Learn More about Indigo through Resources at the McCaw Foundation Library

Textile artists have been using indigo, a type of dye, for thousands of years, mastering methods of creating beautiful patterns with this deep blue color. A visit to the Asian Art Museum’s exhibition, Mood Indigo: Textiles from Around the World features striking hues and the multitude of ways in which indigo manifests in various materials. If your visit leaves you yearning to learn more about the indigo-dying process, we’ve got what you need!

The McCaw Library at the Seattle Asian Art Museum provides resources to visitors about works in our collection and in special exhibitions. During the run of Mood Indigo, the library features a number of titles about indigo, its processes, and methods of application. Because the McCaw Foundation Library is one of the few libraries in the region to focus specifically on Asian art, many of our resources are not available anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest.

Check out this selection of resources related to indigo and its uses in Asian textiles

Shibori and Chinese Indigo Batik

Arimatsu shibori: a Japanese tradition of Indigo Dyeing by Bonnie F. Abiko
(Rochester, MI: Meadow Brook Art Gallery, Oakland University, 1995).
In the early 17th century, Shokuru Takeda settled in Arimatsu, a small town on the road to the capital city, Kyoto. There he created Arimmatxu shibori, the now-famous stunning indigo designs expressed on fabric using shibori dye-resist techniques. This book, written in English with many color pictures of this special fabric, tells engaging stories of how and where it came into being and influenced the development of Japanese textile design.

Designs of Chinese Indigo Batik by Pu Lu
(New York: Lee Publishers Group; Beijing, China: New World Press, 1981).
Indigo batik has a long history among the common people of China, particularly in the remote southwestern provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan. It has been an integral part of the social customs and folk art of the area. This book, written in English, details the methods, materials, and history of making Chinese indigo batik. It includes many images of designs used in creating these beautiful and socially significant pieces.

Genshi tennen no nuno = 原始・天然の布 by Okamura Kichiemon
(Osaka, Japan: Sansai, 1981).
This elegant two-volume set includes a wide variety of fabric samples, many of them using indigo dye. The captions are written in Japanese. This book will fascinate both artists and scholars.

Kasuri no michi: fujimoto hitoshi korekushon by Hitoshi Fujimoto
(Tokyo : Mainichi Shinbunsha, 1984).
Kasuri is the Japanese term for ikat weaving. Yarn threads are tied before they are dyed. Tying “masks” the part of the thread that is knotted, and so it will resist the dye. The pattern used when tying the knots creates the finished patterns which will be woven into the cloth. Sometimes only the weft yarn is tied; when both the weft and warp yarns are tied, it is called double kasuri–a technique which can yield designs that range from simplistic to marvelously complex and pictorial. This book, written in Japanese, contains descriptions and images detailing the creation of these textiles, and color images of finished pieces.

indigo-books4

Jidai Resshu Kasuri = 時代裂集 絣
Peruse a wide selection of ikat textile samples, most of them using indigo dye. The stunning variety of designs is captivating: some are intricate and representational, while others are simple yet graceful. Japanese captions often are paired with English translations. This is a must-see!

The McCaw Foundation Library is open to the public, Thursdays and Fridays, 2–5 pm and Saturdays, 10 am–2 pm (through September 3). Beginning September 10, our Saturday hours are extended from 10 am–5 pm.

Kate Nack, Library Volunteer, McCaw Foundation Library for Asian Art

Object of the Week: Guanyin

Have you ever purchased something at full price, feeling slightly guilty about it, only to find a sale item that suits you even better? Something similar happened to Dr. Fuller in the early 1930s, as he was seeking to expand his Chinese art collection in new directions.

[Fuller] acquired . . . a large Guanyin in pale glaze with ivory tone from Yamanaka in 1931 for $2,500. With a dated inscription of 1615, the Guanyin is among the few extant figures commissioned by patrons of the Kaiyuan Temple in Zhanzhou (in modern-day Fujian province). Seven months after that acquisition, Fuller encountered a whiter blanc de chine Guanyin of similar size. It was allegedly bought from Spain after the revolution and was priced at $900 by Roland Moore. Fuller bought it at once. The price gap between the two Guanyin probably bothered Fuller, especially because the latter work is whiter and hence more attractive, with a more elaborately carved base positioning the Guanyin on an auspicious beast emerging from or riding on water. Commenting on the Yamanaka Guanyin from Zhangzhou, Fuller noted that ‘years of incense smoke discolored its crackled glaze.’ He proposed exchanging the Guanyin for a Tianlongshan sculpture in 1934 . . . and Yamanaka graciously accepted. Luckily, the Guanyin remained in Seattle. Yamanaka resold the work to Fuller for $750. He made the right decision to keep the Yamanaka Guanyin because it matches the Moore Guanyin beautifully.1

The best decision, as we all know, is to walk away with both! Not only do the two Guanyin complement each other in form, as former SAM Chinese art curator Josh Yiu notes, but the message carried by the Guanyin bodhisattva is one that resonates deeply today, and Dr. Fuller’s choice to buy back his original porcelain Guanyin doubly enhances its life-giving presence at SAM. Known as Lord of Mercy, Guanyin represents boundless love and compassion. In the Mahayana doctrine, extending love to all people figures as an important step on the path to enlightenment.

Guanyin

The second, whiter Guanyin purchased by Dr. Fuller will graciously greet you on your next visit to the Chinese art galleries at the Asian Art Museum.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

1 Josh Yiu, A Fuller View of China, Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum, 2014; 56-63.
Image: Guanyin (detail), 17th18th century, Chinese, Qing dynasty (1644-1912), Dehua ware: porcelain, 33 1/2 x 9 x 9 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.38, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Guanyin, 1615, Chinese, Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Dehua ware: porcelain, 34 x 10 x 9 1/4 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.39, Photos: Natali Wiseman. Guanyin (detail).

 

 

Object of the Week: Bell with five-pronged handle

SAM’s Bell with five-pronged handle, one of the works you can visit now at the Asian Art Museum, looks an angry and forbidding object. Pointed prongs wend upward from the bell’s handle, emanating from the mouths of snarling lions, curving like the teeth of a predator. A band of decoration on the handle features a circle of human faces, each one with its brow angrily furrowed. Come hither and ring me! it does not bid you. It looks like something that could just as easily be found here.

Yet the bell has a striking form, and looking more closely reveals the thoughtfulness of the work’s form and decoration. To dig into the concepts present in the work we have to think about vajra. A Sanskrit term, vajra means both “diamond” and “thunderbolt,” carrying the connotations of strength and power that those things embody—an indestructible jewel, a boom and flash of energy. More than a concept, the vajra is also a visual form. Looking back at the bell, the five prongs at the top make up a vajra. A vajra can feature different numbers of prongs, and elsewhere on the bell one will find single and three-prong vajras in decorative motifs, as well as the torture-y five-prong vajra at its top. The form of the vajra has specific meaning in the Buddhist visual language, in which it signifies the vow of a Buddha or bodhisattva. Everything on the bell has meaning: Lotus blossoms, enflamed jewels, and more vajras on the body of the bell signify the presence of the Buddha, his law, and his priesthood.

Detail of the base of the Bell

Situated in GOLD: Japanese Art from the Collection, the Bell with five-pronged handle joins other fine art and functional objects, including portable shrines, hanging scroll paintings, a sword stand, a fan, ceremonial kimono, netsuke, sake cups, and a folding screen. One of my other favorite works in the show lies somewhere between functional and purely formal: a Hooded Cape meant to be worn by the wife of a Japanese feudal lord on the specific occasion of a fire. I have to think the absurdity of that purpose essentially makes it a decorative object.

