Art Museum, At Last

One year ago, we welcomed you back to the renovated Asian Art Museum following a three-year closure while we reimagined and reinstalled SAM’s original home. Now, we are thrilled to invite you to another reopening in May 2021, following our year-long COVID closure to keep our community safe. The galleries have been waiting for you.

During the opening weekend in February 2020, 10,000 people visited the museum to experience the groundbreaking new thematic installation of SAM’s Asian art collection and share in creativity across cultures. It was moment to remember and we invite you to revisit the festivities in this video. Closing the museum just one month after this video was filmed was a sad moment and we know that many people did not get a chance to experience the expanded and enhanced Asian Art Museum. But soon, everyone will be able to!

The Asian Art Museum will reopen with limited capacity to members on May 7 and to the public on May 28. Friday, May 28 will be free and hours will be extended for Memorial Day weekend. Member tickets will be available starting April 15 and the public can get tickets starting April 29. The museum hours are 10 am–5 pm, Fridays–Sundays and admission is free on the last Friday of every month. When the museum reopens, the inaugural exhibitions will remain on view, including Boundless: Stories of Asian Art and Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art in the museum’s galleries and the installation Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn: Gather in the Fuller Garden Court. Learn more about what to know when you visit the Asian Art Museum.

Today’s Seattle Asian Art Museum is inspired. The Asian Art Museum breaks boundaries to offer a thematic, rather than geographic or chronological, exploration of art from the world’s largest continent. The restoration of the historic Art Deco building, improvements to critical systems, expanded gallery and education spaces, and a new park lobby that connects the museum to the surrounding Volunteer Park are just some of the ways the Asian Art Museum has been transformed and preserved as a cultural and community resource for future generations.

You will no longer find galleries labeled China, Japan, or India. Instead, vibrant artworks from Vietnam to Iran, and everywhere in between, come together to tell stories of human experiences across time and place. From themes of worship and celebration to clothing and identity, nature and power to birth and death, the new collection installation reveals the complexity and diversity of Asia—a place of distinct cultures, histories, and belief systems that help shape our world today.

The Contemporary American Struggle with Derrick Adams

Hear Derrick Adams discuss his artworks included in SAM’s exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle. The exhibition reunites Lawrence’s revolutionary 30-panel series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) for the first time since 1958 and features contemporary art, all of which work together to question the stories we’ve been told by amplifying narratives that have been systematically overlooked from America’s history.

Derrick Adams’s (b. 1970) multidisciplinary practice probes the influence of popular culture on self-image, and the relationship between man and monument. Adams is deeply immersed in questions of how African American experiences intersect with art history, American iconography, and consumerism. He describes his two works in The American StruggleSaints March and Jacob’s Ladder—as a way to “contribute to conversations that expand on histories that are both Black American and American overall.” Saints March is a video considering the original American dance form of tap and contemporary street tap performance, while Jacob’s Ladder brings Lawrence’s personal archives into the gallery through a sculptural installation that lends optimism to the concept of struggle.

Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series interprets the democratic debates that defined early America and echoed into the civil rights movements during which he was painting the series. Works by contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas engage themes of democracy, justice, truth, and the politics of inclusion to show that the struggle for expansive representation in America continues.

Who is Jacob Lawrence? The American Struggle Overview

Join Theresa Papanikolas, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, for an in-depth virtual exhibition overview of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, on view at SAM through May 23. Get to know Jacob Lawrence—a New Yorker, a University of Washington professor, a modernist painter, and an influential Black American artist—through this talk and by visiting SAM to see Lawrence’s revolutionary story. Advance tickets are required and are selling out so get yours soon, more tickets will be made available on a weekly basis, every Thursday. Speaking of Thursdays, starting April 1, First Thursdays at SAM are entirely free!

The American Struggle reunites Lawrence’s revolutionary 30-panel series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) for the first time since 1958, and SAM will be its only West Coast venue. Works by Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas engage themes of democracy, justice, truth, and the politics of inclusion to show that the struggle for expansive representation in America continues.

This talk was originally offered as a free SAM member-exclusive event. Interested in learning more about the perks of membership? Find out more about all the benefits you get when you join SAM.

Free Ways to See Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle opens this Friday, March 5, and tickets to opening weekend are already sold out! But, don’t worry, future dates are available and released on a rolling basis, every week on Thursdays. Meanwhile, we all love the sound of free—find out how you can experience this revolutionary story as told by Jacob Lawrence and contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas for free.

