The last time you visited SAM, did you have any idea that many of the Visitor Services Officers (VSOs) who protect the art in the museum are also visual artists themselves, as well as writers, musicians, and thespians? It’s true!
One former SAM VSO, Aaron Bourget, worked at SAM in 1996 and moved on to start his own photography and videography business that focuses on documenting artists. Last year, Aaron made a documentary on the guards and working artists who protect SAM’s art collection called Art of the Guardin’ Variety.
According to the film’s Vimeo page, it is “an informal portrait of the working artist and a glimpse of the talent behind the badge.” It watches like a love letter to Aaron’s time working behind the scenes of the museum, and to those who continue protecting it today. In it, he interviewed many current VSOs about what the experience is like working in a museum while artists themselves.
Vaughn Meekins, a textile artist and six-year veteran of SAM, affirms that no one spends as much time with the art as those hired to guard it.
“You come to this job because you have a passion for art, and you want community in some regard,” Meekins said in his interview for the film. “I’m an artist, whether I’m doing security, or cooking food in the kitchen, to me it’s all art.”
Rebecca Bush, a VSO at the Asian Art Museum since 2009 who creates multimedia paintings, shares the same sentiment.
“Lots of people expect that we’re here to say ‘don’t touch!’ But when you’re approachable, it can be a great experience for the visitors,” Bush said. “I like working here as an artist because I like being in the presence of art, and seeing people enjoying art. As an artist, it’s fulfilling to see people do so.”
To get even more insight into the lives of the artists who guard the art, watch Art of the Guardin’ Variety at: https://vimeo.com/101584343.
Check out our newest video as a part of the My Favorite Things YouTube series featuring South Korean artist, Jung Yeondoo.
Jung is a storyteller who produces captivating narratives through images. A pertinent example of this is his Bewitched photography series, in which he seamlessly weaved together the stories of real and imagined paradoxes carried on by his subjects via hope, dreams, and longing. Through them, he loves displaying the inner selves that are usually invisible due to outward appearances. The images are on view as a part of the exhibition Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art at the Asian Art Museum now through March 13, 2016.
In his My Favorite Things interview, Jung zeroes in on the installation,Indo-Persian Art at the Crossroads, which illustrated continuities between Indian and Persian painting while highlighting the subcontinent’s place as a cultural crossroads between Europe and Asia, (the installation was on viewat the Asian Art Museum through June 21, 2015 ). He believes that the abundant patterns and intricate details weren’t the most important aspects of the pieces, but rather that it was all about the viewer’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences with them.
Watch the interview, and head to our My Favorite Things playlist on YouTube to catch up on the rest of our artist interviews.
The goal is for museums across the country to share information about women artists—their histories, birthdays, quotes, and more—using the hashtag #5womenartists to highlight works in their collections and exhibitions made by women.
The impetus for the project? According to the campaign’s press release:
“Through #5womenartists, the Women’s Museum hopes to help the public answer the question—without hesitation—‘Can you name five women artists?’” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “By calling attention to the inequity women artists face today as well as in the past, we hope to inspire conversation and awareness.”
We all know the artists that most people are able to list off automatically, right? The list usually goes a little something like…Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Lange, etc. And they are all fantastic women artists worthy of such recognition! But there’s so many more out there. Our goal at SAM is to share a wider range of women that may not be as well known, including women of color and more contemporary artists, all from our collection.
We’re going to share more than five women artists here, and here is the first: a collaboration by artists Dawn Cerny and Victoria Haven (under the group moniker DAFT KUNTZ) called SO GOOD IT COULD HAVE BEEN. The piece tends to speak for itself in terms of why we’re highlighting it first, and it was a comment made by a male colleague to the artists. How you choose to view it—as a compliment, or as a statement highlighting the fact that the art world still defines most achievements as defined by men—is up to you. But we love the work because it confronts the fact that there is a significant gender imbalance in the art world, (their representation, and exposure to them and their works) head-on.
Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic is on view at long last. As a part of the exhibition, SAM has launched New Republic Events, where SAM and Seattle-area community partners are highlighting events and performances focusing on themes found in Kehinde Wiley’s work, and also, New Republic Community Portrait Project. The Community Portrait Project invites volunteers to have their portraits taken by local photographers, and answer three questions: how do others see you, how do you see yourself and how do you want to be seen? The finished portraits and answers will be featured on the project’s website, as well as in SAM’s Community Corridor.
Local artists/photographers Carina A. del Rosario and Zorn B. Taylor are heading up the project, and we spoke with Carina about her background and the experience of working on the project.
SAM: Hi Carina! Thanks for speaking with us.
del Rosario: No problem!
SAM: Since you asked Community Portrait Project participants three questions, we’ll ask you three too. First up: Tell us a bit about your background and how long you’ve been a photographer.
del Rosario: I was born in the Philippines and immigrated with my family to Los Angeles when I was six. I love the energy and vibrant colors of urban life I grew up around, which in part led to my interest in street photography. When I moved here as a kid, I was curious about all the life going on around me but I was super shy. It may have been because I wasn’t confident with my English at the time. Over time, I really developed my English language skills in writing and speaking – though at the expense of my first language – but that helped bolster my confidence. I eventually got interested in journalism since it gave me an excuse to talk to strangers, to ask questions and tell stories. But I always loved how images and stories went together, whether in newspapers or in films. At Santa Clara University, where I graduated with a BA in Communication, I worked on the student newspaper and my friends there taught me photography and printing in the darkroom.
After a number of years writing, I decided to take up photography again and other visual arts classes because I wanted to make my writing more visual, more sensory. Eventually, I became more and more interested in the ability of photography and other visual art forms to tell a story that can be much more open to interpretation—that can hold more complexity and ambiguity. I’ve been working as a photographer and visual artist for about 12 years.
SAM: Very cool. We’re glad you’re bringing your unique experience to the Community Portrait Project. Okay, next question: What’s your favorite thing about being a photographer?
del Rosario: Similar to being a journalist, being a photographer gives you an excuse or a tool for following your curiosity. It can certainly open doors to connecting with strangers. It can also shut doors if one doesn’t approach others with respect and openness. One of my early photography instructors (Raul Touzon on National Geographic) told me, “Give as much as you get. Be in the moment with people and the images will come.” I definitely get a charge when I can connect with people on a human level and that emerges in the photos.
SAM: What excellent advice. Okay, last question: How did you get involved with the Community Portrait Project, and what has the experience been like so far?
del Rosario: Regan Pro (SAM’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs) contacted me about the Community Portrait Project and I jumped on it. I’m a teaching artist for SAM, so Regan and I have worked together for a few years. She also knows my work as an artist, particularly my Passport Series, which is a photo-based, interactive project that addresses identity, documentation, and discrimination. Through this project, I’ve worked with people from all walks of life to bust out of the boxes we all get squeezed into and present ourselves more holistically. Regan knew this would be akin to Kehinde Wiley’s approach for empowering “sitters” to determine how they want to be seen.
