“I happily sweat ever so lightly in Pioneer Square’s tiny galleries; roamed the neighborhood’s cobblestones, looking for a free cup of wine (which I never found); pleasurably avoided the people I wanted to avoid; and took in art IRL next to living (and masked-up) patrons. Their body heat, errant observations, and awkwardness are part of what makes looking at art so much fun.”
Among some of the newly installed works in Seattle Art Museum’s third floor galleries is this 1960 plaster sculpture by French artist Jean Arp (1886-1966), titled Torso Fruit.
As a sculptor, painter, and poet, Arp’s life and career defy easy categorization and span multiple art movements, putting many current-day résumés to shame. Born Hans (Jean) Peter Wilhelm Arp in Strasbourg, Germany (now France), Arp—of French Alsatian and German descent—pursued art as a young adult, eventually traveling from his native Strasbourg to Weimar, Germany; Paris, France; and Munich, Switzerland, where in 1912 he came into contact with Wassily Kandinsky, briefly exhibiting with the Der Blaue Reiter group. Returning to Paris in 1914, his cohort grew to include Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso, to name a few. At the onset of World War I, Swiss neutrality drew Arp to Zürich, where he met his future wife and collaborator, Sophia Taueber, and, together with Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, and others, became a founding member of the radical and multi-disciplinary Dada movement. Dada led Arp to Surrealism and, later, Abstraction-Création—and this just brings us to the 1930s!
Though a later work, Torso Fruit is a wonderful example of Arp’s biomorphic style that began in the early 1930s. Biomorphism, as compared with other modes of abstraction and Surrealism, was considered by some artists to be a more intuitive and, therefore, truer reflection of the subconscious. With organic shapes that connect to the natural world, biomorphism was a formal strategy through which Arp could introduce chance and spontaneity into his practice (holdovers from Dada and Surrealism). In the words of Arp, “I only have to move my hands . . . The forms that then take shape offer access to mysteries and reveal to us the profound sources of life.”1
Arp produced sculptures in a variety of mediums ranging from bronze to marble, but plaster was often a first edition due to its malleability and susceptibility to touch and, ultimately, chance. As the title suggests, Torso Fruit blurs the distinctions between the form of the human body and other forms of the natural world. Even without the title, however, its sensuous, rounded contours suggest a fecund or growing form—a metamorphic process that Arp felt a duty, as an artist, to emulate and honor.
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate
Patti Payne of Puget Sound Business Journal devotes her latest column to “two uplifting programs to celebrate,” including SAM’s upcoming Par-Tee in the Park series at the Olympic Sculpture Park. This year, our annual fundraiser in support of SAM programs features an artist-designed, nine-hole mini-golf course! Tickets are still available for the cocktail night on August 21.
Lobster roll with it: Seattle PI and Eater Seattle both reported on the new chef and caterer, Shubert Ho of The MARKET, headed to the café space at Seattle Art Museum. Stay tuned for an opening date, and prepare yourself for seafood, noodles, and frosé.
“The [Kinsey] family began researching and seeking out objects, original art, artifacts, and historical documents that gave voice and expression to obscured and often untold stories of African American achievement and contribution. Fiercely committed to sharing the full narrative of our nation’s history, the collection is not restricted by medium, and pieces are both by and about Black Americans.”
“He also wanted to be a painter of social and political history, and the question he asked himself was: ‘How do you address history with a painting that doesn’t look like Giotto or Géricault or Ingres, but without abandoning the knowledge that painters had accumulated over the centuries?’”
Having grown up in Los Angeles, there is something uniquely comforting about the scene of a sun-drenched swimming pool. David Hockney, of course, is one artist whose pools come immediately mind: his bright, seductive paintings of the 1960s and 70s are highly evocative images of life and culture in Southern California, and have rendered his name nearly synonymous with the subject matter.
For Hockney, “In the swimming pool pictures, I had become interested in the more general problem of painting the water, finding a way to do it. It is an interesting formal problem; it is a formal problem to represent water, to describe water, because it can be anything. It can be any color and it has no set visual description.”
If Hockney’s iconic pools are, broadly speaking, defined by their spatial flatness, color relationships, and reduction of form through painting, Robert Arneson’s sculptural Pool with Splash is a perfect counterpoint. His exploration of the pool and its contents takes shape through ceramics: each ripple and refraction of light is represented as an immutable piece—fitted together like a puzzle—with blue and green glazes. And much like Hockney’s A Bigger Splash, Arneson’s Pool is punctuated with a foamy burst, invoking the presence of a swimmer.