The bell and its company in GOLD reveal a culture that has infused religious and philosophical symbolism into its functional objects. “Used” or not in their first lives, they all now have a second existence as museum artworks, as examples of exceptional craftsmanship and markers of cultural stories. Gilt bronze amid other works in gold leaf, gold lacquer, gold thread, and pure gold, the bell shows, on the part of its maker, an appreciation for eye-catching aesthetics, complemented by a desire for stimulating thought.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGE: Bell with five-pronged handle, 12th-13th century, Japanese, Late Heian period (794-1185)-early Kamakura period (1185-1333), gilt bronze, 9 1/4 x 4 1/4 x 1/4 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 49.237, Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Buddha

Celebrations of spring are happening all around us. It’s opening week for baseball and Masters Tournament time in golf. Here in Seattle, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and all of a sudden it’s like we live in a populous city. You never have a sense for how many people live (and vacation) here until the sun comes out!

Flowers outside of the Asian Art Museum

Flowers bloomin’ outside of the Asian Art Museum

As wonderful and anticipated as these developments are, today we’re focused on another springtime celebration: It’s Buddha’s birthday!

To be precise, it’s Buddha’s birthday in the Japanese tradition; the same event is remembered on various dates in spring across the world. Many Asian countries commemorate Buddha’s birth on the first full moon of the 4th month in the Chinese lunar calendar (which falls in May). Japan adopted the Gregorian, or Western, calendar in the 19th century and moved its celebration of Buddha’s birthday up to April 8, about a month earlier.

Thankfully for both our regular visitors and out-of-towners, we have a bevy of fine Buddhist art at the Asian Art Museum to help everyone celebrate appropriately. The new installation Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia highlights some of the finest representations of Buddha in the museum’s collection, including this stunning wood sculpture coated with gold lacquer. Called an Amida Buddha for its symbolic form, the figure was crafted during the late Heian period (794-1185) in Japan. Its maker used the yosegi-tsukuri technique, carving wood blocks, hollowing them out, and then assembling them together. The Buddha strikes a meditative pose that exudes total peace.

Installation view of Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia

In Japanese Buddhist traditions special connections exist between Buddha and the flower that make celebrating him in the springtime especially appropriate. Hana-Matsuri, the Floral Festival, is a memorial service performed at temples throughout Japan on Buddha’s birthday. Those who make pilgrimages to the temples bring offerings of fresh spring flowers and libations of tea. For its original installation in a Kyoto temple, this Buddha sculpture would have been seated on a lotus pedestal.

Installation view of Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia

The company he keeps in Awakened Ones, where he is surrounded by sculptures and paintings from China, India, Korea, Nepal, and Pakistan, leaves one with a sense for the wide reach of Buddhist teachings and the many ways Buddha is pictured and remembered.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Buddha, ca. 1130, Japanese, wood with gold lacquer, 37 1/4 x 27 x 17 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Monsen Family, 2011.39, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Awakened Ones:Buddhas of Asia at Asian Art Museum, © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Awakened Ones:Buddhas of Asia at Asian Art Museum, © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman.

The Inimitable Dottie Malone

Dorothy C. Malone—“Dottie” to everyone here at SAM—is fondly remembered as one of the most important figures in the museum’s history. No one has worked here longer and very few have left such great legacies.

Dottie Malone in her natural habitat: the Asian Art Museum

The likeness of Dottie Malone in her natural habitat: the Asian Art Museum.

Born in Everett, Dottie attended high school in Seattle and took one year of university classes at the University of Washington. She met and married Coe Malone at UW. The depression made life difficult for them, and Dottie was looking for a job. A friend of theirs, Evelyn Foster, was working at the Art Institute of Seattle (a predecessor to SAM), where they were in need of someone to answer phones. Evelyn connected Dottie with Dr. Fuller, who hired her before the museum’s opening in June of 1933. She was one of the first three employees of the museum, along with her friend Evelyn and the artist Kenneth Callahan.

A young Dottie tidying up the galleries.

A young Dottie tidying up the galleries.

Dottie’s administrative role and her importance to the museum grew over the next half-century. Dr. Fuller trusted Dottie enough that he would leave her in charge of the museum’s operations during weeklong geology expeditions. She’s remembered as very tidy and organized. She also had an exceptional memory and served as the institutional historian. Dottie knew almost everything there was to know about the museum, and she also made a point to know everyone who worked there. Though she finally retired in 1988, she still kept a desk at the Volunteer Park building and continued to volunteer as long as she was able to do it. She really loved SAM. Dottie passed away in January of 1997.

We love you, Dottie!

We love you, Dottie!

Today, the administrative offices at the Asian Art Museum bear her name, and every spring, at SAM’s Volunteer Soiree, the museum presents the Dorothy C. Malone Volunteer Award to “an outstanding volunteer who reflects the highest standards of museum dedication and commitment as exemplified by Dottie Malone.”

Images: Photo: SAM Archive. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: SAM Archive. Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Camel

Of the nearly 24,000 objects in SAM’s collection, two sculptures have probably had the broadest impact on visitors’ experience of the museum since it opened in 1933. They have proven a popular attraction for visitors of all ages, newcomers and regulars alike. For a long time, though, they weren’t even physically in the museum. They’re the greeters, the guardians. They are: the camels.

Writing in 1968—35 years after the arrival of our Chinese camels and the opening of our doors—SAM founding director Dr. Richard Fuller proclaimed the camels “unquestionably the most popular items” in the museum’s collection. No doubt this was partly because he enthusiastically encouraged kids to have a go at riding them.

Riding the Camel

Kids on the Camel

Standing on the Camel

Chosen specifically by Dr. Fuller and his mother, SAM co-founder Margaret MacTavish Fuller, to be the symbolic guardians of the museum, they were installed on either side of the front entrance. Former SAM curator and historian Josh Yiu reflected on their significance: “They were the first works of art that children and adults alike experienced at the Seattle Art Museum. The camels achieved an iconic status because they introduced art, the museum, and China to the general public.”1

Asian Art Museum Exterior in 1933

Dr. Fuller also clearly saw in the pair of marble bactrians an impressive aesthetic achievement, one that complemented the striking Art Deco design of SAM’s original building in Volunteer Park and echoed the cultural focus of its artworks. In his personal correspondence from 1933, Fuller wrote the following justification:

“Granting that the sculptor had made no attempt to achieve lifelike forms, I think that there is no question but that his results are great works of art…Viewed purely from the view-point of artistry, I personally think that it would be almost impossible to have modern sculpture designed that could have coincided more perfectly with the spirit that we endeavored to attain in the design of the building, and it seems especially fortunate that they should, at the same time, emphasize our interest in Oriental art.”

Camel

In 1986 conservation concerns won out, and the camel-riding tradition came to a sad, but necessary end (hundreds-of-years-old marble sculptures, folks). We no longer sanction it, at least! The Chinese camels journeyed downtown for the inaugural installation here in 1991, and today replicas flank the front doors to the Asian Art Museum.

Camel replica being installed

You can still see (not ride) the originals in our grand stairway.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

1 Josh Yiu, A Fuller View of China, Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum, 2014; 46.

IMAGES: Camel, Chinese, late 14th-mid-17th century, marble, each 101 1/2 x 56 x 36 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.814.1, 33.814.2, Photo: Jasmine Boothroyd. Photos: SAM Archive.

My Favorite Things: Jung Yeondoo on Indo-Persian Art

Check out our newest video as a part of the My Favorite Things YouTube series featuring South Korean artist, Jung Yeondoo.

Jung is a storyteller who produces captivating narratives through images. A pertinent example of this is his Bewitched photography series, in which he seamlessly weaved together the stories of real and imagined paradoxes carried on by his subjects via hope, dreams, and longing. Through them, he loves displaying the inner selves that are usually invisible due to outward appearances. The images are on view as a part of the exhibition Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art at the Asian Art Museum now through March 13, 2016.

