Claude Monet was not the first painter to find artistic inspiration in Étretat. Throughout the 19th century, impressionist painters including Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Charles François Daubigny traveled to the small seaside fishing village to capture the landscape’s breathtaking views.
Tune in to a letter Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, during his first voyage to Étretat in 1883. In it, the plein-air painter expresses his intention of painting a large-scale canvas of the village’s defining cliff, the Manneport. Aware of Courbet’s recent series of paintings depicting the same landscape, Monet calls the move “audacious.” However, he promises Hoschedé that his interpretation of the view will be different and worthwhile.
This audio recording is available on the free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretat, now on view at the Seattle Art Museum. Listen to excerpts of five letters Monet wrote to Hoschedé while in Étretat, when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location, on view through October 17.
La Falaise And The Porte D’Aval, 1883
“I worked well today, I am very happy, the weather is superb if a little cold. I plan to do a large canvas of the cliff at Étretat, even if it is terribly audacious on my part to do that after Courbet did it so admirably, but I will try to do it differently. . .” February 1, 1883.
– Claude Monet
Image: La Falaise and the Porte d’Aval, 1883, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, oil on canvas, 23 5/8 × 31 7/8 in., Private Collection.
During his time in Étretat, as well as many other periods in his life, Claude Monet’s greatest enemy was himself. Despite the physical challenges presented by the cold winter weather in the seaside village on the Normandy Coast, the plein-air painter’s most difficult challenge to overcome was his persistent fear of a lackluster career and overall artistic failure.
In a letter written to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, while on his first sojourn in Étretat in 1883, Monet describes a series of sleepless nights when thoughts of hopelessness seemed to never end. But the discovery of a new painting location in the annex of his hotel which captures the picturesque cliffs and fishing boats lining the shore brings Monet renewed creative inspiration.
This audio recording is paired with Monet’s painting, Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche), on the free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretat at the Seattle Art Museum through October 17. Tune in when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.
Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche), 1883
“… I am so worried that I can’t sleep anymore; tonight too, consumed with thinking about this damned exhibition, I listened to the lashing rain and felt hopeless. However, I didn’t waste my day. I was able to install myself in an annex of the hotel from which you have a superb view of the cliff and the boats. So I worked all morning from this window, regretting I hadn’t done it sooner because I would have been able to quietly create some superb things. Anyway, there are always calamities.” February 10, 1883.
– Claude Monet
Image: Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche), 1883, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 × 36 1/2 in., Denver Art Museum: Frederic C. Hamilton Collection, 2020.568, image courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.
Claude Monet traveled to the small fishing village of Étretat twice to paint the setting’s spectacular natural landscape. Both voyages—one in 1883 and another in 1885—took place in the winter season. Despite consistently cold weather and an unpredictable sea, Monet found these months of uninterrupted solitude and pure engagement with nature to be the most fruitful in his artistic endeavors.
Listen to excerpts of three letters Claude Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, while in Étretat in 1885. Written across five days, these letters express a combination of artistic inspiration and frustration. An unexpected period of good weather and the sight of local fisherman lining the shore each morning left Monet feeling both grateful for the beauty that surrounded him and raging at his inability to capture it all on his easels. With his time in Étretat soon coming to a close, Monet wondered whether he would ever be satisfied with his work.
This audio recording is part of a free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretat and accompanies the painting Boats on the Beach at Étretat, on view at the Seattle Art Museum through October 17. Take the tour when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.
Boats on the Beach at Étretat, 1885
“. . . Etretat is becoming more and more amazing; it’s at its best now, the beach with all these fine boats, it’s superb and I rage at my inability to express it all better. You’d need to use both hands and cover hundreds of canvases.” October 20, 1885.
“For three days it’s been superb weather and I’m taking advantage of it, I can tell you; the boats are getting ready for the herring, the beach is transformed—very animated, so interesting.” October 21, 1885.
“I’ve begun quite a few things here, repetitions, in the hope of being able to work every day, but it doesn’t go quickly. It is true that with several good sessions the canvases can quickly take shape; I have returned to some canvases and I don’t really know how I will get it all.” October 24, 1885.
