Weightlessness: Tour The Eagle

Let yourself linger under and around Alexander Calder’s The Eagle with this stop on our free audio tour of the Olympic Sculpture Park. This iconic work can be seen from most locations in the park as well as from the ferry’s coming in from the Puget Sound. Follow the entire tour the next time you visit the park.

Carefully restored in summer 2020, The Eagle, is once again its original and stunning Calder red, making it impossible to miss on a walk through the park. The Eagle displays its curving wings, assertive stance, and pointy beak in a form that is weightless, colorful, and abstract.

The Olympic Sculpture Park has four distinct landscapes that reflect the native ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest: The Valley, The Grove, The Meadow, and The Shore. They provide a diversity of settings for art and introduce an array of plants and birds found in the Puget Sound region. You can find The Eagle standing in one of the meadows. On both sides of Elliott Avenue, meadow landscapes with expanses of grasses and wildflowers meet the bordering sidewalks to achieve the “fenceless” park that SAM conceived from the start. Both the meadows and the grove were intended as regenerative landscapes that provide flexible sites for sculpture and artists working in the landscape.

Image: The Eagle, 1971, Alexander Calder, painted steel, 465 x 390 x 390 in., Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2000.69, © Calder Foundation/Artist’s Rights Society, NY, photo: Benjamin Benschneider.

Muse/News: Kids are Free, a Memorial Chorus, and Monet the Influencer

SAM News

Red Tricycle has families and caregivers covered with this list of “Top 10 Free (or Cheap) Things to Do This Summer,” including a reminder that children 14 and under always get in free at the Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Get in the mood for SAM’s summer exhibition, Monet at Étretat, with this cool teaser video that takes you to the village’s epic cliffs.

They also recommend the free-to-all Olympic Sculpture Park, as does Curiocity with their list of “13 of the absolute best beaches you can find in and around Seattle.”

Local News

This Saturday is Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the US. The Northwest African American Museum is hosting nine days of events, kicking off on June 15. Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne has a great overview of their plans and other celebrations happening around the city.

Paul Constant for Crosscut on We Hereby Refuse, a new nonfiction comic by local writers and artists exploring Japanese American resistance to internment.

The Seattle Times on Capitol Hill’s AIDS Memorial Pathway (AMP), which will be dedicated on June 26 as one of the few memorials honoring those lost to and impacted by the AIDS epidemic. Take your time with the feature story by Crystal Paul and photos & video by Erika Schultz and Ramon Dompor.

“…The AMP aims to tell the common chorus that ties the stories together — the loved ones lost, the community banding together to help and protest, the clubs where they danced their troubles away, the friends who became family.”

Inter/National News

For the first time, the family of Jean-Michel Basquiat will organize an exhibition of the late artist’s works, including rarely seen examples from their private collection, reports Artnet’s Sarah Cascone.

“Storied New York arts nonprofit the Kitchen has appointed Legacy Russell executive director and chief curator,” reports Artforum.

For Hyperallergic, Chandra Steele tests out a theory: Monet is the granddaddy of all Insta girls.”

“On that holiday on the Normandy coast, the writer Guy de Maupassant observed Monet chasing shadows and sun, lying in wait until they shifted to suit his fancy, and said, ‘In truth, he was no longer a painter, but a hunter.’ Anyone who’s stood in line for six hours to get that gram in the Rain Room can relate.”

And Finally

Explore the work of the 105th class of Pulitzer Prize winners.

– Rachel Eggers, Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Jueqian Fang

Object of the Week: Untitled

“One of the most modernist gestures of the last century was the effort of liberation. Creative work is not just about representation, or creating a cultural mirror. . . . Creation, whether in writing, music and visual making, has also been about inventing a form or space to exist, especially if the world didn’t let one be free.”[1]

– Julie Mehretu

For over two decades, Julie Mehretu (born 1970, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) has produced a body of work defined by a commitment to the politics of abstraction.[2] Through mark making, layering, and other techniques, Mehretu’s drawings and paintings are built up of complex symbols and historical referents—architectural fragments and art/historical citations—that are celebrated for their articulation of the contemporary moment in which we live.

Mehretu’s drawing in SAM’s collection, Untitled, is an earlier work by the artist, created in 2001. A palimpsest of frenzied marks—seeming to emerge from nowhere—is interspersed with arching lines of yellow and blue and muted forms of mauve and mint green. Both abstract and representational, the contoured forms at once advance and recede, creating a visually dynamic composition that teems with energy. As the eye moves, one can make out architectural elements from various perspectives: a hall of arcades, industrial posts and beams, wide stairways, and cantilevered balconies; however, just as these elements come into focus, they morph and blend into the geometric forms and marks around them (rubble? fire? explosions?)—all mutable and contingent.

