Behind the Scenes with SAM’s Conservation Team

Every painting, drawing, and sculpture at Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and Olympic Sculpture Park is thoroughly inspected and cleaned by our conservation department before being put on view. These supremely talented individuals are dedicated to maintaining the aesthetic and structural health of SAM’s vast and, in some cases priceless, collections.

Watch this video from Seattle Channel’s Art Zone to get to know the leader behind this department, Jane Lang Davis Chief Conservator, Nicholas Dorman. Nick discusses his upbringing, explains how he ended up at SAM, and walks viewers through how he and his team care for every work of art at all three locations. All the works featured in this video can be seen on view in Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection at SAM through November 27, 2022.

In honor of National Ask a Conservator Day on November 4, we reached out to our Instagram community to see what questions they had for SAM’s conservation team. Nick, along with Senior Objects Conservator Liz Brown and Associate Conservator Geneva Griswold, took the time to answer them and give a bit more insight on their favorite memories at SAM—read their responses below!

What are some of the most time-intensive projects for SAM conservators to tackle?

Liz Brown (LB): Conservation treatments are time-intensive by nature! Small artworks treated in the studio take hundreds of hours to clean, treat, and document. Large, outdoor works such as those at the Olympic Sculpture Park get cleaned once a week, and then receive in-depth treatments, like a refreshed coating, each summer.

SAM Conservator Liz Brown cleans Echo at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

What background, formal education, and training is required to become an art conservator?

Geneva Griswold (GG): Paths into the conservation field can be circuitous, but many of us studied art history, chemistry, or are artists ourselves—conservation combines all of these interests! Formal entry into the field often includes the completion of a three-year graduate degree in art conservation with a specialty in objects, paintings, paper, textiles, books, or works on paper. Additional experience is gained through internships and fellowships.

What is your most cherished memory of working on SAM’s conservation team?

GG: One of my favorite memories is installing Yves St. Laurent: The Perfection of Style because it required teamwork from everyone in the department, plus local conservators who work in private practice, and conservators from France who travelled with exhibition. These collaborations are always the most fun because I learn a lot from my colleagues!

What has been your favorite artwork to restore/preserve while working at SAM?

LB: My favorite object is frequently what I am working on in the moment as each new work presents an opportunity to explore. Right now, I’m investigating cold cathode lights with artist Claude Zervas to prepare his artwork Nooksack for an upcoming exhibition.

SAM Conservator Liz Brown stops to take a photo while investigating cold cathode lights for Claude Zervas’s work Nooksack.

How do you ensure you don’t change an artist’s intent when doing conservation?

Nick Dorman (ND): This important point is the subject of much concern and discussion. Treatments may be discussed with living artists directly, and conservators may collaborate with an artist’s foundation, community members, and others who are close to the work. We carefully research and document all work, and design every treatment to be reversible.

What aspect of conservation is misunderstood or overlooked?

LB: The title “conservation” can cause confusion it is often seen as rooted in a tradition of attempting to keep an object from changing. Sometimes this is a goal, but when considering treatment, we always consider the intangible aspects of the artwork. Thus, in conversations with stakeholders, we are looking to manage, change, and look to how that artwork lives best in a museum.

What is your favorite conservation tool?

LB: This is always changing, but one I come back to all the time is the very simple, yet versatile bamboo skewer. It’s wonderful in that it can be easily shaped to suit a variety of purposes. The wood box my father made for my small tools is also a favorite.

What’s the most interesting attempt you’ve seen a previous owner make to conserve an object? What did you have to do to correct/modify their attempt?

GG: I am currently working on a black lacquer wood sculpture. In areas where the black lacquer is missing, someone has colored the bare wood with a Sharpie marker to hide the unsightly loss. While well intentioned, this will be challenging to remove, if at all possible. Someone also used carpenter’s wood glue to reattach elements of the sculpture, however this type of adhesive has damaged the fragile lacquer. My treatment seeks to remove this adhesive and replace it with a more appropriate choice.

Any strange conservation stories to share?

ND: When I went to Italy in 2006 to research the original location of SAM’s Tiepolo ceiling fresco with former Chief Curator Chiyo Ishikawa, we found what seemed to be a very similar painting on the ceiling of the painting’s original home in Vicenza. The current custodian of the home said, “We have the Tiepolo, I don’t know what you have.” Turns out, we both have the Tiepolo! The surface of the original painting had been removed from the underlying fresco layers and attached to a new canvas support, eventually traveling across the world to grace SAM’s Porcelain Room ceiling. The remaining under-paint was left in place and was eventually retouched by a prominent Italian restorer.

Former SAM conservation tech, Tim Marsden, admires the Tiepolo during conservation.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in art conservation?