The experience working on the Community Portrait Project has been really uplifting and grounding at the same time. First, I love any excuse to work with Zorn. We have taught together and supported each other’s work for a few years, and I really appreciate the love and openness he brings into the work.
We photographed people from various ages and life experiences—a total of 40 people over three sessions. It’s hard to narrow down which ones were the most memorable stories because so many of them opened up in really interesting ways. One woman talked about how normally she’s really shy and closed in and that this was her challenge to herself. By participating in this project, she’s opening up to the world. I could totally relate to this since I remember making a similar decision when I was younger. There was another woman who seemed so deeply sad. She’s in a struggle to reclaim her sense of self, her own power, her happiness. I asked her to try to go back to a time when she felt whole and happy. To witness those emotions move through her, from sorrow to joy in a seconds, was an incredible honor.
SAM: Wow. It sounds like you had many incredibly experiences working on the Community Portrait Project, and essentially got to peek into the inner lives and thoughts of strangers. Thanks for sharing with us, for being a part of the Project!
del Rosario: Thank you!
You can participate in the Community Portrait Project, too. Upcoming drop-in photo sessions will be held at SAM on Wednesday, March 3 and on Thursday, April 7. In the meantime, be sure to check out Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, on view now.
In our February-May 2016 issue of SAM Magazine, our member-only publication, we featured an article about the Silk Road Caves in Dunhuang, China as a preview of our upcoming exhibition Journey to Dunhuang: Buddhist Art of the Silk Road Caves. Our space was limited in print, so we’re featuring the whole article here on the SAM Blog.
In 1943, James and Lucy Lo were newlyweds. Budding adventurers that they were, the couple set out to Dunhuang, China, by donkey cart for their honeymoon. In the remote town, there was no electricity or running water. A friend of theirs in India managed to find several thousand rolls of film for James to take with him for the trip to the area’s sacred cave-grottoes.
The nearly 500 caves are collectively called the Mogao Caves—now a UNESCO World Heritage site—and are carved into cliffs about 15 miles from the oasis town of Dunhuang on the edge of the Gobi Desert. At the start of the 20th century, European explorers discovered the caves, finding a treasure trove of sculptures, manuscripts, painted scrolls, and wall paintings inside. The cave temples range in date from about the 4th to the 14th centuries, and 2,000 Buddhist sculptures, 45,000 square meters of murals, and more than 60,000 texts are preserved today. Some caves were built and rebuilt over the millennium by the devout and they continue to be an astonishing experience for visitors.
The couple spent their time in Dunhuang documenting the interiors: brilliantly colored paintings that covered cave walls, ceilings, and floors, and the finely rendered stucco sculptures, some of which were of immense, towering Buddhas. The site reveals shifting artistic influences and ritual practices, attesting to a long and varied history of political, religious, and private patronage as well as local, court, and foreign military protection. That Dunhuang was a multicultural center is also attested to by surviving printed texts and hand-written manuscripts with calligraphy in the Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Uighur, and Tangut languages Visitors from the West couldn’t get to China without going through Dunhuang, as it is located at the crossroads of the northern and southern routes of the ancient Silk Road.
The Los photographed the caves for 18 months, producing an unparalleled set of black-and-white negatives, remarkable for their documentary value as well as their artistic quality. They were not the first photographers to arrive at the Mogao Caves, but they were the first to document the caves with artistic intention. Indeed, the Los established iconic ways to view Dunhuang. While at Dunhuang, the Los also collected manuscript fragments, including texts and pictures. This group is the largest collection in the U.S. and reflects their broad interests in unusual scripts and in a variety of painting techniques. Also while at Dunhuang, the Los met with famed Chinese painter (and infamous forger) Zhang Daqian (1899–1983), who was there repairing and making replicas of Mogao murals.
After moving to Taiwan in the 1950s, the Los became part of a community of artists and intellectuals. They invited a group of young artists to produce life-size copies of the Lo’s photographs. Some were done freehand, while others were tracings made by projecting the Lo slides on the wall. The artists then added color to the renderings by relying on the Lo’s comprehensive notes and their memories of the caves. These facsimiles are unique in their fidelity to the originals since they are collaborative and imaginative recreations.
James and Lucy Lo’s photographic archive, manuscript collection, and artist renderings belong to Princeton University’s Art Museum, P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art, and the East Asian Library. Their current exhibition, Sacred Caves of the Silk Road: Ways of Knowing and Recreating Dunhuang, formed the basis of scholarship for the exhibition, Journey to Dunhuang: Buddhist Art of the Silk Road Caves, coming to the Asian Art Museum in March. Together, with SAM’s Director Emerita Mimi Gates’ exhibition at The Getty Museum, Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road, we are bringing Dunhuang to the West Coast in 2016.
An installation of Buddhist art will also be on view during the Dunhuang exhibition. The focus will be on the Buddha as depicted in Asian art, with both sculpted and painted works drawn from SAM’s own collection. The exhibition will be a geographically broad survey, and will represent works from various parts of Asia where Buddhism spread, including East Asia, Tibet, Nepal, and Southeast Asia.
IMAGES:Parinirvana, Mogao Cave 158, Middle Tang dynasty (781–848), Photograph taken in 1943–44, The Lo Archive. View of the Northern Mogao Cave, Photograph taken in 1943–44, The Lo Archive.
In our February-May 2016 issue of SAM Magazine, our member-only publication, we featured an interview with indigo textile artist Rowland Ricketts in anticipation of our upcoming exhibition Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World. Our space was limited in print, so we’re featuring the whole interview here on the SAM Blog.
Setting the Mood
The upcoming exhibition heading to the Asian Art Museum, Mood Indigo, honors the unique ability of the color blue to create many moods in cloth. Drawn primarily from the Seattle Art Museum’s global textile collection, Mood Indigo illuminates the historic scope of this vibrant pigment. The exhibition features a set of tapestries from Belgium, a silk court robe from China, a vast array of kimonos from Japan, batiks and ikats from Indonesia and Africa, and ancient fragments from Peru and Egypt. An immersive contemporary installation devoted to indigo by Rowland Ricketts will be accompanied by a soundtrack by sound artist Nobert Herber that unveils the musical nuances indigo can suggest. From the sultry darkness of midnight to the vitality of a bright sky, come let the myriad blues in their multiple forms surround you.
