This Moment in Time: A Conversation with Anthony White and José Carlos Diaz

With his first solo SAM exhibition, Limited Liability, coming to a close in a few short weeks, 28-year old Seattle artist Anthony White woke up bright and early one December morning to meet Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz in the galleries of his exhibition before the museum was open to the public. Sitting around the retro lunchroom table—the centerpiece of SAM’s 2021 Betty Bowen Award winner’s gallery—the two spoke about the response he’s received to Limited Liability, the meticulousness of his practice, queer representation in art, what’s next for Seattle’s rising star, and what it means to artistically render this moment in time.

Read the full interview below and experience Anthony White: Limited Liability at SAM’s downtown location before it closes Sunday, January 29.


José Carlos Diaz: I want to start off here by thanking you and SAM curators Catharina Manchanda and Carrie Dedon for putting this exhibition together. Limited Liability was the second exhibition that opened after I joined SAM in July 2022, and it’s been a joy getting to know you and to see visitors interact with your paintings. So, my first question is: What has been the response to this exhibition. What have you observed? What have you heard visitors say while seeing your artwork at SAM?

Anthony White: Overall, the response has been great. I think people are excited to see work like mine in an established institution. My work is vibrant and modern, and I think it can be refreshing to see in a museum gallery. It’s always fun to see people stumble on artwork they weren’t really expecting to see at a museum. I will say, everyone is infatuated with my age. I didn’t expect I’d receive so many comments about that.

JCD: Did they think you were older?

AW: Yeah. Generally, people are surprised that someone my age is able to do this.

JCD: It’s definitely incredible that someone your age has a solo exhibition at a major regional museum.

AW: Totally, but it’s still incredibly surprising to me. And a lot of people did reach out to say that it was nice to have something that they could relate to. There were a lot of people that would identify with certain symbols and objects that came out of very specific time periods. It’s really cool to see how my artwork connects with people, even if in the smallest degrees.

JCD: That’s great to hear! Many people may not yet know this, but SAM actually acquired one of your works from this exhibition. The artwork that the curatorial team and the board approved is UNTIL THE END OF TIME (2022). It was really important to our team to acquire this particular artwork because it really reflects the diversity within SAM’s collections, but it’s also a representation of an artist who is living and working in Seattle. But, as a curator myself, I was curious how you’d like to see your artwork displayed and used in the future when you visit SAM? Maybe in a different context? With similar or different artworks? Is this something you’ve thought about?

AW: First, I want to say how excited and honored I am to have my artwork in SAM’s collection. It’s an incredible way to be connected to this institution for a long time. But I do often find myself thinking about what happens to artworks that end up in collections. I think most institutions either keep their works either independently displayed somewhere or they pull it into a group installation to give it additional context. My hope is that UNTIL THE END OF TIME is shown alongside other artworks at SAM that tell the stories of time.

JCD: Would you be interested in seeing it integrated into the European galleries, as having a conversation or even challenging the Old Masters?

AW: Certainly.

JCD: I think that’d be a really fun conversation to have! Many of the European artworks in SAM’s collection capture a specific moment or time in history. With your artwork alongside these other pieces, I think they’d be talking about the same exact things but across vastly different time periods. I love it!

AW: I think there are endless opportunities for my artwork to interact with historic artworks throughout SAM’s collection. It’s fascinating to see how our interpretations of everyday life have changed over time.

JCD: Plus, it’s the first artwork in the collection featuring Kim Kardashian. 

AW: She should be honored. Someone tell her!

JCD: I was so thrilled that you’ve gotten so much press from this exhibition. But what’s made me the most proud is seeing all of the national press you and SAM have received about the work that’s being done in Seattle in showcasing LGBTQ+ art. 

That being said, the work I find myself gravitating toward the most in Limited Liability is JOYRIDE (2022). Because you have such a deep visual archive, I was blown away when you revealed—at least to me—that the format of this painting is based on Picasso’s Still Life With the Caned Chair (1912), which was a really groundbreaking moment for Picasso. But then, looking deeper at your painting, this idea of a joyride, it has such a coded language specifically around queerness and blackness; It’s almost like a special language. Walking up to this painting—even as someone who works at the museum and has seen it many times—it’s clear that there’s so much joy in it. So, I wanted to ask you to elaborate on your use of coded or visual languages throughout your art.

AW: Yeah, I think JOYRIDE offers people a way of getting to know me, my practice, and my experiences that my other works may not do so much. There is a slightly discreet symbolism and language that I’m using in this work and that has led to the invention of an entirely new way of speaking within my practice, I think.