Along with his contemporaries Peter Voulkos, Bruce Conner, Viola Frey, Jay DeFeo, and others, Arneson is considered part of the “Funk Art” movement—a loose affiliation of artists originally included in the 1967 exhibition curated by Peter Selz, Funk, at the University Art Museum at the University of California, Berkeley.
Arneson’s irreverent work and playful sense of humor, along with an interest in everyday objects and personal narrative, are just some of the movement’s characteristics (a reaction to the non-objectivity of abstract expressionism that dominated the 1950s). Arneson’s commitment to ceramics is also notable, and part of a larger effort to elevate the medium which, at the time, was considered merely decorative or utilitarian, and pejoratively relegated to a realm of “craft.” Measuring nearly 12 feet wide at its largest point, Pool with Splash is hardly utilitarian and its use as decoration is up for debate. Here, Arneson wryly upends the once-strict divisions separating “fine art” and “craft,” all the while making clear his mastery of ceramics. Now, if only we could swim in it!
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate
Images: Pool with Splash, 1977, Robert Arneson, ceramic with glaze, 18 1/2 x 145 x 116 in., Gift of Manuel Neri, 82.156. A Bigger Splash, 1967, David Hockney, acrylic on canvas, 95 1/5 x 96 in., Tate Modern, London
. . . And save the date for fall 2022, when SAM will debut its reinstalled American art galleries following a collaborative curation process with artists, advisors, and interns. KIRO’s Graham Johnson spotlights the project, interviewing Theresa Papanikolas, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, and Inye Wokoma, one of the three artists taking part. It’s part of their recurring series “Western Washington Gets Real.”
Here’s Andy Chia in the UW Daily with an installment of the history/ecology series, “Between Two Pines”; he writes about several examples of public art in Seattle green spaces, including the Noguchi sculpture and the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park.
“In his posts, he included descriptions of the writing spot, its coordinates, and a little review of what the writer could expect. The UPS Waterfall Park in Pioneer Square, for instance, is loud. Some holey tables require something thick to write on. The tables in Westlake Park come with the ‘buzz of downtown’ and shade depending on the time of day. . . . However, his most popular post is a picnic table in a grove at Volunteer Park.”
“In 1976, she made her most ambitious work, a 13-foot-long painting called Red Azaleas Singing and Dancing Rock and Roll Music…When it debuted in 1976 at New York’s Martha Jackson Gallery, critics were floored. Thomas herself was, too. ‘Do you see that painting?’ she once said of Red Azaleas. ‘Look at it move. That’s energy and I’m the one who put it there…I transform energy with these old limbs of mine.’”
In the 15th-16th century, this ivory salt cellar would have belonged to a wealthy European collector, adding precious salt to their meals or variety to their cabinet of curiosities. The crocodile motif, masterfully carved by Sapi artisans in Sierra Leone, would have evoked the “newly discovered” African continent. We can understand this combination of foreign taste and local craftsmanship as an early form of commissioned “tourist art,” and exotic items like this one became increasingly popular in European collections.
The Portuguese arrived on the shores of Sierra Leone in 1460, which began a short period of relative cross-cultural harmony. In the 15th and 16th centuries, urban life on the West African coast did not look vastly different from urban life in Lisbon, so Portuguese merchants were quickly able to establish relationships, trading for vast amounts of gold, ivory, pepper, and other goods. Curiosities like this salt cellar were also valuable African exports, so Portuguese merchants commissioned items to sell to collectors in Portugal. Artistic patronage structures in Sierra Leone were similar to those in Europe, which meant Portuguese patrons could request specific designs be used in commissioned works, often bringing an etching or other model to demonstrate their wishes. This exchange of ideas led to a confluence of European and African designs in many of these exported ivories.
Emma George Ross writes that ivories like this one have been described as “emerging from a period that predates power imbalances and racist imagery. Therefore, the shared African and Portuguese aesthetic that they reflect is one that was achieved through the negotiation of equals.”1 However, the rosy picture of “negotiation among equals” is at odds with the 175,000 enslaved people who were taken from Africa to Europe and the Americas during this early period of Afro-Portuguese contact. The slave trade grew exponentially with increasing Dutch and British involvement in the 17th century.