Rowland Ricketts’s Historical Processes For Creating Contemporary Textiles
Artist Rowland Ricketts adapts historical processes to create contemporary textiles. He came to indigo by way of a two-year apprenticeship in 1996. Today, Ricketts works with his wife and fellow artist, Chinami, as they handle indigo in all the stages of its inception: growing, processing, vatting, and dyeing. Read on to learn about this artist’s journey with indigo, from seed to cloth.
SAM: Hi Rowland! Thanks for speaking with us.
Rowland Ricketts: No problem!
SAM: What would you say your work is about at the heart? What are the central themes inherent in it?
Ricketts: On some level, it’s awe and wonder. That is a huge, meta-interest for me. Indigo is imbued with mystery. It’s an enigma of sorts in that it is a dye found throughout the world, and a dye found in synthetic forms. People have been drawn to it for millennia, working with it for millennia, and the end of the day, the color is immaterial, a wavelength of light. There are myriad connections indigo, from history, to plants and the environment, to art, time, etc. We (indigo makers) create these connections and at the end of the day, we’re making something immaterial. Part of the human condition is the drive to create beauty, and yet it is so immaterial. It’s all part of the bigger picture. On a smaller scale, planting, harvesting, and dye-making are all central to what I do.
SAM: What inspired you to work with indigo? When did you start?
Ricketts: In 1996 I did a two-year apprenticeship in Japan, and spent one year working with a farmer and one with a dyer making indigo out of composted leaves. What inspired me was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet. I did photography, taught high school, and was developing black and white photos. I stopped eventually, pre-digital photography. I thought that there’s got to be more ways to create. I met people who were very conscious of their environment, very direct with it. I met them folks who dyed indigo, and worked with them on plants. They first told me about indigo and said to visit the Folk Art Museum in Osaka. When I went, there happened to be an indigo dyer exhibit up. I just started gardening and thought, “Wow, this is what I want to do.” It brought together my interests: working in a sustainable way with the environment, gardening, and farming.
SAM: Tell us about the work that you’ll have on view as a part of Mood Indigo.
Ricketts: The installation was a part of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (Crafted: Objects in Flux, which was on view through January 10, 2016) and it will be reconfigured to fit the space. It’s coming SAM’s way next. It’s called “Mobile Sections.” For it, I collaborated with a sound artist, Norbert Herber, for an audio component. It’s made up of a large, indigo-dyed textile, 11½ ft. tall by 30 ft. circumference, dried indigo plants, and possibly a video projection. The inspiration for it was drawn from the process: field recordings of the harvesting, planting, drying, and positions of sound. It is playing with materiality and immateriality and it’s a thing that’s so much bigger in person.
SAM: For those of us who have yet to dye things with indigo, can you walk us through your indigo-making process?
Ricketts: Sure. There are four main steps:
STEP 1: GROWING
I plants seeds in late March, and transplant seedlings in early May and tend them, then harvest them in early July by cutting at the base to allow the leaves to dry.
STEP 2: PROCESSING
In the fall, these dry indigo leaves are put in a special shed, mixed with water, and composted for one hundred days to make the traditional Japanese indigo dye-stuff known as sukumo.
STEP 3: VATTING
By January, a concentrated compost with dye is left behind.
STEP 4: DYEING
To dye cloth, I take the composed leaves, add wood ash lye, and mix them. Indigo bacteria removes oxygen to make the dyeing possible. The dye lasts from four months to a year, and the leaves used to make the dye are returned to the fields to nurture the next planting. With this process, the only thing taken from the leaves is the dye.
SAM: Okay, last question: What do you think people should know about indigo?
Ricketts: One connection people should definitely make: that the color they’re seeing comes from plants. I grew up in suburban America, and was driven by cars. I only became interested in plants after living abroad. People have been making indigo for millennia! I hope that after they leave the installation visitors think about what the color is, where it came from, and how it got there.
Mood Indigo will be on view at the Asian Art Museum April 9–October 9, 2016. Don’t miss it!
Beauty is often associated with symmetry; Order, even lines, and pleasing color palettes are all indicative qualities of something that aims to catch the eye. The earliest Western theory of beauty can be found in the works of Greek philosophers from the pre-Socratic period, such as Pythagoras. The Pythagorean school saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. Notably, they believed that objects proportioned to meet the golden ratio (two objects are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities) were more attractive. Many greats including Da Vinci and Dali have incorporated the number in their works. Artist Yee Sookyung—currently showing work in the exhibition Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art at the Asian Art Museum—does not.
Rather than create pieces that follow this long-held belief, she takes existing pieces of art as well as broken shards, bits, and pieces of work made by traditional Korean master ceramicists (what she calls “ceramic trash”) and turns them into gold—literally.
“My concern is not about the history of Korean ceramics, but it is to play with the fragments which exist now, and this is different from the ceramics masters who produce all of the ceramics adhering to traditional methodology,” Yee said. “Korean traditional ceramic masters break almost 70% of the product that don’t reach up to the standards of masterpieces. So I put the broken bits and pieces of ceramic trash together, one by one, as if putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I covered them with 24k gold leaf, and I wanted to emphasize the crack. In Korean, the word for crack is also the same for gold.”
She describes the process of the pieces coming together in a rather romantic, predetermined way:
“A broken ceramic piece finds another piece, and they rely on each other,” Yee said.
The result is ultimately sculptural, anthropomorphic, and universally beautiful.
Watch the artist describe this process, the act of combining histories, and the many layered metaphors buried in her large-scale work. Experience Thousand and all of its perfect imperfections in Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum.
We’re honored to share that the 2015 Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize Winner is Los Angeles-based visual artist, Brenna Youngblood, who incorporates symbols and elements—with strong but not-so-obvious references to everyday life—into her sculptures and atmospheric paintings. The Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize is awarded bi-annually to an early career black artist—an individual who has been producing mature work for less than 10 years.
Youngblood is a prolific artist with a rigorous studio practice where she experiments deeply with aspects of formalism, materials, and processes. Rooted in photomontage, she builds the surfaces of many paintings at once while contemplating the relationships between each object in formation. Mixed with humor, satire, and pure creative freedom, she embraces her intuition fully as she makes decisions about composition, line, form, and content. Abstract with a nod to conceptualism, figuration, and the real, Youngblood makes painterly work that is visually grounded by architectural, social, and political cues. She often refers to many of these beautifully messaged works as landscapes.
Her solo exhibition abstracted realities, which was guest curated by Sandra Jackson-Dumont, SAM’s former Kayla Skinner Deputy Director of Education and Public Programs and Adjunct Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, (now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) is on view now through April 17, 2016.
Watch the artist discuss how her pieces explore the iconography of public and private experiences, as well as issues surrounding identity, ethics, and representation. And be sure to visit abstracted realities next time you’re at SAM!
SAM is celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. with a week of spotlight tours, focusing on works on view in the galleries that relate to themes of race and social justice. We invite you to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy here at SAM.
