Object of the Week: Flower Ball

During his time in New York in 1994, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami developed a style of art he describes as “East-meets-West” or “high-meets-low.”[1] Featuring bright colors and a vivid style that is ingenious in its simplicity, Murakami quickly became a renowned contemporary artist, collaborating with prominent cultural figures such as Kanye West and Pharell Williams.

Flower Ball speaks to the beauty of individuality and diversity. Each flower is unique in its colorations and size, situated harmoniously to create the illusion of a three-dimensional ball. The smiling, emoji-like faces at the center of each flower embody a sense of joy and innocence, and have become one of Murakami’s most featured motifs.

Murakami has become increasingly concerned with using his joyful artwork to balance out what he sees as sorrow or tragedy associated with minority groups in America.[2] This topic is a personal one for Murakami, based on his own experiences as an outsider in New York. The prominence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in response to anti-Black violence has also had an impact on Murakami’s artistic motivations. His simple pop-art images, bold and effervescent, attempt to offer an equilibrium to sadness, highlighting the joy and beauty of diversity. “If my art can effect any change here and now,” Murakami explains, “I want to contribute it not only to give back but to give power to the Black community plagued by the racial injustice.”[3]

This discussion regarding the necessity of celebration and inclusion in the face of tragedy and exclusion is more essential than ever in the current climate of not only the BLM movement, but the recent violence towards Asian Americans as well. The divisiveness and inequities revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic and continued racial discrimination have created unsafe spaces for many groups, with countless instances of vitriol and violence.

Works like Flower Ball remind us that differences between individuals are beautiful and vital––a concept embodied in the diversity of each iconic flower situated together in harmony. As a global art museum, SAM promotes the voices of Black, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), Latinx, immigrant communities, minority groups, and all other diverse actors who contribute to the beauty of art, media, culture, and society here in America and across the globe.

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


[1] https://hbr.org/2021/03/lifes-work-an-interview-with-takashi-murakami
[2] https://hbr.org/2021/03/lifes-work-an-interview-with-takashi-murakami
[3] https://www.instagram.com/p/CBPI4YRl5gB/?utm_source=ig_embed&ig_rid=f0315211-5e0c-4448-87b3-76a3475193a6
Image: Flower Ball, 2002, Takashi Murakami, acrylic on canvas, 98 1/2 in., Gift of Richard and Elizabeth Hedreen, 2016.24.1 2002 © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Photo: Jueqian Fang

Masterpiece Moments: Five Beautiful Women by Hokusai

Did you know that you can experience art by the famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai at the Seattle Asian Art Museum? Learn all about Hokusai’s Five Beautiful Women, guided by Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO Amada Cruz. A household name in Japan and known widely worldwide, Hokusai is well regarded for his iconic prints of the Great Wave and Red Fuji. Hokusai enjoyed a prolific 70 year career, during which he created an estimated tens of thousands of woodblock prints. His creative energy and genius can also be found in his paintings, which unlike prints, were not produced in multiples and are more rare, such as this work in our collection.

SAM was selected to participate in the Bank of America ‘Masterpiece Moment’ program—a new series of videos that showcase works of art in the collections of 25 museum partners across the United States. For more than three decades, Bank of America has generously supported a variety of programs at SAM. The Art Conservation program is one major initiative that most recently helped restore Alexander Calder’s The Eagle at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Additionally, the Museums on Us program supports SAM’s ongoing operations and gives their cardholders special access to SAM.

Painted in 1810, Five Beautiful Women features women of different social backgrounds in an intriguing hierarchy and differentiated by their clothing. The garments and accessories prompt us to consider clothing and its relationship to our identity. At the top, a woman in a kimono decorated with an iris design and lavish obi sash is from a high-ranking warrior family. Below her, a young woman from a wealthy merchant family wears a shibori tie-dyed kimono and is practicing flower arrangement. In a black kimono with floral designs and butterfly-shaped hat, the woman in the middle is a lady-in-waiting in the residence of a shogun or daimyo, a Japanese feudal lord. A high-class courtesan, identified by her front-tied obi with a peacock feather pattern, is below her. Anchoring the work is a women in a simple brown kimono wearing a checkered obi sash and she reclines on the floor reading a book. Some scholars suggest she is a widow because of her plucked eyebrows and somber colored robes.

