SAM Art: A new exhibition, a new way of seeing the world

An exuberant visual language has sprung out of Aboriginal artists across the continent of Australia. While this language occasionally looks extremely modern, it depicts unexpected subjects. Epics that involve shape shifting ancestors and short stories devoted to the flora and fauna of their country are given visual form. A sudden abundance of art production since the 1970s has been described as a renaissance of the world’s oldest living culture.

Six women sat together to paint this vision of their country, shaped by Luurnpa (the Kingfisher) who created features of the landscape.  Luurnpa is regarded as the keeper of the law and his influence spreads far from these women’s homes in Balgo. In this painting, Luurnpa creates with significant creeks, which meander around the edges. He puts his beak into the ground to create waterholes (seen as circles). People (U-shapes) walk to gather food (footprints) and are especially pleased when they find a rich vein of potatoes (elongated brown ovals).

Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection opens on Thursday, 31 May (with a preview for SAM members on Wednesday, 30 May, 11:00am-6:00pm).

Wirrimanu (Balgo), 1999, Balgo Women (Tjemma Freda Napanangka, ca. 1930–2004; Margaret Anjulle, born 1946; Patricia Lee Napangarti, born 1960; Mati Mudgidell, ca. 1935–2002; Lucy Yukenbarri, 1934–2003; Eubena Nampitjin, born ca. 1920), Australian Aboriginal, Kukatja, Wangkajunga, and Warlpiri peoples, Balgo (Wirrimanu), Kimberley/Western Desert, Western Australia, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 47 5/8 x 116 1/8 in., Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan. On view in Ancestral Modern, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown, starting Thursday, 31 May.

Nichole DeMent at SAM Gallery

By incorporating various mediums such as photographs, beeswax, resin, paint, found objects, and Japanese rice papers, Nichole DeMent’s art has a unique depth to it. Carefully integrating each element into a composition, layer by layer, is vital to the process of its creation. The artist slowly narrates a story for each piece by taking time to deliberate over the under painting and textural elements that give them character and individuality.

“Layers are an important part of my work, both aesthetically and conceptually.  I think of the layers as a history to the artwork — the details under the surface add character to an individual artwork even when they are buried or barely visible in the end.” 

For “Bird Moon” DeMent used the following images, each adding a distictive quality to the piece, which contributes to the end result in its own special way.

 

Come see “Bird Moon” and more work by Nichole DeMent as well as artists Tyler Boley, Iskra Johnson, Aithan Shapira, Nina Tichava, Eva Isaksen and Allyce Wood in Contemplating Nature at SAM Gallery through June 9.

-Alyssa Rhodes, SAM Gallery Coordinator

1220 3rd Ave (at University)

samgallery@seattleartmuseum.org

For more info call: 206.343.1101

 

SAM Art: An angry – or singing – healer

This Tlingit figure has the protruding diamond-shaped mouth associated with an angry or a singing spirit. The mask-like head held by the figure—carved from a separate piece of wood—takes the form of an animal. The knees, hands, lips, nostrils, and a line around the ankles and neck have been painted red, and the eyes, eyebrows, and feet have been painted black.

Small carved figures such as this one which represent shamans or shamans’ spirit helpers, and were part of the work of healing people. The animal head clasped before the figure’s chest may represent the shaman’s personal spirit power. Despite their diminutive size, figures such as this helped destroy the evil spirits which caused illness.

Shaman figure, ca. 1880, Tlingit, yellow cedar and paint, 12 1/4 x 3 x 3 1/4 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 83.235. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: New news on an Old Master

Struck by Cupid’s arrow, Venus conceived a defenseless passion for the handsome god Adonis. The lovers’ brief period of happiness will soon end tragically when Adonis is killed by a wild boar while hunting. The myrtle tree refers to eternal love, associated with Venus, and to Adonis’ miraculous birth after his mother was transformed into a myrtle tree. The broken tree trunk ominously symbolizes Adonis’ imminent death.

Veronese was renowned during his lifetime for his beautiful hues—like the orange and lavender on this canvas—and for the serene grandeur he brought to mythological and biblical stories. In the eighteenth century his popularity soared again, influencing artists in the SAM collection such as Tiepolo and Guardi.

Since October 2010, this painting has been undergoing conservation study and treatment. Please join us on 16 May as Nicholas Dorman, Chief Conservator, speaks on A Fresh View of the Old Masters: Conservation & Technical Studies in SAM’s European Galleries. This lecture is sold-out, but a simulcast is available free to members.