GG: Review the American Institute For Conservation and the Emerging Conservator Professional Network for resources. Informational interviews with conservators and conservation students can give a window into what the job entails on a day to day basis. Our roles vary immensely from museum to museum, and from institutional settings to private practice. Find a mentor who can provide sustained guidance—SAM conservators are happy to connect with you, get in touch with us!

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Courtesy of Seattle Channel.

Muse/News: Chiyo on Monet, Leaders Reflect, and A Major Acquisition

SAM News

Chiyo Ishikawa, the curator of Monet at Étretat, recently appeared on New Day NW to talk about the exhibition’s fresh look at the beloved artist.

“I hope they [visitors] will see him with fresh eyes. I hope that they will be able to put themselves in his shoes and see somebody in the midst of a struggle … when we look back, we think of Monet’s career as one long success—well that’s not how he experienced it.”

For those who couldn’t tee off, Seattle Refined dropped by SAM’s artist-designed mini-golf course at the Olympic Sculpture Park, sharing this photo gallery.

Local News

“A Pied Piper of modern dance.” The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald reviews Ailey, the new documentary on choreographer Alvin Ailey.

“15 photos of memorable 2021 moments (so far)”: Crosscut photojournalists reflect on the year so far in photos.

Also from Crosscut: Their latest podcast features three Seattle arts leaders—Erin Johnson, Tim Lennon and Vivian Hua—sharing their pandemic tales of survival and transformation.

“Now that audiences are tentatively beginning to gather again, they are returning to a landscape that has been forever changed, for worse and for better.”

Inter/National News

Jesse Green of the New York Times reviews Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s play, Pass Over, which he says “inaugurates the new season with unexpected joy.” Celebrating its Broadway debut, the play had a hugely popular run at ACT Theatre in 2019.

Filippo Lorenzin for Hyperallergic on immersive art rooms and why we love to escape.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in Washington, D.C. has acquired 286 early photographs from Larry J. West’s collection, reports Artnet, including “40 daguerreotypes by three of the most prominent Black studio photographers of their day: James P. Ball, Glenalvin Goodridge, and Augustus Washington.”

“John Jacob, SAAM’s curator for photography, said that… ‘SAAM now can show an inclusive history of photography, with African Americans among its earliest practitioners, conveying to viewers their contributions as innovators and entrepreneurs.’”

And Finally

The Isley Brothers: Tiny Desk Concert.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM’s Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Courtesy of New Day NW

Muse/News: “Glorious” Monet, a Seattle Arts Podcast, and Visions of Firelei Báez

SAM News

Monet at Étretat has docked at the Seattle Art Museum! Seattle Met, Seattle PI, and Curiocity all recommend the exhibition that tells the story of Claude Monet’s journeys to the fishing village. 

Curator Chiyo Ishikawa appeared on Evening Magazine for a sneak peek at the show’s luminous paintings. She also spoke with Gayle Clemans for her review of the show in the Seattle Times and with Crosscut’s Brangien Davis for her weekly ArtSEA letter.

“When you arrive in the last gallery, SAM’s painting—“Fishing Boats at Étretat”—glows against the plum-colored walls, along with seven other Étretat paintings by Monet. It’s a glorious room, with seascapes and monumental rocks that emerged from Monet’s brush as he laid down quick strokes of the varied colors he observed in the moment.”

“Here we see the man not as the progenitor of mass-produced prettiness, but as a stalwart artist trying to both please a fickle art market and express something true about nature, atmosphere and his home environment.”

Local News

Roxanne Ray for the International Examiner on Tacoma Method, a new opera about the 1885 violent expulsion of Chinese people from Tacoma composed by Gregory Youtz with libretto by Zhang Er.

“What the reception to Seattle’s greatest film can tell us about the city’s on-going homelessness crisis”: Here’s Andrew Hedden for Real Change on the 1984 documentary Streetwise.

Former KUOW arts reporter Marcie Sillman and beloved arts advocate Vivian Phillips have launched a podcast called “DoubleXposure,” reports Jade Yamazaki Stewart for the Seattle Times.

“Phillips says one of her main goals in the podcast is to ‘desegregate the arts from other essential needs’ and to frame it as something just as crucial to human life as things like housing and electricity. ‘It’s an integral part of everything we do, but we tend to segregate it and make it an add-on,’ she says.”

Inter/National News

Artnet takes you inside the studios of 17 artists, asking about their most essential tools for creation.

After the deadly June 24 collapse of a condominium in Surfside, Florida, a wave of support has arrived. Hyperallergic’s Valentina Di Liscia reports on “a new art fundraiser [that] will help the victims and families impacted by the tragedy.”

Siddhartha Mitter for the New York Times on a new installation by Firelei Báez at the Institute of Contemporary Art Watershed in Boston; one component is a massive sculpture that imagines Haiti’s San-Souci palace emerging from the Atlantic Ocean.