Because of the consequent power imbalance and rise of white supremacy, the African makers of carved ivories in European princely collections were often erased. Only in the 20th century did researchers rediscover the Sapi and Benin origins of certain carved ivories, returning this cross-cultural collaboration to the art historical narrative and establishing the category of “Afro-Portuguese ivories.”
– Linnea Hodge, Former (and much-missed) SAM Curatorial Division Coordinator
1 Ross, Emma George. “Afro-Portuguese Ivories.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/apiv/hd_apiv.htm (October 2002)
Bortolot, Alexander Ives. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/slav/hd_slav.htm (October 2003)
Ross, Emma George. “Afro-Portuguese Ivories.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/apiv/hd_apiv.htm (October 2002)
Ross, Emma George. “The Portuguese in Africa, 1415–1600.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/agex/hd_agex.htm (October 2002)
Image: Salt cellar, ca. 1490-1530, Sierra Leone, ivory, 8 1/8 x 2 9/16 x 2 11/16 in., Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection, 68.31.
“It’s thrilling to share with the public these formidable examples of Abstract Expressionism and postwar European art,” said Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s curator of contemporary art, in the news release. “The emotional current of these works, reflective of their specific time and context, runs from exuberant to contemplative, fierce to soaring.”
“You’d have to be living under a rock not to understand how devastating the pandemic has been for Seattle’s art and cultural community…While Seattle’s Cultural Space Agency charter has emerged to stymie cultural displacement in the city, a lot of work is yet to be done to make sure that Seattle can be a hospitable place for artists to work and live. So what’s Seattle’s next mayor going to do about it?”
“Immigrants is the title caption, but on the back Lawrence wrote, ‘The Emigrants,’ suggesting a desire for permanence in their new home. The middle figure clutches a potted rose—the national flower of the United States. Lawrence’s vision is that the arrival of all people, young and old, contributes to the expansion of America through their struggles and courage.”
I draw on the lessons of our ancestors. Our ancestors left an incredible legacy of art and, in order to honor them, it’s our responsibility to relearn that legacy, whether it’s through the art, whether it’s through the song, or through the dance. When people would travel to the mainland, there’s this incredible body of water that’s very treacherous, and a storm can come up and without warning. And so, before the people crossed the water, they prepared themselves on three levels…. They prepared themselves physically; they would actually practice paddling the canoe. And they would mentally prepare themselves, they would visualize their destination. And creativity is exactly the same thing, you visualize, you get an idea like that. And so, our challenge is to hold the idea and bring it to fruition.
– Robert Davidson
Robert Davidson is arguably one of the most versatile, creative, and visionary artists of our time. Born in 1946 in Masset village, Haida Gwaii, Davidson—countering the effects of colonialism—was able to tap the memories of his elders and help revive ancient Haida art styles, revitalizing the visual heritage of his people.
His story is nothing short of remarkable and has unfolded over 40 years through numerous artworks ranging from wood and metal to paper and canvas; original songs and dances of his Rainbow Creek Dancers; and in public exhibitions, publications, and awards. His masterful feel for cedar, from monumental totem poles to expressive masks, links him to generations of some of the most accomplished artists of all time, including his maternal relative, Charles Edenshaw (ca. 1839-1920). The trajectory of his carving places him among the masters who pushed Haida art to a breathtaking sophistication and refinement.
As his engagement with Haida culture and art has grown and his artistic practice has matured, Davidson has crafted an individual and distinctive approach to abstraction that is grounded in tradition yet expressive of the experiences, intellect, and creativity of an artist in his own time. In the early 1980s, he began to paint largescale paintings in gouache, experimenting with color, composition, and figural abstraction. A decade later, while still engaged with carving projects, he incorporated acrylic painting into his practice, adopting a hard-edge technique that has precision and crispness but retains elasticity and movement. The subjects (he gives us clues in the titles) might refer to personal experiences, musings on Haida art, or legends drawn from the corpus of Haida oral traditions.
Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands) is an archipelago of two large and more than 150 small islands that lie sixty miles off the British Columbia mainland. Formed by glacial erosion, floods, tsunamis, and changing sea levels, this cluster of islands sits at the juncture of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. Here the ocean drops precipitously from three hundred to three thousand feet, creating an environment rich in marine resources and marked by dramatic climatic events, including gale-force winds. In Canoe Breaker, Davidson introduces his audience to a powerful force and its ancient origins: Southeast Wind.