A Fresh View of the Old Masters: Conservation & Technical Studies in SAM’s European Galleries with Nicholas Dorman
Members Art History Lecture Series: New Perspectives
May 16, 2012
7:00–9:00 pm
Simulcast (free to members): Nordstrom Lecture Hall, first floor, SAM downtown

Venus and Adonis (pictured prior to treatment), before 1580, workshop of Paolo di Gabriele di Piero Caliaro (known as Veronese), Italian, 1528-1588, oil on canvas, 88 3/8 x 66 1/4 in., Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.174. Not currently on view.

SAM Art: Crocodile Woman

“From a water-woven land come creatures of convoluted imagination. They know where the power lies-in essences of female and reptile.”  -collector Katherine White, 1979

Water flows through the Cross River area, which is the second largest delta system on earth. A crocodile guarding these waters can become a “familiar” for a woman, adding to her abilities and insights. Persons with unusual inclinations were often likely to attribute their actions to the persuasive force of an animal or reptile who sought them out. Women who cultivated this alliance with a familiar could use it to be helpful, or let it become destructive.

Crocodile headdress, Ejagham, Cross River Region, Nigerian / Cameroonian, wood, skin, basketry, 29 x 38 1/2 x 8 3/4 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.507. Currently on view in the African art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

“GREEN” Eggs and SAM

In the past couple of weeks I’ve heard a lot of talk in the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) offices about an infamous group called The SAM Goes Green Team. The more email notices the Green Team sent out about daily “green” tips or “green” contests between staff members, the more I became curious about who takes part in this coalition, and what it takes to initiate “green” practices at SAM.

 

To investigate further, I decided to interview the head of the Green Team, Liz Stone. Liz holds the title of Operations Assistant/ Digital Media Support Specialist at SAM.  Liz is a spirited, young woman who brings a lot of light to the busy offices here at SAM. When I asked to interview her, she was very excited for the opportunity to represent SAM’s “green” roots and sustainability concerns.

I asked Liz, “When did the Green Team start at SAM?”  She provided the following information:

 

The Green Team was started in 2006, shortly before the Olympic Sculpture Park opened in January 2007. It began with a handful of staff representing different departments who were interested in making a difference. The excitement around Olympic Sculpture Park gave the museum the momentum it needed to develop an environmental face for SAM. Examples of how SAM conducts green operations in many different capacities include:

  • Reduced the museum’s carbon footprint, including cuts in energy use, paper conservation, and waste reduction
  • Switched to 100% recycled copy paper
  • Earned Salmon-Safe certification of land management practices at the Olympic Sculpture Park.
  • Supported SAM’s museum educators in designing art activities that use repurposed, recycled and non-toxic supplies
  • Created a culture of sustainability within SAM, including meeting with departments to identify barriers to “going green”

 

“There have been a few different Green Team leaders at SAM, but I was approached in 2011 and asked if I would take the reins of the Green Team to keep it moving forward,” Liz says.

 

In overseeing the Green Team, Liz presents green tips and activities in media posts and helps maintain sustainability around the offices. Each division at SAM—from IT to Exhibition Design to Engineering—has a representative on the Green Team.

 

SAM is also a Presenting Partner with Seattle Center Foundation and Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas in presenting the performance, red, black, GREEN: a blues. This performance is coming to Seattle Center’s Intiman Theater May 30–June 2 for the Next 50 Festival and brings artists Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Theaster Gates back to Seattle once again! Both artists, as educators and social activists, strive through their work to ignite our collective responsibility towards social and environmental sustainability for every community. This performance shares SAM’s values in combining community engagement with art to work towards a greener, more sustainable community. The Green Team and Liz Stone are working hard to activate everyone’s involvement in “going green”.

 

You can also find more details about SAM’s environmental commitment and the SAM Goes Green initiative, as well as a list of partners joined in this initiative when you visit the SAM website. Some commitments involve joining the City of Seattle’s Seattle Climate Partnership and Seattle Climate Action Now to reduce SAM’s carbon footprint. You can also read more about the SAM Goes Green Team history on previous SAMblog posts, including SAM’s recent participation in the worldwide Earth Hour event.

 

SAM Art: Evolving City Wall Mural

Mexican sculptor Pedro Reyes is known for his interactive forms, installed in public spaces around the world. For the opening of SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park in 2007, Reyes produced his signature interactive Capulas, as well as the Evolving City Wall Mural, all of which were acquired by the museum.

Equally at home in a park and in a downtown building, the mural has greeted visitors to SAM downtown for the past four years. In the mural, human beings interact with geometry and respond to changing visual systems. The mural incorporates graphic design, technical drawing and perspective diagrams to imagine a world of varied spaces, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional.

The mural will remain on view until mid-May.