Visit the galleries at noon today through Monday to participate in a different tour each day, led by members of SAM’s curatorial and educational staff:
All tours are free and open to all. Participants will need to purchase a gallery ticket, but no special exhibition ticket is required. We invite you to join the conversation.
Image: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Martin Luther King, Jr. (left) and Eslanda Goode Robeson (right).” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed January 13, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/a7d0e925-f8b7-eff6-e040-e00a18060357
Storytelling is an essential tool for expressing our beliefs, culture, and creativity. We spend our lives collecting and sharing stories. Whether we’re recounting a childhood memory or teaching others about a historical event, stories help us make sense of, and connect to, the world around us.
Visual art and storytelling are closely associated. When we view a work of art with narrative potential, we are naturally inclined to interpret it. To understand an object, we think about what we see as well as what the object and its artist are communicating. Questions like “Who are the figures?” or “What is happening in this scene?” prompt us to construct stories to explain the object. With their stories, we might see artists sustaining, subverting, or expanding on traditions they’ve inherited.
The proliferation of narrative content in Greek art, particularly vase-painting, began at the turn of the sixth century B.C.[i] Without any text to explain what’s happening in these vases, our familiarity with the actions or attributes of the figures depicted is crucial in identifying the characters, and through them, the story in which they are involved. The 6th-century B.C. black-figured storage jar, or amphora, depicts a mythological battle scene. The lion skin worn by one of the figures tells us that the figure is Herakles and refers to the circumstances of its acquisition, the Twelve Labors. With his foot mid-air, Herakles steps forward to charge at his opponents. Athena, armed with her helmet and spear, stands either in front of Herakles on one side of the vase and behind him on the reverse side of the vase. Two of the three hoplites hasten away but look back, indicating their retreat mode and an impending victory for Herakles and Athena. The alliance between Herakles and Athena alludes to Athena’s role as a divine comrade to great heroes in mythology and art. The nature of narrative art like this amphora requires the viewer to access prior knowledge of visual cues and iconography to read the content. As the viewer begins to study the meaningful features, the story unfolds.
Whereas the Greek vase was a propagation of an established narrative, Some Living American Women Artists/ Last Supper is a challenge to powerful narratives in the history of art and religion that have excluded women. The artist, Mary Beth Edelson, takes a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and replaces the heads of Jesus and his disciples with photographs of women artists. “The most negative aspect of organized religion, for me,” says Edelson, “was the positioning of power and authority in the hands of a male hierarchy that intentionally excluded women from access to these positions…[The work] gave me a double pleasure of presenting the names and faces of the many women artists who were seldom seen in the art world of 1972 as ‘the grand subject’—while spoofing male exclusivity in the patriarchy.”[ii] The resulting work showcases women in a male context and connects art with religion. The poster not only commemorates women artists but also highlights the struggles women have confronted in their professions. The act of women taking the place of men in an important historical painting overturns gender constructs. By appropriating the message of the male-dominated Last Supper painting, Edelson effectively asserts the voices of women and their place at the table.
The narrative content of objects is not necessarily fixed. Objects can convey different and new stories depending on their environment, use, and audience. Masks, for example, are not simply static images; they are imbued with social relationships and act as vehicles for powerful storytelling. Wooden masks were one of the many elements used in okumkpa, a masquerade tradition of the Afikpo of southeastern Nigeria.[iii] The play essentially functions as a community theater, touching on issues exclusively known to the people of the village. Although the play primarily ridicules and satirizes community members and relevant events, it offers moral commentary on how residents have behaved, establishing a standard for how they should behave. The masked players embody mma, a type of spirit intended to protect the players and provide them the freedom to perform without restraint. The senior leader of the performance would wear the Nnada Okumkpa, direct the skit, and narrate the action. When the masks became animated, they interacted with the viewer and situated him as a participant in a performance. While admiring the staging of the masquerade performance on the fourth floor gallery, I overheard a visitor commenting to her friend, “I’m waiting for one of them to start moving.” Though still and silent, the mask in the museum is a suggestive remnant of the movement, sound, and drama of performance.
Visual storytelling involves an intimate interaction between an object and its audience. When we choose to become immersed in the objects, they bring out very personal responses. We may laugh, cry, or even critique the story we believe we see in the objects. Our engagement with art ultimately keeps the stories alive. I hope you will find a good story during your next visit to SAM!
—Fiona Dang, SAM Curatorial Intern
[i] Mertens, Joan R. How to Read Greek Vases. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010. [ii] “Mary Beth Edelson.” Avalanche. 1973. [iii] Ottenberg, Simon. Masked Rituals of Afikpo: The Context of an African Art. Seattle: The University of Washington Press, 1975.
Images: Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Work with schools : a librarian’s assistant telling a story to a group of Russian children in their native language, ca. 1910s.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed January 8, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-e5f7-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99. Black-Figured Amphora with Herakles and Athena, Greek, 6th C., B.C. Gift of Norma and Amelia Davis, 82.83, Photo:Natali Wiseman. Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper, Mary Beth Edelson, 1971. Purchased from artist by Seattle Art Museum, 98.14, Photo: Mark Woods. Nnada Okumkpa (Senior Leader’s Mask), Chukwu Okoro, Gift of Simon Ottenberg, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.42, Photo: Natali Wiseman.
“Made in U.S.A.” It’s a familiar phrase. A distinctive feature of the phrase is that it always comes attached to an object. The statement makes no sense when detached from an object because it lacks the first element of any sentence: a subject. What was made in the U.S.A.? Whatever it’s printed on. This is what one might call an index. Where we see the words has a direct relationship to the meaning we draw from them.
American Pop artist Ed Ruscha chose the language carefully. The physical lithograph that he called America Her Best Product was imagined and then printed within the boundaries of the U.S. The Pop movement that it represents was also distinctly American—cleverly responding to a boom in consumerism during the third quarter of the 20th century with a new brand (pun intended) of satire. The American Dream and the drive to buy that supports it are two more products referenced here. Are they the most telling ones?
America Her Best Product came to SAM as part of a 12-piece art portfolio titled Spirit of Independence, which also featured print works by artists such as Robert Indiana, Alex Katz, and Jacob Lawrence, and which celebrated the country’s 200th year in 1976. The portfolio assembled works symbolizing American creativity and freedom. Curtis H. Judge, president of the donor Lorillard Co., wrote that Spirit of Independence “reflects and projects American independence as interpreted by 12 of America’s foremost artists.”
As Ruscha points out, one of the great parts about freedom is the ability to question the direction of one’s own country.
Happy birthday, Ed Ruscha!
—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator
Image: America Her Best Product, 1974, Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937), lithograph, 31 3/8 x 23 1/2 in. Gift of the Lorillard Co., N.Y.