In his My Favorite Things interview, Jung zeroes in on the installation, Indo-Persian Art at the Crossroads, which illustrated continuities between Indian and Persian painting while highlighting the subcontinent’s place as a cultural crossroads between Europe and Asia, (the installation was on view at the Asian Art Museum through June 21, 2015 ). He believes that the abundant patterns and intricate details weren’t the most important aspects of the pieces, but rather that it was all about the viewer’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences with them.

Watch the interview, and head to our My Favorite Things playlist on YouTube to catch up on the rest of our artist interviews.

Object of the Week: Colored Vases

“An artist can only raise new questions and offer insight into social change after reflecting on the feelings of the time. I don’t see art as a highly aesthetic practice…Rather than thinking of my projects as art, they attempt to introduce a new condition, a new means of expression, or a new method of communicating. If these possibilities didn’t exist, I wouldn’t feel the need to be an artist.” –Ai Weiwei1

“At different times I’ve worked in different mediums. For me, the variation is not an artistic judgment, but a necessary choice. It’s just as normal to eat with chopsticks, as it is to eat with forks or hands. Different circumstances call for different tools. I try to express ideas with the most appropriate available materials and forms.” –Ai Weiwei2

“Making choices is how the artist comes to understand himself. These choices are correlated to one’s spiritual predicament, and the goal is a return to the self, the pursuit of spiritual values, and the summoning of spirits. These choices are inherently philosophical.” –Ai Weiwei3

Ai Weiwei is super active in the world of contemporary art, posting to his Instagram, posing as a drowned Syrian refugeedecorating Berlin’s Konzerthaus with 14,000 life jackets. Not all of the commentary about him is positive, and I’m sure that’s as he would like it. He’s stated in the past that he desires uneasiness; that he deliberately moves away from the self-indulgent comfort of creating things to use his skills or to get praise. He wants to think critically and to act on his convictions. He wants to unsettle and to motivate. Definitely from his own perspective, he is a conceptual artist, a political activist, and an advocate for self-discovery.

Ai’s art still depends—in a really essential way—on its visual impact. The striking visuals he’s able to concoct are the rhetoric he uses to promote his provocative agenda. He may not think of art as a “highly aesthetic practice,” but the work speaks for itself. Just think of his Sunflower Seeds. The work is less than compelling as a printed phrase: “One hundred million hand-sculpted, hand-painted porcelain beads, made to look like sunflower seeds.” As a realized artwork, it captivated people.

Ai thinks about the forms as a means to an end—his end is pointing others to self-consciousness, sparking in us a challenge to accepted systems of belief, provoking critical responses and inspiring action—but they’re still necessary means. They are his way of communicating. He can’t even be sure that his art will communicate what he wants it to do. All he can be sure of is that viewers will experience the physical artwork. Many of us who look at his works will come away with different conclusions; such is the open-endedness of art, politically-driven or otherwise. All we have is the thing, so I say, let’s look closely at it.

SAM’s one work by Ai Weiwei, Colored Vases, is on view at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. It delivers what it promises. Nine ceramic vases are arranged in a pattern much like a bowling pin setup—there are three rows, with four vases in the back row, three in the middle row, and two in the front row—only the headpin is missing. The artist has applied a base coat of industrial paint in a bold hue—such as yellow, pink, lime green, or plum—to each vase. A second color in high contrast to the base layer covers the lips and shoulder of the vase, then drips down the body. Some vases have long drips like the tendrils of a plant, while others are shorter, like polychrome stalactites. The paint drips are irregular, and they seem natural.

Contrast is especially important to this work: there’s contrast between the traditional form of the ceramic vases and the bright and contemporary paint colors applied to them; contrast between the two colors on one vase, and contrast in the range of colors among the whole group; contrast between the normally grainy texture of a ceramic pot and the flatness of industrial paint. There’s probably contrast, too, between what Ai Weiwei thought of and what you take away.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Sources:

“Reconsidering Reality: An Interview with Ai Weiwei.” In Ai Weiwei: According to What? Edited by Deborah E. Horowitz. Prestel Verlag: Munich, London and New York, 2012. Published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name, organized by the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, in association with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and displayed at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., October 7, 2012-February 24, 2013; the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana, April 5-July 28, 2013; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, August 31-October 27, 2013; Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami, Florida, November 28, 2013-March 16, 2014; and Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, April 18-August 10, 2014.

“Making Choices.” Translated by Philip Tinari, from The Grey Book, November, 1997. Reproduced in Ai Weiwei. Phaidon Press: New York, 2009.


i. According to What, 38
ii. According to What, 39
iii. Ai Weiwei, “Making Choices,” 128

Image: Colored Vases, 2010, Ai Weiwei (Chinese, born 1957), ceramic with industrial paint, approx. 17 x 22 in. each. Seattle Art Museum, Purchased with funds from the Estate of Robert M. Shields, 2013.33, Photo: Nathaniel Willson.

Journey to Dunhuang: Buddhist Art of the Silk Road Caves

In our February-May 2016 issue of SAM Magazine, our member-only publication, we featured an article about the Silk Road Caves in Dunhuang, China as a preview of our upcoming exhibition Journey to Dunhuang: Buddhist Art of the Silk Road Caves. Our space was limited in print, so we’re featuring the whole article here on the SAM Blog.

In 1943, James and Lucy Lo were newlyweds. Budding adventurers that they were, the couple set out to Dunhuang, China, by donkey cart for their honeymoon. In the remote town, there was no electricity or running water. A friend of theirs in India managed to find several thousand rolls of film for James to take with him for the trip to the area’s sacred cave-grottoes.

The nearly 500 caves are collectively called the Mogao Caves—now a UNESCO World Heritage site—and are carved into cliffs about 15 miles from the oasis town of Dunhuang on the edge of the Gobi Desert. At the start of the 20th century, European explorers discovered the caves, finding a treasure trove of sculptures, manuscripts, painted scrolls, and wall paintings inside. The cave temples range in date from about the 4th to the 14th centuries, and 2,000 Buddhist sculptures, 45,000 square meters of murals, and more than 60,000 texts are preserved today. Some caves were built and rebuilt over the millennium by the devout and they continue to be an astonishing experience for visitors.

View of the Northern Mogao Caves

The couple spent their time in Dunhuang documenting the interiors: brilliantly colored paintings that covered cave walls, ceilings, and floors, and the finely rendered stucco sculptures, some of which were of immense, towering Buddhas. The site reveals shifting artistic influences and ritual practices, attesting to a long and varied history of political, religious, and private patronage as well as local, court, and foreign military protection. That Dunhuang was a multicultural center is also attested to by surviving printed texts and hand-written manuscripts with calligraphy in the Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Uighur, and Tangut languages Visitors from the West couldn’t get to China without going through Dunhuang, as it is located at the crossroads of the northern and southern routes of the ancient Silk Road.

The Los photographed the caves for 18 months, producing an unparalleled set of black-and-white negatives, remarkable for their documentary value as well as their artistic quality. They were not the first photographers to arrive at the Mogao Caves, but they were the first to document the caves with artistic intention. Indeed, the Los established iconic ways to view Dunhuang. While at Dunhuang, the Los also collected manuscript fragments, including texts and pictures. This group is the largest collection in the U.S. and reflects their broad interests in unusual scripts and in a variety of painting techniques. Also while at Dunhuang, the Los met with famed Chinese painter (and infamous forger) Zhang Daqian (1899–1983), who was there repairing and making replicas of Mogao murals.