Evolving City Wall Mural, 2006, Pedro Reyes (Mexican, born 1972), ink on paper, approx. 14.9 x 54.7 ft., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund and the Modern Art Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.5. Photo: Susan Cole. © Pedro Reyes. Currently on view in the museum foyer, corner of First Ave and Union St, SAM downtown.

Two Sculptural Pair & A Next 50 Affair

There is a display in SAM Downtown’s Wright & Runstad Gallery for African Art holding two pairs of sculptures that provide a transcendent view of “togetherness” and what it means for the spiritual to be connected with the earth. The first is a pair of “Male and Female figures” made by the Baule of central Cote d’Ivoire. The painted wood sculptures represent spirit spouses that inhabit another world parallel to this one, and are prescribed by diviners to promote a healthy living situation between spouses. Imbued with power by the diviner each sculpture is given individual attention by its client in order for the power to be activated. Beside this pair resides a set of Congolese harps carved with faces at the end of their long curving necks to keep their players company and watch their every move. Atop flexed, carved legs their bellies would be filled with sound as the harp couple was played by two musicians travelling as a pair. During their travels the performers recited history as their livelihood and sang legendary epics.

Taken together these objects bring to mind the exhibit Theaster Gates: The Listening Room where objects form a collective history and repurposed materials find new meaning as art. The collection of records taken from Chicago’s now defunct Dr. Wax record store reminds me of the spirit spouses who are deserving of more attention. Giving attention to the records in SAM’s twice monthly DJ sets in the Listening Room (come listen next week May 3 & 6!) has allowed people in our community to come together at SAM through music. Although the spirit spouses must be decommissioned of their power by the diviner before they enter the museum the enduring coolness in their expressions continues to give meaning to their remedial function. Similarly the decommissioned fire hoses lining the walls of the Listening Room evoke memories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s where protestors were sprayed with these high pressure hoses during race riots. Our collective memory is jarred by Theaster Gates who saw value in an art object where others saw scrap material.

 

 

 

Considering this communal environment brings up another project Theaster Gates is involved with – the upcoming performance of “red, black & GREEN: a blues” coming to the Intiman Theater for Seattle Center’s Next 50 festival 30 May – 2 June.  The performance is collaborative and interactive, written for the stage by performer, activist, and educator Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Bamuthi is working with a host of talented artists including set design by Gates. Click here to learn more about Marc Bamuthi Joseph and the Living Word Project and watch videos on the performance “red, black & GREEN: a blues.”

 

 

The central question addressed by Bamuthi is, “what sustains life in your city?” This is something he asked many people through the Life is Living festivals he has curated since 2008 in various U.S. cities and forms the inspiration that went into writing “red, black & GREEN: a blues.” By incorporating “the voices of people often left out of discussions about living green,” this conversation on the environment succeeds where others have fallen short, and actively seeks a reimagining of where we place value in our community.[i] This forms a collective experience that, through the stories Bamuthi has engaged and the recycled materials of Theaster’s set inspired by row houses, express our social ecology with power, grace, and rhythm.  The success of this performance comes from the belief that “ultimately we are interdependent and stronger through collaboration,” which, like the Congolese harps and Ivorian spirit spouses, helps us maintain good relations and feel connected with the earth.

-Ryan R. Peterson, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern


[i] Source: Mapp international productions website. Artist proframs, artists and projets, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, red, black & GREEN: a blues. Last accessed 24, April, 2012. http://mappinternational.org/programs/view/214

Top photo: “Male and Female Figures,” wood, paint, Ivorian, Baule & “Pair of Harps,” wood, skin, fabric, Congolese, Ngbaka. Photograph by the Author. Taken 4/24/12. JPEG file.

 

 

 

SAM Art: A Man on a Prow

This may be your final week to see Gauguin and Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise (it closes on Sunday), but don’t despair. SAM’s collection of Oceanic art remains on view.

A heroic guardian, this figure was strategically placed precisely at the water line of a decorated canoe’s prow. Dipping into the water as the large canoe navigated the seas, it kept watch for hidden reefs and enemies. As a lieutenant in 1897 recorded, its purpose was: “to keep off the kesoko or water fiends which might otherwise cause the winds and waves to upset the canoe, so that they might fall on and devour its crew.”

Shell inlay swirls over the face in a pattern like those found on the painted faces of warriors. Beneath the chin of this figure is a head that is being clutched–although whether the warrior is protecting it or presenting it as a fallen enemy is unknown.

Canoe prow figure (Nguzu Nguzu), 19th century, Solomon Islands, Melanesian, wood, nautilus shell, 10 5/8 x 7 7/8 x 5 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.1443. Currently on view in the Oceanic art gallery, third floor, SAM downtown.

