Meet Our New PR and Social Media Intern

I’m always excited when I find myself at the beginning of a new chapter in my life.  Today marks my first day as a Public Relations and Social Media intern at the Seattle Art Museum, and the start of a new professional adventure with opportunities and possibilities to discover.

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SAM Art: Unfolding the Lotus Sutra

Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, trains our eyes on the Lotus Sutra.

From a modern perspective, it is difficult to decipher what exactly is going on in this illustration. A group of figures appear oddly perched atop a spire, while below them tiny figures wander about, oblivious to the precariously balanced deities overhead.  The image only begins to clarify when we begin to look as people would have done in 12th-century Japan.

The Lotus Sutra, depicted here, describes the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni, teaching a gathered multitude how to achieve Buddha-hood. He sits enthroned, backed by a flaming leaf-shaped halo, gesturing that he is teaching the law. Rising behind him is a decorative rendering of the tree under which he taught his first sermon. Surrounding the Buddha are two monks with shaved heads, and four richly clad bodhisattvas—enlightened beings who help others achieve enlightenment.

In the foreground, three sections of text are illustrated. The group on the left are followers come either to request or give thanks for predictions of the likelihood of their attaining Buddha-hood. The group on the far right, busily digging, represents a parable in which the Buddha describes one searching for enlightenment like a man digging on high ground (so long as the soil is dry, water is far away; but when it is damp, he knows that he is near his goal). The structure in the center is the upper portion of the Jeweled Pagoda, which wells up from the ground wherever the Lotus Sutra is truly preached.

The confused (from a Western point of view) perspective would not have troubled 12th-century viewers at all. The Buddha and his attendants who loom large are actually sitting amidst the hills of the middle ground. The figures are floating in order to make it easy for us to see them. The lower portion that appears to be below the Buddha is actually placed in front of him.

This image and accompanying text would have been deeply familiar to 12th-century readers. Unfolding the layers of image and meaning within, this Lotus Sutra frontispiece allows us to follow their lead in understanding what we see.

Lotus Sutra: Frontispiece Depicting Chapter Twelve, late 12th century, Japanese, Heian period (794–1185), handscroll; gold and silver on indigo dyed paper, wood with metal fittings, 9 3/16 x 7 3/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.171. Currently on view in LUMINOUS, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

Resolve to See More Art in 2012!

Finally a New Year’s resolution that will be fun to try and keep–come experience the art at SAM Downtown, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park! Here are our top five picks for what to see and do with SAM in January.

1. Walk through Do Ho Suh’s Gate.
Luminous: The Art of Asia closes January 8, which means there are only five more days to see Do Ho Suh’s magnificent multimedia installation and to take in this gorgeous exhibition representing  5,000 years of Asian art.

2. Take a spin in Theaster Gates: The Listening Room.
Visit the “church of wax” at SAM Downtown and touch, feel and play the records (yes-vinyl records!)  in this installation at SAM Downtown. The Listening Room also extends beyond the walls of the museum to a storefront in Pioneer Square called the Record Store, where you can be part of a listening party.

3. See a unique perspective of 1930s Seattle.
Painting Seattle at the Seattle Asian Art Museum features two painters, Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura, known in 1930s Seattle for their American realist style of landscape painting. They shared the cultural legacy of Japan and the active cultural life of Seattle’s Japantown, while they found a public audience for their work in mainstream art institutions and participated alongside the city’s advanced artists, such as Mark Tobey, Ambrose Patterson and Walter Isaacs.

4. Get ready for Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise.
Seattle Art Museum presents the only United States stop for this landmark show highlighting the complex relationship between Paul Gauguin’s work and the art and culture of Polynesia. The exhibition, on view at SAM Downtown February 9 through April 29, includes about 50 of Gauguin’s brilliantly hued paintings, sculptures and works on paper, which are displayed alongside 60 major examples of Polynesian sculpture that fueled his search for the exotic. Organized by the Art Centre Basel, the show is comprised of works on loan from some of the world’s most prestigious museums and private collections. Buy your advance tickets now!

5. Celebrate the Olympic Sculpture Park’s 5th Birthday Party.
Five years ago Seattle’s waterfront was transformed forever. Come to the Olympic Sculpture Park on January 21 to help us mark this very important milestone with food, art and other activities.