  • Free community passes are available to any requesting individual, family, or group as passes are available. Passes are especially those for whom the cost of a ticket is prohibitive and groups who have been historically excluded from the museum space due to systematic oppression, including communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, low income communities, queer communities, and the disability community.
  • First Thursdays are back and better than ever starting April 1 (no foolin’)! Previously, admission to special exhibitions wasn’t included as part of Free First Thursday but now the entire museum, including The American Struggle, is free on the first Thursday of every month.
  • First Friday: With this reopening, we’ve also expanded benefits on First Fridays. Now, admission to The American Struggle is free for anyone 65 years and older and $7.99 for everyone else!
  • UW Art Students, fill out our customer service form to request free tickets.
  • Members of City of Seattle’s Gold and FLASH card program can get free tickets for caregivers by filling out our customer service form.
  • SAM members and children (14 & under) are free.

SAM is for everyone and we’re here to make sure anyone can see the art they love! Don’t forget, entry to SAM’s permanent collections is always suggested admission! You can experience our global collection year-round and pay what you want by calling our customer service center. At this time, capacity at the museum is limited and everyone must get tickets in advance of their visit. We can’t wait to see you at the museum again.

Art & Social Justice Stories

Over the past several years, SAM has presented Art & Social Justice Tours during the week of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Facilitated by SAM staff, the tours invite conversation and personal responses based on artists and artworks on view in SAM’s galleries. Since we can’t be together in the galleries this year, we’ve invited SAM staff to reflect on the important connection between art and social justice from home. These responses were shared on SAM’s Instagram stories throughout the week as SAM staff members offered perspectives on art at SAM or in their homes, that honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

These videos were too good to only live in our highlights, so we’ve gathered them here for you. Hear from Brandon Vaughan, one of SAM’s board members, on Swedish artist Eitil Thorén Due, and Seattle artist Christina Martinez.

Cindy Bolton, Chief Financial Officer at SAM, shares an artwork from her home by Charly Palmer. Check out Freedom in Bolton’s story and find some optimism in this artwork.

Yaoyao Liu is a museum educator at SAM and she discusses Takahiro Kondo‘s sculpture, Reduction. This newly installed contemporary sculpture sits on the recently restored fountain in the Fuller Garden Court at the renovated and expended Asian Art Museum. We look forward to reopening SAM’s original home later this spring so you can see this work in person.

Lunchtime Artist Spotlight: Kristen Ramirez

Take a lunch break for a conversation and some art making with Kristen Ramirez, a Seattle-based interdisciplinary artist. Ramirez toggles between many media and practices and tends to use hard-edge geometric forms in her large-scale murals and public works. Ramirez’s work has a clear visual connection to artists like Anne Truit, Frank Stella, and Kenneth Noland, featured in SAM’s collections.

Want to make art with Kristen? Be ready with a piece of paper, blue tape (aka painters tape), and some mark-making tools (like markers, paint, or crayons). If you have scrap wood and old house paint, all the better.

About the artist

Ramirez is also an educator and arts administrator, championing aspiring artists and established artists alike. Ramirez has taught at the University of Washington, Edmonds Community College, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Path with Art, and Cornish College of the Arts. She currently manages public art projects for the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture and Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT).

Flow with Keet Shagoon

Hear artist Preston Singletary talk about the imagery in his work and how he uses the medium of glass to reconnect and reinterpret traditional Tlingit art and culture.

In addition to being a visual artist, Preston Singletary is a musician and member of Khu.éex’, an Indigenous band. The band focuses on bringing awareness to social issues affecting Indigenous communities and keeping tribal culture and endangered ancient languages alive through music, storytelling, and art.

Listen to a Khu.éex’ song. As you listen, think about the story being told through the song and how this might be visually represented in Keet Shagoon.

Excerpt from”Khu.éex’: the Magic of Noise” by Heartstone Studios.

Watch this clip of Singletary describing how his glass art flows like music.

Singletary was inspired by YéilX’eenh (RavenScreen), which hangs in SAM’s galleries across from Keet Shagoon. YéilX’eenh (Raven Screen) is an interior house screen like those that can be found in the clan houses of the Tlingit tribal community. These screens separate the chief’s quarters from the rest of the clan house. The small hole in the middle of the screen acts as a portal that is used by the chief to make dramatic entrances when entertaining guests or at potlatches. The imagery on the screen depicts a family crest—in this case, it depicts Raven.

