SAM Art: White Writing

The visualization of night and light evolved in the art of Mark Tobey in the early 1940s from what was for him a heightened sensitivity to the impulses of the modern world. His motivation, he declared, was to paint something felt, not something seen: the energies of the modern city at night, for instance, and those indefinable force fields whose radiance is only detected in the dark, sparkling energies that, while potentially explosive, might also suggest human intellectual and spiritual enlightenment. Tobey’s distinctive approach to painting came to be called “white writing”—an obsessive, dense, calligraphic style that seems akin to ancient symbolic expression, like characters scratched into the surfaces of black obsidian or clay tablets. Tobey’s white lines on dark surfaces perfectly convey forces that are familiar to us all—like meteor showers in the night sky, for example—and that we appreciate as some of the most ravishing and mysterious occurrences in nature.

Mark Tobey, White Writing with Patricia Junker

Members Art History Lecture Series: New Perspectives
February 22, 2012
7:00–9:00 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, SAM downtown

SOLD OUT

White Night, 1942, Mark Tobey (American, 1890–1976), tempera on paperboard mounted on composition board, 22 ¼ x 14 in., Gift of Mrs. Berthe Poncy Jacobson, 62.78. Photo: Paul Macapia, © Mark Tobey Estate/Seattle Art Museum. Currently on view in the Modern American art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Happy Valentine’s Day

The corkscrew form of this robust figure invites the viewer to walk around it and see it from all angles. This serpentine construction embodied the thinking of Michelangelo and other sixteenth-century theorists who believed that “a figure has its highest grace and eloquence when it is seen in movement.”

In 1998 this Cupid underwent surgery to remove his wings, appendages which had been considerably retouched over time.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Cupid (left: prior to 1998; right: after 1998), ca. 1580, Giambologna (Flemish, active Italy, 1529-1608), or Pietro Francavilla (Flemish, 1548-1615), marble, 29 x 12 x 11 in., Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.177. Currently on view in the European art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: A Punny Head

Arneson’s self-portraits mix irreverence, informality, and humor.  From a distance this head looks suspiciously like a straightforward echo of a classical bronze, complete with empty eye sockets.  Close inspection reveals that Arneson has ‘defaced’ it with such punning phrases as:  “It Is eye; I am it; it is me; find this mind of mine.’  The wordplay continues on the pedestal, which is decorated with a daunting alphabetical list of ‘self’ adjective, beginning with ‘self-abased.’  ‘Me & My Self’ is impressed word by word on the four sides of the base. The artist created the pedestal for this self-portrait more than a decade after the work had entered the museum collection. The pedestal (on view, but not pictured here) is not only a structural support but adds another ironic twist to the composition.

This Head Is Mine, 1981, Robert Arneson, American, 1930-1992, bronze, 24 x 19 x 20 in., Gift of Manuel Neri (pedestal, not pictured: Gift of the Artist and Rena Bransten in memory of Howard Kottler), 84.222, © Robert Arneson. Currently on view in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Brendan Tang’s “Manga Ormolu”

The new incarnation of Here and Now, the museum’s new acquisition space, focuses on recently acquired contemporary ceramics. The works now on view reveal their desire of bridging the past and present. These hybridized vessels express their synthesizing of visual histories from Eastern and Western cultures.

Focusing on the intermingling of stylistic traditions, Brendan Tang’s Manga Ormolu blends cultural references. Here, a dynamic robotic form seems to discard the skin of its prior form as a Chinese Ming dynasty vessel. The artist has said, “this narrative is personal: the hybridization of cultures mirrors my identity as an ethnically-mixed Asian Canadian. My family history is one of successive generations shedding the markers of ethnic identity in order to succeed in an adopted country—within a few generations this cultural filtration has spanned China, India, Trinidad, Ireland and Canada.”

Manga Ormolu version 5.0-h, 2010, Brendan Lee Satish Tang, Canadian, born in Ireland, 1975, ceramics, mixed media, 16 1/4 x 11 x 7 1/2 in., Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, 2011.27, © Brendan Lee Satish Tang. Now on view in Here and Now, new acquisition gallery, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: SNOW on Wednesday!

Today’s SAMart was going to focus on Robert Morris’ Box with the Sound of Its Own Making, the topic of curator Catharina Manchanda’s lecture on Wednesday. However, given the forecast for a storm, SAM’s 3 sites will be closed Wednesday, January 18. This lecture will now take place on Wednesday, July 11.