Our second annual SAM Lights event is happening this Thursday evening, December 17 from 6-9pm! To help you make the most of your experience at this popular event, we’ve come up with a list of pro tips from SAM staff members to ensure a fabulous time is had by your friends and loved ones.
Pro Tip #1: Arrive throughout the evening
The entire evening is filled with art, lights, music, and more. Feel free to arrive at the time that makes sense for you, your family, and your personal preferences!
Pro Tip #2: Get out and enjoy the park beyond the PACCAR Pavilion
Come bundled up and show everyone how Seattle does winter! Take part in the energetic procession of music and light down the Z Path led by the Chaotic Noise Marching Corps at 7:15 pm. Don’t miss your only chance to see Andy Behrle’s light installation, apparition.
Pro Tip #3: Take public transportation
Garage parking will not be available this evening, so be sure to bus to the sculpture park!
Pro Tip #4: Grab a hot drink
Keep toasty while you explore the park’s lights. Buy a warm drink from Taste or Hot Revolution Donuts, or bring your own.
Pro Tip #5: Hang out in the Garage
The Garage will be decked out with lights, DJ Sharlese from KEXP will be spinning for you all night long, and food trucks will be serving up some sweet and savory treats. Check out 314 Pie and Hot Revolution Donuts and take a break from the rain and enjoy your eats in the City Arts Lounge.
Pro Tip #6: Become part of the show
Wear your best light-inspired ensemble and become a part of the art experience.
Pro Tip #7: Take the event program with you
Know before you go by accessing the SAM Lights program from your mobile device at visitsam.org/samlights.
We have a unique opportunity to help contemporary Chinese artist/dissident Ai Weiwei create commissioned artworks that will be a part of an Australian exhibition starting this month. How can we help him, you might be thinking? By sharing our LEGOs!
The Danish toy company LEGO refused Ai Weiwei Studio’s request for a bulk order of LEGOs to create artwork to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria as “they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works.” This triggered a flood of responses on social media criticizing LEGO for “censorship and discrimination” by refusing Ai’s order. Since then, thousands of anonymous supporters have offered to donate their used LEGOs to Ai.
The tiny toy bricks Ai receives will be part of two works for an exhibition titled Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei, which will explore the concept of freedom of speech and be on view through April 24, 2016 at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia. According to The New York Times, one piece will re-envision his 1995 photo triptych “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” and the other will feature 20 LEGO portraits of Australian proponents of Internet freedom and human rights.
To participate in this site-specific project and show our support, the Seattle Art Museum has signed up as an official Lego collection point for local and visiting art enthusiasts to drop LEGO bricks through the sunroofs of a secondhand BMW. Our collection point is parked right in front of the Asian Art Museum, and the roof will be open during museum open hours now through January 10, 2016.
Want to check out some of Weiwei’s work in person? Visit his installation Colored Vases, Ai’s first work acquired by the SAM, at the Asian Art Museum.
Watch SAM staff and other prominent figures in the local Seattle arts and culture scene share their immediate, thoughtful, and personal impressions of select pieces from the exhibition, Intimate Impressionism, on view now through January 10, 2016 at the Seattle Art Museum. Experts in areas such as fashion, frames, dance, and more will share intriguing details about the paintings that can be easily missed upon first viewing. Be sure to subscribe to the series to get updates when new videos are released.
Upon arrival, we are greeted by cardboard boxes, carts piled high with paint, painter’s tape, dozens and dozens of lights, and AV equipment. It’s the week before the Asian Art Museum’s newest exhibition Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art opens, and we’re going behind the scenes to check out how the installation is going.
SAM’s Exhibition Designer, Paul Martinez, was on hand to walk us through the exhibition install team’s progress thus far.
“The crew has their work cut out for them!” he tells us with a smile.
“Right now we’re looking at the tech specs for all of the artists—the things that the A/V people will need. Tantamount is clear communication, as we’re working with an international museum and artists,” Martinez says.
As we walk into the first wing of the Tateuchi Galleries, we see deep, crimson walls that are still bare for the most part, save for two gilded frames holding mirrors. The room will house works by artist Lee Yongbaek. The pieces incorporate video, sound, mirrors, and soldier uniforms decked out in floral print as a part of his work, Angel-Soldier. After viewing images of the uniforms, the myriad colors pop out and are so much more vivid in person. They are the perfect juxtaposition: camouflage that does not hide you at all.
“You can see them laid out here,” Martinez says as we walk into the adjoining room. “They’re stunning decorative elements, you want to wear one of the jackets, they’re pretty cool.” We agree completely.
We move on to the next, where we see a few of Jung Yeondoo’s pairs of photos from his Bewitched series have been hung. They portray young people of Korea in their day jobs and contrast their realities with what they would actually like to do in life, if money, education, and responsibilities were of no object. The photos are huge, taking up the majority of the wall space. We didn’t imagine they’d tower so high, but seeing them blown up to almost life-size helps us take in the details—to imagine what life would be like in our imagined realities, too.
The next space houses Lim Minouk’s large-scale multimedia installation, The Possibility of the Half. The work is not fully prepared or installed yet, and Lim’s assistant, Ms. Park Moonkynung is in town to help assemble the pieces. The detritus of what makes up a real newsroom is scattered around the room: an ON AIR sign, professional video cameras and tripods, and more lights, all borrowed from our local KING5 news station. The room is painted black, which will perfectly set the scene for what viewers will experience when the total sum of the work is up: a re-imagined Korean television studio, with screens showing visceral, emotional, and dramatic scenes of people grieving over the deaths of Kim Jong Il of North Korea and former president Park Jung-Hee of South Korea.
Standing tall in front of us is an interesting structure: a camera device composed mostly of a tall tree branch. Curious as to how it got here, we pressed Martinez.
“This request came to us in a single photo. ‘Can you build us one of these?’ he said. “It’s just what it looks like: a quirky representation of a camera boom. Our crew worked hard to produce an operable and dynamic boom to represent exactly what we needed,” Martinez said, as he moved the boom up and down, and left to right to show of its capabilities. “We went out and selected a tree from the Northwest, cut it to size, dried it for a long period of time, then fumigated. We started this back in the springtime. Then it needed the whole base, which we built in house, and our mount makers fabricated everything.”
“So this is one of a kind, and made for this exhibition?” I ask. “Yes, she’s (Lim) done it for other museums, too,” Martinez confirms. “The bottom rounds, not sure where they were purchased from, and not sure if they’re from the Pacific Northwest,” he laughs.
Lim herself is at the museum this week to help install her work. We can’t wait to see what the composite room looks once it’s up and finished for the opening this weekend.
I noticed that when everything is laid out in the room, including pieces that expand up entire corners of the floor, it seems that the work takes a great deal of space. “How are people going to interact with the installation and how close are they going to get to everything?” I ask.