Southeast Wind has ten brothers or, in some accounts, nephews, who are manifestations of his powerful force. John Swanton, an ethnologist with the Bureau of American Ethnology from 1900-1944, recorded a story told to him by a Haida man named Abraham in the winter of 1900 about Master-Carpenter who went to war with Southeast Wind because he was sending too much rainy, stormy weather to the people. After four failed attempts to make a seaworthy canoe, Master-Carpenter succeeds and sets out on his mission. He seizes the matted hair (kelp) of Southeast Wind and pulls him into the canoe. The Wind sends the first of his nephews, Red Storm Cloud, who turns the sky red, followed by Taker off the Tree Tops who blows so hard that tree branches come down around Master-Carpenter in his canoe. Next, Pebble Rattler brings rolling waves that violently toss the rocks and Tidal Wave covers the canoe with water. Other brothers bring mist and melted ice. During all this wind activity, Master-Carpenter is putting medicine on himself that he has brought with him for the task, as Haida travelers and fisherman (since the beginning of time) are keenly observant of the weather—perhaps a metaphor for preparing for the unknown, as in performing a new song or creating an art work.
Southeast Wind is represented in this painting by an image of the killer whale, which becomes human when on land. A human-like nose and eye signal this transformative nature. The large ovoid is its head, and a black three-pointed shape defines the lower jaw. Black U-shapes with red ovals indicate the pectoral and dorsal fins, and the tail is shown at the very top. The entire image is dematerialized without being wholly abstract and shows how Davidson’s art practice moves effortlessly from figuration to abstraction.
– Barbara Brotherton, Curator of Native American Art
 See Charles Edenshaw work in SAM’s Collection: Platter, argillite carving: 91.1.127
The Seattle Asian Art Museum is open again and events continue to be virtual for the time being—so tune in to get creative and find inspiration through artworks and performances from across Asian cultures before your next visit to the museum! Learn about the different ways that Asian art can connect to dance and music with a performance by Hengda Dance Academy. Consider how body movement informs Asian art as we practice a variety of mudras based on sculptures at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Then create your own work of art inspired by movement, rhythm, and more with painter and printmaker Janet Fagan.
Family festivals at the Seattle Asian Art Museum connect families with performances, art activities, and other programming related to SAM’s Asian art collection.
Take a close look at Monet’s 1885 painting Fishing Boats at Étretat with Nicholas Dorman, SAM’s Jane Lang Davis Chief Conservator. Dorman shares about the canvas, the colors, and the layers of revisions that makes SAM’s single Monet painting sing. As the inspiration for the current Monet at Étretat exhibition at Seattle Art Museum, Fishing Boats at Étretat was closely examined and conserved, revealing much about the context of Monet’s artistic development at this pivotal moment in his career. Learn all about advances in paint and the cumbersome process of plein air painting in 19th-century France in this video.
One of the Monet at Étretat galleries is dedicated to Monet’s process and features an easel similar to one Monet would have used, as well as the backs of two paintings. This demonstrates the physically demanding process Monet embarked on in painting outside, and the materials available to work with at the time. The exhibition features 10 paintings created by Monet and 12 works by other artists of his era, as well as other materials addressing the artist’s engagement with the fishing village of Étretat on the Normandy Coast of France in the mid-1880s. Get your tickets today to see Monet at Étretat on view at Seattle Art Museum through October 17.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM’s Content Strategist & Social Media Manager
“We tend to think of somebody like Monet as successful all his life,” Ishikawa said. “But with a career of that many years and of that many different concerns, decade by decade, it’s very interesting to me to think more about the kind of struggles that he had and the way that he had to work out these problems on his own.”
“In a preconcert interview, [festival artistic director and violinist James] Ehnes had remarked, ‘We’re really hungry for live performance,’ and that hunger showed in the zest and urgency of the music-making.”
“These women come from vastly different backgrounds and have made widely disparate types of work, but they’ve often been treated the same way: as an archetype, like the wise crone in fairy tales. And though the old-woman artist has spent her whole life building her own agency, when she finally makes it to the mainstream, she gets presented primarily as an object of fascination.”