Stay warm, stay safe, and enjoy the snow!

Trail in the Snow, 1959, Paul Horiuchi, American, 1906-1999, casein on paper, 34 7/8 x 22 15/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 60.58, © Estate of Paul Horiuchi. On view until mid-February at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park.

SAM Art: Oceanic art, beyond the glass box

Museums tend to collect what fits in a glass box, and lose sight of such intangible effects. In particular, Oceanic artists rely on and revere natural materials, many of which may decay or dissolve but are no less valued. In a new installation, Allyce Wood, a Seattle artist, was commissioned to reunite selections from the museum’s Oceanic collection with visual elements of artistic environments that were abandoned.

Terror is triggered by the sight of moving shields in Asmat fields. Bursting out of a dense forest, the shields signal oncoming combatants as they dodge and lunge forward, leaping swiftly and making zigzag movements to fend off opponents. In a region of lush verdant growth, the shields presented as “billboards” to announce that warfare was to begin.

War Shields (Jamasji), early 20th century, Irian Jaya, New Guinea, Asmat people, wood, lime, clay and fiber, Gift of Tom and Vicki Griffin, 2004.237, and Gift of Mark Groudine and Cynthia Putnam, 94.113 (right), installed with backdrop by Allyce Wood. Now on view in the NEW Oceanic Art Gallery, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Farewell to LUMINOUS

For her final entry, Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, looks at a seemingly fearsome figure.

Although this mask now appears to be a piece of static sculpture, when it was in use the effect was the reverse. The mask originally had a back half, and tied together covered the entire head of the wearer. With the wearer’s costume pulled up high on the neck, the head-concealing mask gave the impression that the sculptures within the temple had descended from their pedestals to stride forth amidst the devotees. Masked processions very literally brought religious belief to life in a thrilling way.

Masked dance was introduced to Japan during the Nara Period (710-794 CE) as part of a massive importation of Korean and Chinese political and religious culture. Initially only used in court rituals, by the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), when this mask was made, masked dance had taken on many different forms. The Dragon King was used in Buddhist gyodo performances, processions of masked figures embodying divine being.

Sagara the Dragon King stylistically blends two characters from different schools of masked performance. In Buddhist gyodo, the character Sagara is one of the Eight Great Dragon Kings, part of the retinue of Amida Buddha. In bugaku, a type of popular non-religious masked drama, the same features are shared by the character of a Dragon King, a prince so handsome that he wore a fearsome mask in battle to frighten his enemies, and so that his beauty would not distract his allies. Over time, the two characters came to share the distinctive green skin, ferociously contorted face, bulging eyes, and the dragon rearing back atop his head. Sagara’s role as a religious guardian, here, is emphasized by his golden lotus crown, a symbol of purity in Buddhism. Sagara’s formidable visage gave the faithful confidence in his ability as a protector.

Gyodo mask of Dragon King, early 13th century, Japanese, Kamakura period (1185-1333), wood with lacquer, polychrome and gilt, 15 9/16 x 8 1/8 x 5 15/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 68.110. On view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, through Sunday 8 January.

SAM Art: Unfolding the Lotus Sutra

Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, trains our eyes on the Lotus Sutra.

From a modern perspective, it is difficult to decipher what exactly is going on in this illustration. A group of figures appear oddly perched atop a spire, while below them tiny figures wander about, oblivious to the precariously balanced deities overhead.  The image only begins to clarify when we begin to look as people would have done in 12th-century Japan.

The Lotus Sutra, depicted here, describes the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni, teaching a gathered multitude how to achieve Buddha-hood. He sits enthroned, backed by a flaming leaf-shaped halo, gesturing that he is teaching the law. Rising behind him is a decorative rendering of the tree under which he taught his first sermon. Surrounding the Buddha are two monks with shaved heads, and four richly clad bodhisattvas—enlightened beings who help others achieve enlightenment.

In the foreground, three sections of text are illustrated. The group on the left are followers come either to request or give thanks for predictions of the likelihood of their attaining Buddha-hood. The group on the far right, busily digging, represents a parable in which the Buddha describes one searching for enlightenment like a man digging on high ground (so long as the soil is dry, water is far away; but when it is damp, he knows that he is near his goal). The structure in the center is the upper portion of the Jeweled Pagoda, which wells up from the ground wherever the Lotus Sutra is truly preached.