“Much like The Mr. exhibition, (referring to the past exhibition, Live On: Mr.’s Japanese Neo-Pop), it’s a bit of an immersive experience,” Martinez said. “This exhibition will be the same way. They’ll wander through, but there will be obvious barriers. It’s meant to be something you enter, have an experience with while you’re in it, and then you leave.”
In the next room over, we’re greeted by some of Yang Haegue’s Female Natives sculptures. Outfitted with everyday materials—lights, artificial flowers, yarn, cord, bells, etc. piled on clothing racks—the structures provoke narratives about gender, politics, and human emotions. Her Gymnastics of the Foldables series of photos yields the same effect by way of engaging a clothes drying rack in calisthenics.
The last wing of the galleries is dedicated to the installation that has been worked on the least since the pieces arrived in Seattle. Tons of wooden boxes were piled on top of each other to our left and right, with Korean postage and stickers prominently affixed.
“I heard the handlers were taking apart and counting them, making sure they were all here today,” I said, referring to Yeesookyung’s work Thousand, composed of porcelain shards, epoxy, and 24k gold leaf.
“This one is particularly challenging,” Martinez said. “It’s a thousand pieces to look at,” he said. “How they come out of the crate remains specific as to how they’re laid out for the artist to access, it’s a very deliberate, meticulous unpacking and repacking and reassembly of the crates,” he confirmed. “And then of course the registrars are looking at each piece in detail, writing down the characteristics of each piece, and photographing them so they have a record of what they are and if they have any issues.”
The effort will pay off, though, as the total effect of one thousand pieces of porcelain on a platform is bound to dazzle—not only for the craftsmanship of the ceramics, but also out of respect for the artist who has skillfully arranged them all in their respective spots in the gallery.
“The artist will place them all herself, correct?”
“Exactly,” Martinez said. “We have the pedestal placed as she’ll need. She’ll place them all in the ways she likes on the platform. She’ll have all the pieces arranged by numbers. She’s installed it before so she’ll come with her method of reinstalling it here.”
I’ve read that Yeesookyung has said that working on this piece has helped her appreciate the process of putting together her finished works more than the actual creating of the work. Some interesting perspective on a work that no doubt took at least a thousand hours to complete.
There’s nothing like a good rivalry to spice up a moment in history. I’d say it’s a rare historical note that isn’t improved by some verbal sparring or a gauntlet being thrown. Happily for us, the European Impressionists not only created a remarkable group of paintings, but also produced a natural rivalry in Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and Claude Monet (1840-1926). Manet was a leading influence in the years before Impressionism flowered, and when it did, Monet took the torch from him, becoming the new movement’s unquestioned leader.
In John Rewald’s History of Impressionism, we read about Manet’s first encounter with the younger Monet. The scene is the Paris Salon exhibition of 1865:
The two canvases shown by Monet were views of the Seine estuary, done near the lighthouse of Honfleur. Since the works at the Salon were now hung in alphabetical order to prevent favoritism, Monet’s works found themselves in the same room with Manet’s. When the latter entered this room on the opening day, he had the disagreeable surprise of being congratulated by several persons upon his seascapes. Having studied the signatures on the two pictures attributed to him, Manet at first thought it to be some cheap joke; his anger was conceivably not lessened by the fact that the seascapes continued to have more success than his own works. He left in a rage and openly complained to some friends: ‘I am being complimented only on a painting that is not by me. One would think this to be a mystification.’
Although in time Monet and Manet grew to be friendly artist-peers, sometimes painting together outdoors, such was Manet’s frustration at the Salon that he refused his first chance to meet Monet. “Who is this rascal who pastiches my painting so basely?” spouted Manet, in a masterful artist burn.
“Oysters” by Edouard Manet, 1862.
“Argenteuil” by Claude Monet, ca. 1872.
The two names were often confused in those years of Monet’s ascension and are sometimes still confused today, even with 150 years of distance. Comparisons were always inevitable, given the similarity of their names. It’s a great chance for some amusement, too. A famous caricaturist in 19th century Paris, Andre Gill, sketched a figure painting by Monet and attached the caption “Monet ou Manet?—Monet. Mais, c’est a Manet que nous devons ce Monet; bravo, Monet; merci, Manet.” (“Monet or Manet?—Monet. But it is to Manet we owe this Monet. Bravo, Monet; Merci, Manet.”) Cartoons over the years have picked up on the joke and taken it a number of directions. One of my favorite renditions is this Harry Bliss cartoon, originally published in The New Yorker (and for the record, it was Manet).
Not only for the syphilis, fate was pretty cruel to Manet: Here’s an artist who cared deeply about being recognized and accepted, who continually submitted paintings to the Salon in search of official stamps of approval—and he was frequently confused with, or overshadowed by, a younger artist who ends up leading the Impressionist movement and becoming one of the most popular artists of all time. And the two were only separated by one letter!
Today, being so far removed from the historical moment makes it easier for us to appreciate Manet’s work on its own, and his contributions to art and painting are widely recognized. Here at the Seattle Art Museum, we also love Monet: our permanent collection features the beautiful harbor scene Fishing Boats at Étretat. So we all arrived at a happy ending. But, just because those rivalries are so much fun, here’s one more spat from Impressionist lore.
On one occasion, Manet went to Argenteuil and set up to paint the Monet family—the artist, his wife, Camille, and his son, Jean—in their garden (this painting is The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Colin Bailey, a scholar of French painting and director of the Morgan Library and Museum, recounts what happened next: “While Manet was at work, Renoir arrived, borrowed paints, brushes, and a canvas from Monet, and executed a vivid close-up of Camille and Jean, joined by the rooster. Irritated by Renoir’s intrusion, Manet is reported to have told Monet, ‘He has no talent, that boy. Since he’s your friend, you should tell him to give up painting!’”
“Madame Monet and Her Son” by Auguste Renior, 1874.
Come tour our brand new exhibition Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art to see Renoir’s painting of that day in the garden—and judge his talents for yourself! And don’t miss a related SAM Talks event this month with Colin Bailey and SAM’s own director, Kimerly Rorschach. —Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator
References Bailey, Colin. “The Floating Studio.” The New York Review of Books, April 23, 2015. Rewald, John. The History of Impressionism, 4th revised edition. New York: New York Graphic Society, 1973.
It’s almost here! Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art opens tomorrow in the Seattle Art Museum special exhibition galleries, and we’ve got an array of opening day activities in store for you. Because we’ve got a robust day of art planned, read on for the complete breakdown of ticket prices, events, hours, and more.
HOURS As tomorrow is First Thursday art walk, the museum will be open late until 9 pm to accommodate your art-loving schedule.