Happy Earth Day!

If you liked Earth Hour then you’ll love Earth Day (it’s like 24 times better than Earth Hour). While Earth Hour challenged people to make lasting change, Earth Day is a celebration of all that we have achieved and a look forward to differences we can still make.

SAM has already made a number of changes in an effort to be more sustainable. They include:

  • Reduced the museum’s carbon footprint, including cuts in energy use, paper conservation, and waste reduction
  • Switched to 100% recycled copy paper
  • Earned Salmon-Safe certification of land management practices at the Olympic Sculpture Park. (Watch this video of Gardner Bobby McCullough employing one of those practices)
  • Supported SAM’s museum educators in designing art activities that use repurposed, recycled and non-toxic supplies
  • Created a culture of sustainability within SAM, including meeting with departments to identify barriers to “going green”

And now that it’s Earth Day, the SAM Goes Green team isn’t letting this opportunity go by without challenging our coworkers to continue moving forward and establishing more green habits. This week we are asking SAM staff to pledge to make a difference. We’re going to track the changes they make at home and at work and offer incentives for the most actions taken. A little positive reinforcement will hopefully encourage big change!

-Liz Stone, Operations Assistant/Digital Media Support Specialist

Specter, 2011, Gretchen Bennett, American, b. 1960, blown glass, hemp rope, Photo: Robert Wade

SAM Art: A Message (and a Lecture) from the Deep

Inspired by the artifacts excavated from Junk shipwrecks that brought “china” from Asia to Europe, Koi Junk alludes to the migration of culture through trade, and specifically the culture of tea. It also references the forms, techniques, and ornamentation that dominated the aesthetics in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century age of colonization. Thus, Koi Junk speaks in a contemporary voice to a long history of objects which bridge cultures and time.

Message from the Deep: Koi Junk, a Sculptural Teapot by Michelle Erickson with Julie Emerson
Members Art History Lecture Series: New Perspectives
Wednesday, 18 April 2012
7—9 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, first floor, SAM downtown
Open to SAM members and their guests only please.

Koi Junk Teapot, 2009, Michelle Erickson (American, born 1960), porcelain, colored earthenware agate, indigenous clays, 12 ½ x 11 in. overall, Howard Kottler Endowment for Ceramic Art, 2011.23. © Michelle Erickson. Currently on view in Here and Now, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: A Different Kind of Storytelling

Next week, the museum’s gallery dedicated to Australian Aboriginal painting will be closed, and the current paintings taken off view. Why? They will be re-studied, re-thought, and re-installed in the museum’s summer exhibition Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection.

The paintings currently on view are a first glimpse at the coming exhibition. Deceptively abstract in appearance, these works recount stories of land, of history, of experience, and of Dreaming. This painting tells part of the legend of two brothers who traveled across the Tanami and Great Sandy Desert to teach people about food, fire and hunting, while they were creating many of the land forms.  When they arrived at the vast salt lake, Lake MacKay, they made camp for a night’s rest. The central horizontal line shows the windbreak the constructed, while the parallel lines designate water. Strong white vertical lines represent sandhills.

Can you see the story in this image?

Wati Kutjarra is only on view in the permanent collection galleries through Sunday. It can be seen next in the summer exhibition Ancestral Modern, opening 31 May.

Wati Kutjarra (Two Brothers Dreaming), 2004, Tjumpo Tjapanangka, Australian Aborigine, Kukatja people, Balgo (Wirrimanu), Kimberley/Western Desert, Western Australia, 1929-2007, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 70 7/8 x 59 1/16 in., Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum. Photo: Susan Cole. © Tjumpo Tjapanangka.

SAM Art: Seasons

As Seattle oscillates between winter and spring, take a moment to consider four clearly defined seasons—as seen on this Chinese bowl, now on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Poetic inscriptions caption the four seasons depicted from frame to frame around the bowl. Each season has its own defining text, and its own imagery:

“Green trees abound in village after village,” in summer;

“Withering branches sit silent in the depth of night,” in autumn;

“Bending low, the snow-covered bamboo still glints a cool emerald-jade green,” in winter;

and spring sees “Sprouting willows appear in the scattering mist.”

Guyuexuan type bowl, early 18th century, Chinese, Qing period, Yongzheng reign, porcelain with decoration in overglaze-enamels, 3 x 6 ¼ in. overall, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.55, photo: Paul Macapia. Currently on view in the Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park.