Combine some of your other New Year’s resolutions with art. Trying to exercise more? Take a walk through the Olympic Sculpture Park or ride your bike to the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Looking to save money? Take advantage of First Thursdays or SAM’s suggested admission, which allows you to pay what you can. Art can even help you decrease stress.

SAM is always happy to connect art to your life, and we look forward to seeing you more in 2012!

-Madeline Moy, Digital Media Manager

Record Store Listening Party Schedule for January 3-6

TUES | January 3
6:30 PM

Selector: John Gilbreath, Earshot Jazz and Seattle Art Museum Art of Jazz
Calling all jazz heads to the Record Store for an evening of intense listening, great conversation about jazz and the vinyl record with Seattle’s own Jazz aficionado John Gilbreath. The host of KEXP’s Jazz Theater, Gilbreath has been a rabid jazz fan since childhood. He has been immersed in the local and national jazz and performing arts scene for the last 12 years as executive director of Earshot Jazz, Seattle’s no-profit jazz-support organization. He oversees Earshot’s monthly publication and educational programs, and has produced more than 1,000 far-reaching Read More concerts, including the Seattle’s annual Earshot Jazz Festival each fall. He actively works with various Northwest arts organizations and national jazz consortia and hosts the weekly Caravan show on KBCS, he curates Seattle Art Museum’s Art of Jazz longstanding series and, in his rare spare moments, is a student of stone sculpture.

WED | January 4
6:30 PM

Selectors: Jonathan Cunningham and Rich Jensen, Hollow Earth Radio, Last Night’s Mixtape, Metro Times Music Blog
Cunningham is bound to make you think, talk and move just as he does in on Hollow Earth Radio–the weekly radio show that features music and conversation connected to Seattle’s musical hot bed known as the Central District. Broadcasts “could include anything from Jimi Hendrix to Ernestine Anderson to Ray Charles to Vitamin D to Shabazz Palaces to Wheedle’s Groove or a conversation about gentrification…they aim to unearth a local gem each week from yesteryear that more contemporary listeners need to know.”

THURS | January 5
6:30 PM

Selectors: Davida Ingram (performance artist) and a creative group of friends
C. Davida Ingram (artist/writer) and a few creative friends (Christa Bell and Lara Davis along with Chicago based lyricist Marcus Ulysses Ingram) They’ll use the Record Store collection to explore sampling and loops as a form of social reminiscence and storytelling. Ingram is a cultural worker with a dynamic background. She is bringing a brilliant group of people to the Record Store to ignite participation in unforgettable creative activities that will bring warmth to the first week of the New Year. Other special guests to be announced.

The Record Store is a temporary extension of the Theaster Gates show housed in a storefront in Pioneer Square. A collaboration between SAM and Olson Kundig Architects, the Record Store is open for the general public to browse the robust collection of records and play albums for the entire store or listen in a small group.

While nothing is for sale in the store, the exchange of ideas and concerns is encouraged. The goal is for the Record Store to function as a cultural commons where ideas, issues and moments in time are discussed, debated or responded to.

The Record Store will feature a series of “listening parties” with guest DJs, artists, community folks, dancers, musicians, urban planners, activists, etc. Each “selector” will borrow from the same collection of LP’s or brings a few of their own records that act as the sound track that illustrates their ideas. Irruptions might take various forms including: debates, writing or dance classes, silent reading, tastings, workshops, to-do-lists or a sermon.

[storefront] Olson Kundig Architects
406 Occidental Ave. S
Seattle, WA 98104

Tues| Wed | Thurs
12 – 4 pm and 6:30 – 9:00 pm

SAM Art: Happy new year!

Happy new year!

“The Year’s End”, from The Twelve Months, first half 16th century, Hans Sebald Beham, German, 1500-1550, print, Manson F. Backus Memorial Collection, 35.291.5. Not currently on view.

Favorite 2011 Moments at the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum and Olympic Sculpture Park

SAM Art: Five very beautiful women

Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, brings us a look at the work of Katsushika Hokusai.

Long before Hokusai published his famous The Great Wave of Kanagawa, he was an emerging artist, independent of any established school and struggling to get by. A popular account tells that one day the widow of Kunisada, a former leading print artist, commissioned a painting from Hokusai. She was so impressed with the results that she paid him far more than he expected. The stunned Hokusai determined to perfect his technique so that he could support his family with painting commissions.