Nancy Worden made art that ignited conversations with narratives to be worn, inviting curiosity so as to bypass shyness. A necklace in the museum’s collection illustrates her gifts, and emerged after she visited the Seattle Art Museum in 1993. There she saw what she calls a “very powerful and haunting piece”––a Mesquakie bear claw necklace from the Chandler-Pohrt collection in an exhibition entitled Art of the American Indian Frontier. Here’s what she saw:
This Mesquakie necklace features 40 claws from several massive grizzly bears who hunted buffalo on the plains of the Midwest. It was once worn in reverence for bears and offered a link to the spiritual essence of their tremendous force. Struck by the visual strength of that necklace, Nancy sought out claws of resin, mink fur, quarters, buttons and other elements to create her own. For her, it brought up concerns about how hunting was enacted in Kittitas County, where she grew up. Her next inspiration came from the news. As she recounts, “While I was working on the necklace, Princess Diana was killed, fleeing from cameras that hunted her her whole adult life. So it seemed fitting to put her photo in the piece––set in a camera lens. The piece is about hunting and shooting, using a camera as a gun. ‘Dead or Alive’ is an old cliché from the movies and seemed an appropriate title for a piece about an obsession with capturing animals or a beautiful person. For some reason we have to have a piece of them to take home, whether they are dead or alive.”
What is behind the camera lens at the bottom of the necklace is a portrait of Princess Diana, wearing a crown––a conventional sign of royalty. Meanwhile, she is surrounded by imitation bear claws and beads made out of quarters, mink, and camera parts. The assembly would not go unnoticed when worn, and would prompt a story that reflects on Nancy’s desire for imaginary connections to be made.
Dead or Alive was featured in the SAM exhibition, A Bead Quiz, in 2010. Nancy once said, “You can pretty much look at everything as whether or not it’s a potential bead.” On the occasion of the exhibition, SAM filmed a trip to her studio to witness the vast array of beads she discovered or invented–– from oranges to typewriter balls to pennies with mirrors. Here is a trip back to that visit.
– Pam McClusky, SAM Curator of African and Oceanic Art
 This bear claw necklace is seen in: David W. Penney, Art of the American Indian Frontier: The Chandler-Pohrt Collection (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1992). Cat. no. 45.
“When you arrive in the last gallery, SAM’s painting—“Fishing Boats at Étretat”—glows against the plum-colored walls, along with seven other Étretat paintings by Monet. It’s a glorious room, with seascapes and monumental rocks that emerged from Monet’s brush as he laid down quick strokes of the varied colors he observed in the moment.”
“Here we see the man not as the progenitor of mass-produced prettiness, but as a stalwart artist trying to both please a fickle art market and express something true about nature, atmosphere and his home environment.”
“Phillips says one of her main goals in the podcast is to ‘desegregate the arts from other essential needs’ and to frame it as something just as crucial to human life as things like housing and electricity. ‘It’s an integral part of everything we do, but we tend to segregate it and make it an add-on,’ she says.”
“It’s such a palimpsest,” Báez said, looking over the water to the downtown skyline. “Thinking of centuries of development that have happened here — what was negotiated for that to happen, what was given and what was taken?”
The Warmth of the Sun Recently, we have really been feeling the heat of the sun! This wonderful and mysterious celestial body is a life-giving force and, without its presence, we would be in darkness with our companion species and without food resources. For millennium, Indigenous Peoples have understood the connectedness of humans to the forces of the land, water, and sky.
Raven, a wily trickster and culture hero, is credited with bringing humankind many important gifts to aid in their survival, like water, light (in the form of the sun, moon, and stars), and ceremony. His questionable deeds and adventures—and especially his voracious appetite—are well documented in orally transmitted stories (later written down by anthropologists) that form a corpus of oral traditions that demonstrate important teachings about Indigenous values and wisdom. These “legends” formed part of the “encyclopedia knowledge,” called hečusəda in the Lushootseed language of our region, whose teachings reveal the knowledge that humans need to live respectfully in the world, and which would be passed down through the generations.
In this famous story, the world is in darkness and humans are suffering. A great chief is the only one with light, which he keeps in his treasure box. Raven disguises himself as a hemlock needle so that the chief’s daughter would drink it and become pregnant, thereby giving the chief a beloved grandson, Raven himself, in the form of a human child. The raven-child is unrelenting in his desire for his grandfather’s treasure box and will not stop crying until he is given it. With the box safely in hand, he reverts to his raven form, flies through the house’s smoke hole, and releases the sun, moon, and stars, thus illuminating the world for all of its creatures.
