Michelangelo Wednesdays

A couple of weeks ago I gave a tour in the “Michelangelo Wednesdays” series. (Quick overview: SAM curators—including myself, the curatorial lead for Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic art—give a short tour of the Michelangelo exhibition every Wednesday afternoon.) I am not a Renaissance scholar, though I do have a soft spot for Florentine art. Would I fake my way through the show, using the knowledge and vocabulary gleaned from the amazing Professor Evelyn Lincoln in my Renaissance art classes in college? Would I simply do an overview of the show, basically taken straight from the catalogue and Chiyo Ishikawa’s overviews? Maybe I would just take people around and point them toward my favorite stops in Gary Radke’s charismatic audio tour? What, oh what, was I going to do?

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What it takes

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to put a work of art on view.  To our visitors, it should seem oh-so-easy: You see painting A (something you love) one day, and on your next visit it’s replaced with painting B (something you love even more). But behind the scenes, it’s anything but. As you relax and take in the holidays, here’s a little piece of our frenetic world to consider. (And as a little holiday bonus from me to you, all images are from 1983—enjoy!)

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Heide Hinrichs: borrowed tails

Heide Hinrichs is the fourth artist in our SAM Next series, a contemporary art exhibition program at the museum. Borrowed tails, which opened in November, is a body of work the artist developed specifically for this installation, making it the first time these drawings and sculptures are presented to the public. While she was at the museum installing her show we had the opportunity to talk to her about her work.

 

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New Old & New New

I have a meeting today at the Seattle Asian Art Museum to discuss the Getty Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative. While I am there I plan to check out the New Old and the New New. A pair of installations featuring new acquisitions, it opened last Sunday, Dec. 12.

The New Old: Recent Acquisitions of Chinese Painting features 15 works of art produced between 1629-2009, many of which were recently donated to the museum in honor of director emerita Mimi Gates.  This installation also features key works by 17th century painter Bada Shanren (1626–1705) as explained in this video excerpt from last week’s members art history lecture by SAM’s Chinese Art Curator, Josh Yiu.

 The focus of New New: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Asian Art is to introduce visitors to the work of 17 artists that have come into the SAM collection since 2002. They represent China, Japan, Korea, Canada and the United States.

Christina DePaolo
New Media Manager

Behind the Scenes: The SAM Remix Tattoo Parlor

“Behind the scenes” responsibilities at an arts organization are not always the most glamorous work. In Public Programming at SAM, back-end work includes contracts, stage set-up, power point preparation, and many late-nights, among other things.  The latest of my nights, but also one of the most exciting to work on, is the quarterly SAM Remix program.  During Remix, my department has the opportunity to program the entire building in an effort to create a unique experience that engages audiences with the art on view through a more interdisciplinary and interactive approach.

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Paul Macapia – in memoriam

Paul Macapia
1934-2009
Long-time museum photographer and a great Northwest artist, Paul will be missed by all who had the pleasure to work with him at SAM.

Untitled, From the Dungeness and Grey Wolf, 1972, Paul Macapia, American, 1934-2009, color photograph, 10 3/4 x 10 3/4 in., Gift of Neil Meitzler, 77.24, © Paul Macapia

 

Why a plate?

Michelangelo Public and Private invites us into the artistic process behind some of the most astonishing works of art ever created – the Sistine Chapel frescoes. Through preparatory drawings – quick figure sketches to capture a pose, analytical studies of outstretched limbs, a highly finished portrait that will be incorporated into a populous narrative – we watch Michelangelo making decisions that lead to the finished work.

It is easy to understand why these preparatory drawings – the artist’s first ideas – are at the centerpiece of the Michelangelo exhibition. But what about some of the other objects? Read More

Trip Report – Memphis, TN

Despite working in the arts, like most people I tend to find more time to really look at art when I’m separated from my day-to-day life. Not only that, though. Wherever I am, I always have trouble separating art history from my perceptions of the world. Spending time someplace unfamiliar, I find that I almost instinctively seek insight into the people and the culture there through what the locals like to look at.

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You, me, coffee, tea

Artist John Marshall on his creative process, screen shot from the SAM video

Artist John Marshall, screen shot from the SAM video

Recently, Decorative Arts curator Julie Emerson was able to commission a coffee and tea service from silversmith John Marshall for our collection. It’s a very cool process (both commissioning and making), something the Dec Arts department had never been able to do before—that collection had always focused on historic American and European material.