The confused (from a Western point of view) perspective would not have troubled 12th-century viewers at all. The Buddha and his attendants who loom large are actually sitting amidst the hills of the middle ground. The figures are floating in order to make it easy for us to see them. The lower portion that appears to be below the Buddha is actually placed in front of him.

This image and accompanying text would have been deeply familiar to 12th-century readers. Unfolding the layers of image and meaning within, this Lotus Sutra frontispiece allows us to follow their lead in understanding what we see.

Lotus Sutra: Frontispiece Depicting Chapter Twelve, late 12th century, Japanese, Heian period (794–1185), handscroll; gold and silver on indigo dyed paper, wood with metal fittings, 9 3/16 x 7 3/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.171. Currently on view in LUMINOUS, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Happy new year!

Happy new year!

“The Year’s End”, from The Twelve Months, first half 16th century, Hans Sebald Beham, German, 1500-1550, print, Manson F. Backus Memorial Collection, 35.291.5. Not currently on view.

SAM Art: Five very beautiful women

Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, brings us a look at the work of Katsushika Hokusai.

Long before Hokusai published his famous The Great Wave of Kanagawa, he was an emerging artist, independent of any established school and struggling to get by. A popular account tells that one day the widow of Kunisada, a former leading print artist, commissioned a painting from Hokusai. She was so impressed with the results that she paid him far more than he expected. The stunned Hokusai determined to perfect his technique so that he could support his family with painting commissions.

Five Beautiful Women comes from the first half of Hokusai’s career when he was building his reputation as a producer of luxury arts for an elite audience. Here he makes the familiar subject of beautiful women fresh and exciting by arranging them vertically. The drapery of their luxurious raiment flows from one to the next like a tumbling waterfall of silk. His unique arrangement turns an otherwise static subject into an invitingly dynamic composition.

At the time Hokusai was working, Edo’s (now Tokyo) popular culture was dominated by salon gatherings of wealthy merchants, samurai, poets, and artists. At a salon, the host would customarily hang a scroll painting, like Five Beautiful Women, in a display alcove. Elegant works of art both established an atmosphere of cultural sophistication, and provided fodder for witty repartee. Party-goers could have speculated on the classification of the five women, and debated the relative merits of the “types” they represent. They are now usually identified as either five social classes (top to bottom: a noble woman, a wealthy merchant’s daughter, a house servant to the high class, a courtesan, and a shop woman) or the five Confucian feminine virtues (poetry, flower arranging, domesticity, entertainment, and literacy).

More than just a producer of landscapes, through his long career Hokusai touched on most every genre, and mastered all that caught his interest. Five Beautiful Women exemplifies his masterful painting of women, and makes palpable why his work was in such high demand.

Five Beautiful Women, 1804-18, Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760-1849, hanging scroll; ink and color on silk, 71 x 18 1/4 in., Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, 56.246. Currently on view in LUMINOUS, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: New acquisition, new installation

One of the most penetrating portraitists of the seventeenth century, Philippe de Champaigne brought his observations of real people into religious paintings, giving them a down-to-earth quality. Here, the central focus is the aged face of Elizabeth, as she affectionately greets her younger cousin, the Virgin Mary. According to the Gospel of Luke, both women were pregnant—Elizabeth with John the Baptist and Mary with Jesus. For Christians, their meeting symbolized the transition from the Old Law to the New Law of Christianity.

Born in Brussels, Champaigne was one of the key artists working in seventeenth-century France; in his work for Cardinal Richelieu he established a style based on rationalism and directness, qualities which also mark his celebrated portraiture. His mature paintings display an understated, cool clarity that is characteristic of the French baroque and also appeals to modern viewers. This recent acquisition makes its debut in the museum’s baroque art gallery today.

The Visitation, ca. 1643, Philippe de Champaigne, Flemish, active in France, 1602-1674, oil on canvas, 44 1/4 x 38 1/2 in., Partial and promised gift of the Barney A. Ebsworth Collection, 2011.12. Photo: Wildenstein Gallery. Now on view in the European art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Wide-eyed, and perplexing

The art on view in a new Oceanic art gallery (opening by the end of December) was once surrounded by the scent of aromatic flowers, the rustling of palm leaves, and the mesmerizing sound of shell trumpets. Museums tend to collect what fits in a glass box, and lose sight of such intangible effects. In particular, Oceanic artists rely on and revere natural materials, many of which may decay or dissolve but are no less valued.