Five Beautiful Women comes from the first half of Hokusai’s career when he was building his reputation as a producer of luxury arts for an elite audience. Here he makes the familiar subject of beautiful women fresh and exciting by arranging them vertically. The drapery of their luxurious raiment flows from one to the next like a tumbling waterfall of silk. His unique arrangement turns an otherwise static subject into an invitingly dynamic composition.

At the time Hokusai was working, Edo’s (now Tokyo) popular culture was dominated by salon gatherings of wealthy merchants, samurai, poets, and artists. At a salon, the host would customarily hang a scroll painting, like Five Beautiful Women, in a display alcove. Elegant works of art both established an atmosphere of cultural sophistication, and provided fodder for witty repartee. Party-goers could have speculated on the classification of the five women, and debated the relative merits of the “types” they represent. They are now usually identified as either five social classes (top to bottom: a noble woman, a wealthy merchant’s daughter, a house servant to the high class, a courtesan, and a shop woman) or the five Confucian feminine virtues (poetry, flower arranging, domesticity, entertainment, and literacy).

More than just a producer of landscapes, through his long career Hokusai touched on most every genre, and mastered all that caught his interest. Five Beautiful Women exemplifies his masterful painting of women, and makes palpable why his work was in such high demand.

Five Beautiful Women, 1804-18, Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760-1849, hanging scroll; ink and color on silk, 71 x 18 1/4 in., Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, 56.246. Currently on view in LUMINOUS, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

Do Ho Suh’s “Gate” Leads SAM Visitors Through 5,000 Years of Asian Art

Invited to provide a contemporary response to the historical material, internationally recognized artist Do Ho Suh created a new multimedia installation for the exhibition Luminous: The Art of Asia, on view at SAM Downtown until January 8, 2012.

Born in Korea and presently living in New York and London, Suh is the creator of the Seattle Art Museum’s famed dog-tag sculpture Some/One. Over the past year Suh and SAM have engaged in a dialogue on topics such as eastern philosophy, East Asian painting, the contemporary art scene, and art museum practices.

Suh’s installation, titled Gate, was commissioned exclusively for Luminous and transforms one of the artist’s existing fabric pieces into a screen for projection as well as a space of transition.

“Like the moment of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism, passing through a gate takes only a split second, and then it’s over,” Suh explains. “But so many things happen in such a short period of time. With this work, I wanted to extend that moment of passage, to delay it, if only for an instant, to provide the viewer that moment of insight.”

“Our notion of emptiness is quite different in the East,” Suh explains. “The void is not empty or bleak but charged with meaning.”

Watch the videos below to hear more from Suh, to see Gate in action and to take a behind-the-scenes look at the installation of the piece.

Listen Up: Record Store in the Business of Ideas

I recently volunteered at SAM’s Teen Night Out, and one of my favorite moments was watching the youth interact with the record players in Theaster Gates: The Listening Room. This exhibition features a collection of thousands of records from a defunct record store in Chicago and transforms the gallery into a lounge in which visitors are invited to pick up a record and play.

Many of the teens I observed that night clearly had never seen or handled a record player before, but there was obvious delight in figuring out how to use the machines and of being able to actually touch things at a museum.

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SAM Art: New acquisition, new installation

One of the most penetrating portraitists of the seventeenth century, Philippe de Champaigne brought his observations of real people into religious paintings, giving them a down-to-earth quality. Here, the central focus is the aged face of Elizabeth, as she affectionately greets her younger cousin, the Virgin Mary. According to the Gospel of Luke, both women were pregnant—Elizabeth with John the Baptist and Mary with Jesus. For Christians, their meeting symbolized the transition from the Old Law to the New Law of Christianity.

Born in Brussels, Champaigne was one of the key artists working in seventeenth-century France; in his work for Cardinal Richelieu he established a style based on rationalism and directness, qualities which also mark his celebrated portraiture. His mature paintings display an understated, cool clarity that is characteristic of the French baroque and also appeals to modern viewers. This recent acquisition makes its debut in the museum’s baroque art gallery today.