I don’t like to spoon-feed people and give them only one way to see, think, and interpret my work. For example, JOYRIDE includes a sticker that says ‘cruisin’ that can be interpreted in two totally different ways. You could either think about it within the context of hard culture and vehicle cruising, or think about it as speaking toward a homoerotic experience, activity, or participatory event. So, the decision to interpret pieces and little details like those throughout my work is ultimately up to the viewer.

JCD: I can definitely see the nature of the symbolism you’re talking about. I think there’s also this playfulness with the inclusion of the Lisa Frank stickers and the young anime woman in red. And, in looking at all the works in this gallery, I think you once told me that you make one self portrait per year. Is that true?

AW: It is true. 

JCD: Can you talk about the origins of this tradition? How is your process of depicting yourself different from that of the rest of your work?

AW: Every year, there comes a month where I feel an unrelenting need to get my feelings and the way I’m seeing myself onto a canvas. It’s been a very strict practice that I’ve had for the past five years. I think it’s just as important to depict myself within a specific period of time as it is to depict the cultural objects and symbols that define it.

My self-portraits are also a bit more dramatic than my other works. I feel more comfortable and honest with the subject since it’s myself. In HYPNOSIS (2022), I’m lying horizontally on my stomach, staring deep into the void.

JCD: The void being the cellphone.

AW: Yes, It’s that constant endless rabbit hole that we all get sucked into these days. I think this was a pretty daring piece to execute and I didn’t want to inaccurately represent someone else with a piece like this.

JCD: The subject is you but I think the work is really representative of all of us today. It’s a beautiful piece.

You’ve had many people ask you about your complex process. When I first saw your work, I thought they were textile-based. They almost looked like quilted pieces of material—even your self portrait. I know you’ve talked about your use of melted coils of colored plastics quite a bit but I think it’s a very revolutionary medium—I think it’s called polylactic acid. The device you use to paint is very meticulous too. You’ve mentioned that it can take over a hundred hours to complete a single painting.

AW: It can. Sometimes longer.

JCD: But you’ve also previously mentioned that there is a sort of intuition to creating your paintings; that it’s an organic process. How do you balance the strict boundaries of using polylactic acid with your organic, or intuitive, process?

AW: There are definitely some set boundaries with the process. The methods I use to melt the plastic and draw lines on my canvas are very specific. But, there’s also this sort of synthetic or artificial nature to it that I find complementary to what I want to represent on each panel. That was really fun to stumble on at the very beginning of my practice. Although everything is very systematic, there’s a natural intuition that comes into play the more I work with this medium. Like an oil painter, I create my own palette for each work.

JCD: Your use of this medium is incredible. There’s an intense satisfaction that I think everyone receives from seeing your work in person. Have you faced any challenges with the digital life of your work? It’s interesting because you source so much content from the digital world in your art, and now that art is part of our collective digital archive. Is this something you’ve thought about?

AW: There are challenges with not being able to translate my works accurately in a digital image. As we move forward in our technological world, there may be a time when our methods of documentation of works such as my own are displayed differently. But there is so much satisfaction with seeing my, and all, paintings in person. 

That’s not to say I want my work to be an exclusive viewing experience—I want anyone and everyone who wants to see my work to see it! But, I’ve heard many people say they had no idea of the meticulousness of my art until they saw it in person. Only then do they understand how much complexity there is within each of my works. You can see the evidence of my hand, every line that I make, what direction I led my pen, and the decisions I made with every mark.

JCD: I never like to ask an artist what inspires them, but I can’t stop myself this time. What is actually inspiring you right now?

AW: At this specific moment? A lot of podcasts.

JCD: I wouldn’t have guessed that.

AW: Of course, my main influences are social media, but a lot of the things I listen to while working are podcasts about white collar criminals, corporate fraud, technological advances, and the state of the world. All of my canvases are inspired by what I’m listening to and my perception of the direction our world is headed in, but I think that does change over time. One day, I want to be able to look at the archive of my work and pinpoint precise moments of my life. I’ll create a timeline by identifying certain symbols and objects across every work.

JCD: But that’s not to say your work itself is dated. It captures specific moments in time but has longevity in its interpretation.

AW: And the world moves so fast, too. So, I think it is accurate to say that some of my works are dated. Certain objects pictured within them are already obsolete.

JCD: It’s interesting to think how future scholars will interpret the artworks being made during this period in time, especially yours. That’s the dream, right?

AW: Yes, but I think they should be a bit more concerned with the state of their existence. There’s a meme I recently saw that said if you showed somebody back in 2000 how much content we consume now, they would have a meltdown. It’d be so overwhelming. Our past selves would be stunned by the pace of life today. Hopefully, it slows down in the years to come but you never know.