Early observers of Rapa Nui culture and art recorded seeing small wooden figures being held up to the sky while others chanted and danced, particularly at feasts when the first fruits were offered. A male figure with a protruding stomach offers one version of Rapa Nui physiognomy. As with his skeletal companions, there isn’t a precise record of the significance of these remarkable images. This one may have been intended to portray a specific individual, with a small beard and ornaments in his elongated ear lobes. With their wide staring eyes and perplexing characteristics, the art of Rapa Nui continues to give observers more to wonder about than to confirm proven facts.

Male Figure (Moai Tangata), early 19th century, Polynesian, Easter Island (Rapa Nui), wood, bone, obsidian, 10 1/2 x 2 1/4 x 2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 68.131. On view starting at the end of December, Oceanic art gallery, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: The Wave Paintings of Tsuji Kako

Tsuji Kako (1870-1921) was an artist ahead of his time. Working when artists in Japan were systematically divided into Japanese or Western lineages, Kako was unusual for his claim that individuality is the most important characteristic of an artist, and his refusal to conform to the boundaries of genre.

As part of Japan’s effort to Westernize, an annual exhibition of the Japan Art Academy, called the Bunten, was instituted in 1907. The Bunten enforced strict delineation between Yōga (Western-style painting) and Nihonga (Japanese-style painting), requesting that artists limit themselves to one style in order to participate. Within the context of this system, juries had no context in which to evaluate Kako’s work, which blended the two styles. Lacking support for his work from the Bunten, he abandoned the academy altogether in 1921, and held his first one-man show, an unprecedented event.

Green Waves and Waves and Plovers (both ca. 1910) come from Kako’s decade long fascination with capturing waves in paint. Although painted in the form of traditional Japanese folding screens, using Japanese materials, both express an atmospheric depth and motion absent from the Nihonga style. Green Waves features bright mineral pigments on a gold ground, a style dating back to the sixteenth century. The pigment, however, is layered on with thick, visible brush strokes, that convey the motion of light and shadow across swelling waves; a clear reference to Impressionist painters. Waves and Plovers, employing linear ink brush work on paper screens, draws on a traditional means of depicting the ocean through undulating parallel lines. Here, however, Kako renders his waves with each peak as its own small, individual line. By breaking up the lines, he is able to minutely adjust the tone of the ink and the distances between the waves to subtly create the sense of swelling motion and atmospheric recession.

Waves and Plovers (detail), ca. 1910, Tsuji Kako, Japanese, 1870-1931, ink and light color on paper, 48 1/4 x 103 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.41.33.1. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

Ultimately, Kako gave up on painting waves, saying that he “did not feel the emotional momentum” anymore, a highly modern sentiment that art ought to express the artist’s emotions. Largely forgotten after his death, Tsuji Kako’s work has received a revival of popularity in the last decade, as popular taste finally matched his expressive style.

Top photo: Green Waves, ca. 1910, Tsuji Kako, Japanese, 1870-1931, ink and gold on silk, 67 7/8 x 109 1/2 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.41.32. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Sango dancewand, lecture on Wednesday

Sharp drumming, sounding like a lightning strike, signals the arrival of Sango’s devotees to a festival in his honor. Dancing to the piercing, cracking sounds and staccato rhythms, the devotee will wave wands such as this to illustrate Sango’s hot temper and punishing justice.

Sango, the Yoruba thunder deity, may be wild and belligerent but he can be assuaged by the attentions of female devotees. Showing her alliance with Sango’s moral fire, this woman’s head is adorned with the double axe, the god’s visual sign. She kneels before his authority to present an offering. Such generosity is considered a noble gesture of morality and ensures that Sango will consider blessing her with children and wealth.

Women Who Tame Thunder: Yoruba Sango Staffs
Pam McClusky, Curator, Art of Africa and Oceania
Members Art History Lecture Series: New Perspectives

December 7, 2011
7–9 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, SAM downtown

Open to SAM members and their guests. For tickets, click here.