 

SAM Art: A focus on ceramics

Through much of Greek art history—from the abstract grave or cult carvings of the Cyclades to the generalized portraits of the Hellenistic period—the Greeks often depicted women as ideals of beauty and grace. For both men and women, in fact, Greek beliefs held that external appearance was the manifestation of internal character. As a result, the artistry lavished on appearance and personal adornment rivals that given to public monuments.

This small ceramic figure was created in a world where Greek culture was dominant, and on the move. Following the path of Alexander the Great’s conquests across Europe and West Asia, Greek art and culture spread across the Mediterranean world. Ceramic sculptures already had a long history in these areas, but arguably reached an apex in the Greek region of Boeotia during this period. Produced in multiples in workshops, their compact size and relative inexpense allowed them to be exported to major Hellenistic markets. Tanagra figurines—these finely modeled figures of seated, standing and dancing women—exemplified the Greek ideals of femininity, celebrating the perfection inherent to beauty.

Seated tanagra figurine, 4th–3rd century B.C., Greek, Boeotia, Hellenistic period (ca. 323-31 B.C.), terracotta, pigment, 6 1/2 x 3 5/8 x 4 1/2 in., Norman and Amelia Davis Classical Collection, 66.101. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic art gallery, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

 

SAM Art: A model, a saga, a lecture

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 poles erected to honor the lineages of deceased chiefs and nobles. Small-scale examples of Native longhouses with totem poles erected in front were commissioned by anthropologists for World’s Fair and museum displays. By the mid-19th century, these easily portable and compelling sculptures were in steady demand by outside buyers, as they are today.

A master carver of ceremonial arts, nearly all of Hemasilakw’s life was shadowed by the potlatch ban. He pushed the traditional origins of his art style toward distinctively modern refinements, evidenced in the bold sculptural forms and exuberant painting of his full-size poles. Even his model poles powerfully convey the personalities of each mythic figure.

Joseph Hillaire and the Saga of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair Totems with Barbara Brotherton
Members Art History Lecture Series: New Perspectives
March 21, 2012
7:00–9:00 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, SAM downtown

Model Totem Pole, early 20th century, Arthur Shaughnessy (Hemasilakw) (Kwakwaka’wakw, Dzawada’enuxw, Kingcome Inlet, 1884–1945), wood and pigment, 36 ¾ x 10 ¼ x 5 ¾ in., Gift of June Bedford in honor of Steve Brown, 2000.51. Currently on view in the Native American Art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

 

Discounted Tickets for “Gauguin & Polynesia” and Extended Hours on First Thursday

Ticket prices to Gauguin & Polynesia on March 1 will be $12 for adults, $9 for seniors (62+) and military (w/ID), and $8 for students (w/ID) and teens. SAM members and children 12 & under are free. Please note that if a timeslot is sold out online we hold back a limited number of tickets for day-of sales. Get tickets now>>

SAM Downtown will be open until midnight (last ticket sold at 11 pm).

Take advantage of the Gauguin & Polynesia parking special at the 3rd & Stewart garage. You can also take a bus, ride your bike, or walk to the museum.

Go to the Plan Your Visit section on SAM’s website for more information on how to best enjoy your visit!

-Madeline Moy, Digital Media Manager

Photo credit: Dan Bennett

Last Call for Color

Time is running out to bring your collection of lids in to the Olympic Sculpture Park!

In Trenton Doyle Hancock’s wildly fictitious narrative, color is the source of salvation to a race of creatures who are seeking spiritual nourishment. For his installation, A Better Promise, Hancock playfully encourages you to pour color into his work by bringing plastic tops in all colors. The plastic caps add a whole spectrum of light into the installation and, for Hancock they “are in a way the surrogates for the color salvation.” As the artist has said, this installation “has to do with hope, color, connecting with people, connecting with community.” And you all have shown that he’s definitely connected with this community. Read More

SAM Art: A Red Rothko

“What do you see?”

This question creates the framework for John Logan’s play Red (currently running at the Seattle Rep), centered on painter Mark Rothko; it also provides a point of departure for an investigation of Rothko’s painting.

Rothko had worked in a traditional, figural mode early in his career, and dabbled in surrealism for a time, before finally arriving at his signature composition of pulsing blocks of color. For different viewers, the forms which emerge are stubbornly objective, ranging from biota to landscapes, humans to storm clouds. However, the strong verticality of works such as this resolutely assert their abstraction, mesmerizing viewers with a maintained focus on color and light.

#10, 1952, Mark Rothko (American, born Russia, 1903-1970), oil on canvas, 81 3/4 x 42 1/2 x 2 1/4 in., Partial and promised gift of Bagley and Virginia Wright, 91.98. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.Currently on view in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

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.
SAMBlog