JCD: I’ve never thought about that.

You have an exhibition coming up, Extended Warranty at Greg Kucera Gallery, opening in January. It sounds like you’ve got no plans of slowing down in 2023. So what’s next? What can the public expect to see in that exhibition and what else are you working on in the coming year?

AW: Yeah! That’ll be a smaller exhibition than Limited Liability, but it’s sort of an extension of thought that resulted from building the body of work that’s on view at SAM. As this exhibition opened, I was still thinking through these ideas of materialism and digital culture and wanted to extend them into the exhibition at Greg Kucera Gallery. So, both exhibitions—Limited Liability and Extended Warranty—explore similar threads. I have these trains of thought that I’ve been exploring since I became an artist and I want to continue seeing them out in the months and years ahead.

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems: Artists, Friends, and Inspirations

Two young artists meet in a photography class and become friends. It happens all the time. But the two people aren’t always Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems, who from that meeting at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1976 would go on to become two of the most celebrated photo-based artists working today. Over the next 46 years, Bey and Weems pursued their own practices, their artistic interests overlapping and diverging as they continued to be sources of friendship and inspiration to each other. Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, coming to SAM as part of a national tour, marks the first time their work—the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions—has been shown in dialogue together. You are invited into their career-long conversations about art, culture, and history, all grounded in the lived experiences of Black Americans.

In Dialogue is organized in five thematic pairings. It explores the artists’ early work, as both Bey and Weems captured scenes of street life and domestic scenes with passers-by and family as subjects. Weems’ groundbreaking Kitchen Table series (1990), a fictional photo essay about women and their self-perceptions, signals a new direction combining text and image.

The artists have a mutual interest in the history of Black people in America and how history and lived experience manifests in landscapes and urban environments. Sites of historical importance surface in other contexts: Weems’ Sea Islands series (1991–1992) features locales of Gullah culture on the islands off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. To her lyrical images she adds accounts of oral history, mythology, and song. The history of slavery is confronted in Weems’ representations of 19th-century photographs of enslaved people—jarring images that turned the individuals into objects of racist study. In contrast, Bey’s Night Coming Tenderly, Black series (2017) turns the viewer in the position of a fugitive, arriving at nightfall at sites that were thought to be on the Underground Railroad, a network aiding enslaved people to freedom during the 19th century. In Weems’ most recent series, Roaming, she stages her own body within the city of Rome—a reminder of the city’s history, power, conquest, and domination from ancient to modern times.

Also on view in the exhibition are works that express the importance of commemoration in Black culture. Bey’s Birmingham Project (2019) memorializes the deaths of six young Black Americans murdered in the Alabama city in 1963, with portraits of present-day Birmingham-area children placed in diptychs with adults at the age the young people would have been today. Weems’ Constructing History series (2008) focuses on well-known images of 20th-century tragedies such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, reenacting them with students and community members in Atlanta.

“The work of these two artists and friends have never been more relevant as we consider the meaning of multiple histories in our lives and surroundings,” says Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Contemporary Art.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

This article first appeared in the October 2022 through January 2023 article of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks.

Photo: Couple in Prospect Park, 1990 (printed 2018), Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 21 7/8 x17 ½ inches, Grand Rapids Art Museum, museum purchase, 2018.22. © Dawoud Bey, courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Muse/News: Kusama Memories, Glass in Tacoma, and Giacometti’s Secrets

SAM News

Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water ripples at SAM! Seattle Met includes the exhibition on their list of things to do in Seattle right now.

Seattle Met’s Zoe Sayler rounds up “10 Mother’s Day Gifts for Your Mom Friends,” including the SAM Shop exclusive “NO” tote by artist Tariqa Waters. 

Via Eater Seattle: Shubert Ho’s restaurants—including MARKET Seattle at SAM—are donating 10% of sales on select days to World Central Kitchen, an organization “that’s helping provide hot meals to Ukrainians suffering from the Russian invasion of their country.”

And here’s Artnet’s Eileen Kinsella on the many complexities of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms; Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, was among the art world voices sharing their experiences showing these works–including before the blockbuster editions. 

“Like some great works of art, the Infinity Rooms were not immediately and universally appreciated. Manchanda recalled visiting one at the Whitney Museum (which also owns one) as part of a biennial more than two decades ago, while she was a student in New York. ‘The biennials were always crowded, but I was the only person in line wanting to see it. There was no interest whatsoever.’”

Local News

Via Crosscut’s Brangien Davis: “Remembering Seattle print artist and muralist Kristen Ramirez.”

The Stranger’s Charles Mudede on the “world-class” Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley.