– Claude Monet
Image: Boats on the Beach at Étretat, 1885, oil on canvas, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, 26 × 32 7/16 in., Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1947.95, photo: The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY
While looking for inspiration in Étretat, Claude Monet faced numerous mental and physical challenges. From the gloomy weather of the winter season to constant bouts of self-doubt, Monet struggled to keep his artistic spirit alive. Amidst all these hurdles, however, the plein-air painter also found days where everything seemed to go right.
In a November 1885 letter Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, the artist describes a productive workday. With the sun shining above and the tide exactly right, the artist was able to make progress on several paintings. Yet Monet knew these ideal working conditions would not last long. The start of a new moon signified another impending change in the environment of the small fishing village on the Normandy Coast.
Accompanying the painting The Cliffs at Étretat, this recording is available on the free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretat, now on view at the Seattle Art Museum. Listen to this and four other letters Monet wrote to Hoschedé while in Étretat, when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.
The Cliffs at Étretat, 1885
“Finally a good day, a superb sun . . . I was able to work without stopping, because the tide is in this moment exactly what I need for several motifs. This helped me catch up—and if I had had the chance that this weather would continue for several days, I would get a lot of work done. It’s new moon today and the barometer is going up a lot, even quickly.” November 6, 1885.
– Claude Monet
Image: The Cliffs at Étretat, 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 25 5/8 × 32 in., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1995.528, image courtesy Clark Institute.
Two years after he first made the journey to the small fishing village of Étretat on the Normandy Coast, Claude Monet returned in the winter of 1885 to find renewed artistic inspiration. After one rainy morning, the plein-air painter set out to capture the landscape’s defining natural arch, the Manneport, from the beaches below but found himself victim to the sea’s raging tides. Too entranced by his own work to notice the turbulent waves ahead, Monet was thrown against a cliff and dragged into the sea along with his art materials, destroying the painting he was working on.
Listen to an audio recording of a November 1885 letter Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, recounting the accident. In his own words, the artist describes his struggle to emerge from the freezing waters, his fragile state after getting soaked, and the anger he felt toward the “old hag” he calls the sea. Despite the loss of his painting, Monet returned to the beach the next day with a new easel to once again paint Étretat’s breathtaking cliffs.
This audio recording is part of a free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretat, now on view at the Seattle Art Museum. Tune in to this and other letters Monet wrote while in Étretat, when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.
Waves at the Manneport, 1885
“After another rainy morning I was glad to find the weather slightly improved: despite a high wind blowing and a rough sea, or rather because of it, I hoped for a fruitful session at the Manneport; however, an accident befell me. Don’t alarm yourself now, I am safe and sound since I’m writing to you, although you nearly had no news and I would never have seen you again. I was hard at work beneath the cliff, well sheltered from the wind, in the spot which you visited with me; convinced that the tide was drawing out I took no notice of the waves which came and fell a few feet away from me. In short, absorbed as I was, I didn’t see a huge wave coming; it threw me against the cliff and I was tossed about in its wake along with all my materials!
My immediate thought was that I was done for, as the water dragged me down, but in the end I managed to clamber out on all fours, but Lord, what a state I was in! My boots, my thick stockings and my coat were soaked through; the palette which I had kept a grip on had been knocked over my face and my beard was covered in blue, yellow etc. But anyway, now the excitement is passed and no harm’s done, the worst of it was that I lost my painting which was very soon broken up, along with my easel, bag etc. Impossible to fish anything out. Besides, everything was torn to shreds by the sea, that ‘old hag’ as your sister calls her.
Anyway, I was lucky to escape, but how I raged when I found once I’d changed that I couldn’t work, and when it dawned on me that the painting which I had been counting on was done for, I was furious. Immediately I set about telegraphing Troisgros to send me what’s missing and an easel will be ready for tomorrow . . . I send you all my love and hug all the children for me, remember me to Marthe. To think I might never have seen you again.” November 27, 1885.