“It’s such a palimpsest,” Báez said, looking over the water to the downtown skyline. “Thinking of centuries of development that have happened here — what was negotiated for that to happen, what was given and what was taken?”

And Finally

Rick Steves on “traveling in a reopened world.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: La Falaise d’Aval, 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 25 9/16 × 31 7/8 in., Hasso Plattner Collection

Muse/News: Reflections, Lives They Lived, and Room Tone

SAM News

All SAM locations are currently closed until further notice, but we continue to reflect and plan for the future.

The Seattle Times shared remembrances of 11 cultural figures we lost in 2020. Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s former Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, wrote about Virginia “Jinny” Wright. Jinny and her enormous contributions to SAM and to the Puget Sound region are celebrated in SAM’s exhibition City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art Shaped A New Seattle, which closes January 18.

Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka asked four leaders in the region to reflect on the past year and on what they’ll take into 2021; Priya Frank, SAM’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, reflected on creativity, care, and an ubiquitous sweatshirt. And in case you missed it: Priya appeared on KUOW’s The Record back in November talking museums and accessibility.

Local News

2020 feel like a blur? Seattle Met has you covered with this timeline of the year, including the February reopening of the reimagined Asian Art Museum (we hardly knew ye!).

“A giant of Native Northwest Coast art”: Artist, curator, and teacher Bill Holm passed away at the age of 95 earlier in December. Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art, spoke with the Seattle Times about how she “found her calling” in his classes.

Also in the Seattle Times: The largest-ever edition of their annual Pictures of the Year project. Take a moment to reflect on the visual stories that their team of photojournalists captured, against all odds.

“Everything we needed was suddenly in short supply. One photographer sewed masks for the entire staff. Others dredged masks out of their garages and closets. Yet another photographer found a supply of hand sanitizer made by a local distiller. Not wanting to worsen the shortage of PPE in this country, we eventually found a supply of more masks overseas. We’ve gone through a lot of them.”

Inter/National News

Artnet writers name 10 acclaimed exhibitions they wish they could have seen this year, including Artemisia at London’s National Gallery, Awol Erizku’s show at FLAG Art Foundation, and—what’s this?—Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at the Met? Lucky you, the exhibition arrives at SAM next spring.

Artist John Outterbridge passed away December 23 at the age of 87. Celebrated for his assemblage work, he was also a former director of the Watts Towers Arts Center; read more about his life and practice in the Los Angeles Times obituary.

The New York Times Magazine shares its annual end-of-year project, “The Lives They Lived.” Don’t miss Jenna Wortham on grappling with the afterlife of Breonna Taylor.

“I’ve come to see the thousands of images of Taylor as a memory of our collective will — even though it was betrayed by the state. Anti-lynching efforts were ultimately successful in reshaping the historical and cultural memory of the brutality and immorality of those deaths. ‘We shouldn’t see them — or this — as a failure, but as a project on the road to redemption,’ [Leigh] Raiford told me. She reminded me that memory and memorialization are necessary for that work, as is the honest appraisal of the past to work toward justice in the present and the future.”

And Finally

Let’s get some room tone.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Object of the Week: Pomponne II de Bellièvre

One international diplomat has left the museum, but another is waiting to be seen in the galleries.  Monday, August 3 was Chiyo Ishikawa’s last day as the Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art. This ended her 30-year career as a curator of European Painting and Sculpture whose diplomacy was legendary. With great language skills, knowledge of art history, and an exemplary way with people, she made projects flow. To learn of her accomplishments, this press release offers a summary.

The label for this portrait offers evidence of her patience in collecting. Check out the extraordinarily long credit line under the detail below. Just imagine all the donors lining up next to this remarkable portrait. It took a crowd of supporters to acquire this diplomat from another time and place. Pomponne II de Bellièvre served as the French ambassador to the English Court of Charles I. When seen in person, his portrait has the allure of a meeting with an actual personality. This was the hallmark of the painter, Anthony van Dyck, who knew how to flatter royal and wealthy subjects, partly by creating portraits that appear so alive and real that they seem ready to speak. The studied elegance of this diplomat is seen in his dark silk suit with a tactile sheen, and his facial expression implying that he is about to introduce himself.    

Pomponne II de Bellièvre (detail), 1638-39, Anthony van Dyck, oil on canvas
54 x 43 1/2 in., Purchased with a major grant from an anonymous donor; additional funds provided by Louise Raymond Owens; Norman and Amelia Davis; Oliver T. and Carol Erickson; Seattle Art Museum Guild; Pauline Ederer Bolster and Arthur F. Ederer in memory of their sister, Milli Ederer Kastner; Mr. and Mrs. James D. Burns; gift in memory of Andrew Price by Mrs. Mary Price and their family; bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Archibald Stewart Downey; bequest of Charles Moseley Clark; Max R. Schweitzer; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Stimson, Thomas D. Stimson Memorial Collection; Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection; Silver Anniversary Fund; Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund; Seattle Art Museum Purchase Fund, by exchange, 98.15.