“Ever seen Cheetos made of glass?” The Seattle Times’ Jerald Pierce asking the tough questions–this one about Tacoma Art Museum’s show of glass art by the youth of Hilltop Artists.

“Those who have been through the Hilltop program have seen its ability to teach students invaluable teamwork and leadership skills, with one person taking the lead as a gaffer (who will lift the molten glass) and one or two assistants helping to shape that glass into whatever the gaffer is working on. Keith equated it to a sort of dance, where everyone needs to learn their part and anticipate the moves and needs of others.”

Inter/National News

Art & Object pours out a slideshow of “10 Wineries that Every Art Lover Should Visit.”

Angelica Villa for ARTnews reports: “$30 M. Phillip Guston Painting Could Set Auction Record Amid Long-Awaited Retrospective.”  Hot tip: You can see two Guston paintings, made more than 20 years apart, in Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection in SAM’s galleries.  

“America may finally be ready for Alberto Giacometti’s uncompromising art”: The Washington Post’s Sebastian Smee on the Giacometti traveling retrospective that just debuted at the Cleveland Museum of Art–and heads to SAM this summer!

“But it’s only when you stand in front of them, or in some way stand with them (from the side or directly behind can be just as effective) and focus in on them that they give up their devastating secret (which is also your secret and mine): that we’re alone, that no one else knows what’s in our heads and that we will cease to exist.”

And Finally

Capturing murmurations.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Natali Wiseman.

SAM Talks: Barbara Earl Thomas on The Geography of Innocence

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.

New Cedar for Bunyon’s Chess

A brilliant conservator[1] once noted that “art conservation is a fight against entropy.” This is especially visible for works sited outside which require conservators, artists, and stakeholders to carefully consider what is essential for an outdoor sculpture to continue to exist for future generations. When the carved cedar elements of Mark di Suvero’s sculpture Bunyon’s Chess were no longer structurally stable, di Suvero and his studio worked closely with the Seattle Art Museum to explore the artwork and discover solutions.

Bunyon’s Chess was created by Mark di Suvero in 1965 for Virginia and Bagley Wright’s residence in Seattle. The family’s documentation of the creative process provides wonderful insight into the artwork.

In 2006 the Wrights promised the work to the Seattle Art Museum and it was moved to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The cedar elements had begun to show degradation in their original site but this accelerated at the park partially due to the exposed location and partially due to the natural deterioration of cedar. As cedar ages in an outdoor setting a number of events occur: the natural biocide slowly migrates out with water, the wood absorbs water at an increasing rate as it deteriorates, fungal deterioration is common, as well as insect and wildlife damage. The logs of Bunyon’s Chess were treated annually with a fungicide to slow the fungal deterioration but without major visual interventions such as end caps or moving the sculpture to an interior location, deterioration continued at a fairly rapid pace.

In 2009 an in-depth condition assessment was performed which determined that the deterioration, particularly on the interior had progressed to a state where the logs were in danger of falling. In 2010, the logs were consolidated, the large losses filled and the exterior coated to prolong the life. During this period research and conversations with di Suvero regarding the replacement were begun as this treatment could not prolong the life of the cedar indefinitely. Di Suvero determined that new logs could be carved to replace the original cedar, as it is the visual integrity of the work that is important.

After much research, new cedar of the similar dimensions and tight ring growth was sourced for carving. Seattle artist Brian Beck peeled the logs in preparation for carving.

Kent Johnson and Daniel Roberts from di Suvero’s studio traveled to Seattle and carved the new logs using the original cedar elements as a guide.

Beck worked with Johnson and Roberts to create the same join between the two logs. Much of the original hardware such as the 36” bronze bolts and galvanized steel eyehooks were presevered and reused on the newly carved elements.

If you look carefully, at the top of the sculpture you will note a slight bend in the top tube. Di Suvero wanted this natural bend to remain but believed this opportunity should be used to reinforce the structure.

Fabrication Specialties Ltd. worked with the di Suvero studio to create an interior support which was welded in place.

The logs were strung with new stainless steel cabling and were carefully measured and marked to the lengths of the original cables to assist with the rigging. Larry Tate, Andrew Malcolm, Tracy Taft, Ignacio Lopez, and Travis Leonard of Fabrication Specialties placed the new logs within the original steel frame working closely with images and a model of the original. The di Suvero studio generously participated in video calls throughout the day.


Special thank you to: Mark di Suvero and Studio, Virginia Wright, Fabrication Specialties Ltd, Equinox Studios, Alta Forest Products, Brian Beck, Christian French, and Catharina Manchanda for helping preserve this public artwork free for everyone to enjoy at the Olympic Sculpture Park year round.