In this print by George Hunt, Jr., Raven Releasing the Sun, the artist shows the crafty protagonist in the moment after he has opened the chief’s treasure box and released the first of its precious items—the sun—which the artist has depicted as a mask-like face. The rays of the sun are so formidable as to reveal themselves as bold, red tapering lines embedded with formline ovoids, U-shapes, and three-pointed “trigons”—the building block of Northwest Coast design.
George Hunt, Jr. is a part of the renowned Hunt family of artists that goes back generations to the village of Fort Rupert (Tsaxis), British Columbia.1 Descendants of the Kwaguł people, who still live there, trace their occupancy to at least 6,000 years. In 1849 the Hudson’s Bay Company opened a fort there and drew an active exchange between Indigenous People of the coast and the traders.
In the early twentieth century, famed anthropologist Franz Boas collaborated with George Hunt (1854-1933), who provided invaluable cultural material (art objects and cultural information) to Boas’s expanding exhibitions at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, and to the many volumes Boas published on the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl). George Hunt was half Tlingit, the son of a high-ranking chief’s daughter, Mary Ebbetts Hunt (Anislaga) from Klukwan, Alaska, and an English fur trader. He was born in Fort Rupert in 1854 and deeply enmeshed in Kwaguł art, culture, and ceremony. George Hunt, Jr, the artist of this print, is a directly connected to this lineage. He is a well-known carver and painter, like his relatives Mungo Martin, Henry Hunt, and Tony Hunt. Interestingly, his native name Nas-u-niz means “Light Beyond the World.” This story of Raven was likely brought to the Hunt family by George’s great-great-grandmother, Mary Ebbetts Hunt, herself an accomplished weaver.2
The Newest United States Forever Postage Stamp
“Many depictions of this story show Raven with the Sun in his mouth representing the stealing of the Sun. I was trying to showcase a bit of drama . . . The climax of the story is after Raven has released the sun and the moon and has opened his grandfather’s final precious box, which contained the stars. In this design I am imagining Raven in a panicked state of escape—transforming from human form to raven form and holding on to as many stars as he can while trying to escape the clan house.” – Rico Worl
– Barbara Brotherton, SAM Curator of Native American Art
Seattle Times photojournalist Alan Berner snaps the member preview of SAM’s “refreshing” exhibition, Monet at Étretat, which opens to the public this Thursday. The focused exhibition features paintings from the famous artist’s sojourns to the seaside village; you can practically feel the sea spray. Come inside and cool off with art!
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations
Image: Waves at the Manneporte, ca. 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, oil on canvas, 29 × 36 ½ in., North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Gift of Ann and Jim Goodnight, 2016.8.5, image courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art
“I’m doing shoes because I’m going back to my roots. In fact, I think I should do nothing but shoes from now on.”
– Andy Warhol, July 24, 1980
When invoked, Andy Warhol brings to mind a near-infinite number of iconic images. From soup cans to politicians to celebrities, his Pop aesthetic and reputation lives on: “With an irreverent attitude toward art and a glorification of glamour, Warhol, paradoxically, fused high art, low culture, high society, and the avant-garde, transforming the art of an age and cultivating a lifestyle of celebrity.”
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Warhol was a prolific explorer of painting, photography, printmaking, drawing, fashion, television, and film. The Factory cemented Warhol’s reputation and legacy. However, in the 1980s, the last decade of his life, Warhol pivoted away from the images of celebrity that made him a household name, and returned to what in 1966 he had referred to as “just a phase [he] went through”: painting.
It was in this context that Warhol began a body of work known as his Diamond Dust Shoes. Searching for a new direction to take his work, he honed in on earlier subjects and processes. In the case of the Shoes series, Warhol went “back to [his] roots” as a commercial artist, working in the 1950s for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and I. Miller and Sons, where he illustrated, among many things, women’s footwear.
Harkening back to what was once an ad-campaign assignment for Halston, Warhol purchased a selection of women’s shoes that he arranged on the floor. After taking photographs of the strewn compositions, he sent the images to his printer, Rupert Smith, to be screened and coated with diamond dust.Diamond Dust Shoes (1980-81)in SAM’s collection—a gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection last year—is acrylic, silkscreen ink, and diamond dust on linen. The graphic contrast of pastel purples, greens, and blues is striking when set against the dark black background, and further heightened by the subtle glittering of diamond dust.