After moving to Taiwan in the 1950s, the Los became part of a community of artists and intellectuals. They invited a group of young artists to produce life-size copies of the Lo’s photographs. Some were done freehand, while others were tracings made by projecting the Lo slides on the wall. The artists then added color to the renderings by relying on the Lo’s comprehensive notes and their memories of the caves. These facsimiles are unique in their fidelity to the originals since they are collaborative and imaginative recreations.

James and Lucy Lo’s photographic archive, manuscript collection, and artist renderings belong to Princeton University’s Art Museum, P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art, and the East Asian Library. Their current exhibition, Sacred Caves of the Silk Road: Ways of Knowing and Recreating Dunhuang, formed the basis of scholarship for the exhibition, Journey to Dunhuang: Buddhist Art of the Silk Road Caves, coming to the Asian Art Museum in March. Together, with SAM’s Director Emerita Mimi Gates’ exhibition at The Getty Museum, Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road, we are bringing Dunhuang to the West Coast in 2016.

An installation of Buddhist art will also be on view during the Dunhuang exhibition. The focus will be on the Buddha as depicted in Asian art, with both sculpted and painted works drawn from SAM’s own collection. The exhibition will be a geographically broad survey, and will represent works from various parts of Asia where Buddhism spread, including East Asia, Tibet, Nepal, and Southeast Asia.

IMAGES: Parinirvana, Mogao Cave 158, Middle Tang dynasty (781–848), Photograph taken in 1943–44, The Lo Archive. View of the Northern Mogao Cave, Photograph taken in 1943–44, The Lo Archive.

Rowland Ricketts: The Extended Interview

In our February-May 2016 issue of SAM Magazine, our member-only publication, we featured an interview with indigo textile artist Rowland Ricketts in anticipation of our upcoming exhibition Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World. Our space was limited in print, so we’re featuring the whole interview here on the SAM Blog.

Setting the Mood

The upcoming exhibition heading to the Asian Art Museum, Mood Indigo, honors the unique ability of the color blue to create many moods in cloth. Drawn primarily from the Seattle Art Museum’s global textile collection, Mood Indigo illuminates the historic scope of this vibrant pigment. The exhibition features a set of tapestries from Belgium, a silk court robe from China, a vast array of kimonos from Japan, batiks and ikats from Indonesia and Africa, and ancient fragments from Peru and Egypt. An immersive contemporary installation devoted to indigo by Rowland Ricketts will be accompanied by a soundtrack by sound artist Nobert Herber that unveils the musical nuances indigo can suggest. From the sultry darkness of midnight to the vitality of a bright sky, come let the myriad blues in their multiple forms surround you.

Fields of Indigo by Rowland Ricketts

Rowland Ricketts’s Historical Processes For Creating Contemporary Textiles

Artist Rowland Ricketts adapts historical processes to create contemporary textiles. He came to indigo by way of a two-year apprenticeship in 1996. Today, Ricketts works with his wife and fellow artist, Chinami, as they handle indigo in all the stages of its inception: growing, processing, vatting, and dyeing. Read on to learn about this artist’s journey with indigo, from seed to cloth.

SAM: Hi Rowland! Thanks for speaking with us.

Rowland Ricketts: No problem!

SAM: What would you say your work is about at the heart? What are the central themes inherent in it?

Ricketts: On some level, it’s awe and wonder. That is a huge, meta-interest for me. Indigo is imbued with mystery. It’s an enigma of sorts in that it is a dye found throughout the world, and a dye found in synthetic forms. People have been drawn to it for millennia, working with it for millennia, and the end of the day, the color is immaterial, a wavelength of light. There are myriad connections indigo, from history, to plants and the environment, to art, time, etc. We (indigo makers) create these connections and at the end of the day, we’re making something immaterial. Part of the human condition is the drive to create beauty, and yet it is so immaterial. It’s all part of the bigger picture. On a smaller scale, planting, harvesting, and dye-making are all central to what I do.

Installation by Rowland Ricketts, Sound by Norbert Herber Museum of Fine Arts Boston August 28, 2015 - January 8, 2016. Dried indigo plants, indigo dyed hemp, interactive sound.

SAM: What inspired you to work with indigo? When did you start?

Ricketts: In 1996 I did a two-year apprenticeship in Japan, and spent one year working with a farmer and one with a dyer making indigo out of composted leaves. What inspired me was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet. I did photography, taught high school, and was developing black and white photos. I stopped eventually, pre-digital photography. I thought that there’s got to be more ways to create. I met people who were very conscious of their environment, very direct with it. I met them folks who dyed indigo, and worked with them on plants. They first told me about indigo and said to visit the Folk Art Museum in Osaka. When I went, there happened to be an indigo dyer exhibit up. I just started gardening and thought, “Wow, this is what I want to do.” It brought together my interests: working in a sustainable way with the environment, gardening, and farming.

SAM: Tell us about the work that you’ll have on view as a part of Mood Indigo.

Ricketts: The installation was a part of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (Crafted: Objects in Flux, which was on view through January 10, 2016) and it will be reconfigured to fit the space. It’s coming SAM’s way next. It’s called “Mobile Sections.” For it, I collaborated with a sound artist, Norbert Herber, for an audio component. It’s made up of a large, indigo-dyed textile, 11½ ft. tall by 30 ft. circumference, dried indigo plants, and possibly a video projection. The inspiration for it was drawn from the process: field recordings of the harvesting, planting, drying, and positions of sound. It is playing with materiality and immateriality and it’s a thing that’s so much bigger in person.

SAM: For those of us who have yet to dye things with indigo, can you walk us through your indigo-making process?

Ricketts: Sure. There are four main steps:

STEP 1: GROWING
I plants seeds in late March, and transplant seedlings in early May and tend them, then harvest them in early July by cutting at the base to allow the leaves to dry.

Growing Indigo

STEP 2: PROCESSING

In the fall, these dry indigo leaves are put in a special shed, mixed with water, and composted for one hundred days to make the traditional Japanese indigo dye-stuff known as sukumo.

Processing Indigo

STEP 3: VATTING

By January, a concentrated compost with dye is left behind.

Vatting Indigo

STEP 4: DYEING

To dye cloth, I take the composed leaves, add wood ash lye, and mix them. Indigo bacteria removes oxygen to make the dyeing possible. The dye lasts from four months to a year, and the leaves used to make the dye are returned to the fields to nurture the next planting. With this process, the only thing taken from the leaves is the dye.

Dyeing Indigo

SAM: Okay, last question: What do you think people should know about indigo?

Ricketts: One connection people should definitely make: that the color they’re seeing comes from plants. I grew up in suburban America, and was driven by cars. I only became interested in plants after living abroad. People have been making indigo for millennia! I hope that after they leave the installation visitors think about what the color is, where it came from, and how it got there.

Mood Indigo will be on view at the Asian Art Museum April 9–October 9, 2016. Don’t miss it!

Images: Photos: Rowland Ricketts.

Donate Legos to Ai Weiwei

We have a unique opportunity to help contemporary Chinese artist/dissident Ai Weiwei create commissioned artworks that will be a part of an Australian exhibition starting this month. How can we help him, you might be thinking? By sharing our LEGOs!

The Danish toy company LEGO refused Ai Weiwei Studio’s request for a bulk order of LEGOs to create artwork to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria as “they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works.” This triggered a flood of responses on social media criticizing LEGO for “censorship and discrimination” by refusing Ai’s order. Since then, thousands of anonymous supporters have offered to donate their used LEGOs to Ai.

The tiny toy bricks Ai receives will be part of two works for an exhibition titled Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei, which will explore the concept of freedom of speech and be on view through April 24, 2016 at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia. According to The New York Times, one piece will re-envision his 1995 photo triptych “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” and the other will feature 20 LEGO portraits of Australian proponents of Internet freedom and human rights.

