Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, was interviewed by Megan Burbank of the Seattle Times for a Sunday feature on “how Seattle-area museums are weathering the pandemic.” Read her insights—and those from her colleagues—on the challenges and opportunities that arose.
“Pivoting to their own permanent collections is something museums may do more and more as they emerge from the pandemic with smaller operating budgets. ‘I think it’ll be really fun for viewers, and also for us, by the way. We on the staff will learn what we have in storage as well,’ said Cruz.”
“This idea of disarming my viewer is key to my process. In order to really see, one’s expectations need to be interrupted. I situate my vision in the big arc of time and human spirit, not the present journalistic moment.”
“While the work is specific to the physical and mental pain Black women deal with every day (‘Alice has always been in her own personal pandemic,’ says Anastacia-Reneé), Don’t Be Absurd captures a portrait of isolation that urgently reflects the world we’re emerging out of.”
“Savage was an important artist held back not by talent but by financial limitations and sociocultural barriers. Most of Savage’s work has been lost or destroyed but today, a century after she arrived in New York City at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, her work, and her plight, still resonate.”
The Seattle Art Museum is open, with limited capacity and timed tickets released online every Thursday. Chamidae Ford reviews Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle for South Seattle Emerald, noting that the exhibition “takes us on a journey through American history, reframing the narratives we have heard for centuries.”
“As different as can be, the two shows are rooted in a truth: How we see our past and our present are inextricable from how we see our future. That is, we’re still filling in frames, and might, with some attention, fill them in more honestly.”
Crosscut’s Brangien Davis is back with her weekly ArtSEA; this time, she visits Seattle’s new newsstand, previews the ByDesign festival, and some musical events.
Seattle Met’s Erin Wong with the story of how adult children of owners of Chinatown-International District restaurants are bringing their digital literacy to help the businesses during the pandemic crisis.
“Now, it’s the younger generations who are circling back to help their parents navigate the internet age. ‘This is just one thing I can do for my tribe, you know?’ [Carol] Xie says, ‘If that’s all it takes, I’m more than happy to do it.’”
“Calder’s mobiles, whose orbits are eccentric, are particularly hard to anticipate. ‘I’ve never encountered a museum before that makes large, full scale cutouts for the actual gallery where the sculptures are going to go into,’ [Alexander S.C.] Rower said. ‘I think that’s amazing.’”
“Rather than choose between abstraction or realism, Lawrence deftly navigated between the two. ‘He found narrative to be very important. That act of storytelling and reviving history and really thinking about events of the past and how you communicate those in a very modern way—it was really central to his practice and his process as an artist,’ [curator Theresa Papanikolas] said.”
“The Langs were intentional in collecting art, he said, listening to friends and dealers but ultimately making independent decisions about what they liked. They lived with these paintings and sculptures; everything they owned was up on the wall or on display. And in a similar spirit, this donation is intended for the public good—these babies need to be seen.”
“‘It was amazing how many people recognized me the first couple of years I was here,” said Turner. “While walking down the street, I would often get asked the question was I the chief librarian.’ That appreciation was a pleasant and welcome surprise, but it didn’t put more pressure on Turner. Rather, it increased his awareness that it was more than just library staff and the board of directors keeping tabs on his performance. The Seattle community would also be a vocal stakeholder.”
“[Curator Lydia] Gordon is pinning her hopes on the huge community of Lawrence’s former students and supportive gallerists and curators in Seattle, where the painter lived for the last three decades of his life after leaving New York. ‘Oh, we’re totally going to find them!’ she said firmly.”
Last week, the Seattle Times announced some major news for SAM: The museum received a gift of 19 artworks and dedicated funds for their care and conservation from the Friday Foundation, which celebrates the legacy of two exceptional, art-loving philanthropists. The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection at SAM features significant examples of Abstract Expressionist and post-war European art and will be on view later this fall.
“Now the Bellini has been isolated in a room of its own, in a gallery bare as a monastic cell. Light falls, from the same angle as in the painting, through a small Breuer window that the Whitney and Met often obscured. As I sat in that empty room, the cold February sun streaming in, it felt like a space worth a pilgrimage.”
Remember the snow days? (All two of ‘em?) The Stranger’s Charles Mudede had the wonderful idea to spend it with John Akomfrah’s The Last Angel of History, which is streaming on the Criterson Channel as part of its Afrofuturism collection.
“The pandemic has laid bare and amplified the issues that have eaten away at jazz far before the novel coronavirus’ first sour note. Those challenges include a daunting and shifting economic model, widespread lack of understanding among Americans about one of their few truly indigenous art forms, and underlying causes steeped, unsurprisingly, in race.”
The New York Times reports that the president of Newfields, home to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, has resigned, after the organization posted a job posting for a new director that would attract a more diverse audience while maintaining its “traditional, core, white art audience.”
Artnet’s Brian Boucher on the New Museum’s new exhibition, Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America, one of the final projects of curator Okwui Enwezor. A high-profile group of artists, curators, and scholars came together to achieve his vision.
“‘Okwui’s framing of the project takes the idea of a political crime and transfers it to the register of psychological impact,’ said curator Naomi Beckwith, who worked on the show, in a Zoom conversation with Artnet News. ‘The show’s title alludes not to a historic event, but rather to a state of being.’”
All SAM locations are currently closed until further notice, but we’re working behind the scenes for when we can reopen the downtown museum (again!). For now, revisit this interview between SAM curator Catharina Manchanda and artist Barbara Earl Thomas about SAM show The Geography of Innocence, which Thomas calls her “two-way mirror” onto the world.
“But a soul-sick nation is not likely to recover if it loses fundamental parts of its humanity. Without actors and dancers and musicians and artists, a society will indeed have lost something necessary — for these citizens, these workers, are the technicians of a social catharsis that cannot come soon enough.”
“‘Jinny was always a self-effacing person, but she had a love for art and humanity. She never wanted to say we’re done with art,’ [Catharina] Manchanda said. ‘She would want us to press forward into the future with the curiosity and hope that she had.’”
“‘My thoughts are [for everyone to] be a good citizen,’ says Thomas. ‘If SAM is closed down that means all of the exhibits cannot be seen. This is not personal to me and so we all have to deal, we all have to do our part. I’m lucky because my show will be up at least for a year, so if all things go well people will be able to see my show within four to six weeks.’”
Mark Van Streefkerk of South Seattle Emerald previewed the virtual edition of Legendary Children, which was presented on Saturday. Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the event highlights the talents of queer and trans Black and POC creatives and is co-presented by SAM and the Seattle Public Library.
“A welcome reprieve from isolation, a hub of safe extroversion”: The Daily’s Austen Van Der Veen on the wonders of Volunteer Park. SAM’s reimagined Asian Art Museum, which reopened in February of this year only to close again in March, is mentioned; the museum looks forward to yet another reopening in the future.
Cornish College of the Arts has announced the eight finalists for the annual Neddy Artist Awards, The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig reports. Priya Frank, SAM’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, served as one of the jurors for the awards, which will grant $30,000 each to the two winners.
“‘I feel so excited and proud for the choices we made when selecting the eight finalists,’ said Frank in a statement. ‘All exceeded the criteria, and I was touched by the ways they express their talents in such profound and inspiring ways that allow us to see the beauty and humanity in art as a reflection of life.’”
This weekend, LACMA unveiled a new outdoor sculptural installation by Alex Prager. Titled Farewell, Work Holiday Parties, the piece features “15 eerily realistic, life-size sculpted figures enjoying (enjoying?) an insurance company holiday party in full swing.”
“Fully one-quarter of the art on show in the new galleries is by Latin American and Latinx artists. Among the prizes are works by Lygia Clark, Gego (aka Gertrud Goldschmidt), Hélio Oiticica, Mira Schendel, and Joaquín Torres-García.”
“I particularly love the mess of hands and feet on both sides of the work; the rebel farmers’ messy hair and their big, blocky hands; the bright red blood against the scene’s muted tones. Like with a lot of Lawrence’s work, you benefit from a long, good look.”
“‘I recognize that many of our institutions have long-term needs—or ambitious goals—that could be supported, in part, by taking advantage of these resolutions to sell art,’ [AAMD board of trustees president Brent Benjamin] wrote. ‘But however serious those long-term needs or meritorious those goals, the current position of AAMD is that the funds for those must not come from the sale of deaccessioned art.’”
Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence, which will be on view for a year at SAM, centers Black youth in a series of all-new artworks at once delicate and resilient. This Seattle-based artist uses cut-paper and glass portraits and transforms an entire gallery into a luminaria. A place for reflection, the works cut to the core of the fundamental values we assign to light and dark. The disarming expressions of children in Thomas’ portraits ask us to consider how we see each other and how we internalize and project innocence and guilt. Drawn from a community of family and friends, The Geography of Innocence celebrates young lives and their futures in full consciousness of the pervasive violence against Black children. SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Catharina Manchanda interview this important artist in anticipation of the upcoming exhibition. Tickets to visit the galleries will be available starting November 1!
Catharina Manchanda: Biblical narratives form the backdrop of many of your works, and you bring the symbolism of light and shadow to bear on the political situation in this country. What narratives do you explore in The Geography of Innocence?
Barbara Earl Thomas: It’s the two-way mirror through which I see the world. It’s narrated to me in my grandmother Phoebe’s voice with whom I often spent the weekends and summers; where at each exit to the bathroom, kitchen, or bedroom, she’d say, “I’ll be right back, God willing.” This set a tone for the temporality of each moment of this life as she moved through her day. Her God ruled every moment and was the reason for everything good. The devil, his dark wily opposite, was the root of all evil. She loved and admonished us in those terms. Everything was literal. When I misbehaved, the devil had gotten into me. This meant I was not quite responsible for my misdeeds, but in some moment of inattention, I’d let down my guard, and admitted the demon who caused me to climb that tree and fall out, or say some bad words to my cousins who were also full of devils. She reminded me that hell was paved with hot stones, filled with fire, and it came out of your eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. I saw this, clear as day. My grandfather admonished her because he knew by nightfall, I’d be so crazed with this idea of the devil, that instead of sleeping on the couch, I might have to sleep with them. These were some of my first stories heard, sung, and repeated. They formed the backdrop of beauty and mystery of my world.
As a young person I was drawn to the oratorical language of the sermon and its talk of miracles and prophecy—none of which I’d seen. It was the music I listened to, the silences from the adults as I entered the room, and the ladies who prayed over me when I was sick. The ritual and the shape of sanctuary no matter the denomination—Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, Lutheran and Evangelical—was all the same to me. I’d wander into Holy Names Cathedral just off Union Street, or accompany a friend to one of the many Pentecostal churches often set up in temporary store fronts, fleeting in their residence. During these services accompanied by full bands, there were people who sang as each member became possessed by a holy spirit. There were the Jewish people walking to synagogue on Saturday. All these places in my small world were little fires of community where deep emotion and imagination converged. There were stories, food, songs, candles, holy water, and scenes of strange happenings from some mythical past about some next world.
I was intrigued by the language and cultural references around how we describe victims when we think and speak about the violence so prevalent in our country. There is something of heaven and hell to this: violence spirals down from police shootings of young Black men, to nightclub massacres, to random sniper killings of the oldest and then to the youngest among us, our children. I thought, this is where it will stop, with the children. Certainly every adult will draw the line when it comes to the wholesale slaughter of children. Sadly, that was not the case, but what emerged for me from the myriad mass shootings—with Sandy Hook most notably—was the language around sympathy, guilt, and innocence. In thinking about why we as adults couldn’t put children first, I was drawn to studies that demonstrated how we, as a culture, see our children. Here young Black children are seen as less innocent and, therefore, less worthy of public grief than white children.
My ideas for this exhibit surfaced after several readings of Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows and a subsequent re-reading of a mid-1980’s James Hillman essay, Notes on White Supremacy. Prescient in its content, Hillman explores the deep-seated world of mythology around the concepts of light and dark, black and white. As I’d read the essay so long ago, I’d forgotten Hillman’s reference to Tanizaki’s book. It was a happy connection. Both the book and essay deal with how deeply imprinted our associations with language and its usage of the words and concepts are associated with darkness and light. From guilt to innocence they hold a deep well of our associated fears of the unclean and besmirched. Conversely, we associate light and white with all that is pure, clear, clean, and, therefore, innocent and unblemished.
Light and dark. Light and shadow. What is seen and unseen. What is clear and what is mystery—these kinds of experiences are part of my story in addition to my formal education. This is the base that provided the vocabulary and shaped my narrative of the world. As a Black person, I can’t help but see myself in the landscape and imagine how others might experience me based on how I appear to them. I search myself to see how I react to and employ my thoughts and opinions, because aside from being Black I’m also human and subject to the world’s influences.
In this new body of work, I use multiple images of Black children: bold, frontal, and almost life size, so that their faces engage the viewer. In my cuts, I explore youth and its innocence imprinted in and on the subjects’ expressions. I purposefully insist on this particular view and stance because it’s not the one most given to us often in the media or popular culture. The backgrounds may hold contrasting stories that compete with the figures and their stance—the push and pull of the opposites; the yin and yang.
CM: Elsewhere you noted: “I create stories from the apocalypse we live in now and narrate how life goes on in the midst of chaos.” This statement is acutely felt right now—can you talk about it in relationship to the work that will be on view at SAM?
BET: As a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s, now as then, there was much ado and action around issues of inequity. The utopian movements that sprang up were numerous. Like formal religion, these communities and/or cults were created as foils to the many disasters life holds. We are afraid and terrified; there is nothing new in that. We construct magic circles and ritual movements to distract and protect ourselves from floods, storms, fires, famines, diseases and yes, now plagues. It is my observations and my experiences that interest me, so like a good witness I note, record, and echo back to my viewer my literal experience of the world through visual stories.
CM: You call yourself “artist, writer, thinker.” We also know that you are an engaged reader. How does your reading and writing practice inform your visual work?
BET: Reading is life. As an active reader I’ve always used literature and all of my reading to inform my world. I read and write to get at truth and to clarify my own thought process. It’s easy for me to talk about my thoughts and correct or rephrase as I go. There is something about being in a room and engaging in a conversation that can make even confused thought processes sound plausible. But when I write I am forced to create clear sentences and connect thoughts and see if they hold water. When I read, I’m looking for the rigor and willingness in the author to think things all the way through. Writers like James Baldwin, August Wilson, and John Edgar Widman are American writers who do that for me. Poets like Pablo Neruda and Rilke capture truth in a nonlinear image condensed. Most recently, I’ve been reading Colin Thurbron’s travel writing, Pico Iyer, and rereading Robert D. Kaplan. I love good travel writing as it is a way to see the world through others’ eyes and be in other parts of this world without traveling. What all these authors share is clear thinking and hard truth telling, which is something I demand of myself in my own work.
CM: You are making a lot of new work for the exhibition, which include different kinds of processes. Would you tell us about the use of the negative space in your paper cuts (you say you draw with the knife!) compared to the wall hangings?
BET: The negative space allows the light to shine in contrast. It heightens the experience. When paired with the positive it creates shadows and mystery. The concept demonstrates that both are needed to create the particular magic that is this story. Both positive and negative space are needed to create a world that exists as sculpture in the round—one that is not flat or one-dimensional. Both are needed to create the emotional response that I seek. When people are surrounded, they are forced to surrender their senses for a moment.
CM: You are pairing your cut paper works with illuminated glass panels for the installation at SAM, what prompted you to pair these in the two adjacent galleries?
BET: I think of this exhibition as one installation made up of several parts. Each separate element has its role in the installation of the paper-cut portraits. Most of the figures are inspired by children of friends and neighbors, some are random portraits I’ve found. All are chosen because there is a way for me to show the part that I think is missing in many of our depictions of the innocence that lives in and marks the dark face of a child. I’m creating a space that holds the viewer in light and shadow to demonstrate something about illusion and how our imagination creates the monsters in the shadows even when there is nothing there. In this case I’m cutting the beautiful from the darkness and placing viewers in the shadows to make them a part of the world they observe. The portraits are cast as precious objects, surrounded by what feels like sacred objects—my candelabras. The hand-cut wallpaper is designed to create fountains of movement as the viewer is invited to the suspended centerpiece, Bodies in the Matrix.
Images: Siblings, 2020, Barbara Earl Thomas, American, cut paper and hand-printed color backing, 40 x 26 in., Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, photo: Spike Mafford. Color Wheel, 2020, Barbara Earl Thomas, American, cut paper and hand-printed color backing, 40 x 26 in., Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, photo: Spike Mafford.