Report from Japan from Our Assistant Curator of Asian Art

This month, I traveled to Japan on a study tour for American curators of Japanese and contemporary art. Sponsored by the Japan Foundation, the two-week adventure took us on a whirlwind tour of museums in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Osaka, and Naoshima. The objective of the trip was to introduce a wide range of U.S. art professionals to Japanese museum practices and to foster a cross-cultural dialogue between specialists. The trip accomplished this goal, without a doubt, but it will be the events of March 11 and beyond that will prove most memorable.

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Running for Soup

Wondering what the SAM staff are up to over our furlough (more info on that here)? Some of us are getting out of town, some of us are staying home and catching up on sleep, and at least one individual is in training. Our Senior Accountant, Richard Heine, is running the Paris Marathon on April 10. Did I mention this is the first marathon he’s ever run? So while we normally encourage hours of browsing in the Louvre instead of passing it by at a 10 mph clip, in this case, we’re all behind him. 

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My Favorite Things Tours: Where Picasso Meets Lil’Wayne

So it’s a Friday night and you made it to SAM, waited in line (admiring Cai Guo-Qiang’s twinkling cars suspended above your head, of course), purchased your ticket to Picasso, followed the orange line up 2 floors, fidgeted with the audio guide while you wait in line again, entered the Picasso exhibition and you’re ready to earn your way onto Team Picasso. Normally what takes place from this point on is around an hour of doing the “museum shuffle” with your fellow audio guide aficionados. Here’s where we like to shake things up a bit.

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Cleaning up

Last week, on one of our 70 degree sunny days, the Olympic Sculpture Park teamed up with Puget Soundkeepers Alliance to collect and remove creosote logs from the waterfront. Bobby McCullough, SAM’s lead gardner at the park, was part of a team that removed ten tons (!) of creosote soaked wood from the Olympic Sculpture Park, Myrtle Edwards and Elliott Bay Park.

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Our Summer with SAM

This summer, two very bright and curious high school seniors helped out in the museum’s curatorial division. Milo and Henry spent their summer helping organize our object records, and researching several works in the SAM collection. Here, they write about their experience.
 

Behind the Scenes: In Space & Time with Gretchen Bennett and D.W. Burnam

Two weekends ago, on the gloomiest of Saturday afternoons, I had the pleasure of participating in Gretchen Bennett and D.W. Burnam’s “Unconventional Portraits” workshop on songwriting.  Created in conjunction with the Kurt exhibition and Gretchen’s video installation I don’t blame you, the artists put together a day of vigorous writing exercises for those who participated.

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The Other Washington: At the Second International Mount Making Forum, Smithsonian Institution Washington D.C.

Mannequin: a form representing the human figure used esp. for displaying clothes

Mountmaker: An individual who conceives, fabricates and installs specialized hardware for the display, security, and earthquake mitigation of works of art for museums, galleries, and private collections.

The need to revive our mannequin building program this last year coincided with a second meeting of museum mount makers this May in Washington D.C. A call for papers was impetus to document my first efforts and learning process within a twenty minute presentation format. Shelly Uhlir, exhibit specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian put together a two day conference involving 200 participants, presenters and posters. All of the Smithsonian Museums were available for behind the scenes tours.

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Letters from the Road: Atami, Japan

SAM Exhibition Designer, Chris Manojlovic, recently returned from two weeks in Japan, where he and Collection Care Manager, Julie Creahan, were traveling with SAM’s exhibition, Luminous Jewels: Masterpieces of Asian Art from the Seattle Art Museum. The show, comprising highlights from SAM’s Asian art collection, is currently on tour in Japan. As couriers, Chris and Julie’s role was to oversee the safe handling of the collection during its de-installation and packing at one venue, transportation, and installation at the next host institution. This is correspondence we received from Chris when he was on the road.

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Behind the Scenes: Unconventional Portrait Workshop

As SAM’s summer exhibitions Kurt and love fear pleasure lust pain glamour death—Andy Warhol Media Works opened last week, the Adult Public Programs team has been working hard to get ready for all of the affiliated lectures, performances, tours and  June 4th SAM Remix.  The simultaneity of these two exhibitions is exciting from a programmatic standpoint because we have the opportunity to use educational experiences to explore some of the conceptual connections between works in both.  One of the projects I have focused on developing in recent months is a set of three classes that are part of our adult workshop series “SAM Creates.”

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Why Kurt?

Kurt and love fear pleasure lust pain glamour death — Andy Warhol Media Works, two upcoming special exhibitions, open two weeks from today.  Here is “Why Kurt?” the first of a series of 6 videos featuring local artists whose work is central to the exhibition, as well as KEXP DJ and Seattle Weekly columnist Hannah Levin and Jacob McMurray, senior curator at EMP I SFM. This video gets to the heart of the exhibition, articulating Kurt Cobain’s historical impact on our culture, and zeroing in on the influence he has had on artists working today.