BMW Car LEGO Collection Point at the Asian Art Museum

To participate in this site-specific project and show our support, the Seattle Art Museum has signed up as an official Lego collection point for local and visiting art enthusiasts to drop LEGO bricks through the sunroofs of a secondhand BMW. Our collection point is parked right in front of the Asian Art Museum, and the roof will be open during museum open hours now through January 10, 2016.

Want to check out some of Weiwei’s work in person? Visit his installation Colored Vases, Ai’s first work acquired by the SAM, at the Asian Art Museum.

Navigating the Paradoxes

Upon arrival, we are greeted by cardboard boxes, carts piled high with paint, painter’s tape, dozens and dozens of lights, and AV equipment. It’s the week before the Asian Art Museum’s newest exhibition Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art opens, and we’re going behind the scenes to check out how the installation is going.

SAM’s Exhibition Designer, Paul Martinez, was on hand to walk us through the exhibition install team’s progress thus far.

“The crew has their work cut out for them!” he tells us with a smile.

“Right now we’re looking at the tech specs for all of the artists—the things that the A/V people will need. Tantamount is clear communication, as we’re working with an international museum and artists,” Martinez says.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

As we walk into the first wing of the Tateuchi Galleries, we see deep, crimson walls that are still bare for the most part, save for two gilded frames holding mirrors. The room will house works by artist Lee Yongbaek. The pieces incorporate video, sound, mirrors, and soldier uniforms decked out in floral print as a part of his work, Angel-Soldier. After viewing images of the uniforms, the myriad colors pop out and are so much more vivid in person. They are the perfect juxtaposition: camouflage that does not hide you at all.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

“You can see them laid out here,” Martinez says as we walk into the adjoining room. “They’re stunning decorative elements, you want to wear one of the jackets, they’re pretty cool.” We agree completely.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

We move on to the next, where we see a few of Jung Yeondoo’s pairs of photos from his Bewitched series have been hung. They portray young people of Korea in their day jobs and contrast their realities with what they would actually like to do in life, if money, education, and responsibilities were of no object. The photos are huge, taking up the majority of the wall space. We didn’t imagine they’d tower so high, but seeing them blown up to almost life-size helps us take in the details—to imagine what life would be like in our imagined realities, too.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

The next space houses Lim Minouk’s large-scale multimedia installation, The Possibility of the Half. The work is not fully prepared or installed yet, and Lim’s assistant, Ms. Park Moonkynung is in town to help assemble the pieces. The detritus of what makes up a real newsroom is scattered around the room: an ON AIR sign, professional video cameras and tripods, and more lights, all borrowed from our local KING5 news station. The room is painted black, which will perfectly set the scene for what viewers will experience when the total sum of the work is up: a re-imagined Korean television studio, with screens showing visceral, emotional, and dramatic scenes of people grieving over the deaths of Kim Jong Il of North Korea and former president Park Jung-Hee of South Korea.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Standing tall in front of us is an interesting structure: a camera device composed mostly of a tall tree branch. Curious as to how it got here, we pressed Martinez.

“This request came to us in a single photo. ‘Can you build us one of these?’ he said. “It’s just what it looks like: a quirky representation of a camera boom. Our crew worked hard to produce an operable and dynamic boom to represent exactly what we needed,” Martinez said, as he moved the boom up and down, and left to right to show of its capabilities. “We went out and selected a tree from the Northwest, cut it to size, dried it for a long period of time, then fumigated. We started this back in the springtime. Then it needed the whole base, which we built in house, and our mount makers fabricated everything.”

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

“So this is one of a kind, and made for this exhibition?” I ask. “Yes, she’s (Lim) done it for other museums, too,” Martinez confirms. “The bottom rounds, not sure where they were purchased from, and not sure if they’re from the Pacific Northwest,” he laughs.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Lim herself is at the museum this week to help install her work. We can’t wait to see what the composite room looks once it’s up and finished for the opening this weekend.

I noticed that when everything is laid out in the room, including pieces that expand up entire corners of the floor, it seems that the work takes a great deal of space. “How are people going to interact with the installation and how close are they going to get to everything?” I ask.

“Much like The Mr. exhibition, (referring to the past exhibition, Live On: Mr.’s Japanese Neo-Pop), it’s a bit of an immersive experience,” Martinez said. “This exhibition will be the same way. They’ll wander through, but there will be obvious barriers. It’s meant to be something you enter, have an experience with while you’re in it, and then you leave.”

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

In the next room over, we’re greeted by some of Yang Haegue’s Female Natives sculptures. Outfitted with everyday materials—lights, artificial flowers, yarn, cord, bells, etc. piled on clothing racks—the structures provoke narratives about gender, politics, and human emotions. Her Gymnastics of the Foldables series of photos yields the same effect by way of engaging a clothes drying rack in calisthenics.

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

Installing Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum

The last wing of the galleries is dedicated to the installation that has been worked on the least since the pieces arrived in Seattle. Tons of wooden boxes were piled on top of each other to our left and right, with Korean postage and stickers prominently affixed.

“I heard the handlers were taking apart and counting them, making sure they were all here today,” I said, referring to Yeesookyung’s work Thousand, composed of porcelain shards, epoxy, and 24k gold leaf.

“This one is particularly challenging,” Martinez said. “It’s a thousand pieces to look at,” he said. “How they come out of the crate remains specific as to how they’re laid out for the artist to access, it’s a very deliberate, meticulous unpacking and repacking and reassembly of the crates,” he confirmed. “And then of course the registrars are looking at each piece in detail, writing down the characteristics of each piece, and photographing them so they have a record of what they are and if they have any issues.”

The effort will pay off, though, as the total effect of one thousand pieces of porcelain on a platform is bound to dazzle—not only for the craftsmanship of the ceramics, but also out of respect for the artist who has skillfully arranged them all in their respective spots in the gallery.

“The artist will place them all herself, correct?”

“Exactly,” Martinez said. “We have the pedestal placed as she’ll need. She’ll place them all in the ways she likes on the platform. She’ll have all the pieces arranged by numbers. She’s installed it before so she’ll come with her method of reinstalling it here.”

I’ve read that Yeesookyung has said that working on this piece has helped her appreciate the process of putting together her finished works more than the actual creating of the work. Some interesting perspective on a work that no doubt took at least a thousand hours to complete.

Explore these works and more in Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art, now on view at the Asian Art Museum.

Words: Dawn Quinn, Copywriter
Photos: Natali Wiseman

Object of the Week: Gui

Imagine cooking up some morning oatmeal over the stove, and then using a ladle to serve it up from this 13th-century B.C. Chinese food vessel. Culture swag.

The form of the vessel is known as a gui, and it was developed in the Shang period (which lasted from roughly 1600 to about 1100 B.C.). At this time in Chinese history, the invention of bronze casting precipitated a higher level of artistry than was possible before, with materials like clay, stone, and wood. The strength of bronze meant it had great versatility in terms of its shape and also held great possibility for decoration. Structural integrity became less of a concern, so the makers focused more on aesthetics. The precision of line and extravagant detail available to artisans when working in bronze encouraged the experimentation and advancement that leaves us with stunning examples like SAM’s gui, on view at the Asian Art Museum.

The decorative scheme, covering the entire surface of the vessel, is repeated on both sides of the bowl. Abstract patterns and beast-like figures meld together and create an impressive total visual effect. The ornament breaks down into three registers: the lip, the foot, and the main, central register. The spiral designs we see used all over the vessel as filler ornament are known as leiwen. The upper register features pairs of beasts known as kui dragons that face a pretty intimidating head in the middle. The central register features a creature known as a taotie—a widely used and important design element for the period. The flange right in the middle forms a kind of nose or beak; the eyes are about halfway up the register and equidistant from the flange on either side; scythe-like horns rise up on either side. This and the other beast-like creatures in the upper and lower registers show a remarkable vision that blends representation and design. The ram heads that crown the handles show how both can play into function, too.