Bank of America recognizes the power of the arts to help economies thrive, educate and enrich societies, and create greater cultural understanding. The Masterpiece Moment program was launched to both celebrate great works of art and provide critical funding for museums across the country, including SAM, during a very difficult time. We are deeply grateful to Bank of America for their incredible support of SAM. Learn more about this wonderful Hokusai work in SAM’s collection by visiting the Masterpiece Moment website. New videos are released every other Monday, and we hope you’ll follow along!

Muse/News: Issei & Nisei Art, Breakthrough Moments, and Lightweight Minimalism

SAM News

Japanese-language site Jungle City highlights Northwest Modernism at SAM, an installation featuring work by four legendary Japanese American artists of Seattle: Kenjiro Nomura, Kamekichi Tokita, Paul Horiuchi, and George Tsutakawa.

Architectural Digest includes the Olympic Sculpture Park on their list of the “6 Best Public Sculpture Parks to Visit This Spring and Summer.”

Nicole Pasia for the Seattle Times with recommendations for celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, including the reopening of the Seattle Asian Art Museum on May 28.

Local News

“Part satire, part pop art hallucination”: Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne on MS PAM, the street-level expansion of Martyr Sauce, Tariqa Waters’s Pioneer Square gallery.

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig reports on Murmurations, a collaboration of six cultural institutions—Jacob Lawrence Gallery, Henry Art Gallery, On the Boards, Northwest Film Forum, Frye Art Museum, and Velocity Dance Center—with projects happening all summer.

Also in the Stranger: Chase Burns on the breakthrough moment for artist Drie Chapek, whose paintings and collages are now on view at the Greg Kucera Gallery.

“The breakthrough moment happened after Chapek picked up painting again in 2016, when a gallerist who presented her work in Edison, Washington, suggested she talk to the gallerist’s friend in Seattle named Greg. That Greg was Greg Kucera. When Kucera came to Chapek’s studio, “He was like, ‘Why haven’t you ever contacted me?’” She broke out laughing as she told the story. “I was like, ‘Check your email, dude.’”

Inter/National News

“Who doesn’t love a great find?” asks Menachem Wecker for Artnet, as he ranks seven of the greatest lost-art discoveries.

Jenna Wortham for the New York Times Magazine on the “glamour in the quotidian” of Deana Lawson’s photographs of Black people.

Alex Greenberger for Art in America on Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “lightweight minimalism.”

“Amid it all is an acute sense of loss, though it’s intentionally ambiguous who—or what—is no longer present. How viewers make sense of it all depends on their knowledge of world history and Gonzalez-Torres’s biography, as well as their own identity.”

And Finally

Best friends reunite, visit anthropomorphic deer statues, and talk.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Nina Dubinsky

Object of the Week: Lined Robe

This show-stopping bingata robe comes from Okinawa, the southernmost islands of Japan. With brilliant colors and a rhythmic pattern of cherry blossoms, swallows, irises, and flowing water, it is descended from an important textile tradition. See if you can spot it during your next visit to the Asian Art Museum, which reopens to the public at the end of May.

Bingata textiles are created with a paste-resist technique using either stencils or freehand motifs. The name refers to this process, not to the fiber or weave of the textile itself. This bingata robe is made of silk, but cotton and ramie were also used as a base. In paste-resist dyeing, a thick, water-soluble paste is applied to a textile in order to keep pigment or dye from coloring selected areas. For bingata, this paste is traditionally made from a cooked rice flour mixture. When the paste is dry, multiple layers of pigment are then brushed onto the open areas with thick, short brushes. Once the pigment has dried, the resist paste is washed away but the color remains. The process can be repeated many times to create detailed designs of many colors.