How are these artworks similar? How are they different?
How are the materials the artists use different?
What could these continuities and departures tell us?

Formline by Steve Brown, courtesy of Sealaska Heritage.

Both Keet Shagoon and YéilX’eenh use formline design, a stylistic approach that serves as the foundation for designs by artists from central British Columbia to southeast Alaska. Objects like animals or people are depicted with one continuous outline, called a form line, and then filled with different shapes that represent anatomical details like eyes, wings and fins, thus creating positive and negative space within the delineated object.

Formline designs are typically made up of four basic shapes. See how many you can identify in both the contemporary artwork and the traditional artwork the next time you visit SAM.

Images: Keet Shagoon (Killer Whale), 2003, Preston Singletary. Fused and sand carved glass, 72 x 92 x 3/8 in., Purchased in honor of John H. Hauberg with funds from the Mark Tobey Estate Fund, John and Joyce Price, the Native American Art Support Fund, Don W. Axworthy, Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Marshall Hatch, C. Calvert Knudsen, Christine and Assen Nicolov, Charles and Gayle Pancerzewski, Sam and Gladys Rubinstein, SAM Docents, SAMS Supporters, Frederick and Susan Titcomb, and Virginia and Bagley Wright, 2003.12. © Preston Singletary. Yéil X’eenh (Raven Screen), ca. 1810, Native American, Kadyisdu.axch’, Tlingit, Kiks.adi clan. Spruce, paint, 105 3/4 x 129 in. Gift of John H. Hauberg, 79.98.

Wonder with Mann und Maus

I am concerned with the point where you start to wonder about the existence of things.

– Katharina Fritsch

The artist Katharina Fritsch creates sculptures of familiar objects but adjusts them through changes in scale and color. Looming over a sleeping man, the rat in Mann and Maus inspires many interpretations. Although the delicate figure is seemingly crushed under the giant rodent, the man appears to slumber soundly. In the 1980s and ‘90s a generation of German artists emerged who were deeply distrustful of dominant social and historic narratives and broke from the art movements that preceded them. Fritsch wields her dark strand of irony as a tool for critical commentary. Fritsch says this about her work: “The results are often jarring and may remind you of a dream or perhaps a nightmare.” 

Take some time to let your wonder wander as you listen to storyteller Jéhan Òsanyìn’s response to Mann and Maus above.

Now take a listen to Sylvia Fisher, SAM docent and former docent for The Wright Space, discuss her view on Jinny connecting audiences with art, both as a collector and a docent herself. Jinny collected contemporary works of her time that are often simultaneously complex and broadly appealing. Created in 1991–92, German artist Katharina Fritsch’s Mann und Maus combines the emotional response of animals with the psychological impact of larger-than-life scale, making it a popular artwork for audiences of all ages. In the photo above, her grandchildren admire the sculpture at The Wright Space.

The Wright Exhibition Space was a noncommercial gallery designed purely for the enjoyment of art that opened on Dexter Avenue in 1999. Jinny curated different thematic exhibitions and invited friends, family, and curators to organize shows, drawing on the holdings of their growing collection. Free to the public, it became a gathering space and a favorite place to mingle and discuss art.

We’re celebrating Jinny’s collection in City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped A New Seattle. The works in our galleries are a transformative gift for SAM and a foundation on which we will build. As we consider the pressing issues of our time, the museum envisions the city of our tomorrow with new collection priorities and artists that represent and reflect our broader community. Unfortunately, City of Tomorrow has to close before the museum will be able to open due to the recently updated WA State official public health restrictions on indoor gathering. We’re sad we won’t be able to share this stunning exhibition with you, but thanks to Jinny’s incredible generosity and legacy, visitors to SAM can see artworks like Mann und Maus on view as part of our collection. 

Credits: Mann und Maus, 1991-92, Katharina Fritsch. Polyester resin and paint, 90 1/2 x 51 1/2 x 94 1/2 in., Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.118. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Jinny’s grandchildren with Katharina Fritsch’s Mann und Maus, photo courtesy of Jan Day. Audio produced by Ambassador Stories, 2020 © Seattle Art Museum.