The Visitation, ca. 1643, Philippe de Champaigne, Flemish, active in France, 1602-1674, oil on canvas, 44 1/4 x 38 1/2 in., Partial and promised gift of the Barney A. Ebsworth Collection, 2011.12. Photo: Wildenstein Gallery. Now on view in the European art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

Record Store: A Collaboration Between SAM and Olson Kundig Architects Opens Tonight


By Guest Blogger: Alan Maskin, Partner | Olson Kundig Architects

We created [storefront] Olson Kundig Architects as an experimental work place for our firm’s community collaborations, pro-bono design work, philanthropic and volunteer work, and for design research and the development of design ideas.

The idea to have our [storefront] space become the Record Store occurred when Sandra Jackson-Dumont (Seattle Art Museum’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education + Public Programs/Adjunct Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art) visited our office to speak about her background and her practice as part of our bi-monthly lecture series. Afterwards, as we toured our office (including our [storefront] space), Sandra mentioned an idea she had for a vinyl record store, or what she calls a “storefront of ideas,” where the public could be invited to curator-led listening parties centered on a large collection of vinyl records.

She talked about it not as a pop-up, which is a popular buzzword these days, but as a social practice project. She imagined it could happen in a space like ours—I thought it was a great idea.

After several weeks of email exchanges with the general theme of “Seriously, we should do this,” it morphed into a project.

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SAM Art: Wide-eyed, and perplexing

The art on view in a new Oceanic art gallery (opening by the end of December) was once surrounded by the scent of aromatic flowers, the rustling of palm leaves, and the mesmerizing sound of shell trumpets. Museums tend to collect what fits in a glass box, and lose sight of such intangible effects. In particular, Oceanic artists rely on and revere natural materials, many of which may decay or dissolve but are no less valued.

Early observers of Rapa Nui culture and art recorded seeing small wooden figures being held up to the sky while others chanted and danced, particularly at feasts when the first fruits were offered. A male figure with a protruding stomach offers one version of Rapa Nui physiognomy. As with his skeletal companions, there isn’t a precise record of the significance of these remarkable images. This one may have been intended to portray a specific individual, with a small beard and ornaments in his elongated ear lobes. With their wide staring eyes and perplexing characteristics, the art of Rapa Nui continues to give observers more to wonder about than to confirm proven facts.

Male Figure (Moai Tangata), early 19th century, Polynesian, Easter Island (Rapa Nui), wood, bone, obsidian, 10 1/2 x 2 1/4 x 2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 68.131. On view starting at the end of December, Oceanic art gallery, third floor, SAM downtown.

Not Your Ordinary Screen Savers

Apropos the fabulous Golden “Bamboo and Poppies” Kanō school screens, and the other famous and beloved screens currently displayed in Luminous: The Art of Asia, the Seattle Art Museum’s collection of approximately 70 Asian screens, has been recently rehoused in the best state-of-the-art storage cabinets available thanks to a generous federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

SAM’s significant collection of Asian screens includes paintings of singular artistic and cultural importance. The screens range in date from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century. Together with our collection of hanging scrolls, they convey to visitors an experience of splendid art and vivid impressions of the story of painting in Japan, China and Korea.

Although SAM’s collection has a handful of Chinese wood, lacquered and cinnabar panel screens, the bulk of the collection is comprised of Japanese and Korean painted screens. The Japanese screens at SAM fall into two categories, the byōbu, or folding screens (from two up to eight panels) and the fusuma, or sliding screens, typical partitions used to divide large rooms in temples or castles. Both of these styles are represented in Luminous.

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SAM SHOP: Great for Holiday Shopping

The goal of any holiday shopping excursion is to find something for your friends, family or significant other that is genuinely special and will surprise them. Whether it is an amusing novelty item or an exquisite hand-made mask, it is important to find a gift that will bring a smile to the receiver’s face.

Normally, I wouldn’t go to a museum shop to buy my Christmas gifts, I’ll admit, but I decided to give it a try and it was a good thing I did. I always had it in my mind that SAM SHOP sold only museum paraphernalia, a place to sell catalogues and books on the featured artists and not a place to do my holiday shopping. Instead, I landed on a shop that I immediately knew housed items that my friends and family would love. As I walked around the shop, the first thing I noticed was a common theme. Everything I looked at was unlike anything I’d seen before. It seems clichéd to say, but it is true. Many of the pieces in SAM’s Shop are actually one-of-a-kind pieces made by local artists. Most of the hats and scarves are made locally and about 85% of the jewelry artists live in the area, setting this shop apart from other stores.