The topographical nature of this drawing connects it to Mehretu’s larger practice, which engages, among many things, in a form of mapping “of no location.”[3] Collapsing time, space, and place, Mehretu creates new cityscapes and narratives that encapsulate the tensions between evolution and destruction, growth and dissolution, stability and entropy. Her personal biography and experiences, too, inform her investment in these themes, exploring the complexities and possibilities inherent in forces such as globalization, migration, diaspora, capitalism, political conflict, and climate change.[4]

Perhaps best articulated by art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson:  “[Mehretu’s] canvases, richly layered and replete with visual incident, evoke a number of urgent themes: the simultaneous decentering and consolidation of power, the frenzied temporalities that cannot be captured by simplistic narratives of progress or regression, the continuing ascendance of ethnonationalism, and the possibility that many small, accumulated gestures might gather momentum and propel change.”[5]

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate


Image: Untitled, 2001, Julie Mehretu, Ink and pencil on Mylar, 21 1/2 x 27 3/8in., Gift of the ContemporaryArtProject, Seattle, 2002.30

[1] Mark Benjamin, “An Interview with Julie Mehretu: The Mark of an Artist,” in Rain Magazine, September 3, 2000, rain-mag.com/julie-mehretu-the-mark-of-an-artist.
[2] Julia Bryan-Wilson, “Julie Mehretu,” in Artforum, February 2020, http://www.artforum.com/print/reviews/202002/julie-mehretu-81917.
In her review of the current mid-career retrospective organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of American Art, Bryan-Wilson contends that Mehretu’s abstraction is an “abstraction that is insistently Black, insistently feminist, and . . . insistently queer.”
[3] “Julie Mehretu,” Whitecube, whitecube.com/artists/artist/julie_mehretu.
[4] “Julie Mehretu,” Whitney Museum of American Art, whitney.org/exhibitions/julie-mehretu.
[5] Wilson, Artforum, http://www.artforum.com/print/reviews/202002/julie-mehretu-81917.

A Meditative State: Tour Echo

Bring your ear buds the next time you visit the Olympic Sculpture Park and take a free audio tour through some of the monumental artworks at the park! This week on the blog, we are featuring the fifth stop on the tour, Jaume Plensa’s Echo.

Echo is a 46-foot-tall sculpture installed on the shoreline, made from resin and steel, and coated in marble dust. Rising from the center of the park with eyes closed, its stunning surface is luminous in daytime and at night. Jaume Plensa is a Catalan artist who lives and works in Barcelona. He has come to great prominence in the last decade with his monumental figurative outdoor sculptures. Reminiscent of memorial sculpture, Plensa has created seated figures and heads in introspective, meditative states.

The Olympic Sculpture Park features works from SAM’s collection, sculpture commissioned specifically for the park, loans, and changing installations. The artistic program reflects a range of approaches to sculpture, past and present, and is designed to respond to evolving ideas about sculpture in the future.

Image: Echo, 2011, Jaume Plensa, Spanish, Born 1955, Polyester resin, marble dust, steel framework, Height: 45 ft. 11 in., footprint at base: 10 ft. 8 in. x 7 ft. 1 in., gross weight: 13,118 lb, Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2013.22, © Jaume Plensa, photo: Benjamin Benschneider.

Muse/News: Simply the Best, the Message in the Monument, and Send in the Bugs

SAM News

Seattle Met is out with their Best of the City features, including results of their reader survey. Who was selected as Best Museum? Why, the reimagined and re-reopened Seattle Asian Art Museum, that’s who!

And coming up downtown, by way of France’s Normandy Coast: Monet at Étretat. Preview and ArtfixDaily recently highlighted the exhibition, which opens to the public July 1.

Local News

Out now: Issue 2 of New Archives, the newest arts journal on the scene. Topics include art, healing, and joy from contributors including Carol Zou and Sharon Arnold.

Mark Van Streefkerk for South Seattle Emerald on In This Way We Loved One Another, an installation by Two-Spirit poet and interdisciplinary artist Storme Webber for Capitol Hill’s AIDS Memorial Pathway.

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel checks in with the 16 artists who created the Black Lives Matter mural on East Pine Street, one year later, including SAM collection artist Kimisha Turner, ARI Glass, Aramis O. Hamer, and more.

