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The Contemporary American Struggle: Bethany Collins

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

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

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

Revisiting Reopening the Asian Art Museum, At Last

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

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

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

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

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

The Contemporary American Struggle with Derrick Adams

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

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

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

Who is Jacob Lawrence? The American Struggle Overview

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

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

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

Free Ways to See Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle

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

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

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

Art & Social Justice Stories

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

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

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

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

SAM Performs: Cross Section Dances

“Moving images
When you stare at something for a while it starts to move.
When you focus/think on it long enough it will move you.” 

– Michele Dooley

Action painting is akin to an artist dancing around their canvas. In this video Michele Dooley, Nia-Amina Minor, and Amanda Morgan, three Seattle-based contemporary dance artists, reinterpret Franz Kline’s movements in Cross Section.

Cross Section came into SAM’s collection earlier this year as part of a gift made to the Seattle Art Museum from the Wright Collection in honor of the museum’s 75th Anniversary. Though it’s been on view before, it’s inclusion in City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped a New Seattle marks it’s debut as part of our Modern and Contemporary Collection. This exhibition presents 64 works, all from the Wright Collection, created between 1943–2003 that define bold and experimental art movements across the United States and Europe. City of Tomorrow features but a fraction of the many works that Jinny and her husband Bagley gifted to SAM over the years. Kline’s Cross Section is a striking example of the Abstract Expressionist art movement.

“There is movement present in a painter’s trace. In the remnants of each brush stroke one can sense action, physicality and gravity. What does it feel like to be a paint brush to watch and listen to it’s swipe and feel each stroke embodied. What does it feel like to move with and through a painting? In the wash of this physicality there are the inevitable left overs and spillages. That space of imperfection and slippage draws me in.” 

– Nia-Amina Minor

Like many abstract expressionist artists, Kline trained as a figurative artist but chose to work abstractly, believing that the basic elements of art—line, color, shape—could evoke a transcendent experience for a viewer. In Cross Section, thick strokes of black and white paint are layered, emphasizing movement in the composition. This work is often referred to as an example of action painting because it can be seen as a record of its making.

Though City of Tomorrow is closing on January 18, the impressive artworks in this exhibition will be on view again as part of SAM’s collection galleries—all thanks to the visionary voyage of Jinny Wright. Through her arts initiatives, donations, and fundraising, Jinny’s legacy lives not only in the art collections and institutions she helped build, but also in her staunch belief that contemporary artists define their time.

“When approaching making movement in response to this work, I immediately was drawn to how abstract it was. Only having black and white strokes leave so much room for interpretation and storytelling. I imagined I was a part of the black strokes, weaving in and out of the white portions. There’s a moment where I slowly slip my shoes off; this was improv, but I envisioned that I was leaving the black strokes to enter white strokes, intertwining them both, one not existing without the other.” 

– Amanda Morgan

Sharing Talents: Betty Bowen Winning Artist Talk

Learn about the three Northwest artists selected as part of this year’s Betty Bowen Award. Dawn Cerny, Elijah Hasan, and Tariqa Waters were all selected as recipients of this annual SAM award. The annual Betty Bowen Award honors a Northwest artist for their original, exceptional, and compelling work. Dawn Cerny, the 2020 winner, is awarded an unrestricted cash prize of $15,000, and a selection of works will be exhibited at the Seattle Art Museum in the spring of 2021. In addition, Elijah Hasan, and Tariqa Waters, this year’s two Special Recognition Award winners, receive $2,500 to further their artistic practice. Hear from Hasan and Waters as they share insight and perspective into their work and practice followed by an audience Q&A.

2020 Betty Bowen Award Winner Dawn Cerny’s sculptures explore the idea of “home” as both a concept and a place, and as an arena rich for investigation. Her recent body of work examines ideas of furniture and mothers as metaphors: figures that secure value for their potential to hold, display, or be absentmindedly left with things. This pattern of holding as the creation of intimacy and belonging, pleasure, and self-preservation plays out repeatedly in her work.

Special Recognition Award Winner Elijah Hasan is a writer, filmmaker, and director. His projects lay bare the realities of systemic racism, social justice, and activism, exploring subjects such as the experiences of Black police officers in the Portland police department and the parallels between Americans who fought in the Spanish Civil War and contemporary members of Antifa. He centers the stories of Black communities as they navigate these realities, all while on a personal journey of artistic and spiritual growth.

Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award Winner Tariqa Waters’ whimsical, Pop-inspired work references childhood memories where vanity and self-preservation collide to mask systemic and generational pain. Her work examines ideas of femininity, beauty, race, sexuality, and inclusion. Using photography, videography, and sculptural fabrication, Waters attempts to create innovative ways to distort reality to the point where marginalization is impossible.

Intersections: Black, Woman, Art!

As programs continue to be offered virtually we are streaming Zoom talks to our Facebook page where you can watch them live. Or you can check back here where we are sharing select events to the blog such as this conversation between multidisciplinary artists Kimisha Turner and Takiyah Ward. Moderated by Priya Frank, Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at SAM, this dynamic discussion ranges from the roles Turner and Ward play as Black artists in our current moment to their recent public art projects including the Black Lives Matter mural created by the Vivid Matters Collective at the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP). Watch along and consider how public art shapes your community. Also, get excited to see Kimisha Turner’s mural, It Ain’t Just a River in Egypt, at SAM when we can reopen—this artwork has just joined our collections!

Washington born and raised, Kimisha Turner is heavily influenced by diverse creative expressions. From murals, to sculpture, to performative work she loves working in varying mediums and processes to convey her conceptual vision. Although her work varies in application, there’s typically a familiar thread found among them. Bright colors and beauty combined with challenging subject matter is often a theme, allowing it to be easily digested by a varied audience. She earned her B.F.A. from Cornish College of the Arts after completing an Associates degree during high school. For over a decade she’s dedicated her focus to innovative ways of creating and interpreting the world as it relates to the human experience. Exploring identity, race, life, grief, and love while drawing on her personal life, her work aims to evoke empathy, perspective and empowerment. The Seattle Art Museum, Northwest African American Museum, Pratt Fine Arts, and Seattle Theater Group are a few of the organizations to collaborate with Kimisha for personal or community based events.

Takiyah Ward, artistically known as T-DUB Customs, is also a Washingtonian. Her Seattle upbringing played a pivotal role in her creative self-expression-from ballet to tap, basketball to custom sneakers–wherever the outlet was most fruitful, Takiyah was ready to learn and explore. During her high school years, Takiyah became extremely interested in clothing and sneaker customization. She began hand painting and airbrushing designs on her own clothes and those of her classmates, morphing her hobby into a successful business. Takiyah eventually left Seattle to study architecture at the New York Institute of Technology, where she honed her skills in technical drawing and design. Takiyah’s artistry reflects the perfect mix of learned skills and self-taught talents, making her the type of artist who shows up ready to perform, no matter the platform! Through T-DUB Customs, Takiyah hopes to be an outlet for all-artistically inclined or not- as it is her belief that our ability to ‘stay creative’ is humanity’s greatest asset.