After my initial walk-through, I doubled back to the three things that caught my eye. First, there were the Whisky Stones. They were next to the graffiti cocktail shakers, which are fun in their own right but the stones seemed both useful and original. I spent a semester abroad in Scotland and if there is one thing that the Scottish take pride in, it’s the quality of their whisky, so these little guys immediately caught my eye.

In short, these are stones that keep your whisky cold without diluting the taste. You can buy an entire set with tumblers included or just the stones by themselves. Personally, I thought the idea was ingenious.

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SAM Art: The Wave Paintings of Tsuji Kako

Tsuji Kako (1870-1921) was an artist ahead of his time. Working when artists in Japan were systematically divided into Japanese or Western lineages, Kako was unusual for his claim that individuality is the most important characteristic of an artist, and his refusal to conform to the boundaries of genre.

As part of Japan’s effort to Westernize, an annual exhibition of the Japan Art Academy, called the Bunten, was instituted in 1907. The Bunten enforced strict delineation between Yōga (Western-style painting) and Nihonga (Japanese-style painting), requesting that artists limit themselves to one style in order to participate. Within the context of this system, juries had no context in which to evaluate Kako’s work, which blended the two styles. Lacking support for his work from the Bunten, he abandoned the academy altogether in 1921, and held his first one-man show, an unprecedented event.

Green Waves and Waves and Plovers (both ca. 1910) come from Kako’s decade long fascination with capturing waves in paint. Although painted in the form of traditional Japanese folding screens, using Japanese materials, both express an atmospheric depth and motion absent from the Nihonga style. Green Waves features bright mineral pigments on a gold ground, a style dating back to the sixteenth century. The pigment, however, is layered on with thick, visible brush strokes, that convey the motion of light and shadow across swelling waves; a clear reference to Impressionist painters. Waves and Plovers, employing linear ink brush work on paper screens, draws on a traditional means of depicting the ocean through undulating parallel lines. Here, however, Kako renders his waves with each peak as its own small, individual line. By breaking up the lines, he is able to minutely adjust the tone of the ink and the distances between the waves to subtly create the sense of swelling motion and atmospheric recession.

Waves and Plovers (detail), ca. 1910, Tsuji Kako, Japanese, 1870-1931, ink and light color on paper, 48 1/4 x 103 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.41.33.1. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

Ultimately, Kako gave up on painting waves, saying that he “did not feel the emotional momentum” anymore, a highly modern sentiment that art ought to express the artist’s emotions. Largely forgotten after his death, Tsuji Kako’s work has received a revival of popularity in the last decade, as popular taste finally matched his expressive style.

Top photo: Green Waves, ca. 1910, Tsuji Kako, Japanese, 1870-1931, ink and gold on silk, 67 7/8 x 109 1/2 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.41.32. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Sango dancewand, lecture on Wednesday

Sharp drumming, sounding like a lightning strike, signals the arrival of Sango’s devotees to a festival in his honor. Dancing to the piercing, cracking sounds and staccato rhythms, the devotee will wave wands such as this to illustrate Sango’s hot temper and punishing justice.

Sango, the Yoruba thunder deity, may be wild and belligerent but he can be assuaged by the attentions of female devotees. Showing her alliance with Sango’s moral fire, this woman’s head is adorned with the double axe, the god’s visual sign. She kneels before his authority to present an offering. Such generosity is considered a noble gesture of morality and ensures that Sango will consider blessing her with children and wealth.

Women Who Tame Thunder: Yoruba Sango Staffs
Pam McClusky, Curator, Art of Africa and Oceania
Members Art History Lecture Series: New Perspectives

December 7, 2011
7–9 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, SAM downtown

Open to SAM members and their guests. For tickets, click here.

Members: $5.00
Guests of members: $9.00

Dancewand for Sango, Yoruba, Nigerian, wood, 19 7/8 x 7 9/16 x 4 5/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 67.91. Currently on view in the African art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: A stucco masterpiece

Two sparring horsemen, galloping toward one another, are all that remain from what was once an extended frieze. Perhaps formerly on the exterior of a building, this stucco sculpture was hardy enough to brave the elements—the only loss is the once-bright polychrome that would have covered the surface. In his 1945 book Masterpieces of Persian Art, author Arthur Upham Pope introduced readers to the selected 155 works that he considered the greatest achievements of more than 5,000 years of artistic production in today’s Iran. Of just three stucco works he included, this was the only sculpture Pope called “a genuine masterpiece of ornamentation.”