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The History in Art History: How did this painting get to Seattle?

Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826-1900), A Country Home, 1854; oil on canvas 32 x 51 in. Gift of Mrs. Paul C. Carmichael, 65.80

Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826-1900), A Country Home, 1854; oil on canvas 32 x 51 in. Gift of Mrs. Paul C. Carmichael, 65.80

For me, a work of art lives on in part by its association with people, places, and times past and present.  When we see objects in museums, in isolation, how do we understand them as expressions of a maker’s personal vision and circumstances and of viewers’ expectations in the artist’s own time and over the course of generations?  Each object of historical American art that I work with has endured because someone—a collector, a critic, an artist’s descendant, maybe—has been its champion, often when few others were.  Historical American art has for so much of our past been overshadowed by the taste in this country for European art, which signaled for so many the ideal of artistic achievement and good taste. 

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The Saga of Little David

I recently found myself needing to purchase a dozen replica statues of Michelangelo’s David. Such is my job at SAM – I get to do the sometimes very random tasks associated with promoting the museum’s current exhibitions. This is the story of some amazing on-line merchants and mysteriously multiplying Davids.

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Online catalogue: more than a click

More often than not, museum books and catalogs feature masterpieces—and only masterpieces. But what about the questionable pieces, forgeries, objects in unfortunate condition, or, to be frank, ones that puzzle even the most experienced experts? Aren’t issues like that just as interesting as those surrounding highly acclaimed artworks? Because of the economics of publishing, ‘coffee-table books’, as museum catalogues are sometimes known, miss out on long lists of fascinating ‘second-tier’ objects and intriguing issues that consume much of a curator’s time.

SAM is about to change all that. We’re making our Chinese painting calligraphy and holdings more accessible to the public through a new online catalogue. Under the auspices of the Getty Foundation, we’re designing new ways of presenting information about this rich but little-known collection.  Just like in traditional catalogs, we’ll share relevant information about esteemed works of art. But this catalog will include much more.

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How do museums show that they are engaged with artists at a deep, supportive level?

While the public probably expects art museums to venerate famous creators from the historical past (Michelangelo and Alexander Calder jump to mind), few institutions are practically skilled at paying tribute to younger artists, and still more rare are those that are capable of committing the time necessary to really get to know creative men and women.  Outside of planning exhibitions and acquiring their works of art—professional practices typically reserved for artists who are substantially far along in their careers—how do museums show that they are engaged with artists at a deep, supportive level?  Limited time, limited resources, and basic risk aversion all weigh against engaging deeply with artists as a community.

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SAM video

Our new director Derrick Cartwright gives you an inside look into the Michelangelo Public and Private  and Alexander Calder exhibition galleries with curators Chiyo Ishikawa and Dr. Gary Radke.

All works of art by artist Alexander Calder in the video are  copyright © 2009 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

SAM comes clean about SOAP

As part of a self-stated wish to broaden the dialogue within/about the Seattle Art Museum’s new blog experiment, ideally as quickly as possible, it is worthwhile to respond to some of the questions that have been posted so far about the initial name of this blog. Why SOAP? To help respond to this, I asked Matthew Renton, who leads SAM’s communication efforts, to share some background.

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Deep in listening mode

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Before I became a museum director, I was an art history professor, and made my living by communicating ideas—and then coaxing them back out of bright undergraduates. I was truly happy as an art historian but realize in retrospect that listening carefully wasn’t necessarily a rewarded virtue, and even less a guarantor of success in the classroom. Reading, thinking, and speaking passionately about art and its complex intersection with history was stimulating in itself, but ultimately it didn’t require reciprocation from my audiences, except for asking them to write exams, papers, and fill out teaching evaluations at the end of the term. Since I usually got very good feedback from my students, I confess I didn’t spend much time worrying about what my own active listening might mean to those constituents. I feel differently today.  

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Andrew Wyeth, Rebel

<i>Overflow</i>, 1978, Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917 – 2009, watercolor (drybrush) on paper, 23 x 29 in. Private Collection

Overflow, 1978, Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917 – 2009, watercolor (drybrush) on paper, 23 x 29 in. Private Collection

On Wednesday night at SAM, my colleague Patti Junker delivered a sensational lecture that she titled “Andrew Wyeth, Rebel.”  Few people think about one of the premier realists of the 20th century in terms of rebellion, but SAM’s curator of American art made the case that received wisdom has tended to gloss over the more challenging, less seamless narrative surrounding Wyeth’s long output. 

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