 

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Protecting Art in an Earthquake

When a natural disaster strikes, like the recent earthquake in China1, saving human lives is naturally the first concern. In the aftermath however, the loss of cultural artifacts and historic sites can be devastating to communities as well. Art and architecture provide evidence of our shared histories and give us a foundation on which to build a common identity. Living in Seattle, an area of the world prone to seismic activity, one might ask what Fremont would be like without its troll, or the Seattle skyline without the Space Needle? Hopefully, we will never know.

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Conversation with the Collector: Living with Mobiles

Do you collect art? Why do you do it? While conversations could go around and around about potential investment value, etc., most who collect do so because they have encountered something that moves them in a way that nothing else can. And living with original works of art for which you feel such attachment enriches every day of your life.

I’ve heard Jon Shirley speak of his first encounter with the work of Alexander Calder. He was drawn to the sculptor’s work at a very young age. It was many years before he would purchase his first Calder piece, but since that first encounter he and his wife Mary have built one of the greatest collections of Calder’s works in existence and have learned a great deal about the artist’s work. (For instance, did you know that no two Calder mobiles are exactly alike?)

What happens when passion becomes a collection? What is it like to live with a house full of Calder sculptures?

 

You only have five more days to feel the glow of these spectacular works. Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act is gone after April 11.

– Nicole Chism Griffin, Associate Manager of PR at SAM

Conversation with the Collector: World War II and Calder

During World War II, Americans at home were left to negotiate and adjust their lifestyle to food rations and other sacrifices – including the conservation and recycling of metal for the war effort.

What did this mean for Alexander Calder, an artist whose groundbreaking works were based on sheet metal and metal wire?

During the war, it meant experimentation with other materials such as wood. (You can see this playful Hen from 1943 in Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act for only 7 more days!)

Once the war was over, it meant the opening of a floodgate of creativity and one of the most productive periods of the artist’s career.

– Nicole Chism Griffin, Associate Manager of PR at SAM

Conversation with the Collector: Tiny Works By Alexander Calder

It’s amazing how many visitors to Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act have been drawn to the cases of tiny little sculptures, which seem to mirror what Calder was doing in a larger scale. At first glance, many think that these must be studies or models for later, larger works. It would be easy to picture them recreated in a giant mobile or big outdoor sculpture, but they are actually unique works of art in the own right.

Calder often played with variations on certain themes – such as red tripod bases with arcing cantilevers on top – in a range of sizes and media. It’s fun to look closely at these tiny Calders, as you can often discern the actual hand-pounding and forming of metal and the strokes of the master artist’s paintbrushes.

In this video, collector Jon Shirley talks a little more about these surprising pieces.

 

– Nicole Chism Griffin, SAM PR

Conversation with the Collector: Alexander Calder

“I think all Calders tend to make someone happy. That is the universal appeal of his art.” – Jon Shirley

Click on the video link below to hear more from Jon Shirley about the only adjustable Calder mobile ever made and what it’s like to live with Red Curly Tail (which has endured a snowball fight or two). 

Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act closes on April 11th. 

-Cara Egan, SAM PR

Notes from the Electronic Frontline

As one of the webmasters at SAM I am witness to all sorts of emails—from basic visitor inquiries to requests to send a SAM representative to judge girls on their inner beauty at pageants. These emails have taught me a lot about human communication and the human tendency to only provide feedback when they have something negative to say. In this day and age of faceless electronic communication, more often than not, this means people feel that they can be informal, not use spell check or punctuation and in some instances, be as rude as they want.  The following emails have been reproduced as written, with errors and misspellings left uncorrected.

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What it takes

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to put a work of art on view.  To our visitors, it should seem oh-so-easy: You see painting A (something you love) one day, and on your next visit it’s replaced with painting B (something you love even more). But behind the scenes, it’s anything but. As you relax and take in the holidays, here’s a little piece of our frenetic world to consider. (And as a little holiday bonus from me to you, all images are from 1983—enjoy!)

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Behind the Scenes: The SAM Remix Tattoo Parlor

“Behind the scenes” responsibilities at an arts organization are not always the most glamorous work. In Public Programming at SAM, back-end work includes contracts, stage set-up, power point preparation, and many late-nights, among other things.  The latest of my nights, but also one of the most exciting to work on, is the quarterly SAM Remix program.  During Remix, my department has the opportunity to program the entire building in an effort to create a unique experience that engages audiences with the art on view through a more interdisciplinary and interactive approach.

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