Gui (detail)

The scheme is perfectly symmetric—a mirror image on either side—which makes it especially interesting that the maker formed it from a ceramic piece, (mold composed of three parts). Like most bronze vessels of the early Bronze Age in China, the gui was designed for serving food in the rituals of the aristocracy. Today we can’t make use of its function, but we can definitely still admire its craftsmanship. Gorge with your eyes!

Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGE: Gui (vessel for serving grain), Chinese, 13th c. B.C., bronze, 5 3/8 x 10 3/4 x 7 in. Seattle Art Museum, Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, 56.34.

Grant brings new books to the McCaw Foundation Library

The McCaw Foundation Library at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park is open to all museum staff, docents, volunteers, members, and the general public. As one of SAM’s three libraries, the McCaw Foundation Library specializes in research materials supporting the museum’s Asian collection and exhibitions that occur at the Asian Art Museum. Anyone with an interest in the visual arts of Asia will appreciate the outstanding collection.

New Book at McCaw Library

The SAM Libraries’ holdings number nearly 60,000 items, with more than a third of those being available at the McCaw Foundation Library. These materials include: books, exhibition catalogues, auction catalogues, serials, videos, and electronic publications, many of which are in Asian languages. These materials support research on objects in the permanent collection, research for special exhibitions, assist in docent-led tour preparation, and provide general information about the history of art in Asia.

The Museum’s general operating funds are the primary source of financial support for the McCaw Foundation Library. When the need for additional funding arises, the museum staff collaborates in sourcing the necessary funds.

Histories of Modern and Contemporary Japan through Art: Institutions, Discourse, Practice

Associate Librarian for Asian Art, Yueh-Lin Chen, recognized the need for additional resources in the library’s reference collection, specifically in the areas of Japanese and Korean art. With guidance from Xiaojin Wu, Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, and assistance from Librarian Traci Timmons, Ms. Chen applied for a grant from The Metropolitan Center for Eastern Art Studies. Founded under the auspices of the Harry G. C. Packard Collection Charitable Trust, and based at Hosomi Museum in Kyoto, Japan, the Center provides grants for advanced scholarship in the arts of East Asia.

The museum staff’s collaborative effort was successful and the library received a generous grant from the Center, allowing purchase of important resources on Japanese and Korean art. These books will significantly enhance the collection and are available for use in the McCaw Foundation Library. Examples of materials purchased with this grant money are shown below. Visit us to see others and discover the many other exceptional resources the McCaw Foundation Library has to offer.

Kate Nack, Library Volunteer, McCaw Foundation Library for Asian Art

Maps of Time and Place at the McCaw Foundation Library

A map is a visual depiction of a particular place, and it is a reflection of the perspectives of the time in which it was made. We can better understand the way people in a particular era saw the world – and their place in it – by looking at the maps they used.

A New Map of Asia from the Latest Observations: Most Humbly Inscribed to the Right Honbe. George Earl of Warrington, 1721. London: D. Browne. SPCOL G 7400 I710 S4. Donated by Frank Bayley, acquired from the collection of former SAM Curator of Japanese Art, William Jay Rathbun.

A New Map of Asia from the Latest Observations: Most Humbly Inscribed to the Right Honbe. George Earl of Warrington, 1721. London: D. Browne. SPCOL G 7400 I710 S4. Donated by Frank Bayley, acquired from the collection of former SAM Curator of Japanese Art, William Jay Rathbun.

John Senex’s (English, 1678-1740) New Map of Asia, which dates from 1721, is a representation of the technical information available at the time. It also provides insight into the way European explorers viewed the countries in Asia and their relationships to each other. Senex was a geographer to Queen Anne (1665-1714), and one of 18th century England’s best known map makers. His map of Asia contains a lot of information.

Detail from A New Map of Asia from the Latest Observations: Most Humbly Inscribed to the Right Honbe. George Earl of Warrington, 1721. London: D. Browne. SPCOL G 7400 I710 S4. Donated by Frank Bayley, acquired from the collection of former SAM Curator of Japanese Art, William Jay Rathbun.

Detail from A New Map of Asia from the Latest Observations: Most Humbly Inscribed to the Right Honbe. George Earl of Warrington, 1721. London: D. Browne. SPCOL G 7400 I710 S4. Donated by Frank Bayley, acquired from the collection of former SAM Curator of Japanese Art, William Jay Rathbun.

It spans a vast geographical area from the tip of North Africa and part of the Mediterranean in the west to Indonesia and Japan in the east; from what is now Mongolia in the north to New Holland (now called Australia) in the south. It notes the currents along the east coast of Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and the Indian Ocean. Areas that were most thoroughly explored by the 18th-century English are the ones that include the most detail; those that were not as well-known are more generally depicted, such as the “Land of Less” and “Company’s Land,” which are shown as large, indistinct land masses, as is the “Eastern Ocean” to the north of them. In the upper left corner, a cartouche includes two people in stylized Asian dress, surrounded by representations of some typical animals and plants.

Suseon Jeondo (Whole Map of Seoul), between 1861 and 1887. Seoul, Korea: publisher unknown. SPCOL G 7904 S4. Donated by Kimerly Rorschach.

Suseon Jeondo (Whole Map of Seoul), between 1861 and 1887. Seoul, Korea: publisher unknown. SPCOL G 7904 S4. Donated by Kimerly Rorschach.

Similarly, cartographer Jeongho Kim’s (Korean, active 1834-1864) Suseon Jeondo (Map of Seoul) shows us what was important in Korea in 1845, during the Joseon Dynasty. This is a map drawn by someone intimately familiar with the area and the people and practices that characterized the time in which it was made and used. The use of Chinese characters is typical of formal documentation of that time.

Detail from Suseon Jeondo (Whole Map of Seoul), between 1861 and 1887. Seoul, Korea: publisher unknown. SPCOL G 7904 S4. Donated by Kimerly Rorschach.

Detail from Suseon Jeondo (Whole Map of Seoul), between 1861 and 1887. Seoul, Korea: publisher unknown. SPCOL G 7904 S4. Donated by Kimerly Rorschach.

The wood-block print map of Hanyang (Seoul) thoroughly surveys the entire city: major roads, facilities, and villages are realistically represented more or less to scale. These precisely depicted everyday elements of the city are ringed by symbolic portrayals of larger-than-life mountains, creating a significant contrast. These mountains, traditionally a symbolic connection between the sky and the authority of the king, are intentionally drawn larger than to scale to emphasize their connection to the heavens.

We invite you to see these maps in person at the McCaw Foundation Library at the Asian Art Museum. The library’s public hours for the summer are: Thursdays and Fridays, 2 PM – 5 PM; Saturdays 10 AM – 2 PM. (Please note that the library is closed July 2-5, 2015.)

– Kate Nack, Library Volunteer, McCaw Foundation Library for Asian Art

Bibliography:
Kim, Jeongho. A map of Seoul in the period of Joseon Dynasty. Seoul: J. Kim, ca. 1845.
Senex, John. A new map of Asia: from the latest observations. London: D. Browne, 1721.

For the Love of Art Member Profile: Brian Nova

BRIAN NOVA
Jazz musician
Friend member since 2004

Brian Nova has been a member of SAM for over a decade. His membership—like all memberships—supports programs at the museum, including tours and workshops for students, talks by visiting artists from across the world, and the preservation of more than 24,000 objects in our collection.

When we sat down to talk on a sunny day at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, Brian had just flown in from Napa Valley. He’s a jazz musician, and travels all over the country playing music. His enthusiasm for the arts was catching, and we all felt lucky when he picked up his guitar and played for a little bit as his picture was being taken.