Relief with two fighting horsemen, inscription, and star medallion, 12th–13th century, Persian (modern Iran), stucco, 43 1/8 x 19 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 54.29. On view starting next Wednesday, 7 December, Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic art gallery, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Gallery Offers Sneak Peek of the Upcoming Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum

Our show Earth Matters runs through December 10 and includes the work of Portland artist Kelly Neidig.  Long into the planning, neither Neidig nor the Tacoma Art Museum had any idea that the pieces in SAM Gallery’s show would also be selected for the prestigious Biennial. You can see these pieces, Monoculture 1 and Monoculture 2, right now in the SAM Gallery front windows at 1220 Third Avenue, Seattle.  TAM’s Biennial show is slated for January 21–May 20, 2012.

SAM Gallery supports local art and artists and you can too by visiting during our open hours Tuesday-Saturday 10:30 am – 5 pm.  We’re just two blocks east of the museum and SAM members can rent the artwork, which is a way to try it out before you buy.

The SAM Gallery show is thematically grouped around artists who are commenting on the fragile and imperiled state of the environment.  TAM’s show has a related subject: “the 10th Northwest Biennial will examine the vital questions of who we are as residents of the Pacific Northwest, what we look like, and what are our aspirations for our communities.”

So what’s Neidig thinking about when she paints?

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SAM Art: Golden Screens of the Kanō School

Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, returns to SAMart with an entry on the golden screens of the Kanō School.

During the Momoyama Period (1573-1603), drastic change came to Japanese art from an unusual source: Western firearms. As warlords vied for control of the country, Portuguese traders introduced Western guns and cannons to Japan.

For centuries, Japanese palaces had been built as sprawling, single-story complexes, with wooden floors and roofs, and paper walls. Sliding doors allowed rooms to open easily to the surrounding gardens, and even when shut, light permeated the thin paper. With the advent of firearms, by necessity, the Japanese rapidly designed towering fortress palaces. Walls thick enough to withstand cannon fire suddenly plunged the world of the elites into darkness.


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SAM Art: Light and Dark

In seventeenth-century Europe, many artists drained their paintings of bright colors, creating drama instead through strong contrasts of light and dark. This is striking in the ceremonial gravity of Saint Irene Tending the Wounded Saint Sebastian, attributed to the French artist Georges de La Tour and his studio. The holy woman gently removes an arrow from the young soldier, who has been persecuted for his Christian faith.

De La Tour is often mentioned as one of the many followers of Caravaggio (ca. 1571-1610), the Italian artist who pioneered the use of contrast to heighten drama and religious feeling in his paintings. This nocturnal scene of deliverance was such a popular image that no fewer than a dozen other versions exist. The original painting is probably lost; this example is one of the best of the other versions.

Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene, ca. 1638-39, Georges de La Tour and Studio, French, 1593-1653, oil on canvas, 42 x 55 7/8 in., Gift of Richard and Elizabeth Hedreen in honor of Mimi Gardner Gates, 2008.67. Currently on view in the European art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM’s Got Talent

I sit right next to Joshua Gosovich every morning at the reception desk in the administrative offices of the museum. We talk a lot. We are always updating each other on the most recent movies we’ve watched. We share ideas on how to cook unusual produce. He is an adventurous farmers market shopper and I get strange fruit in my CSA produce box. (According to Josh, roasting a Jerusalem artichoke is really good!). And of course we commiserate on the woes and hilarity of a rather public desk. In addition to being the museum receptionist and my compatriot, Josh is also an artist. He is currently having an art show at the Balmar in Ballard through December 9. I realized that I didn’t know very much about Josh, The Artist. Following is my bright-light-in-the-eyes interrogation to learn more about my artist friend.

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Luminous Labels: Object 3

Since the opening of Luminous: The Art of Asia at SAM Downtown, we have been asking you to give your perspective on selected objects that are on display in the exhibition.  A few weeks ago, we asked you to write about the Gyodo mask of a bodhisattva.

Every other week we will be unveiling a new object on display in Luminous and we want YOU to write a label for it. The labels featured in Luminous are peppered with ideas, facts and perspectives from curator Catherine Roche and Gate installation artist Do Ho Suh. The interpretations that you give in your entries are just as important as those hanging on the wall in the gallery and we want to hear them!