Diamond DustShoes rather poignantly connects Warhol’s later work to his origins as a young illustrator in New York, collapsing the time, space, and difference between the two modes of artistic production. The throughline, of course, is Warhol’s continued involvement and fascination with fashion, cultural consumption, mass-produced images, celebrity, advertising, and a little (or lot of) glamour.
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate
 Andy Warhol, entry for Thursday, July 24, 1980, in The Warhol Diaries, ed. Pat Hackett (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1989), 206.  Joseph D. Ketner, “Warhol’s Last Decade: Reinventing Painting,” in Andy Warhol: The Last Decade (Munich, Germany: Delmonico Books-Prestel), 15.  Andy Warhol in an interview with Gretchen Berg, “Andy Warhol: My True Story,” Nov. 1, 1966, in I’ll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Any Warhol Interviews, 1962–1987, ed. Kenneth Goldsmith (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2004), 88.  “A la Recherche du Shoe Perdu Portfolio by Andy Warhol,” Guy Hepner, www.guyhepner.com/artist/andy-warhol-art-prints-paintings/a-la-recherche-du-shoe-portfolio-by-andy-warhol/.  Philips Auction, “Andy Warhol’s ‘Diamond Dust Shoes,” www.phillips.com/article/29694970/warhol-diamond-dust.
“‘We’re trying to decenter whiteness and show something that more truly reflects America and its history,’ [SAM curator Theresa] Papanikolas says. ‘The way the [American] galleries are organised now is a greatest-hits presentation very much focused on masterworks’…Largely left out of this ‘very canon-focused presentation,’ she says, are African Americans, the reality of slavery, the history of labour and the extraction of resources in the US. ‘We want to tell the stories of the hidden histories,’ the curator says.”
“Many places feel off-limits or unwelcoming to families of color, an effect of institutionalized racism that research has shown harms children’s development. ‘Look, Listen and Learn’ is presenting local cultural and learning resources that are welcoming to families of color.
‘I wanted to showcase for families some of the places where it is safe to explore, to look, listen and learn freely,’ said Thomas-Matson.”
“If you don’t pay attention to these objects, you are never going to adequately embrace the history of women artists, artists of color or enslaved artists, because you have to look at what they were ‘allowed’ to make,” [curator Timothy Burgard] said. “You have to look at pots, you have to look at quilts, you have to look at the beautiful ironwork on balconies in New Orleans.”
Quilt-making, as a genre, is as vast and varied as America itself, and the stories and histories embedded in each unique quilt, pieced together and often stitched by many hands, are part of what makes the craft a quintessential form of American art.
This is especially the case for the quilts of Gee’s Bend, where generations of Black women “have created hundreds of quilt masterpieces dating from the early twentieth century to the present.”1 The quilts are not bound to “traditional” techniques and results, but rather take the form of the quilt and reimagine it altogether. “Housetop,” “bricklayer,” and “my way” are just some of the many styles made by Gee’s Bend women, whose ingenuity and use of salvaged fabric, worn garments, and textile scraps have earned them international acclaim.
Boykin, Alabama, historically known as Gee’s Bend, sits at a bend of the Alabama River, framed on three sides by the natural boundary. This geographic isolation has kept the rural, Black community small—though 44 miles southwest of Selma, its current population hovers just over 250. Many still living in Boykin are the descendants of enslaved men and women who worked the fields belonging to Mark H. Pettway, who in 1845 purchased the land from Joseph Gee. Upon the abolition of slavery, many continued working for the Pettways as sharecroppers and tenant farmers—an extension of servitude, or simply slavery by another name. In the late 1930s, the Farm Security Administration, created as part of the New Deal, established Gee’s Bend Farms, Inc., a cooperative pilot project designed to support and sustain the Gee’s Bend community. The government subdivided properties, built homes, and sold tracts of land, giving its African American families control of the land they worked for the first time.2
Celebrated today for their singular aesthetic sensibility, the quilts of Gee’s Bend were born out of geographic isolation, a scarcity of materials, and a need for warmth. Yet, despite these limitations, hundreds of quilted artworks have been produced—each maker pushing the boundaries of what a quilt is and can be. Annie Mae Young is one such woman, who, in her words, “never did like the book patterns some people had,” and instead opted for quilts characterized by their larger blocks and long, meandering strips.3
Impressively, Young completed her first quilt while a child, with knowledge that was passed down through her family, from mother to daughter. She started cutting and piecing “anything [she] could find” around the age of 13 or 14, often “old dress tails and pants legs.”4 Ultimately, it was a photograph of Young in front of her 1976 Strip Medallionquilt—an iconic “work clothes” quilt featuring red, yellow, and brown corduroy stripes, and bands of denim—that catapulted Gee’s Bend quilts into the national imagination in the late 1990s.5 In 2002, the exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,showcased over 60 quilts and travelled to 12 venues around the country, cementing the legacy of the community of women and their craft.