Members: $5.00
Guests of members: $9.00

Dancewand for Sango, Yoruba, Nigerian, wood, 19 7/8 x 7 9/16 x 4 5/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 67.91. Currently on view in the African art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: A stucco masterpiece

Two sparring horsemen, galloping toward one another, are all that remain from what was once an extended frieze. Perhaps formerly on the exterior of a building, this stucco sculpture was hardy enough to brave the elements—the only loss is the once-bright polychrome that would have covered the surface. In his 1945 book Masterpieces of Persian Art, author Arthur Upham Pope introduced readers to the selected 155 works that he considered the greatest achievements of more than 5,000 years of artistic production in today’s Iran. Of just three stucco works he included, this was the only sculpture Pope called “a genuine masterpiece of ornamentation.”

Relief with two fighting horsemen, inscription, and star medallion, 12th–13th century, Persian (modern Iran), stucco, 43 1/8 x 19 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 54.29. On view starting next Wednesday, 7 December, Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic art gallery, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Golden Screens of the Kanō School

Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, returns to SAMart with an entry on the golden screens of the Kanō School.

During the Momoyama Period (1573-1603), drastic change came to Japanese art from an unusual source: Western firearms. As warlords vied for control of the country, Portuguese traders introduced Western guns and cannons to Japan.

For centuries, Japanese palaces had been built as sprawling, single-story complexes, with wooden floors and roofs, and paper walls. Sliding doors allowed rooms to open easily to the surrounding gardens, and even when shut, light permeated the thin paper. With the advent of firearms, by necessity, the Japanese rapidly designed towering fortress palaces. Walls thick enough to withstand cannon fire suddenly plunged the world of the elites into darkness.

<

Read More

SAM Art: Light and Dark

In seventeenth-century Europe, many artists drained their paintings of bright colors, creating drama instead through strong contrasts of light and dark. This is striking in the ceremonial gravity of Saint Irene Tending the Wounded Saint Sebastian, attributed to the French artist Georges de La Tour and his studio. The holy woman gently removes an arrow from the young soldier, who has been persecuted for his Christian faith.

De La Tour is often mentioned as one of the many followers of Caravaggio (ca. 1571-1610), the Italian artist who pioneered the use of contrast to heighten drama and religious feeling in his paintings. This nocturnal scene of deliverance was such a popular image that no fewer than a dozen other versions exist. The original painting is probably lost; this example is one of the best of the other versions.

Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene, ca. 1638-39, Georges de La Tour and Studio, French, 1593-1653, oil on canvas, 42 x 55 7/8 in., Gift of Richard and Elizabeth Hedreen in honor of Mimi Gardner Gates, 2008.67. Currently on view in the European art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Oribe Ware

Writing SAMart this week is Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern for Japanese Art. This is her second entry in a series focusing on LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia.

Employing vivid colors and energetic, abstract designs, Oribe ware is the most dynamic type of Japanese tea ware. The style takes its name from Furuta Oribe, 1591-1615, the great tea master of his age. Designed for use in the meal accompanying the tea ceremony, a square dish like this would be used to serve fish, slowly revealing the image beneath as the meal was eaten. Oribe ware, as this tray excellently represents, broke with a tradition of elegant restraint to embrace an unprecedented level of vivacity.

This tray is meant to depict water, earth, and sky. We read it from bottom to top:

  • Starting in the lower left corner, the tray was dipped into a green glaze which visibly pooled during the firing process, evoking water.
  • Moving upward, a pink-tan band provides a bed for two semi-circles with radiating patterns. This common decorative motif represents ox cart wheels soaking in water—wooden  cart wheels needed to be soaked regularly to prevent warping. Between the two wheels, the pattern of squares and dots could represent a piece of dyed fabric. These are colors, images and activities associated with the earth.
  • The upper-most, tan portion encompasses a single large star, surrounded by three circles with trailing tails, likely comets. In the upper right corner, three arcing stripes abstractly render the long trailing clouds popular in Japanese painting. This band depicts the sky.

The ebullience that makes Oribe ware stand out amid tea ceramics reflects both the power and dynamism of the Momoyama Era (1573-1615), and, amidst political and social upheaval, a move to rebel against previous aesthetic rules, and the power structures they represented.