“All art forms have helped and continue to help us get through this collective dark night of the soul,” [Aramis O.] Hamer says. “Years in the future, I think we will speak of 2020 as being a Birth of a Renaissance.”

Inter/National News

In Artforum: A conversation between scholar Hanan Toukan and Palestinian Museum director Adila Laïdi-Hanieh about building an institution under colonialism.”

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the British fragrance brand Floral Street have teamed up to create scents inspired by the artist’s works, reports Artnet’s Naomi Rea.

The New York Times’ Jason Horowitz on how—and why!—an all-woman team of art restorers and scientists “quietly unleashed microbes with good taste and an enormous appetite” onto Michelangelo’s marble Medici Chapel in Florence.

And Finally

On view: Abandoned paintings.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM’s Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman

Object of the Week: Gray Jar

With a simple and rustic appearance, this gray jar embodies an unassuming aesthetic that proliferated throughout Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Utilized for a wide range of objects including tea cups, utensils, and kimchi jars, this style of pottery became emblematic of everyday items and was produced in great quantities during this period.

Despite the seemingly mundane appearance of items such as this jar, Japanese philosopher Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961) saw a beauty in them that had been taken for granted. As a young man living in Korea in the 1920s, he quickly became enamored with Joseon pottery, considering it to be equal to the fine art of scroll painting across China, Japan, and Korea, as well as the exquisite sculptures of Europe.[1] Yanagi began avidly collecting various items and within a year opened a small folk museum in Seoul where he encouraged the masses to come and celebrate the simple beauty of his featured items, which he categorized as mingei. Meaning “art of the people,” mingei aesthetics embodied what Yanagi outlined as the “criterion of beauty,” which declared that objects should be made not by great masters of the arts, but rather by anonymous craftspeople; furthermore, the objects should be simple, functional, and made of natural materials.[2]

In his critical collection of writings, The Unknown Craftsman, Yanagi describes the concept of mingei in detail: “It is my belief that while the high level of culture of any country can be found in fine arts, it is also vital that we should be able to examine and enjoy the proofs of the culture of the great mass of the people. . . . The former are made by the few for the few, but the latter, made by the many for many, are a truer test. The quality of the life of the people of that country as a whole can best be judged by the folkcrafts.”[3]

Epitomizing the mingei aesthetic, this gray jar includes unique regional features that are easily overlooked but situate it as a one-of-a-kind piece. For example, the grayish-white surface of the jar is rough and uneven as it was made from clay with impurities that produced bubbles during the firing process. This small feature of individualism speaks to the rarity and perhaps unintended beauty of the jar, as well as countless other simple and functional objects that Yanagi Soetsu held in such high esteem.

– Caitlin Sherman, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art


[1] https://mingei.org/about/history-of-mingei
[2] Curatorial remarks, Xiaojin Wu
[3] https://mingei.org/about/history-of-mingei
Image: Gray jar, 17th or 18th century, Korean, stoneware with glaze, 6 3/8 in. x 4 3/8 in. x 22 3/8 in., Gift of Allen Parrot, 51.228

The Changing Sky: Tour Seattle Cloud Cover

Follow an audio tour of the Olympic Sculpture Park the next time you find yourself strolling along Seattle’s waterfront. Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art offers four stops along the Z-Path that runs through the park. This week we are featuring Seattle Cloud Cover, by Teresita Fernández. This artwork connects the upper park area to the stunning waterfront. Her work incorporates images of the changing sky discovered in nature and art, and offers a beautiful view of downtown and the park.

The Olympic Sculpture Park evolved out of a mutual commitment between SAM and the Trust for Public Land to preserve downtown Seattle’s last undeveloped waterfront property. The Seattle Art Museum resolved to return the site as much as possible to a functioning ecosystem, while providing a unique setting for outdoor sculpture and public recreation. This was no small task given a century of change amidst the state’s largest urban environment. The design for the park grew out of a desire to embrace the city’s energy and to creat​e collaboration between art, landscape, architecture, and infrastructure. It also afforded a wide range of environmental restoration processes, including brownfield redevelopment, salmon habitat restoration, native plantings, and sustainable design strategies. The Olympic Sculpture Park is open all year and always free!

Image: Seattle Cloud Cover (detail), design approved 2004; fabrication completed 2006, Teresita Fernández, laminated glass with photographic design interlayer, approx. 9 ft. 6 in. x 200 ft. x 6 ft. 3 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.140, © Teresita Fernández, photo: Paul Macapia.

Muse/News: Art of Asia, Rock ‘N’ Roll, and a Woman Leads the Louvre

SAM News

The Seattle Asian Art Museum is back! After a grand reopening in February 2020, the building was shuttered a month later by the pandemic. Excellent news, doors opened again to the public last Friday.