What role does art play in society?
As a touring jazz artist, for me art plays one of the most important roles in society. It unites people of all races, religions, and cultures by giving us a deeper, more meaningful connection. Art forces all who look, feel, or listen, to look, feel, or listen a little deeper. Art helps us to look within ourselves as well as each other.

Art is the fiber that allows connections between those who dwell there. When we look back upon past cultures, past societies, it is the art of that culture, the art of that society, that is remembered, admired, and built upon.

You’re a jazz musician! What do you play?
I play guitar and sing.

You do this professionally?
I do. I tour all over the world doing this. It’s my job. I tour with a lot of different people. I just moved back to Seattle; I was living in the South for a while. I grew up in Seattle. I spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill and in Volunteer Park.

The Asian Art Museum was always a place I would hang out, write music, and just become one with the place.

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Do you have memories of the Seattle Art Museum?
Oh, absolutely. I remember coming in the ’60s and early ’70s when I was a kid. My parents dragged us through—as kids we didn’t want to come.

Since then I have brought my niece and nephew both to the Seattle Art Museum and the Asian Art Museum—twice this past year. Getting them used to the world of museums and world of history and getting a bit of art and culture in their lives. It’s getting harder and harder to find and I travel all over the world. So when we have a place like SAM here, I say, “You kids are coming with me.”

Why do you think that’s so important for them?
Well, I am an artist. This is my world. So without art…you know, it’s the lack of art in our culture that has given us no back-up. For me, when I travel around the world, what stands out from all the old civilizations is their culture and that’s all it is. No one cares about their commerce; no one cares about anything else. Maybe a little bit of architecture and science, which is still art. That is what holds true in every society. We are looking for: “What is your culture?”

To be able to look back at other cultures and get an eye into what they were thinking and going through—I think that’s invaluable. I think the arts, coming from the music side—they’re essential for growth in kids.

I think that at any age you are never too old to pick up an instrument; you are never too old or young to come into the museum and learn about the world, art, and culture. To me that’s why places like SAM are so important.

How long have you been a member of SAM?
Since the late ’90s. I have belonged to the de Young Museum in San Francisco from about the same time.

Do you remember what prompted you to join?
Yes, actually, it was through jazz. They had just started doing the Art of Jazz program at SAM. I got called to do it. I was blown away at how gorgeous it was.

Also, I lived in a building not too far away and my neighbor worked at SAM. She said if I wanted to go she could get me a pass. I went with a friend and I couldn’t believe Seattle has a place like this. With the Hammering Man and all…

I thought wow, this is really different than I remember. SAM was around when I was young but not as prolific as it is today—and with the park…! It’s pretty cool with all the events they are doing and everything.

SAM has really grown up and I am just so happy to be here.

Join Brian as a SAM member today.

Mr.’s Caterpillar (or: The Importance of Living On)

When we arrive at the Asian Art Museum, the Tateuchi Galleries are filled with cardboard boxes. Each room has a low tower built up in the middle, away from the walls. You can see flashes of a panda sticker on many of them, the logo of a moving company. Some of Mr.’s paintings are already hung, and a few are leaning against the walls. In a couple of places, an 8.5×11 piece of paper with a picture of a painting is taped to the wall with masking tape, giving us a clue of what will be going there.

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The paintings are huge—much larger than we would have guessed—the size of entire gallery walls. We watch as four art preparators carefully lift and place one panel of three, sliding it along a rail toward the other two until you can just barely discern the seam.

Mr. is sitting at a folding table, working on a laptop. He’s surrounded by printouts of his paintings, plans that show how to build the installation in front of him, and photographs he’s taken. He wears a striped hoodie and glasses and jeans, and he seems perfectly happy to take a break and talk about what he’s working on. He doesn’t speak much English, and I speak no Japanese, so we chat with the aid of SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, Xiaojin Wu, and Mr.’s assistant, Kozue, who’s also based here in Seattle. The necessary triplicate of the interview means we move through the galleries slowly, standing amidst the cardboard boxes and the sounds of drills nearby. Everyone is so patient it’s hard to tell how much time is passing.

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The installation he’s stationed in front of is the centerpiece of the exhibition, a tribute to the March 11, 2011 Tōhoku tsunami and ensuing earthquake. Most recently, it was shown at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York. When it’s finished, it’s about the size of a train car, made up of what Mr. calls “stuff.”

Right now, it’s just a skeleton made from pipes and plywood. It looks something like an erector set, and Mr. refers to it affectionately as the “caterpillar.” The art preparators working in this gallery say that it’s like putting together a puzzle. They have sketches to follow, but they’re not exact, and they’re figuring it out with Mr. as they go. It will be a massive structure, made up of hundreds of everyday objects of Japanese life that Mr. spent three months collecting. Some crates were shipped from New York City, where they were stored after the Lehmann Maupin show. Some crates were shipped from Japan. Mr.’s translator points out a box of curry, emphasizing that all of these are real things used every day in Japan. I ask if the installation changes every time he constructs it, and he says it’s hard to keep it the same, so by nature it varies. Mr. is creating new paintings with which to surround the installation. And this is the first time that Mr.’s photographs of the aftermath of the tsunami will be on display.

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During the tsunami, Mr. was living in Saitama, Japan, just outside of Tokyo. One hundred days after the tsunami hit, Mr. went to the site and took hundreds of photographs. He pulls his laptop off the table to show me some of the pictures and brings it with us as we look at the wall where they’ll be plastered in a collage from bottom to top.

“I went,” Mr. says, which sound a bit like a pronouncement because in the midst of all the Japanese, he says it in English. Which—this one is. He went there. He saw it in person. He witnessed.

A hundred days after the tsunami, he explains, means it was almost summer. There was a factory nearby that had been making canned fish, and it smelled terrible. While Mr. looks through his photos to find what he wants to show me, I ask Xiaojin why she thinks it’s important that Seattle see the artwork.

“I think at the beginning we were attracted to Mr.’s work because of the tsunami installation. The tsunami was such a huge event that impacted so many Japanese people’s lives that you can look around and almost all the Japanese contemporary artists, in some way, have responded to it. But Mr.’s response is quite unique. He uses the daily items he collected. But he also went to the place and documented the aftermath, so I think it’s very meaningful for us to show that. And somehow, even though his main body of works is made up of paintings, some of the works he made even earlier tie into that idea of disaster and how we respond to it. We think it will be very interesting for the Seattle audience to see a different perspective of Japanese Pop art. Even though the paintings look like anime/manga, they are not just about this—even they have more to them, a little bit deeper meanings. You can get a bit deeper, see beyond the surface…beyond those big eyes, those smiles.” Xiaojin laughs suddenly as she references the happy-go-lucky anime faces, like there’s something bubbly just in talking about it.

Mr. draws my attention to his laptop and shows me the photos of collapsed buildings, tipped cars, downed power lines. Everything looks askew, and gray, covered in silt and dust. In some photos, Mr. is wearing a mask.

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“When you first went to the tsunami site, did you experience it more as an artist, looking to make artwork, or were you just there to see and experience it as a citizen, as a civilian who’d been part of this disaster?” I ask.

Both Xiaojin as she listens to my question in English, and then Mr. as she translates it into Japanese, nod solemnly. Mr. talks for a long time.

“He was saying the tsunami just impacted everybody in Japan, everyone in the entirety of Japan,” Xiaojin starts. “So he never thought, I’ll go in there as an artist. He just wanted to go and see and experience, but after this experience, his thoughts have just changed so much, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster was also, after…it’s still going on.”

Mr. starts speaking again as Xiaojin slow down. She murmurs in agreement as he talks, a thoughtful sound.

“He says there are two types of people that the tsunami had an impact on. One is directly those people who lived there, lost their home, and really, they probably had the worst damage. But the second kind is just like him, who didn’t really directly experience the tsunami but they lost power, or water, or the supermarket didn’t have enough supplies, so they experienced it indirectly. But just on different levels, everybody was involved.”

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The next week, when I go back to the Asian Art Museum, the installation is nearly complete. Above the screen that blocks gallery access, I can see a mattress, folded into a u shape over the top of the structure. The installation crams so many pieces of life together that it seems impossible it will hold, in the way an over packed suitcase may burst open at any moment. It’s about trauma, but also about the possibilities of what will come next.

The title of the installation? Give Me Your Wings – think different. No wonder Mr. has nicknamed the skeletal structure the caterpillar.

Live On: Mr.’s Japanese Neo-Pop is now on view at the Asian Art Museum.

Words: Maggie Hess, Copywriter
Photos: Natali Wiseman & Stephanie Fink

SAM Art: Quick! Before it’s too late!

A Fuller view of China, Japan and Korea, the museum’s celebration of our Asian art collection closes this weekend. See the Hell of Shrieking Sounds, Deer Scroll, Crows Screen, and other favorites before they disappear from our galleries. Before they go, make sure you see the stunning Hell of Shrieking Sounds scroll, which relates a Buddhist sutra on the different representations of hell. The inscription on the SAM scroll reads, in part:

“…there is a place called the Shrieking Sound Hell. The inmates of this place are those who in the past, while human beings, …[failed] to conduct themselves properly and having no kindness in their hearts, they beat and tortured beasts.”

(Translation by Mr. K. Tomita for the Seattle Art Museum)

Segment of the Hell Scroll: Hell of Shrieking Sounds, ca. 1200, Japanese, Heian period (794 – 1185), handscroll; ink and color on paper, 10 3/8 x 25 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.172. On view until Sunday, 13 April, at the Asian Art Museum.

Make Your Own Wonderful Wardrobe at the Seattle Asian Art Museum on Free First Saturday

On Saturday, May 5, bring your family to the Seattle Asian Art Museum for Free First Saturday! Explore the exhibition Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats, and design your own wearable art inspired by gorgeous garments from central Asia.
This fun-filled day will feature special performances by Silk Road Dance Company, which has delighted audiences around the country with traditional and fusion dances from the Middle East and Central Asia. Performing Uzbek, Afghani, Tadjik, Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Persian, and Egyptian dance techniques rarely seen in the United States, Silk Road Dance Company offers a unique glimpse of the life, culture, and art of little known regions.

Please note that a large public event in Volunteer Park will be taking place all day May 5. We recommend that you allow extra time for parking and walking to the Seattle Asian Art Museum. You also may want to consider biking or taking a bus instead of driving.

Free First Saturday at the Seattle Asian Art Museum is presented by Russell Investments with support provided by The Peg & Rick Young Foundation.

-Madeline Moy, Digital Media Manager

Japanese Internment Remembered at Final Weekend of “Painting Seattle”

In recognition of Remembrance Day on February 19, guest curator Barbara Johns will give an exhibition tour of Painting Seattle: Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura on Saturday, February 18, at 11 am.

Remembrance Day marks the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which enabled the U.S. military to forcibly relocate anyone considered threatening to national security. The order resulted in the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were American born citizens, the children and grandchildren of the Japanese immigrant generation. Even as the order was signed, ranking officials understood that there were no grounds to suspect and hold an entire population. This year is the 70th anniversary of the signing.

The circumstances leading to the signing and the impact on peoples’ lives is movingly recounted in Tokita’s diary, which is published in Signs of Home: The Paintings and Wartime Diary of Kamekichi Tokita. Two of his paintings from the Minidoka Relocation Center are included in the exhibition.

Admission to the Seattle Asian Art Museum will be free on February 19—also the last day of Painting Seattle—in further recognition of the importance of the day.

Self-portrait, ca. 1936, oil on canvas, Kamekichi Tokita American (born in Japan), 1897-1946, 21 x 17 in., collection of Shokichi and Elsie Y. Tokita.

Food and Faith in Japan

A fascinating series of lectures will be offered at the Seattle Asian Art Museum on two topics that have increasingly entered the purview of art historians across the world: food and ritual in relation to art.

Japanese culture, both ancient and modern, is rich in elements of ritual display. Foods, drink, implements for ceremonial performance, and a wide range of display objects such as lacquer and ceramics are found on temple and shrine altars. Paintings extoll the sins and virtues of various foods—often in encoded visual subtexts. Mochi, which many of us know as a frozen ice cream treat, traces its origins to secular rituals for harvest or the New Year and religious rites in ancient Japan. Paintings in the Seattle Art Museum collections transport us back in time to the days when wrongly accused courtiers and statesmen took vengeance on the perpetrators of injustice and were pacified only by regular ceremonies at court or posthumous enshrinement at Shinto jinja.

Professor Cynthea J. Bogel (East Asian visual culture and art history, University of Washington) has organized colleagues, community, and students to form a creative collaboration that explores ritual, foods, objects of display, and medieval Japanese painting side by side. Working with the Simpson Center for the Humanities, the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle artist and cultural anthropologist Julia Harrison, and input from Seattle’s Asian-American artist and confectionary-making community, four lectures will be offered at the Seattle Asian Art Museum free of charge.

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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

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

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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Free days at SAM!

If you missed the opportunity to take advantage of free admission to SAM and the Seattle Asian Art Museum on First Thursday, don’t fret. This weekend, there are several ways you can come visit us for free!

First Fridays: Admission is free for seniors 62+ the first Friday of every month. (And by the way, teens aged 13-19 get in free every Second Friday from 5-9 pm.)

First Free Saturday Presented by Wells Fargo: On September 3 from 11 am – 2 pm, bring your family to the Seattle Asian Art Museum to create ink drawings with music from the drums played across Asia, including Japan, Korea, India and the Philippines.

Bank of America’s Museums on Us: On the first full weekend of every month, Bank of America cardholders receive free admission at SAM and the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Blue Star Museum Program: SAM and the Seattle Asian Art Museum are participating with the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families and over 1,000 museums in the US by offering free admission to military personnel and their families.Over 2,000 people have already come to SAM thanks to this program. Just show your military ID. The military ID holder plus up to five  immediate family members (spouse or child of ID holder) are allowed in for free per visit.

If none of these free days apply to you, please remember that admission at SAM and the Seattle Asian Art Museum is suggested, and we welcome you to pay what you can.

All Roads Lead to SAM: New and Improved Visitor Information

At the suggestion of one of our customers, SAM’s online visitor information just got tricked out. In an effort to encourage people to use different forms of transportation and to make it easier to find us no matter where you are, we’ve added several links to maps that show people how to bike, bus and even walk to SAM Downtown, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park. Some of the exciting new features include:

  • Bike rack information (did you know that there are bike racks at all three locations?) as well as maps that have bike and bus directions.
  • Links to three different public transportation sites with a SAM location already entered as the destination, as well as a link to Metro that lists all the buses that go nearby.

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Dear SAM: A Love Letter From a Summer Intern

Dear SAM,

I usually begin letters more eloquently than this. There’s usually a smooth intro, a “how do you do,” a nifty tidbit about my life. But brutal honesty is all that’s coming to mind now and I think we’re now close enough for that. So here it goes: I am going to miss you immensely. And here’s why…

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Love Takes SAM by Storm

SAM’s hallways recently echoed with joyous shrieks and laughter. Although perhaps a common occurrence, the aura of joy and excitement was not from a new art piece or an exhibition opening or even a Soundsuit…

It was a marriage proposal! A young man named Storm Bennett proposed to his long-term girlfriend Stephanie in the hall of the Seattle Art Museum in a most creative way… Read More

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