TICKET PRICES As this exhibition will be popular, tickets forIntimate Impressionism are timed, so when purchasing online or in person, select a specific day/time in which you’ll plan to visit the exhibition.
TONIGHT + AND FUTURE FREE DAYS
SAM COLLECTIONS & INSTALLATIONS: FREE TO ALL
SPECIAL EXHIBITION PRICE FOR INTIMATEIMPRESSIONISM ADULTS: $12
SENIORS (62+): $11
MILITARY (WITH ID): $11
STUDENTS (WITH ID): $7
TEENS (13 – 19): FREE
CHILDREN (12 & UNDER: FREE
SPECIAL EXHIBITION – EFFECTIVE OCT 2
Ticket prices for Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art are listed below. This ticket includes access to all collections and installations.
SENIORS (62+): $22.95
MILITARY (WITH ID): $22.95
STUDENTS (WITH ID): $14.95
TEENS (13 – 19): $14.95
CHILDREN (12 & UNDER): FREE
SAM MEMBER: FREE
SPECIAL ADVANCE ONLINE PRICING
Save up to $5 per ticket when you purchase your tickets in advance online! This is a limited time offer. Visitors purchasing tickets onsite will not be eligible for the discount. This online discount not valid on the First Thursday of the month, or for seniors on First Friday.
Experience an overview of the new exhibition Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art with Chiyo Ishikawa, Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, followed by a live performance from Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra’s String Quartet featuring works by Impressionist composers.
The SMCO String Quartet is composed of members of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra, an innovative ensemble that brings unique musical experiences to the ears of young and diverse listeners.
My Favorite Things tours bring some of the most opinionated and fascinating artists, cultural producers, and community figures into the galleries to discuss their favorite works of art. This tour will be led by Mary Anne Carter, a Seattle-based visual artist and curator of the Fashion Hot Dog 225 art space.
Humor, wildness, and structure define both Carter’s character and body of work, which includes printmaking, fashion design, textile design, and performance. Tour starts at 6:30 pm sharp. Don’t miss it!
PHOTOS AND SHARING Non-flash photography will be allowed in the galleries, so feel free to take a selfie next to your favorite painting, with your best friend, or with your Impressionist doppleganger while experiencing Intimate Impressionism! Be sure to tag your photos with #SAMImpressionism.
We’ll see you tomorrow for an extraordinary night of art with Monet, Renoir, Manet, Cézanne, Degas, Van Gogh, among other Masters!
Madame Monet and Her Son (detail), 1874, Auguste Renoir, French, 1841–1919, oil on canvas, 19 13/16 x 26 3/4 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.60.
On September 21, 2015, The Betty Bowen Committee announced that Jack Daws is the winner of the 2015 Betty Bowen Award. The award comes with an unrestricted cash prize of $15,000. A selection of Daws’ work will be on view at the Seattle Art Museum beginning November 19, 2015. The award honors a Northwest visual artist for their original, exceptional, and compelling work.
Eirik Johnson was selected to receive the Special Recognition Award in the amount of $2,500, and Lou Watson was awarded the Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award, also in the amount of $2,500. Six finalists—including Susan Dory, Samantha Scherer and Sadie Wechsler—were chosen from a pool of 537 applicants from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and competed for $20,000 in awards. Daws, Johnson, and Watson will receive their awards on Thursday, November 19 at 6 pm at SAM. The award ceremony and reception are free and the public is invited to join the celebration.
2015 Betty Bowen Award Winner
Jack Daws, Vashon, WA
Jack Daws is a self-taught artist who lives on Vashon Island and is originally from Kentucky. In his practice, Daws cross-examines the blind spots of salient moments in American history, from Chief Seattle to recent social and political events. Frequently, his appropriated objects seem innocuous and everyday but upon close inspection, they reveal a more troubling undercurrent that asks us to reconsider established truths and values. He recently exhibited The House That Jack Built at Mercer Gallery of Walden 3 in 2014, and contributed to the ongoing site-specific exhibition Duwamish Revealed, organized by the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle. His work satirically asks ponderous questions in order to enlighten the public. Through visually common and memorable works, he encourages his audience to reexamine their world.
Special Recognition Award
Eirik Johnson, Seattle, WA
Eirik Johnson earned his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute after graduating from the University of Washington with a BFA in Photography and a BA in History. His current body of work is Mushroom Camps, in which he documents the unique economy and culture surrounding the Matsutake mushroom. By recording the people and places along the mushroom’s journey from Oregon to Japan, Johnson reveals unexpected connections, reflecting current commercial and social issues.
Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award
Lou Watson, Portland
Lou Watson attended the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theater in Blue Lake, California and graduated with her BFA in Intermedia from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. Her recent work includes an experimental concert, Suite Sandy Boulevard at the Hollywood Theater (Portland, Oregon); In Celebration of Pig Pens, an installation at the Regional Arts and Culture Council’s Portland Building, and a film entitled commute that showed at the Experiments in Cinema Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Working in a variety of media, Watson discovers a sense of wonder in the mundane. She refashions her regular routine into a concert, a dance, and a work of art, adding splendor and excitement to the experience of daily life.
For more information about the Betty Bowen Award and how the winners are chosen, visit our website.
On August 28, 2015, SAM announced the appointment of Regan Pro as the museum’s next Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs. We sat down with her to ask her some questions about her role, her vision for SAM, and to learn more about her life outside of the museum.
SAM: First off, congratulations on your new role as the new Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs!
Regan Pro: Thank you!
SAM: You held your last role for a little over a year, but you’re not a new employee to SAM. What will change in your day-to-day as a result of your new role?
Pro: I’ve been at SAM for six years, and started out as the Museum Educator for School & Educator Programs, and then became the Manager of School & Educator Programs. After that, I became the Associate Director of Education and Public Programs then went on to become the Interim Director, which is the role I’d held since the departure of Sandra Jackson Dumont in June of 2014.
In terms of what will change, we’ve continued to evolve and grow our programming during the interim period but now I think we will be able to focus on more strategic thinking, and aligning our work to a new vision and mission. This is a chance to make some more long-term plans for the division, which is very exciting.
SAM: What are your goals for SAM in the coming year?
Pro: Some of my immediate goals are: growing the role of our reciprocal community partnerships, embedding a social practice more deeply in our programming, building out new content and programming focused on onsite experiences across the three locations, and to increase staff focus on equity and social justice. I’d like to take a reflective and critical look at how our programming is representing and responding to the communities we serve, particularly as Seattle is changing so rapidly. Additionally, I’d like to grow programming at the Olympic Sculpture Park, especially during the winter season. I’m also thinking more about the Asian Art Museum, and how we can embed it more in the Capitol Hill creative community.
SAM: As a Capitol Hill resident, I think that’s very cool.