A Japanese katagami (paper stencil). Resist paste is applied to the open/white areas. When the paste is dry and the stencil removed, dyes or pigments are applied to the paste-free area, bringing to life the irises and their leaves.

Okinawa was an independent kingdom known as Ryukyu until it was formally annexed by Japan in 1872.  In 1879, Japan’s central government abolished the Ryukyu monarchy and renamed the region Okinawa. Under the Ryukyu monarchy, the production and consumption of bingata was tightly connected to the royal court. Expensive and labor-intensive, bingata was reserved for members of the monarchy. Family workshops, patronized primarily by the royal family, produced bingata from start to finish. The large-scale pattern and yellow ground of this striking robe are characteristic of the garments worn by the highest-ranking members of the Ryukyu royal family.[1]

When the Ryukyu monarchy was abolished, bingata was in danger of disappearing. Without the patronage of the royal family, bingata production collapsed. In the following decades, increasing popularity of western-style dress and the violent conflicts of World War II (some of which occurred on Okinawa) further diminished interest in traditional textiles like bingata. After World War II, descendants of bingata family workshops worked to revive the craft. The patterns of bingata were applied to objects other than garments, including folding screens, greeting cards, calendars, and placemats. Today, Okinawan makers apply the colors and patterns of bingata to a range of garments and accessories in an expression of regional identity.

– Rachel Harris, SAM Asian Art Conservation Associate


[1] Rathburn, William Jay. “Okinawan Weaving and Dyeing,” in Beyond the Tanabata Bridge: Traditional Japanese Textiles (Thames and Hudson/Seattle Art Museum, 1993), 196.
Images: Lined robe, early 20th century, Japanese, plain weave silk crepe with paste-resist stencil decoration (Oki., bingata) lined with modern replacement silk broadcloth, 47 3/4 in. long (from collar) x 43 in. wide, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 89.155. Paper stencil (katagami), late 19th century, Japanese, mulberry bark paper treated with persimmon juice and silk thread, 19 x 14 1/2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.1782

Asian Art Conservation During the Pandemic Pause

As we prepare to reopen the Asian Art Museum to the public on May 28, we’re sharing some of the work that has happened inside the museum while it has been closed. The Asian Paintings Conservation Center will not be open when we reopen, but there will be a monitor outside of it where you can learn more about what SAM staff is doing to ensure that Asian artworks are cared for and can be enjoyed by generations to come.

Though limited due to the pandemic, conservation activities have continued at the Asian Paintings Conservation Center. With generous, multi-year funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the staff has used this time to ensure the new center operates and is fully stocked with the specialized tools and materials required for the conservation of Asian paintings. Grant funding allowed the team to acquire pigments, tools, adhesives, technical furniture, and many different types of paper in anticipation of reopening.

While waiting, the studio has been used extensively by SAM’s conservation team. Chief conservator Nick Dorman used our new Leica stereo-binocular microscope to examine and document a late 14th-century Tibetan thangka painting scheduled for display. Consisting of pigments painted on a cotton support, the thangka depicts four mandalas, universes of Buddhist deities. To ensure the painting can withstand exhibition, Dorman examined it for evidence of flaking and lifting pigments, as well as delicate areas. He also examined and documented the condition of the cotton fabric support. Given the painting no longer has its original textile mounting fabrics, this work, as in many Western museums, is in a frame with a blue silk-covered mat. The current treatment constitutes the minimum necessary set of measures to ensure the painting is safe for display. The staff looks forward to doing more comprehensive research once the studio is fully operational. In the meantime, we can all look forward to exploring the dense imagery and exquisite detail of this thangka when the Asian Art Museum reopens.

Image: Four Mandalas, Late 14th Century, Tibetan, Watercolor on cloth, 27 x 23 1/4 in. (68.58 x 59.06 cm) Overall h.: 34 5/16 in. Overall w.: 29 5/8 in., Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 66.120.