Square serving dish, early 17th century, Japanese, Momoyama (1573–1615)–Edo (1615–1868) period, Mino ware, Oribe style; glazed stoneware, 1 7/8 x 7 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 56.130. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Rescued Treasure

Sometime in the 16th century, a ship was carefully loaded with tens of thousands of Vietnamese ceramics and set sail across the South China Sea. It never reached its destination—off Cham Island, near the port of Hoi An, the ship and its cargo sank. This plate was salvaged from the wreck in the course of an open-water excavation in 1997-99. The excavation yielded wares as varied as celadons, polychrome enamels, and blue and white. All of the artifacts from the shipwreck date to the late 15th and early 16th centuries, when Vietnamese ceramic production and export had reached its peak in terms of numbers and aesthetic appeal. The formal beauty and sophisticated ornamentation of the so-called “Hoi An hoard” reveals the high level of artistic achievement reached by Vietnamese potters at that time.

Plate with floral spray, late 15th-early 16th century, Vietnamese, blue and white ceramic, 9 in. diameter, Gift of Mary and Cheney Cowles, 2000.133. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

This is one of the five Hoi An works included in the museum’s current special exhibition, LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia.

SAM Art: Representatives of a Forgotten Past

This fall, Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern for Japanese Art, will share additional information about a series of masterpieces in Luminous: The Art of Asia, the current special exhibition. This is her first entry.

Works of prehistoric art stand before us, modern viewers, as ambassadors of a forgotten past that still resonates with us today. Luminous includes two such prehistoric works from Japan: a small figure with distinctively bulging eyes called a Dogū, and a large, stout, terracotta soldier called a Haniwa. Separated by approximately thirteen centuries, together they represent artistic highlights of prehistoric Japan, and embody ideas of surrogate personhood that endure to the present.

Read More

SAM Art: Tokita, Nomura, and Seattle

Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura were first-generation Japanese Americans, or Issei, who made their home inSeattle. While many artists turned their sights to the Northwest’s natural grandeur, Tokita and Nomura looked to the places they knew well—the neighborhood in and around Japantown or Nihonmachi (today part of the International District), the working waterfront, and the farmlands cultivated by Japanese American families.

Labeled American Scene painters (a popular movement in American art of the 1930s) by their contemporaries, both artists’ work reveals the details of place that derive from daily familiarity, often the intimate views one sees while walking. In their choice of subject, the particularities of place and time, and the reference to cultural heritage, they describe the perspective of American immigrants who have made a new home.

Bridge, 1931, Kamekichi Tokita, American, 1897-1948, oil on canvas, 23 1/4 x 19 1/16 in., Gift of the artist, 33.230, © Kamekichi Tokita. On view in Painting Seattle: Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura starting on Saturday, 22 October, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park.

SAM Art: A Luminous Dragon King

The stern eyes and open mouth of this fearsome mask are attributes of the Dragon King, one of the Eight Buddhist Guardians. It is thought that this mask somehow came to be separated from a valuable set of eight masks, the seven remaining of which are still housed at Toji temple in Kyoto. The mask is splendidly carved and colored, and its interior is finished with a coating of expensive black lacquer, signaling this object’s high importance.

Assembled in the twenty-first century, in a museum gallery in Seattle, this mask and the 160 other objects in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia are radically displaced from their original sites of production. Their significance has shifted from sacred to secular as they have moved from temple hall to treasure house. Here, it is their aesthetic beauty that is being celebrated, not their ritual use. The museum viewer encounters these objects with very different expectations than a thirteenth-century worshipper might have held. We expect to be educated, or even awed, but we do not—in most cases—anticipate spiritual salvation.

LUMINOUS opens to the public on Thursday, 13 October, and remains on view through 8 January 2012.

Gyodo mask of Dragon King, early 13th century, Japanese, Kamakura period, wood with lacquer, polychrome and gilt, 15 9/16 x 8 1/8 x 5 15/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 68.110. On view in the special exhibition LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, fourth floor, SAM downtown, starting Thursday, 13 October.

SAM Art: Summer’s last stand

Summer may be over, but you still have one final weekend to enjoy On-Site, the summer installations at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Since June, On-Site has brought together new sculptures by Gretchen Bennett, Nicholas Nyland and Carolina Silva. These three artists created objects, often experimental in concept and execution, that respond to the context of the park environment. Their temporary interventions have provided unexpected encounters with sculpture, encouraging fresh perspectives on sculpture and its making. Working in response to the park environment, their diverse works cast a new lens on our experience with sculpture and with the landscape at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Although Gretchen Bennett’s installations at the Sculpture Park are fleeting, the artist’s  landscape-inspired drawing and video work can be seen in SAM’s permanent collection.