With repetition and rhythm, Blocks (2003)is visually organized in an improvisational manner with a bold palette—an exemplar of Young’s work and style. Her individuality and innovation as a quilter is evident, but the quilt also represents the community of which she was an active member, the endurance of matrilineal knowledge, and the power of collective work to breed beautiful acts.
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate
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.
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.
“…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.”
“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.”
“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.”
– 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. 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.” 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.
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.”
– 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
 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.”
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.
“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.”
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. 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.
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.”
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
Follow an audio tour of the Olympic Sculpture Park the next time you find yourself strolling along Seattle’s waterfront. Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art offers four stops along the Z-Path that runs through the park. This week we are featuring Seattle Cloud Cover, by Teresita Fernández. This artwork connects the upper park area to the stunning waterfront. Her work incorporates images of the changing sky discovered in nature and art, and offers a beautiful view of downtown and the park.
The Olympic Sculpture Park evolved out of a mutual commitment between SAM and the Trust for Public Land to preserve downtown Seattle’s last undeveloped waterfront property. The Seattle Art Museum resolved to return the site as much as possible to a functioning ecosystem, while providing a unique setting for outdoor sculpture and public recreation. This was no small task given a century of change amidst the state’s largest urban environment. The design for the park grew out of a desire to embrace the city’s energy and to create collaboration between art, landscape, architecture, and infrastructure. It also afforded a wide range of environmental restoration processes, including brownfield redevelopment, salmon habitat restoration, native plantings, and sustainable design strategies. The Olympic Sculpture Park is open all year and always free!
“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.”
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
Take a tour through some of the large, stunning artworks of the Olympic Sculpture Park with Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. This audio tour offers a history of the park and new views of artworks that have become iconic elements of Seattle’s waterfront.
One of the largest works, Wake by Richard Serra, is located in the park’s valley, in the Northeast corner. For artist Richard Serra, space is a substance as tangible as sculpture. He uses materials and scale to alter perception and to engage the body, encouraging consciousness of our relation to space. Follow along as Dedon shares the artist’s process and leads you through various ways to experience the work depending on how you approach it.
The Olympic Sculpture Park is SAM’s third location and it opened January 2007. Covered in monumental artworks, this award-winning nine-acre sculpture park on the waterfront is Seattle’s largest downtown green space and is just one mile north of the Seattle Art Museum. As the site of prior brown field, restoration was at the heart of the development of the park as well as integration of the urban core of the city with the wild coast line designed to foster the recovery of salmon habitat. The park is open all year and always free.
“She shows me a sculpture with the head of a noble-looking seal—but the head is on top of a human body with a giant ass. Where the buttcheeks should be are two lighter colored circles, as if the creature had shaved just its rear end. It’s a beautifully made, oddly whimsical object that seems to wink at you: Don’t take anything too seriously.”
“We’re made of flesh, after all, and we need experiences. And it’s an experience to see objects in all their three-dimensionality … It’s touching to see these objects that have persisted through time.”
In checking out the exhibit, I couldn’t help but reflect on all the struggles and events that have ultimately lead to where we are today. SAM tasked me with making some work around the exhibit and so I decided to get some portraits of my favorite local artist friends, Cristina Martinez and Ari Glass in the space. We’ve all been inspired by Lawrence so this opportunity was really special.
Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle 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, and SAM will be its only West Coast venue. These modernist paintings chronicle pivotal moments from the American Revolution through to westward expansion and feature Black, female, and Native protagonists as well as the founders of the United States. Lawrence interprets the democratic debates that defined the early nation and echoed into the civil rights movements during which he was painting the Struggle 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.