Muse/News: Asian Art Museum to Reopen, Post-Pandemic Art Eyes, and a Mughal Miniature

SAM News

It’s official! SAM’s Asian Art Museum will reopen to the public on May 28; members get the first look beginning May 7. The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig offered this preview, revisiting her February 2020 article on the museum’s grand reopening following its three-year renovation and reimagining (we hardly knew ye!). Capitol Hill Seattle Blog also shared the news. Get ready for more art!

“I’m excited to get back into the building and see what new connections my brain will make after more than a year away. And in the wake of the targeted violence on the Asian community both here and across the country, it’s an important moment to reflect on the history and culture of an invaluable part of Seattle.”

And the downtown Seattle Art Museum is open, with the special exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle on view through May 23. Carla Bell reviewed the show for PREVIEW Magazine, out in the world now.

Local News

Last week, Washington State announced Rena Priest as its next Poet Laureate. Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel has more on the state’s first Native American named to the post.

Have you reviewed the full lineup for the 2021 Seattle International Film Festival? It’s first-ever virtual edition? Seattle Met has the details.

Also this week from the Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig: A moving long read reflecting on how the pandemic has changed the way we look at art.

“Had that Georges de la Tour painting always been so tender? Or that Akio Takamori sculpture so solemn? My mind was a mess. Good Critic Impulses were apparently left in March of 2020.”

Inter/National News

“How an LA Printmaking Workshop Advanced the Career of Women Artists.” Hyperallergic’s Jordan Karney Chaim on June Wayne’s Tamarind Lithography Workshop.

“My work is focused on the idea of how crucial it is for Black people to think of leisure as a radical act.” Derrick Adams speaks with Vogue; his work is on view at SAM as part of The American Struggle.

One of those “ooh…ahh!” New York Times art interactives! Jason Farago with a stirring close read of an eight-inch tall, 17th-century Mughal painting.

“Within the details of this miniature lies a master class in the political uses of cultural hybridity. And the uses of something else too: dumbfounding, superhuman beauty.”

And Finally

Welsh bunnies, archaeologists.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Tim Griffith

Revisiting Reopening the Asian Art Museum, At Last

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

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

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

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

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

Muse/News: Wonder Boys, Men on Pointe, and Frankenthaler’s Poise

SAM News

The Seattle Art Museum is now open with the special exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle on view through May 23. KOMO’s Eric Jensen interviews curator Theresa Papanikolas about the Struggle series in a video for Seattle Refined.

Also on view at the museum: Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence. The Seattle Times’ Megan Burbank, Corinne Chin, and Ramon Dompor visit the celebrated Seattle artist’s first solo show at SAM, along with two special visitors: friends and portrait subjects Elisheba Johnson and her son Emery Spearman (whose portrait is titled, Wonder Boy).

“The struggle her work reckons with is more internal, cerebral, something every viewer is called upon to consider. ‘I create what I want from the other,’ she said. ‘So it’s not a space for you to go and just think about all the bad things that happen to Black people or happen to Black children. What about your own children? What about you?’”

Local writer Naomi Tomky for Condé Nast Traveler with a great weekend agenda for Seattle, including a stop at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

And finally, over the weekend, SAM’s Asian Art Museum invited the community to reflect on its steps at a memorial for those impacted by anti-Asian racism and violence. See stories from Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and KIRO.

Local News

What’s the Deal with That Immersive Van Gogh Installation?” asks the Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig. She responds and makes recommendations for immersive art installations more worth your time.

NFT? We don’t get it, either, but Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel looks into the booming—and controversial—world of crypto art.”

The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald speaks with Ashton Edwards, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s first male professional division student to take pointe technique classes, about traditional ballet’s possible gender-fluid future. Don’t miss the video by Ramon Dompor and Corinne Chin.

“The first time Ashton Edwards tried dancing on pointe, it felt like coming home. ‘It was just like magic. It felt beautiful on pointe. I felt like I could dance forever.’”

Inter/National News

There’s a new auction of photographs documenting missing paintings that Jacob Lawrence made while he was a war artist with the Coast Guard during World War II, Artnet’s Brian Boucher reports. The photographs could help unearth more original Lawrence works.

The Washington Post’s Peggy McGlone reports on the Smithsonian’s search for six—yes, six!—museum directors, which could “reshape the institution for generations.”

NPR’s Susan Stamberg on a new biography of Helen Frankenthaler by Alexander Nemerov; don’t miss the from-the-archives 1988 audio interview with the artist, too.

“Asked what the paintings are ‘about,’ the biographer says, ‘that lyrical moment of possibility in life, which is not unmixed with sadness and even grief. It’s about feeling the world.’”

And Finally

Muse/News recommends: Victor Luckerson’s Run It Back newsletter.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Wonder Boy, 2020, Barbara Earl Thomas, American, cut paper and hand-printed color backing, 40 x 26 in., Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, photo: Spike Mafford.

In Solidarity with Our Asian Communities

SAM stands united with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Asian immigrant families, friends, colleagues and communities locally and across the country, in the wake of rising violence against these communities over the last year and in the aftermath of the recent horrific shootings in Georgia that left eight people dead, six of whom were women of Asian descent. We join the larger Atlanta community and the country in mourning Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng.

In recognition of these lives taken so violently, we invite you to take a moment of silence on the steps of the Asian Art Museum. A community memorial will be available for the public to contribute to and visit from Noon on Saturday, March 27, through 5 pm Sunday, March 28.

American history reveals countless examples of systemic anti-Asian racism, from the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, to the 1924 Immigrations Act, to Executive Order 9066 in 1942. All of these federal actions had a major impact on Asian communities in Washington State and the Seattle region, resulting in loss of life, livelihoods, and property, and they are just a part of longstanding patterns of harassment and intimidation. A study on anti-Asian prejudice conducted this month by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, University of California, San Bernardino shows a 150% increase in hate crimes targeting Asian people, based on data from America’s largest 16 cities. Seattle and King County officials also report on this rise. Anti-Asian racism is a part of white supremacy that we must all work to defeat.

As a global museum, we always turn to art and artists to contextualize challenging moments and examine our history and society. Experiencing and engaging with art brings new perspectives to light and broadens understanding across cultures. SAM’s collection was founded in Asian art by the museum’s first director, Dr. Richard E. Fuller. After expanding to downtown Seattle, the original home of SAM was rededicated in 1994 as the Seattle Asian Art Museum and a center of Asian art and ideas. SAM’s Asian Art Museum is the only one of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. We understand our role as stewards of not only art, but also as an important place for Asian communities to come together and where people from all backgrounds can experience and appreciate a wide range of rich Asian cultures. 

In June 2020, following the killing of George Floyd and a massive social justice movement for Black lives, we were compelled to increase SAM’s commitment to combating institutional racism by establishing an Equity Task Force. This group of SAM board, staff, and community members worked over six months to conduct a self-assessment and provide recommendations for initiatives in specific operational areas. This work is ongoing as we continue to build on SAM’s commitment to fostering equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout the museum. 

The recent shootings in Georgia and escalating incidents of anti-Asian violence in Seattle and elsewhere strengthens SAM’s commitment and resolve to becoming an anti-racist institution. This is some of the most pressing and important work we are undertaking. As we take steps towards evaluating where we can improve and how we can better support the communities around us, the large and diverse Asian populations in Seattle and the surrounding areas, in addition to those on staff at the museum, are a crucial part of our conversations. SAM belongs to the communities it serves. 

Support Asian cultural organizations in the Seattle area and get involved.

API Chaya
Asian Counseling and Referral Service
The Future Ancient
International Examiner
Northwest Asian Weekly
Pride Asia
Stop AAPI Hate
Tasveer
Wilderness Inner-City Leadership Development
The Wing Luke Museum
Seattle Asian American Film Festival
Seattle Chinese Post
Seattle Chinese Times