– Liz Brown, SAM Objects Conservator

Photos courtesy of Virginia Wright and Liz Brown.
[1] Lauren Chang

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Artnet interviewed Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, for this piece on the different paths to success as a curator of contemporary art.

KOMO’s Seattle Refined also interviewed Catharina for this story about the Jean-Michel Basquiat painting now on view at SAM.

AFAR Magazine highlighted Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas on their list of “10 Art Exhibitions in the U.S. Worth Traveling for This Spring.”

Blaxploitation films, Carrie Mae Weems, and the female gaze: Dazed profiles Figuring History artist Mickalene Thomas.

Local News

“I’ve seen orcas. Twice!” City Arts’ Margo Vansynghel reports that the next arts hub might be just across the water—in Bremerton.

Brangien Davis of Crosscut talks with Victoria Haven about Banner Year, an installation in the windows of her South Lake Union studio that beams out messages to passing motorists like “MONEY BALL” and “CULT CLASSIC.”

Lisa Edge of Real Change on the Tacoma Art Museum’s current exhibition, Native Portraiture: Power and Perception, which addresses issues of identity by juxtaposing older and contemporary works alongside each other.

“’We can say, let’s look at this artwork and appreciate the work that the artist has done to create this, but let’s use a contemporary lens to unpack where these artists were coming from and why they painted the work in this manner,’ said curator Faith Brower. ‘Thankfully our views have now changed over time so we can see this work and critique it in a way that they weren’t capable of critiquing it in the time it was made.’”

Inter/National News

Still “seat of the Muses”? Mitchell Kuga of Hyperallergic explores the trend of adopting the name “museum” to describe commercial enterprises.

Sara Cascone of Artnet interviews author Joy McCullough about her novel on the incredible life of Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi; notably, McCullough used the 400-year-old court records of the trial of the artist’s rapist.

Jason Farago of the New York Times on Beyond the Fall, the current show at New York’s Neue Galerie that explores connections between art and German political history.

“Such was the reality of German and Austrian art, and German and Austrian society, in the initial years of Nazi rule: the awkward coexistence of fascists, democrats and Communists, who heard the rhetoric, who witnessed the hatred, but who still could not see how much horror lay ahead.”

And Finally

“How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose?”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Stephanie Fink.

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

Here’s Jennifer Sokolowsky of the Seattle Times on how social media is shaping art; SAM curator Catharina Manchanda speaks about the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors experience.

For art institutions evolving with technology and visitors’ tastes, it’s a delicate balance. “In the end, it’s, ‘How do you have a meaningful experience of art?’ and the answers will depend. From a curatorial perspective, I just want to make sure that the traditional and core mission of the museum lives on,” Manchanda said.

The Stranger’s Slog revived their Short Film Fridays feature to share the winning short films from the Wyeth Film Sprint; the results are appropriately strange and sad and surreal.

SAM earned a reader’s “Rave” in the Seattle Times for Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect; they noted among the patrons “a keen concentration I’ve never seen before.”

Local News

Seattle Magazine recognizes the “Most Influential Seattleites of 2017,” including SAM friends such as C. Davida Ingram, Inye Wokoma, and the KEXP Gathering Space.

Bookend the Jacob Lawrence centennial celebrations with Woodside/Braseth Gallery’s “William Cumming & Jacob Lawrence,” which, the Seattle Times notes, “offers a chance to dig deeper into these two artists’ legacies.”

KING’s Evening Magazine visits MOHAI’s exhibit of the expressive black-and-white photography of Al Smith, which “chronicles 65 years of Seattle history, the Central District neighborhood, and the people who inspired him.”

Inter/National News

Clearly the biggest art world news recently was the dramatic and record-breaking sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.”

Antwaun Sargent for Artsy on the recent unveiling at Princeton of a public sculpture by Titus Kaphar, which was commissioned as part of the university’s reckoning with its history of slavery. Kaphar was the inaugural recipient of SAM’s Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize in 2009.

Madrid’s Reina Sophia unveils “Rethinking Guernica,” a free website—available in Spanish and English—that offers a visual timeline of Picasso’s most famous painting.

And Finally

Hyperallergic on a forthcoming book that investigates the aspirational kitsch of midcentury album art that expressed “an era of shifting desires.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Installation view of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Behind the Scenes of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors

“All of the drawings, the paintings, and the sculptures that you will find in this exhibition, give you a context of how and why she arrived at these Infinity Mirror Rooms and why they are so very special.”
– Catharina Manchanda, Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Take a look behind the scenes of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors with curator Catharina Manchanda, on view at Seattle Art Museum until September 10. Don’t miss your chance for this in-depth perspective into a legendary artist’s 65-year career—Plan your visit to SAM today!