SAM curators FOONG Ping and Xiaojin Wu shared their excitement about the re-reopening with KOMO News, KING News, and KING’s Evening Magazine. They were joined by new SAM curator Natalia Di Pietrantonio to chat about three objects (out of the almost 400 on view!) with the Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig. Seattle Met highlighted the reopening, and SAM director Amada Cruz spoke with KIRO’s Dave Ross about this “21st-century museum hidden behind a 1933 Art Deco gem.” Get your tickets for June now!

Local News

Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger reviews Gary Simmons’s show The Engine Room, now on view at the Henry Art Gallery. It includes a full-size “garage” for musicians to play in.

“A Surreal Night at Seattle’s First Music Venue to Reopen”: Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne gets back out there.

Seattle Times music writer Michael Rietmulder speaks with the local rock scene’s many leaders who are Black, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ about the past & present of rock ‘n’ roll & race.

“Here’s the best part, my guy,” [Cameron] Lavi-Jones says. “It means we’re going to get a lot better [expletive] rock music. It means we’ll get way more powerful music, way more intentional music — music with stronger messages — because when Black and brown people are making things, this is second nature to us.”

Inter/National News

The Iconography of the Paris Commune, 150 Years Later”: Billy Anaia for Hyperallergic returns to the barricades for the sesquicentennial.

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone with “17 marvelous highlights from the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale,” in case you’re tired of looking at the same four walls.

Via the New York Times: The Louvre has appointed Laurence des Cars as its new president; she is the storied institution’s first female leader in all of its 228 years.

“She hopes to expand cultural collaborations with contemporary artists, and organize more exchanges with writers, musicians, dancers, filmmakers and designers. ‘Let’s not be afraid,’ she said.”

And Finally

Samaria Rice is the mother of Tamir.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman

Object of the Week: Summer Evening & Woman in Summer Attire

As another breathtaking Seattle summer quickly approaches, our craving for freedom, both from the chilly Pacific Northwest damp and from the seemingly endless shadow of the pandemic, grows ever more desperate.

In this state, we can easily empathize with the two women portrayed in Uemura Shoen’s Summer Evening and Kajiwara Hisako’s Woman in Summer Attire, both painted in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Each of the two works might at first glance be identified within the tradition of bijinga (美人画), a term used to describe idealized images of beautiful women which emerged in the mid-Edo period (around 1603-1868). However, though Shoen and Hisako were both trained in the bijinga genre in Kyoto, they were motivated to resist its conventions by the desire to represent thoroughly modern women. Their subjects have complexity and agency; they demand more than what social convention has prescribed for them, and long for liberation from the domestic interior that confines them.

In Summer Evening, Uemura Shoen (1875-1949) depicts an elegantly dressed young woman whose back is turned to the viewer as she looks out from a covered balcony. In her left hand she holds a paper fan, and the loosely tied, gold-accented sash, subtle bird motif in the kimono’s patterning, and basket weave on the hem suggest the refinement of a geisha. The diagonal lines in the drapery of her kimono indicate motion, and we sense that though she may be paused in observation, the cessation of movement will be brief. We have no way of knowing whether she is awaiting a guest, enjoying the moonrise, or looking longingly after one who has just departed. This ambiguity leaves us wondering, and enhances the appeal of the image.

Kajiwara Hisako (1896-1988) was well known for her unpretentious paintings of working class or professional women, and this work is considered one of the most evocative examples of her distinctive approach. In Woman in Summer Attire, the sitter actively meets the viewer’s eyes rather than passively looking away. She pierces us with a stare that at once reflects a sense of boredom and defiance; her ambiguous expression leaves this work open to a variety of interpretations.

Shoen and Hisako blended traditional media and format with modern themes in their artistic practice at a time when Japan was undergoing rapid industrialization and globalization in response to invasive influence from the West. These and other works by Shoen and Hisako stand out amongst those of their contemporaries because they not only resist the male gaze, but are in fact crafted in the female gaze. There is an overwhelming feeling of anticipation, even impatience, in the women they portray.

Tori Champion, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art

Images: Summer Evening, ca. 1900, Uemura Shoen, color on silk, 84 7/16 x 24 1/2 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2009.70.11. Woman in Summer Attire, 1921, Kajiwara Hisako, ink and color on silk, 79 5/8 x 22 3/4 in., Gift of Laura Elizabeth Ingham in honor of Amalia Partridge Ingham, 94.149