“Walking Stick from Nadonna Beach,” 2011, Gretchen Bennett, American, born 1960, driftwood, carved oak sapling wood from the OSP, latex paint, Courtesy of the artist, © Gretchen Bennett, Photo: Robert Wade. “On-Site” temporary installations on view through Sunday, 2 October, at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

SAM Art: A new acquisition, all about place

Location, Location, Location

My tea and coffee sets relate to the place they are going.
—John Marshall

Destined for an art museum, a home in the San Juan Islands, and a 1950s Seattle residence, a trio of recently installed tea and coffee services glory in their sculptural delight, technical virtuosity, and the promise of a festive gathering around warm stimulating beverages. Each piece, while an exquisite work of art, was designed to be used and pours properly without a drip—the artist’s impeccable touch.

Tea and coffee pots rank as seminal works in the annals of silver production— in fact, teapots are considered a benchmark for the silversmith. Representing three decades of master silversmith John Marshall’s career, these services blend traditional vocabulary—such as towering, vertical coffeepots and shorter, more horizontal teapots—with his evolution of individual expression. The service shown here was produced as a commission for the Seattle Art Museum.

In this video, Marshall talks about his work and demonstrates metalworking techniques.

“Tea and Coffee Service,” 2008-09, John Marshall, American, born 1936, sterling silver, rosewood, Argentium sterling silver (an amalgam of fine silver and germanium), and acrylic, overall: 15 ¾ x 25 x 26 in., The Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff Endowment for the Decorative Arts, 2009.27.1-5, Photo: jerrydavisphoto.com. Currently on view in “Here and Now,” the new acquisitions exhibition space, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Sydney Laurence and the end of Beauty and Bounty

Our painters revealed to us the matchless splendor of a scenery which shall arouse increasing astonishment and reverential awe and rapture in the hearts of generations yet to be.

—Art critic S.G.W. Benjamin, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1879

 

Sydney Laurence’s career was tied to the popular interest in the Alaska Territory that followed the Gold Rush. From the time he began prospecting in the area around 1904, Laurence painted there. His paintings helped to inspire tourism, and tourism in turn led to Laurence’s commercial success.

This is an early and impressively scaled view of Laurence’s favorite and most famous subject, Mt. McKinley.  It stands as one of his greatest statements on this, America’s highest mountain peak.  He painted this impressive canvas, possibly an exhibition piece, as the U. S. government’s Interior Department was working to establish a national park with McKinley at its center, projecting: “…the creation of this national park would, no doubt, result in… additional visitors to Alaska, and would give an impetus to the settling of the country.”

Beauty and Bounty is on view through Sunday, 11 September.

“Mount McKinley,” 1914, Sydney Laurence, American, 1865-1940, oil on canvas, 38 1/4 x 28 1/4in., Promised gift of Hugh S. Ferguson, T2006.57, Photo: Paul Macapia. On view until Sunday, 11 September, in “Beauty and Bounty: American Art in an Age of Exploration,” Simonyi Special Exhibition Galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

All Roads Lead to SAM: New and Improved Visitor Information

At the suggestion of one of our customers, SAM’s online visitor information just got tricked out. In an effort to encourage people to use different forms of transportation and to make it easier to find us no matter where you are, we’ve added several links to maps that show people how to bike, bus and even walk to SAM Downtown, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park. Some of the exciting new features include:

  • Bike rack information (did you know that there are bike racks at all three locations?) as well as maps that have bike and bus directions.
  • Links to three different public transportation sites with a SAM location already entered as the destination, as well as a link to Metro that lists all the buses that go nearby.

    Read More

SAM Art: Model Totem Pole

According to legend, Dan-kea was a grizzly bear hunter who was captured by the bears but escaped and returned home. Trying to quell a fever by sitting in the water, a rival chief got a sea-dog to seize him.  Dan-kea put out his tongue to feel what had touched him and his tongue stuck to the sea-dog, then was drawn out to a great length. This model totem pole has three bears with their eyes, hands and feet inlaid with abalone; the bear at the top is Dan-kea, holding his long tongue in his hands.