 

Muse/News: Arts news from SAM, Seattle, and beyond

Another week, another story… Or try 10. Here’s Rachel Eggers, SAM’s PR Manager with your weekly round up of the art news you need to read.

SAM News

SAM’s Next Top Model: In a recent edition of the Seattle Times’ ShopNW, Kusama swag from SAM Shop was featured—and modeled by SAM’s Public Programs Coordinator, David Rue.

Following a visit to Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, Loney Abrams of Artspace leads a tour through each Infinity Mirror Room. SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Catharina Manchanda, shared some fascinating details about Kusama’s connections to Seattle.

“’Initially, she thought she wanted to go to Paris because up until World War II, Paris was the center of the art world,’ SAM’s curator Catharina Manchanda tells Artspace. But then, Kusama stumbled upon a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe—and everything changed. She went to the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, got a mailing address for O’Keeffe, and sent the artist a stack of drawings with a letter asking for advice on how to get to the United States. ‘At the same time, she also wrote to Kenneth Callahan, a member of the school of Northwest Modernists in Seattle,’ says Manchanda. ‘Luckily, Callahan wrote her back a welcoming letter and introduced her to Zoë Dusanne, an art dealer in Seattle who offered her an exhibition.’ So, Kusama moved to Seattle, and the rest is art history.”

Seattle Weekly profiles SAM’s three-times-a-year event Remix, now in its tenth year. Members of SAM’s Education department—Regan Pro, Philip Nadasdy, and David Rue—are quoted throughout along with choreographer Dani Tirrell, who presented excerpts from the forthcoming Black Bois in this edition:

“’My experience with SAM has been one that they are always pushing conversations forward,’ he told Seattle Weekly. ‘They bring in art and artists that are relevant to the times we live in. SAM does not shy away from things that may make people uncomfortable, and I think that is how they are able to engage with what is taking place in Seattle.’”

Local News

Seattle Times’ Gayle Clemans reviews the Frye’s current exhibition, Storme Webber | Casino: A Palimpsest, for which the artist aimed to “indigenize the gallery.”

ICYMI: Here was Emily Pothast’s Seattle Art Fair wrap-up in the Stranger earlier this week.

And here’s Margo Vansynghel for CityArts on BorderLands, on view through October 29 at King Street Station (go!).

“With such poetic, poignant offerings, BorderLands deals with nationalism, allegiance and resistance. The most arresting works on show tackle the flippant use of language—words often thrown around carelessly since last Nov. 8. What do these signifiers mean to the people who saw their land stolen, to the new arrivals in a nation of immigrants and, finally, to the art world? Some of the most impressive works on view—including Feddersen’s and Kahlon’s—ultimately question the enduring complicity in a system that feeds and sells us a too-easily digestible and unchallenged story about identity.”

Inter/National News

BuzzFeed News announced AM to DM, its new morning show to be livestreamed on Twitter. Hosted by Saeed Jones and Isaac Fitzgerald, you will need to watch it (ideally with avocado toast).

The New York Times’ Holland Cotter reviews the Pulitzer Arts Foundation’s Blue Black exhibition; curated by artist Glenn Ligon, it includes works by Kerry James Marshall, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and David Hammons (all represented in SAM’s collection).

A new study reveals that your Instagram “may hold clues to your mental health.” (Wait, was does excessive use of the Amaro filter mean??)

To those who fret about the state of arts journalism, I present TV’s catchiest theme song (I warned you) finally getting the deep dive it deserves.

– Rachel Eggers, Manager of Public Relations

Image: David Rue, SAM’s Public Programs Coordinator, is still in the running towards becoming SAM’s Next Top Model, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Kusama’s Full Circle

“My constant battle with art began when I was still a child. But my destiny was decided when I made up my mind to leave Japan and journey to America.”

–Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama declared her official purpose on her visa application to the United States in 1957 as exhibiting art in Seattle. Few people remember that this internationally renowned artist’s first exhibition in the US was a solo show at the Zoë Dusanne Gallery. It included a group of roughly 20 watercolors and pastels selected from the 200 works that Kusama brought with her to America on this first trip. Kusama began her international career here in Seattle, where her celebrated work now returns with in the dazzling new exhibition, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at SAM through Spetember 10.