We encourage you to create a label that answers the questions:  how do these images make you feel? What kind journey do you think the piece took in order to get to SAM? How can you put this painting into some context? We want to know! Please send your labels to by 5pm on Monday, November 21.  Once we have received all of the label entries for this object, we will post the ones we like best on our Blog. Natasha Lewandrowski, SAM’s Curatorial coordinator, will give her input on why the posted labels were chosen and why they would work well in a gallery.  Just remember that the labels must be 60 words or less. Other than that, have fun and be creative

This 3rd installment is this oil on canvas painting by Wang Huaiging, 1944, titled Ping An – Peace VII:

We want to know your interpretations of the journey Ping An- Peace VII took to get to SAM. Please send your labels of 60 words or less to by 5pm Monday, November 21 to be considered for this week’s contest.

Lindsay Baldwin, Public Relations Intern

Ping An – Peace VII by Wang Huaiqing © Wang Huaiqing Photo: Nathaniel Willson

SAM Art: Oribe Ware

Writing SAMart this week is Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern for Japanese Art. This is her second entry in a series focusing on LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia.

Employing vivid colors and energetic, abstract designs, Oribe ware is the most dynamic type of Japanese tea ware. The style takes its name from Furuta Oribe, 1591-1615, the great tea master of his age. Designed for use in the meal accompanying the tea ceremony, a square dish like this would be used to serve fish, slowly revealing the image beneath as the meal was eaten. Oribe ware, as this tray excellently represents, broke with a tradition of elegant restraint to embrace an unprecedented level of vivacity.

This tray is meant to depict water, earth, and sky. We read it from bottom to top:

  • Starting in the lower left corner, the tray was dipped into a green glaze which visibly pooled during the firing process, evoking water.
  • Moving upward, a pink-tan band provides a bed for two semi-circles with radiating patterns. This common decorative motif represents ox cart wheels soaking in water—wooden  cart wheels needed to be soaked regularly to prevent warping. Between the two wheels, the pattern of squares and dots could represent a piece of dyed fabric. These are colors, images and activities associated with the earth.
  • The upper-most, tan portion encompasses a single large star, surrounded by three circles with trailing tails, likely comets. In the upper right corner, three arcing stripes abstractly render the long trailing clouds popular in Japanese painting. This band depicts the sky.

The ebullience that makes Oribe ware stand out amid tea ceramics reflects both the power and dynamism of the Momoyama Era (1573-1615), and, amidst political and social upheaval, a move to rebel against previous aesthetic rules, and the power structures they represented.

Square serving dish, early 17th century, Japanese, Momoyama (1573–1615)–Edo (1615–1868) period, Mino ware, Oribe style; glazed stoneware, 1 7/8 x 7 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 56.130. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

Earth Matters at SAM Gallery

In the wake of recent un-natural disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Japanese nuclear catastrophe and the sinking of a barge in our very own Puget Sound last month, Exhibitions Director Barbara Shaiman has enlisted nine northwest based artists whose work addresses the current state of the environment and the ramifications of human existence on the planet.

"Consume" by Tom Reese

Consume by Tom Reese ( Archival Digital Print, 29 x 39)

The idea for curating a show addressing the topic of environmental concerns came when Shaiman was recently viewing a landscape that, albeit aesthetically beautiful, wasn’t exactly an accurate portrayal of present conditions.

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SAM Art: Rescued Treasure

Sometime in the 16th century, a ship was carefully loaded with tens of thousands of Vietnamese ceramics and set sail across the South China Sea. It never reached its destination—off Cham Island, near the port of Hoi An, the ship and its cargo sank. This plate was salvaged from the wreck in the course of an open-water excavation in 1997-99. The excavation yielded wares as varied as celadons, polychrome enamels, and blue and white. All of the artifacts from the shipwreck date to the late 15th and early 16th centuries, when Vietnamese ceramic production and export had reached its peak in terms of numbers and aesthetic appeal. The formal beauty and sophisticated ornamentation of the so-called “Hoi An hoard” reveals the high level of artistic achievement reached by Vietnamese potters at that time.

Plate with floral spray, late 15th-early 16th century, Vietnamese, blue and white ceramic, 9 in. diameter, Gift of Mary and Cheney Cowles, 2000.133. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

This is one of the five Hoi An works included in the museum’s current special exhibition, LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia.