The small-scale totem pole is an indigenous genre that pre-dates contact: Captain James Cook personally collected one at Nootka Sound in 1778. Some model poles are diminutive, specific versions of the forty- to sixty-foot versions erected to honor the lineages of deceased chiefs and nobles. By the mid-19th century, these easily portable and compelling sculptures were in steady demand by outside buyers (including museums and World’s Fairs).

“Gyaa.angaa” (Model totem pole), ca. 1890, Haida, yellow cedar, abalone shell, height: 23 ½ in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.44. On view in the Native American art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown, starting Wednesday, 24 August.

SAM Art: Some Thoughts from Our Interns, Part II

For this week’s SAMart, I would like to share with you the reflections of two summer interns I have been lucky enough to work with for the past several weeks. Katie Tieu and Jasmine Graviett have been friendly, thoughtful, conscientious, and eager colleagues this summer, and will be missed when they go back to their “real” lives—as a sophomore and a senior in high school, respectively.
-Sarah Berman, Collections Coordinator and Research Associate

My experience at the Seattle Art Museum    

Jasmine Graviett

You don’t find many 17-year-old girls working/interning at an art museum, but I am one of them.

Hi, my name is Jasmine Graviett and I am a YWCA GirlsFirst intern, which is an all girls program that helps young ladies get through their high school years and this program is how I got my awesome internship at SAM. Working at SAM has helped me see art in a different way and understand more about the art work. At first I wasn’t really all that into art, I only liked art that made sense to me or that I could relate to. Things that looked like a whole bunch of paint splashed on a board or something that looked like a 2-year-old drew it never really appealed to me because I thought that I could make something like that. I mean, what could be so special about that?  This summer I found out there’s a story behind every single painting and that it isn’t always as it seems.

Read More

SAM Art: Some Thoughts from Our Interns, Part I

For this week’s SAMart, I would like to share with you the reflections of two summer interns I have been lucky enough to work with for the past several weeks. Katie Tieu and Jasmine Graviett have been friendly, thoughtful, conscientious, and eager colleagues this summer, and will be missed when they go back to their “real” lives—as a sophomore and a senior in high school, respectively.
-Sarah Berman, Collections Coordinator and Research Associate

My Experience Here At SAM

By: Katie Tieu

My name is Katie, and I am a YWCA GirlsFirst intern. GirlsFirst is an all girls program that teaches us life lessons, how to stay on track in high school, and how to succeed in life. GirlsFirst also helps us get internships by teaching us skills that we need to use to get a job. They taught us many things, like how to type a resume, cover letter, and how to talk properly in an interview. They had a list of jobs for girls to apply for, and I was hired by the Seattle Art Museum to be a Human Resources intern. I am working here for 8 weeks during my summer break, but it’ll be ending soon.

Being here at SAM is very fun and such a great experience. While I was here, I saw and learned how the museum actually operates. I also got to see the exhibitions and the permanent collection here, and what can I say? IT WAS AMAZING. Just by looking at each detail an artist includes is very mind blowing. Like this painting. It was created by Jackson Pollock and is called Sea Change, painted in 1947. Does it look like any ordinary painting that anyone can do? That’s what I thought. But, look closely, every detail you see on the canvas was planned and thought about before it was there.

Read More

SAM Art: Millennium Light

Early modern art in America is strongly linked to myth and symbol, to what was an enduring quest to find spiritual meaning in the physical world. That quest, begun by nineteenth-century landscape painters and poets who felt divine inspiration in nature, for example, led artists time and again back to long familiar classical and Biblical texts for imagery and to newly discovered myths and symbols in Native American and Asian religions, philosophy, and art.

In his early 20s when he painted Millennium Light, Morris Graves’ interest in myth and mysticism was already apparent. It was created at the dawn of his long career, within months of his first important public recognition as the winner of the Northwest Annual’s Katherine B. Baker Purchase Prize for Moor Swan (also currently on view).

Millennium Light, 1933-34, Morris Graves, American, born Fox Valley, Oregon, 1910; died Loleta, California, 2001, oil on canvas, 39 x 39 1/2in., Gift of the Marshall and Helen Hatch Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2009.52.98, © Estate of Morris Graves. Currently on view in the modern art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.
SAMBlog