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors spans 65 years of the artist’s career, from the era of Kusama’s early pastels to recent works making their North American debut. The exhibition features five of her immersive, multi-reflective Infinity Mirror Rooms, including the recently completed All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016). Interspersed among the Infinity Mirror Rooms from which the exhibition draws its title, are paintings and sculptures which Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, describes as, “the backbone of Kusama’s artistic practice.” Manchanda further explains, “This exhibition is a unique opportunity to see the life work of a true visionary. Taken together, Kusama’s drawings, paintings, sculptures, and infinity rooms add up to a Gesamtkunstwerk [total art work]. Her web-like structures are equally reminiscent of microscopic cell formations or macroscopic visions of outer space. I recommend looking closely at these works. They are the key to understanding the infinity rooms.”

As Louis Guzzo pointed out in a 1957 Seattle Times feature on Kusama’s Dusanne Gallery show, “Several of the smaller works are beautiful, but one must study them closely to realize the intricacies of their microscopic worlds.” Kusama asserts all of her work is part of a whole, a whole that we are all a part of in Kusama’s concept of the infinite.

In 1959, two years after her Seattle gallery exhibition, the prolific artist and writer Donald Judd wrote of a Kusama show in New York: “Sidney Tillim writing in Arts, predicted that the show would prove the sensation of the season. It did prove to be so and has remained one of the few important shows of the last two years.” Judd’s remarks could have been written last week, as Kusama’s work remains as sensational today as it was in 1959.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter/Content Strategist

Image: Kusama with Zoë Dusanne at her solo exhibition at the Dusanne Gallery, Seattle, December 1957.

Drawing Practice: Bellingham National Juried Art Exhibition and Awards

At the invitation of our colleagues at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, WA, Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, juried this year’s Belingham National, on view now through September 10. Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art at Whatcom, describes the biennial art exhibition and award as relatively new. “The Whatcom Museum’s first biennial was inaugurated in 2015. Patricia Leach, the museum’s director, envisioned the Bellingham National as a way to bring the rich variety of art created around the country to our region. Although the museum is committed to supporting Pacific Northwest art, it has increasingly embraced a wider, cultural scope,” says Matilsky. “The Bellingham National has attracted the attention of  Washington artists, which means that their work is well represented here. Community reaction has been as varied as the works of art on display. One thing that I have noticed: The exhibition challenges people to think about art in new ways, which is ultimately a good thing. It also offers the invited curator a unique opportunity to explore ideas related to a particular theme or medium of her/his choice.”

This year’s call for submissions focused on drawing, an activity and mode of expression that seems overdue in light of our ever-increasing attachment to electronic devices. Catharina Manchanda’s interest in exploring how contemporary artists are approaching the medium is at once a reaction to new media art forms and an acceptance of drawing that utilizes new media. “As we are clicking and tapping away, drawing and writing are becoming increasingly rare. Drawing has an immediacy and material quality that registers differently under these digital conditions. Its very ‘slowness’ becomes significant at a time when a flood of imagery and information keeps shortening our attention spans. From a more linguistic and conceptual vantage point, drawing connections, drawing on memory and history, and drawing understood as notation and trace, opens distinct possibilities for artists,” Manchanda states. “Not surprisingly, artists submitted work in a variety of mediums—from pencil drawings to annotated collages, videos, and sound recordings.”

Matilsky embraced what visitors may find a somewhat unorthodox perspective on drawing. “I share Catharina’s expansive view of drawing and was delighted that she was able to identify artworks that further pushed the boundaries of the medium. The sound and video pieces that she selected surprised me and added to the complexity of the exhibition.”

Featuring over 60 works from 29 artists around the country, below Catharina Manchanda offers a glimpse into a selection of the works on view. Get yourself to Bellingham and see this spectrum of artistic positions with and about drawing.

Margie Livingston, Seattle, WA

Dragged Blue Drawing

The artist arrives at these lyrical compositions with controlled chance operations. Heavy sheets of paper are tinged with color and then dragged on the studio floor or the street where the movement creates a chance image. Embedded in the surfaces are dust and dirt, portions are rubbed and worn and yet the overall drawings have a quiet lyricism.

Kelly Bjork, Seattle, WA

Splayed Produce

Kelly Bjork’s quiet interiors are beautifully rendered with an eye for crisp color and form. Embedded in her compositions and titles is a sparkling sense of humor—Tiger Overhead and Splayed Produce project an element of danger and adventure that’s there for you to discover.

Lou Watson, Portland, OR

The artist takes the most ordinary traffic patterns and movements as occasion for artistic intervention. For the Bellingham National, she chose a spot along I-5 and ascribed a musical note to each of the lanes. Every time a car went past a traffic sign, it triggered a tone—a little car a short note, a long truck a longer one. With this, she composed a minimalist score from the monotonous back and forth of highway traffic. The movement of the cars along the road is linear like a drawing and her paper prints give insights into her process.