If De Bellièvre could talk, he’d have plenty of stories about court intrigues around Charles I. This English monarch married the sister of the French King Louis XIII and was an avid art collector who made ceremonies and dinners wait so he could show off his expensive holdings. He brought Van Dyck to the court in 1632, and nurtured his rise to success. However, not long after painting this ambassador’s portrait, Van Dyck died at the age of 42, from a long illness that may connect his life to ours.   

Van Dyck lived at a time when waves of the plague known as the Black Death overtook populations in Europe from 1347 to the late 17th century—throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods. When Van Dyck arrived in Palermo, Sicily in 1624, one such wave took hold, and he was quarantined. While there, he painted numerous portraits of the city’s patroness, Saint Rosalie, trying to intercede for those stricken by the plague. One of these paintings is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is suspected that Van Dyck’s illness may have begun during this time.   

It has been hard for the staff to honor Chiyo Ishikawa remotely, but pandemics do require new forms of diplomacy. Luckily, she will open her final exhibition, Monet at Étretat in May 2021, yet another example of her leadership in international artistic persuasion. We certainly hope by then that we’ll all be together in the galleries and can pay our respects to the French ambassador who waits there patiently for us to return. 

Pam McClusky, SAM Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Pomponne II de Bellièvre, 1638-39, Anthony van Dyck, oil on canvas
54 x 43 1/2 in., Purchased with a major grant from an anonymous donor; additional funds provided by Louise Raymond Owens; Norman and Amelia Davis; Oliver T. and Carol Erickson; Seattle Art Museum Guild; Pauline Ederer Bolster and Arthur F. Ederer in memory of their sister, Milli Ederer Kastner; Mr. and Mrs. James D. Burns; gift in memory of Andrew Price by Mrs. Mary Price and their family; bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Archibald Stewart Downey; bequest of Charles Moseley Clark; Max R. Schweitzer; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Stimson, Thomas D. Stimson Memorial Collection; Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection; Silver Anniversary Fund; Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund; Seattle Art Museum Purchase Fund, by exchange, 98.15. Saint Rosalie Interceding for the Plague-Stricken of Palermo, 1624, Anthony van Dyck, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum, 71.41. Chiyo Ishikawa, photo: Robert Wade.

Muse/News: Curator Journeys, Black Imagination, and A Cry for Action

SAM News

Last week, Stay Home with SAM visited the town of Étretat with Monet and SAM curator Chiyo Ishikawa and made poetry inspired by a Ming dynasty calligraphy painting.

Local News

Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reports on a long-planned redevelopment now steadily moving ahead in the wake of the protests: The Fire Station 6 property at 23rd Ave and Yesler is slated to become the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation, a project led by Africatown. King County Equity Now Coalition on Monday called for specific next steps.

The Seattle Times has started a new series, The Future of Policing, “an examination of what that future could look like and the hurdles ahead.” Here, Nina Shapiro talks to community leaders and their views on the reimagining of public safety.

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis reflects on “how ‘what ifs’ become realities” in her weekly editor’s letter, exploring acts of collective imagination happening now, as well as those by Black artists and cultural workers long in the works such as Wa Na Wari, Africatown, Natasha Marin, and more.

Inter/National News

“A cry for action from the inside out and the outside in”: The director of the Oakland Museum of Art, Lori Fogarty, writes an opinion piece for Artnet, laying out their ongoing equity efforts—social impact evaluations, board representation benchmarks, paid internships, and community collaborations—as well as “how much further [they] have to go.”

Billy Anania for Hyperallergic points you to a viewable archive of the Los Angeles Free Press (1964–1978), which covered police violence and racial inequality with always-compelling design.

Museums across the country are collecting artifacts from the recent protests as they’re happening, reports Artnet’s Sarah Cascone, ensuring this historical moment can be further taught and explored.

“The artifact actually stands as a metaphor,” Aaron Bryant, curator of photography and visual culture and contemporary collecting at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. In many ways, it becomes a portal by which we can connect our visitors with the story we are trying to tell.”

And Finally

No end in sight.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Fishing Boats at Étretat, 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 in. Partial and promised gift of an anonymous donor, 92.88.

Virtual Art Talks: Monet at Étretat with Chiyo Ishikawa

Learn more about Claude Monet’s mid-career painting series made during a winter spent on the coast of France with SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art & Curator of European Painting & Sculpture, