For Crosscut’s weekly ArtSEA dispatch, Brangien Davis is inspired by “fresh attention to art arrangement” at both the Frye Art Museum and at SAM in American Art: The Stories We Carry.
“…a striking section…includes a huge portrait by Kehinde Wiley, a tintype photo of a Lummi violinist by Will Wilson and a turn-of-the-century cast-bronze sculpture of an ‘Indian Warrior’ by Alexander Phimister Proctor. Each holds a long straight object: a rod, a violin bow, and a spear. Each prompts thoughts about who is portrayed in art and how.”
“‘This landscape that was dominated by a big, honking, gray, rumbling freeway will now be a massive public park for the people,’ says Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, whose district includes the waterfront. At the center of it all will be the Seattle Aquarium’s new Ocean Pavilion: a 50,000-square-foot exhibit space featuring sharks, rays, and other animals and ecosystems from the tropical Pacific.”
“‘I took it as a huge responsibility,’ Thomas told Artnet News, noting that she had heard about the controversy surrounding the broken window, but never dreamed that she would become part of the story. ‘I feel quite emotional about it. This was a moment for me to be part of something far bigger than me.’”
“Both are artists of world renown who have meticulously told stories of Black people, Black history, and Black subjectivity in the United States since their careers began back in the 1970s. And, on top of it all, they are friends.”
ICYMI: The Seattle Times’ Vonnai Phair spotlighted Legendary Children, the celebration of queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities held this past Friday, September 23, for which SAM is a partner. And Alex Garland captured its beauty for South Seattle Emerald. It’s back to an annual event, so start planning your outfit for next year’s celebration now!
Seattle news from New Haven: Seattle-artist Barbara Earl Thomas recently unveiled stunning new stained glass windows she created for Yale University residential building Grace Hopper College. The story includes a link to an artists’ conversation about the project.
“‘I think it’s such a fascinating story,’ Martin said. He also appreciated collecting in an area where there wasn’t a huge amount of established scholarship. ‘It’s fun to have something to study, to try to understand, to apply your critical eye to without any outside pressure,’ he added. ‘There’s not a lot of promotion about [these] artists. You just have to find it out yourself.’”
“What’s up with all these rabbits everywhere?” asks Brendan Kiley for the Seattle Times’ Pacific NW Magazine. For the story, he met up with Bobby McCullough, Facilities and Landscape Manager at the Olympic Sculpture Park, to go in search of King Bunny, a resident bunny who may be responsible for a good number of the 500+ rabbits who make the sculpture park their home. P.S. Check out our video series Botany with Bobby for more stories from the park.
Crosscut’s Black Arts Legacies project, which launched in June, is still delivering. Here, project editor Jasmine Mahmoud writes about singer Ernestine Anderson, who had a voice like “honey at dusk.”
“Ernestine was jazz and blues personified — she musically participated in both worlds,” daughter [Shelley] Young says of her mother’s musical impact. “Singing the blues involves storytelling,” she continues, “and she loved telling a story.”
“[Former Seattle SuperSonic Spencer] Haywood said in an interview on Sunday that he and Russell would often dine at a Seattle restaurant called 13 Coins after road trips, and Russell would regale him with stories about the civil rights movement.”
“On a recent Sunday afternoon, three art critics sniffed, prowled, jumped and climbed their way through a new exhibit. Khione gravitated to a colorful installation featuring cloth orbs and plastic linked chains. Oliver climbed on top of an austere, spiraling sculpture made out of 4x4s, plywood, masonite and carpet. And Luna sat in a small separate room, processing her impressions.”
Via Artnet: Another Super Bowl “friendly wager” of art sees a Robert Henri painting from the Cincinnati Art Museum heading to LA’s Huntington Library. SAM’s adventures in Super Bowl-ing in 2014 and 2015 are mentioned.
Tatler names “4 Power Couples of Design” from history, including the architects of the 1991 Seattle Art Museum building, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi.
“Halsey said it was one of her dreams in life to design a stage for Clinton to perform on that would match the scale of the maximalist P-Funk concerts of the 1970s. And why not? If nothing else, Clinton’s career has been an ongoing argument that anything is possible. He has a handful of live performances on the horizon, and when asked if he was planning to ever go back on tour, Clinton responded, ‘Oh, hell, yeah.’”
“The story that’s happening right now is we are in a struggle to be more human.”
– Barbara Earl Thomas
For more than a year, SAM visitors were mesmerized by the intricate and detailed cut-paper artwork of Seattle-based artist Barbara Earl Thomas in The Geography of Innocence. On the final few days of the installation, SAM sat down with Thomas to discuss how her breathtaking installation came together.
Watch this video to learn about the importance Barbara placed on bringing light into her work, her experiences working with children as models, the story behind the catechism in the installation, and the lessons she hopes her portraits impart.
“As a woman artist on the cutting edge of her field, Cunningham’s story is an important one to tell,” says Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Assistant Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art. “She undertook artistic collaborations with Ruth Asawa and Martha Graham, and I hope viewers leave not only with an understanding of Cunningham’s innovation and experimentation, but also her collaborative and charismatic spirit.”
“‘There’s so much evidence that she embodies the ethos of a Seattleite—being adventurous, being a free thinker and really embracing nature. And being such a gutsy woman so early on,’ says Elizabeth Brown, an expert in the history of photography, UW lecturer, and former chief curator of the Henry Art Gallery.”
“‘Contributing to the rise and the presence of African American choreographers, to me that is the big legacy. Dani worked tirelessly. I don’t know what’s going to happen with all of that now that dani’s not here,’ said Donald Byrd, artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater.”
“As a Black artist, I want that freedom and liberty for people to experience my painting on their own terms, with or without having a built-in, overly structured narrative of the Black plight attached to it.”
“Cunningham’s headstrong nature would come to define her long career as a fine arts photographer: She never hesitated to experiment, even if it meant sailing against the wind as a female photographer in a male-dominated industry.”
“I want everybody to be a little bit off their rocker, a little bit shocked, a little bit dazzled, a little bit held. That’s what I get to do.” – Barbara Earl Thomas
“Why they give.” In the spirit of holiday giving, 425 Business checks in with local philanthropists about their charity practice. The Banks family is featured; Dr. Cherry A. Banks is a SAM trustee.
For Thanksgiving, Crosscut once again highlights the bounty of Native art on view in the area, including Duane Linklater: mymothersside at the Frye Art Museum, new public art at Climate Pledge Arena, film screenings, holiday markets, and much more.
“You think you’re looking at something that’s very blasé and very familiar and comforting and then it’s something that really jolts you once you actually understand what you’re looking at,” said Lane Eagles, associate curator at the museum. “I think the idea is to sort of lull you into this sense of comfort so that you’re sort of disarmed and that that’s when the reality that every single plate is a dead person hits you.”
“As music by Dionne Warwick, Prince and Anita Baker plays overhead, a rotating lantern in the heart of the gallery casts cut-paper images across the room’s bare, white walls. The technique recalls the earlier magic-lantern work of artists Auguste Edouart and Kara Walker. But here, there are no silhouetted people, only abstracted monochrome shapes of cut fabric patterns (Adams) and stained-glass-like cutouts of an Afro pick and a cinderella shoe surrounded by roses (Thomas).”
“Slowly we were able to see the edges of ‘Virginia Summer,’” Mr. Masson said. “After numerous discussions with the owners, we started to go further and we realized that there was oil paint covering the whole canvas. It’s the first time we realized it’s not a sketch, it’s more.”
“[Mary Ann Santos] Newhall noted that just as languages can be lost from oral tradition, dances can likewise disappear. ‘It has to be passed on from body to body, or we lose our language.’ she said. ‘What Hannah [C. Wiley] is doing is preserving our language of dance.’”
“The performance can be understood as artistic consciousness-raising, which has been one of two main historical rationales for eco-oriented art (the other being more direct environmental remediation). Yet it’s a quite particular kind of consciousness-raising, one that offers sensory immersion rather than abstract information.”
“I heard ‘Psalm’ first,” he says, “and I was blown away, because I knew it was rare, that he never played it in public, except in France. But then when I turned the tape over and realized here’s Joe Brazil doing his matinee set, then it ends, then the next thing is the opening fanfare [of “Acknowledgment”], and — Oh my God, I realized the whole suite is here!”
“They remain relevant, and become increasingly more so as time passes,” [Rebecca] Romney said. “One of the cards depicts a scientist interacting with microbes; another shows something very akin to a Zoom session…Looking at these cards is a bit like catching up with a friend you haven’t seen since high school—that contraction of time in which it feels as if you experience two time periods at once, thinking of all that was different in the past, and how much has changed now.”
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.
“Cuts through the chaos”: Go into the studio of Barbara Earl Thomas with Crosscut’s video series, The New Normal. Video producer Aileen Imperial and team captured the thoughts of the artist as she worked on her series of cut-paper portraits of Black children, which will debut at SAM later in November in her solo exhibition, The Geography of Innocence.
It’s tough to focus on a book these days, right? Well, let this list of “11 Localish Books to Read This Autumn” collected by Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne provide some inspiration (or guilt, whatever works).
Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger declares time meaningless; switches up “Currently Hanging” to “Previously Hanging” to talk about Susan Dory’s Containment series. The artist’s show at Winston Wächter closed in June but is now back “on view” again via their website.
“We are a questioning people; questions will be asked. To wit: Is the name simply settled history, a historical bridge too far to even discuss? Is it a tad troublesome, but not enough to skip lunch over? Or is it a betrayal, wholly unjustified, a historical wrong deserving of righting?”
“One aspect of this ‘Americanness’ involved the image of the lone male — tall, taciturn, remote, just like Hopper — bravely forging his own path. This was precisely the image of himself that Hopper helped to propagate; even after his death, it went on to shape the story, now revealed to be a myth, of the miraculous early oils that Hopper is supposed to have come up with on his own.”
“For a moment, maybe only mentally, they escape to the beach and do somersaults on wet sand. It’s a good reminder during these fraught days to take a breath, dance around the block, put a houseplant on your head.”
“Residencies like Kaphar’s provide young artists an environment outside of art school—where the proportion of Black students (and faculty) still generally maxes out in the single digits—to hone their craft while not second-guessing their worth. ‘It’s just really draining to try to change it all on your own time when really all you want to do is focus on your work,’ says Tajh Rust, a former Black Rock fellow and Yale School of Art alum.”
“Its intent is to bring us into contact with the destabilizing forces of our perceptions and biases that disrupt our innocence. It is to make us conscious of our interdependency and marvel at how individual actions can lead to changes that are transformative or disruptive. It is to situate us in a moment of grace.”
Priya Frank, SAM’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, is interviewed for Visit Seattle’s SEAforSHE series, which celebrates women leaders in Seattle.
“‘I’m really excited,’ Russian says, as cyclists speed by. ‘The University Bridge is a drawbridge, so it’s very dynamic, tons of people walk and run across the bridge every day, plus all the boats going by underneath —’ then a boat’s air horn interrupts them.”
The American Alliance of Museums’ blog talks about children’s museology and the COVID-19 crisis, sharing how museums across the country are working to prioritize young people’s learning. SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is mentioned.
“It’s a society in which racism often determines presumption of guilt; in which imprisonment — human disempowerment and erasure — is chosen over righting the inequities that lead to prison. It’s a society in which caging people is big corporate business, with connections reaching everywhere, including the art world.”
SAM announced last week that Dawn Cerny is the winner of the 2020 Betty Bowen Award, an annual juried award for Pacific Northwest artists. Cerny will receive $15,000 and a solo exhibition at SAM in 2021. The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig shared the news, as did Artdaily.
“But she didn’t want to just capture them exactly as they were — she wanted to answer in her work the question, ‘What do I wish for them?’ Thomas didn’t want to talk about what she didn’t want — racism, violence, tragic deaths — but she wanted the work to embody the hope for the children’s futures.”
“I would argue that the Venus discovery is cultural, in the vein of Carl Sagan’s assertion that we’re all ‘made of star stuff.’ The mystifying connections across our vast universe contribute to the culture we humans create, even if subconsciously, or via some microscopic cellular nudge.”
The Brooklyn Museum made headlines last week when it announced it would sell twelve works from its collection at auction, to support the “management and care” of its full collection. They are the first major museum to take advantage of loosened regulations—due to the difficulties brought on by the coronavirus—around deaccessioning of works.
“…those kinds of cases she made her career of are the stuff of opera. The underdog, the ill-served character: Manon Lescaut, Violetta, women who have to struggle their way to the top for survival. They connected to her sense of right and wrong and what is a humane way of living.”
Barbara Earl Thomas—whose solo show at SAM, The Geography of Innocence, opens later this year—has been commissioned to create a set of windows for a residential college at Yale University; her design will “confront and contextualize the history of the residential college’s name, which originally honored 19th-century statesman and notorious slavery advocate John C. Calhoun.”
“As images on screens, many look like they’ve been rendered by the algorithm alone—a view of the mind of the machine, intricate and sterile. But in person these are big canvases, emphatically textured with oil paint. The colors look different. The intricate lines wobble humanly. The paintings exist in a hierarchy. And—sadly for our moment when quarantines may come in waves—you need to see them in person to grasp the final step.”
An intriguing poll from Artnet of over 2,000 of their readers finds that this art-loving group doesn’t plan to change their art-going behavior once venues reopen. Also among the findings: they are most excited about getting back to museums specifically, and their top reasons for wanting to return are a desire for inspiration, to learn, and to support the arts.
“‘The picture plane is the site of every action,’ Mr. Marshall said. He seemed to be speaking not only about the painting process but also how he conducts his whole life — after all, this is a man who captured a live crow to get to know it better. ‘How things occupy that space,’ he added, ‘matters more than anything.’”
Beyoncé’s “Black Is King”: Six New York Times critics say, let’s discuss.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations
Installation view Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Stephanie Fink.
In anticipation of Barbara Earl Thomas’s exhibition opening in November, Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence, this talented artist describes the development of a new body of work amidst the turmoil and crises of the past year and within the context of broader American history. The conversation follows Thomas’s exploration of grace, storytelling, perception, and process in her art making. Watch this interview with SAM’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Catharina Manchanda and get excited to experience these artworks in person this fall.
Defining herself as a storyteller, Thomas notes, “It is the chaos of living and the grief of our time that compels me, philosophically, emotionally, and artistically. I am a witness and a chronicler: I create stories from the apocalypse we live in now and narrate how life goes on in midst of the chaos.” In this exhibition, the artist will create an immersive environment of light and shadow—inhabited by large-scale narrative works in cut paper and glass—that addresses our preconceived ideas of innocence and guilt, sin and redemption, and the ways in which these notions are assigned and distorted along cultural and racial lines.
Brangien Davis of Crosscut reflects on art that protests and protest art, highlighting an 8-bit video game created by The Black Tones, Barbara Earl Thomas’s intricate paper cuts (to be featured in an upcoming show at SAM), and a “speculative fiction” press release imagining if SAM dissolved (which was erroneously published).
“Some art that erupts during social upheaval is momentary, some persists in minds and hearts, whether a poster, a painting, a flag, a fist or maybe even a video game.”
Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger continues to cover both the action and the art around the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP); this week, she notes that “The Bathrooms at Cal Anderson Park Look Sick” after a recent paint job by two volunteers.
“I just like the idea of the fact that light can be the subject.”
– Barbara Earl Thomas
Hear from Seattle-based powerhouse Barbara Earl Thomas as she shares the experience of seeing Saint Sebastion Tended by Saint Irene at SAM. More than seeing, Thomas encourages you to listen to the painting, to notice the quiet of the moment being painted.
Georges de La Tour is often mentioned as one of the many followers of Caravaggio (ca. 1571–1610), the Italian artist who pioneered the use of strong contrasts of light and dark to heighten the drama and religious feeling in his paintings. Though De La Tour probably never saw a work by Caravaggio, the innovative style spread across Europe, and the French artist first introduced his own version of “tenebrism” in this depiction of a nocturnal scene of deliverance. It was such a popular image that no fewer than a dozen other versions exist. The original painting is probably lost; this example is one of the best of the other versions, and some scholars believe it came directly from his studio and may have had his direct participation.
In Case of Fire is striking. Disorienting and surreal, the black-and-white landscape unfurls into the supernatural. A tree is anchored in a sea storm, a larger-than-life chicken is perched on the remains of a sinking home, animals and human figures are scattered against scenes of disaster.
Just as the flames and embers of fire possess movement, this linocut—a print carved onto linoleum block—captures the turbulent motion of winds, hills, and water swirling in waves across the surface. This fantastical presentation is of an apocalypse. Yet, despite the chaotic and apocalyptic imagery, In Case of Fire feels intuitively familiar. The fragmented images are contained in a single frame, and recall the nature of dreams with their strangely linear order of otherwise disconnected events and forms. Fishing and work-a-day motifs reflect the roles of labor and personal memory.
Seattle-based artist Barbara Earl Thomas is a storyteller. Though born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Thomas remains deeply connected to her Southern roots: Thomas’s parents had “left behind family and friends and a history rooted in slavery and sharecropping to take up 1940s war jobs.” As an art student at the University of Washington, Thomas studied under Jacob Lawrence, who remained her close mentor and friend until his passing in 2000.
The composition and dramatic scope of In
Case of Fire is inspired by folklore, myths, Biblical tales, and magical
realism, drawing on the storytelling traditions passed through generations in
Black history. An active figure in writing, arts administration, and public art
commissions, Thomas maintains a social responsibility in her artwork. She
invokes issues of inequity and injustice across communities and writes, “It is
the chaos of living and the grief of our time that compels me, philosophically,
emotionally, and artistically. I am a witness and a chronicler: I create
stories from the apocalypse we live in now and narrate how life goes on in
midst of the chaos.”