SAM Art: Representatives of a Forgotten Past

This fall, Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern for Japanese Art, will share additional information about a series of masterpieces in Luminous: The Art of Asia, the current special exhibition. This is her first entry.

Works of prehistoric art stand before us, modern viewers, as ambassadors of a forgotten past that still resonates with us today. Luminous includes two such prehistoric works from Japan: a small figure with distinctively bulging eyes called a Dogū, and a large, stout, terracotta soldier called a Haniwa. Separated by approximately thirteen centuries, together they represent artistic highlights of prehistoric Japan, and embody ideas of surrogate personhood that endure to the present.

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Luminous Labels: Object 2

Luminous: The Art of Asia opened last Thursday, October 13. The exhibition plays with space, time, and context, especially Do-Ho Suh’s multimedia installation, Gate. Suh and SAM curator Catherine Roche worked closely on this show, and their perspectives and thoughts are represented throughout the exhibition by way of the labels.

We have the views of an innovative artist and a talented curator – all that’s missing is YOU. We invite you to join the conversation by writing your own “Luminous Label”! Every other week, we will be posting a new object featured in Luminous, and we want YOU to create a label.

Our first installment of Luminous Labels yielded some interesting labels for the painting Krishna in a garden. We received some valuable feedback on the project, and based on those comments, we have decided to make a few changes to Luminous Labels.

Instead of choosing one single label, declaring it “the best,” and posting it in a SAM gallery, we have decided to post as many labels as possible on our blog. Our goal is to add as many voices to the conversation, to show a diversity of ideas and perspectives and spark dialogue. We will be inviting everyone to write labels for a total of 7 different objects over the course of the exhibition, October 13- January 8. Your label must be 60 words or less and to be considered for the second installment, be submitted to by 5pm Monday, October 24. Have fun and be creative!

The second installment of Luminous Labels is the Gyodo mask of a bodhisattva (pictured below). It is a Japanese mask from the Heian Period (794–1185), 1158.

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SAM Art: Tokita, Nomura, and Seattle

Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura were first-generation Japanese Americans, or Issei, who made their home inSeattle. While many artists turned their sights to the Northwest’s natural grandeur, Tokita and Nomura looked to the places they knew well—the neighborhood in and around Japantown or Nihonmachi (today part of the International District), the working waterfront, and the farmlands cultivated by Japanese American families.

Labeled American Scene painters (a popular movement in American art of the 1930s) by their contemporaries, both artists’ work reveals the details of place that derive from daily familiarity, often the intimate views one sees while walking. In their choice of subject, the particularities of place and time, and the reference to cultural heritage, they describe the perspective of American immigrants who have made a new home.

Bridge, 1931, Kamekichi Tokita, American, 1897-1948, oil on canvas, 23 1/4 x 19 1/16 in., Gift of the artist, 33.230, © Kamekichi Tokita. On view in Painting Seattle: Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura starting on Saturday, 22 October, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park.

SAM Art: A Luminous Dragon King

The stern eyes and open mouth of this fearsome mask are attributes of the Dragon King, one of the Eight Buddhist Guardians. It is thought that this mask somehow came to be separated from a valuable set of eight masks, the seven remaining of which are still housed at Toji temple in Kyoto. The mask is splendidly carved and colored, and its interior is finished with a coating of expensive black lacquer, signaling this object’s high importance.

Assembled in the twenty-first century, in a museum gallery in Seattle, this mask and the 160 other objects in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia are radically displaced from their original sites of production. Their significance has shifted from sacred to secular as they have moved from temple hall to treasure house. Here, it is their aesthetic beauty that is being celebrated, not their ritual use. The museum viewer encounters these objects with very different expectations than a thirteenth-century worshipper might have held. We expect to be educated, or even awed, but we do not—in most cases—anticipate spiritual salvation.

LUMINOUS opens to the public on Thursday, 13 October, and remains on view through 8 January 2012.

Gyodo mask of Dragon King, early 13th century, Japanese, Kamakura period, wood with lacquer, polychrome and gilt, 15 9/16 x 8 1/8 x 5 15/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 68.110. On view in the special exhibition LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, fourth floor, SAM downtown, starting Thursday, 13 October.