Pro: Definitely. Focusing on young people, SAM hopes to do some new programming this year that brings more light to creative career pathways. Through programs like Design Your Hood, Teen Arts Group and our school partnerships work, I’d like the museum to be a space to not only foster creativity and youth voice but also give young people new access to creative careers through internships, site visits and partnerships, ideally raising the visibility of the critical role creativity plays in all careers- from tech and beyond.
SAM: That sounds like a fantastic goal and resource for the community. It’s also a great segway into my next question: what do you love most about your role, and about SAM?
Pro: I really love my job at SAM and feel grateful everyday that I get to engage in this work. The arts and artists transform people’s understanding of what is possible. They are powerful tools for social equity and perspective sharing. There are so many complex, incredible narratives that you can learn from works of art in our museum and so many complex, incredible narratives you can learn from the people looking at these works. I think to advocate for art as a transformational tool from the platform of a museum is powerful. But what I love most about this job is the people, and the relationships that I’ve cultivated with staff, artists, and community members. I’m lucky to have a job where I share ideas with brilliant, curious and committed people all day long.
SAM: What are you most proud of accomplishing at SAM?
Pro: I’m proud of the work we’ve done with school partnerships, helping to fill in the gaps of arts education, and of the Creative Advantage program, (which offers free professional learning workshops focused on sharing best practice for K–12 arts learning).
Internally, we’ve built some great collaboration across museum divisions. Within the department we’ve helped cultivate a space where everyone can continue to grow in their roles, work on the projects that they feel strongly about, and to develop better best practices at work.
I’m also proud of the moments when we’ve leaned into our discomfort and asked difficult questions of ourselves as an institution. I hope this is an area where I can continue to push the work.
SAM: Last question: what do you like to do when you’re not working?
Pro: I love to geek out on all of the opportunities to experience art and culture in the city. I go to a lot of exhibitions and performances. I’m excited for the upcoming On the Boards and Seattle Arts & Lectures seasons particularly, Alison Bechdel and Ta-Nehisi Coates, coming up soon.
My husband is a musician, and music is an important part of our lives. I also have an 18-month old son, so I have a newfound appreciation for our local parks and libraries. And the more time I spend floating in bodies of water, the better and happier I am.
Throughout the 20th century, vast collections of African masks made their way into foreign lands and are now on display as the heads of missing bodies. Masks are constantly seen in museums and galleries, on eBay, and at sidewalk sales. In this dislocated state, African masks have sometimes found themselves cast in roles that are shockingly counter to their original intent.
One example is Pablo Picasso’s work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907; Museum of Modern Art, New York), a painting lauded as one of the catalysts in 20th-century art. Pablo Picasso’s decision to take the features of African masks and place them on two naked women was revolutionary, the first step in the radical transformation of space and volume that would become Cubism.
One wonders what would have happened if Picasso hadn’t separated the masks from the masquerade. What if, instead, a full masquerade had come to Paris? For the sake of speculation, let’s imagine the visit of a Dan masquerader from the Ivory Coast, known as a Ge, whose masks were common in French collections. Drummers and singers would escort the Ge masquerader as he moved quickly through the streets to Picasso’s studio. He would have donned a massive costume of raffia grasses, feathers, and fur accents to underscore that he was not from any normal human realm but from the sacred forests. Bells and drums, shouts and songs would contribute to the blur of fast-moving activity that halted in front of the artist’s door.
Pounding to be let in, the Ge would speak in a grave and distorted voice, while a translator would shout a demand to open the door. Picasso would be pushed aside as the Ge entered the room, and pandemonium would break out as African eyes beheld masks like their own were depicted atop the naked bodies of two women with pale skin.
With outrage and confusion spreading, everyone would turn to gauge the reaction of the Ge, the supreme authority. He would stop and stare, then order everyone except Picasso and the translator to leave the studio. The Ge would then sit on the group and gesture for Picasso to sit nearby as he explained a few things.
First: no mask was ever to be worn by a woman, and most definitely not a naked woman in the middle of a room with other naked women. Defying all proper behavior, this breach of etiquette required immediate correction, so songs and offerings for women would be prescribed.
The Ge would ask Picasso why he put masks on such women and who they were. Picasso might bring up difficulties with the women in his life, and how he’d been looking at pictures of masks in books and at a museum, then had collected a postcard of naked women from a place called Dahomey, marveling at their sleek bodies but also worrying about the diseases circulating in the bordellos of Paris.
In response, the Ge might offer practical advice about how to manage relationships and to seek alliances with spirits that would inspire joy instead of dark fears. He could also explain that masks were not to be bought and sold; instead, they were intended to initiate visitations from beings who would emerge from the forests to contribute their wisdom in times of confusion.
Days and weeks might pass as the Ge transferred aspects from the system of thought from the Côte d’Ivoire. It was his role to teach younger men ways to operate in the world, and he would have found Picasso’s troubled mind in need of adjustment. To alleviate some of the artist’s perplexity about life, the Ge would recommend that he consider attending a school convened in the forest, where he would learn about his responsibilities as a young man, how to survive in difficult circumstances, what it takes to manage a family, when and how to show respect for women, the practical skills of life, and all about the art of performance as a means to express visions of human aspiration. Picasso would be offered a chance to immerse himself in a masquerade that was a school, a system, and an overriding ideal.
Instead of this full-bodied experience, Picasso invented his own approach to African masks and sculptures. Masks became heads without any voice or body. They became voiceless ambassadors, who were often cast as characters in other’s artistic fantasies.
Admittedly, exporting an entire masquerade is difficult and can be inappropriate at times. Masquerades are intensely local, requiring special staging developed within communities that invest massive time and effort in them, often in deepest secrecy. They rely on collaborations among a multitude of talented artists who devote their creativity to performers whose identities are concealed, and transporting this cast and crew is not easy.
Artists today in the United States and across the globe are working with new interpretations of disguises that play out in creative ways. They are using digital mediums to bring masquerades into places where they have never been before, and creating new meanings as they empower new actors—such as women—to participate. They adapt iconography from multiple cultures and influences, weaving together inspiration from their family’s varied histories, the far-flung cities and rural areas in which they’ve lived, and artistic traditions from across the globe.
It’s a heady mixture of inspiring havoc. It’s a moving, whirling parade that invites us to respond—to take up or take off our own daily disguises and participate.
This is an edited excerpt of the essay, “Meet Me Where the Masks Are Alive and the Spirits Roam Free,” written by Pamela McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art for the Seattle Art Museum. The essay is included in the exhibition guide, Disguise: Masks & Global African Art.
Disguise: Masks & Global African Art is on view at the Seattle Art Museum. See this dynamic unfixed exhibition before it departs for the Fowler Museum at UCLA in Los Angeles on September 7.