Masha Sha, Boulder, CA

overthinkingthinkingover

Sha’s vivid, large-scale pencil or crayon drawings spell out phrases that invite free association. Whether you see her bright red  “New Now” today, tomorrow or in ten years, it will always be the now of the moment. Drawn with intensity, we may interpret that now in personal, communal, social, or political terms and it will mean different things to each of us.

Kirk Yamahira, Seattle, WA

untitled [stretched]

Kirk Yamahira deconstructs the fabric of a  canvas—he carefully lifts individual threads—to arrive at abstract lines and patterns that read like three-dimensional drawings. In some instances an additional tilt of the stretcher results in objects that are utterly transformed.

Images: Deepwater Ladies, Kelly Bjork, 2016, 7 x 9 in. Dragged Blue Drawing, Margie Livingston, 2016, watercolor and mixed media on paper, string, sheet size: 15 x 11 in. Splayed Produce, Kelly Bjork, 2016, Gouache and pencil, 19 x 15 in. View of I-5/Mt Ashland, 11am on a Thursday, video courtesy of the artist. overthinkingthinkingover, Masha Sha, graphite on paper, 48 x 148 in. untitled [stretched], Kirk Yamahira, 2017, acrylic, pencil, unweaved, deconstructed on canvas, 67 x 67 in.

The Park In Balance: Siting the Olympic Sculpture Park Collection

Walking through the nature and art of the Olympic Sculpture Park, from the low-lying valley around Richard Serra’s Wake to the span of open water that fills the sightlines of Jaume Plensa’s Echo, one experiences an impeccable balance of nature and whimsy. “I think the way all of the art in the park works together, in combination with the way everything is spaciously placed, is what makes the Olympic Sculpture Park truly unique. You have breathtaking views, while the art can really stand on its own and be appreciated,” said Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

But, the process of achieving this effect was far from simple. SAM’s former Director of Exhibit Design, Michael McCafferty, led the process of arranging the park’s permanent sculptures within Weiss/Manfredi’s architectural design while collaborating with artists, curators, museum staff, and other partners. McCafferty approached the placement of the art as if he were working with a “very complex gallery”—a larger, outdoor version of the exhibit spaces he designed at SAM’s downtown location and the Asian Art Museum. He worked with a to-scale model of the Park that included the varied topography of its landscape, as well as miniature, hand-painted versions of most of the 21 works that were on view when the Park opened.

McCafferty began by placing the largest pieces that would be on view, such as The Eagle by Alexander Calder, the Sculpture Park’s founding gift from trustees Jon and Mary Shirley, as well as Stinger by Tony Smith and Typewriter Eraser, Scale X by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. “I would take the various models of the sculptures and move them around and around, considering the best viewing angles for someone who will walk all the way around the piece while they’re in the park and also for someone driving along Elliott Avenue,” McCafferty said. The medium and smaller sized works were then sited, through a design that balanced their weights and masses with the larger sculptures and the landscape, in a spirit he likened to a Japanese garden.

Over the past ten years, the park has grown and changed. The Aspen trees around Stinger stretch taller, the grass beneath The Eagle has thickened and new sculptures have entered the collection. One of the most recent is Jaume Plensa’s Echo, a large-scale piece depicting a tranquil visage that was donated by trustee Barney Ebsworth in 2013. Maintaining the approach established during the Park’s initial design, Echo’s placement, looking out onto the Puget Sound, was made by considering the pedestrians and cyclists who pass beneath it, as well as those who approach it from the water. The location of Echo also thrilled the artist, as Ebsworth described: “Jaume Plensa said how wonderful the placement overlooking the Olympic Mountains is because the sculpture’s subject is from Greek mythology. It’s perfect because Echo looks out towards Mount Olympus.” This siting of Echo between nature and art, between open space and calculated design, between land and sea—embodies the ethos that makes the Olympic Sculpture Park a uniquely Seattle place to experience art.

This post is the second in our series of stories exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Over the course of this year, we will continue reflecting on the Park’s evolution over the past decade.

—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

 Photos: Paul Macapia

Object of the Week: Echo

A recent addition to SAM’s collection and an huge impact on the landscape of the Seattle’s waterfront, Echo is the monumental sculpture installed at the Olympic Sculpture Park in 2014. Learn more about this visually confounding sculpture from the artist, Jaume Plensa, and Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. Originally modeled on the nine-year-old daughter of the owner of a Chinese restaurant near the artist’s studio, Plensa elongated and abstracted the girl’s features with computer modeling. The sculpture references Echo, the mountain nymph of Greek mythology. Find out what it took to create and install such an intensely large-scale work.

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