– Claude Monet
Image: Waves at the Manneporte, ca. 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, oil on canvas, 29 × 36 ½ in., North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Gift of Ann and Jim Goodnight, 2016.8.5, image courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art
Let yourself linger under and around Alexander Calder’s The Eagle with this stop on our free audio tour of the Olympic Sculpture Park. This iconic work can be seen from most locations in the park as well as from the ferry’s coming in from the Puget Sound. Follow the entire tour the next time you visit the park.
Carefully restored in summer 2020, The Eagle, is once again its original and stunning Calder red, making it impossible to miss on a walk through the park. The Eagle displays its curving wings, assertive stance, and pointy beak in a form that is weightless, colorful, and abstract.
The Olympic Sculpture Park has four distinct landscapes that reflect the native ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest: The Valley, The Grove, The Meadow, and The Shore. They provide a diversity of settings for art and introduce an array of plants and birds found in the Puget Sound region. You can find The Eagle standing in one of the meadows. On both sides of Elliott Avenue, meadow landscapes with expanses of grasses and wildflowers meet the bordering sidewalks to achieve the “fenceless” park that SAM conceived from the start. Both the meadows and the grove were intended as regenerative landscapes that provide flexible sites for sculpture and artists working in the landscape.
Bring your ear buds the next time you visit the Olympic Sculpture Park and take a free audio tour through some of the monumental artworks at the park! This week on the blog, we are featuring the fifth stop on the tour, Jaume Plensa’s Echo.
Echo is a 46-foot-tall sculpture installed on the shoreline, made from resin and steel, and coated in marble dust. Rising from the center of the park with eyes closed, its stunning surface is luminous in daytime and at night. Jaume Plensa is a Catalan artist who lives and works in Barcelona. He has come to great prominence in the last decade with his monumental figurative outdoor sculptures. Reminiscent of memorial sculpture, Plensa has created seated figures and heads in introspective, meditative states.
The Olympic Sculpture Park features works from SAM’s collection, sculpture commissioned specifically for the park, loans, and changing installations. The artistic program reflects a range of approaches to sculpture, past and present, and is designed to respond to evolving ideas about sculpture in the future.
Follow an audio tour of the Olympic Sculpture Park the next time you find yourself strolling along Seattle’s waterfront. Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art offers four stops along the Z-Path that runs through the park. This week we are featuring Seattle Cloud Cover, by Teresita Fernández. This artwork connects the upper park area to the stunning waterfront. Her work incorporates images of the changing sky discovered in nature and art, and offers a beautiful view of downtown and the park.
The Olympic Sculpture Park evolved out of a mutual commitment between SAM and the Trust for Public Land to preserve downtown Seattle’s last undeveloped waterfront property. The Seattle Art Museum resolved to return the site as much as possible to a functioning ecosystem, while providing a unique setting for outdoor sculpture and public recreation. This was no small task given a century of change amidst the state’s largest urban environment. The design for the park grew out of a desire to embrace the city’s energy and to create collaboration between art, landscape, architecture, and infrastructure. It also afforded a wide range of environmental restoration processes, including brownfield redevelopment, salmon habitat restoration, native plantings, and sustainable design strategies. The Olympic Sculpture Park is open all year and always free!
Take a tour through some of the large, stunning artworks of the Olympic Sculpture Park with Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. This audio tour offers a history of the park and new views of artworks that have become iconic elements of Seattle’s waterfront.
One of the largest works, Wake by Richard Serra, is located in the park’s valley, in the Northeast corner. For artist Richard Serra, space is a substance as tangible as sculpture. He uses materials and scale to alter perception and to engage the body, encouraging consciousness of our relation to space. Follow along as Dedon shares the artist’s process and leads you through various ways to experience the work depending on how you approach it.
The Olympic Sculpture Park is SAM’s third location and it opened January 2007. Covered in monumental artworks, this award-winning nine-acre sculpture park on the waterfront is Seattle’s largest downtown green space and is just one mile north of the Seattle Art Museum. As the site of prior brown field, restoration was at the heart of the development of the park as well as integration of the urban core of the city with the wild coast line designed to foster the recovery of salmon habitat. The park is open all year and always free.
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?
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.
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.
Hear from Jinny Wright on how she came to own Mark Rothko’s #10, now in SAM’s collection and on view in City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art Shaped A New Seattle. #10 is an early characteristic abstract composition for Rothko and was of great significance to Jinny Wright, setting the tone, she said, for everything she subsequently acquired. The painting was exhibited at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, next door to where Jinny worked in the early 1950s, and she recalled being bowled over by it. Purchasing this artwork was a major milestone in Jinny’s collecting of contemporary art. Before she donated it to SAM in 1991 it hung in the Wright family’s dining room alongside Barnett Newman’s The Three, also on view in City of Tomorrow.
Unfortunately City of Tomorrow closes January 18 but thanks to the generosity and vision of Jinny Wright, all 64 works in this extraordinary exhibition will be on view at SAM in the future as part of our modern and contemporary collection. This is but a fraction of the many works that Jinny and her husband Bagley gifted to SAM over the years, leaving an undeniable mark on the cultural landscape of the entire Pacific Northwest. Tomorrow we will celebrate both the new year and the birthday of Jinny who passed on in February of 2020.
In 2019 Rachel Kim, SAM’s Curatorial Intern unpacked this painting as part of our Object of the Week series. Kim writes: Daedalus/Upliftment alludes to the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Daedalus built wings of feathers and wax for himself and his son, Icarus, to escape their prison. Despite Daedalus’ warning, Icarus flew too close to the sun, melting the wax on the wings, falling and drowning in the ocean. Pecou reinterprets this classic tragedy and questions the actions of Daedalus as Icarus’ father. Daedalus/Uplifting provokes a meditation on paternalism and masculinity, in the artist’s own words, through “the breakdown of intergenerational communication and the emotional complexities within the Black male experience that trouble the desire and ability to take flight.”
We highly recommend following Pecou on Instagram to see more of this artist’s paintings and to hear directly from him on his work and current events.
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.
Art Actvity: Create a sculpture of a person out of aluminum foil!
Cut slits in the foil: One on the bottom for the legs and two at the top for the head and arms.
Squeeze the middle of the foil to make the waist.
Squeeze each leg and arm to make more of a cylinder shape.
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!
Now that the Asian Art Museum has expanded, we can fit this monumental sculpture by Do Ho Suh inside the galleries! Some/One is part of Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art and while the Asian Art Museum is temporarily closed we are taking you behind the scenes of installing this impressive and important artwork.
Some/One, 2001, represents artist Do Ho Suh’s interest in individual and collective identity. A minimalist sculpture, Do Ho Suh explores how art transforms public and private spaces through a painstaking amount of intricate detail that is not always apparent at first sight but is an integral part of the artwork. Some/One, as the title of the work indicates, juxtaposes the collective—represented by a larger-than-life armor sculpture—and the individual, consisting of life-size shiny-metal dog tags, each unique and representing a single soldier. This allegory is carried forward by contrasting the hard, insensitive character of armor with the delicate aspect of the dog tags, which are made up of thin sheets of metal and embody the poetic symbolism of fallen warriors.
While the Asian Art Museum was closed for renovation and expansion we reimagined the presentation of art to include community perspectives on art works. Below is a reflection on Some/One from artist HollyAnna CougarTracks DeCoteau Littlebull. You might remember her large-scale artwork on view at Arts at King Street Station as part of yəhaw̓. Check out some photos of Bigfoot, the artwork referenced in her statement.
The one thing that people of all races have in common is we have our protectors. My Crow family recognizes me as a warrior, because I used to be a police officer and got shot in the line of duty, and survived. We use either elk hide or buffalo to dress our warriors, which takes on a similar shape, and sometimes paint the rawhide side with the story of that veteran. It’s a way of them owning their story and being able to wear it with pride, but it also has the sad side to it too: the death, the destruction, the pain. With my contemporary artwork, Bigfoot, there are plastic toy natives next to the head, there’s one with the war bonnet on, and he’s representing the warriors in my family. It’s about dealing with the past, with assimilation, with boarding schools, with genocide. Bigfoot talks about the foundation and accepting your past even if it’s ugly. That’s what this artwork does here too. War is not pretty.
– HollyAnna CougarTracks DeCoteau Littlebull, artist
We also include community voices on the free smartphone tour featuring artworks from SAM’s Asian art collection. Listen to musician Deems Tsutakawa discuss this artwork and how he relates to it in his own life.
We worked to represent a variety of voices in presenting Do Ho Suh’s Some/One because the sculpture is about both the individual and collective identities. One of these voices belongs to the artist. In an interview with Art21, artist Do Ho Suh talks about the dream that inspired Some/One.
“I saw this light in the stadium, and so I thought there’s some kind of activity going on. And as I approached the stadium… I walked slowly and went into the stadium on the ground level, and then I see this reflecting surface in the dream. And I realized I was stepping on these metal pieces that were the military dog tags. And it was slightly vibrating; the dog tags were touching each other, and the sound was from that. And from afar, I saw the central figure in the center of the stadium. I slowly proceeded to the center, and then I realized it was all one piece that gradually rose up and formed this one figure…. So, that was the dream and the image that I got. After that, I made a small drawing. The small drawing was about this vast field of military dog tags on the ground and then a small figure in the center…. That was the impact that I wanted to somehow convey through that piece.”
– Do Ho Suh, artist
We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blogand 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!
April showers may bring May flowers, but the passing of the
clouds bring clear nights to see the bright face of the moon. Moon gazing isn’t
an easy task here in the Pacific Northwest, especially with all the rainstorms
and grey days; however, in East Asian countries, Moon Viewing is a popular
mid-autumn festival for celebrating the harvest and contemplating the beauty of
the night sky. In Japan, this is called Tsukimi, and is held on the 15th day to
the 18th day of the eighth lunar month––so, sometime in September or October,
depending on year. In the past it was time to write waka, a form of Japanese poetry, which originated within the
aristocracy. Today, Tsukimi is celebrated all over Japan with displays of
pampas grass and white balls of mochi (sweet rice cakes).
At the Asian Art Museum, we have our own example of Tsukimi revelry in the form of a 19th century hikeshi banten, or a commoner’s fireman coat. Made of tough cotton to impede burning debris, this coat has a surprisingly playful depiction of rabbits on their hind-legs, pounding at a vessel of mochi. Made of glutinous rice, mochi needs to be pounded to make the smooth, stretchy texture for which it is known.
So why rabbits? At first glance it would seem odd to connect
these bunnies to mochi creation, or Tsukimi at all. However, in terms of
mythology, rabbits have a lot to do with both. In the West, we have a fairy
tale about the man in the moon, so created by how the moon’s dark craters seem
to mimic the features of a face. In many Eastern folktales, however, it is not
a human face, but a rabbit. Specifically, it is a rabbit with a mortar and
pestle. In China, this is because the rabbit is a companion to the moon
goddess, and pounds her medicine of immortality. In Japan and Korea, this
rabbit pounds mochi, and has an entirely different reason for being engraved on
the moon. In the Konjaku Monogatarishu, a collection of tales from the
Heian Period, the story is told like this:
A long time ago, the Man of the Moon came down to Earth in secret in the
guise of an old man. There, he came across three friends: monkey, fox, and
rabbit, who had all taken a vow of charity. To them, he begged for food.
The monkey, being nimble, brought him fruit. The fox, being clever,
brought him fish. The rabbit, only able to gather grass, had nothing to offer.
So he asked the old man to light a fire and jumped into it, offering his own
body as a meal.
The old man changed quickly back to the Man of the Moon and pulled the
rabbit from the fire. He was deeply touched by such sacrifice and said “Rabbit,
you are a kind creature, but do not give yourself up for me. As you were
kindest of all, you may come and live with me upon the moon.” The rabbit agreed,
and was carried to his new home. He is still there to this day. If you look up
at the moon, you can see his figure upon it.
Between the flame that the rabbit tossed
himself into, and his associations to the moon and food, it seems a little
clearer why there would be the image of a mochi-pounding rabbit on a fireman’s
coat. The rabbit was miraculously pulled from the flame and provided honor for his
sacrifice––the perfect emblem of protection for a fireman.
Even with social distancing, we can still look up and see the rabbit, pounding away at mochi on the surface of the moon. It makes you wonder if he is an essential worker, too, and whether they have such worries in the night sky. When the Asian Art Museum reopens, you can see this rabbit hikeshi-banten on view in the galleries as a fine example of what would have once defined a fireman.
– Kennedy Simpson, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art
Images: Fireman’s coat, 19th century, Japanese, cotton, 49 1/4 x 49 1/4 in., Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.417
Since 2001, South Korean artist Jung Yeondoo has visited six different countries to make people’s dreams come true. In his Bewitched series, he asks local people about their wishes for their future and then makes them come true with a pair of photographs: the first, a portrait of the person in their everyday life and the second, showing their dream or fantasy. Bewitched #2 Seoul shows a Baskin Robbins employee at her job next to her dream of going to the Arctic. Her change in clothing, accessories, and setting changes how we see her and shows us a part of her that we might not know about upon first glance. Jung uses costumes, settings, and props to transform a scene from everyday life into the individual’s dream.
Speaking about his inspiration, Jung said in a 2015 profile, “I started this project with an artist’s curiosity about wanting to know about the lives of people you just pass every day,” he said. “It’s not about a happy perspective or a negative perspective . . . It is more about [my] attempts as an artist to communicate with someone else.”
What’s going on in these artworks?
What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?
What words would you use to
describe the person in each photograph, based on what they are wearing? Are
there any words that would describe both of them?
Look closely at the image on the
left. What do you think are some things this person does every day? What do you
see that makes you say that? Now do the same for the image on the right.
Why do you think you see the same
pose in both images? What does it feel like to pose in that way?
Take a moment to close your eyes and ask yourself these same questions: What is your dream? What is your fantasy? Who do you want to be? Think about this dream that you have for yourself. In this imagined future, what are you wearing? What are you doing? What are your surroundings? Time yourself for five minutes and free-write or draw any ideas that you have. Don’t worry about making it look or sound good, this is just to document your ideas.
Create a drawing or collage that represents the daily life and imagined dream of someone you know.
Call a friend and ask each other questions to learn more about your everyday lives, just like Jung Yeondoo interviews the people that he works with. Be sure to write down words that describe what they are saying! Here are some example questions:
Where are you right now? What does it look like there? What do you see around you?
What part of your daily routine happens in this space? Describe that routine.
Who else spends time here? Is anyone there now? What are they doing?
Is there anything else that you want to share?
Now, interview each other about your future dreams. This could be three months from now or far into the future. What is your dream? What is your fantasy? Who do you want to be? Keep digging—ask for more details that can help you imagine their dream. Write down more descriptive words as you listen.
For this next part, you can choose to either
Make a drawing!
Divide a blank sheet of paper in half. On the left side, create a drawing of your friend in their current daily life. On the right side, create a drawing of them in their imagined dream.
Tell a story with your drawing—the more details that you can include from the interview, the better!
Make a collage!
Choose a blank sheet of paper or piece of cardboard for your base. You’ll need: old magazines, newspapers, or other printed papers, a pair of scissors, and glue.
Cut out words and images from the magazines that remind you of what you learned about your friend in these interviews. Divide your cutouts into two piles: your friend’s everyday life and their wish for the future.
Draw a line dividing your base in half. On the left side, create a collage using the cutouts related to your friend’s everyday life. On the right side, create a collage using the cutouts related to your friend’s wish for the future.
When you are done, send each other photos of your artwork or exchange them the next time you see each other. What are some things that you learned about yourself and each other in this process?
– Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator & Lauren Kent, SAM’s Museum Educator for School Programs & Partnerships
Image: Bewitched #2 Seoul, 2001. Jung Yeondoo. C-print photograph. 62 5/8 × 51 9/16 in. (159.1 × 131 cm) Purchased with funds from the Estate of Rosa Ayer, 2016.8.1–2.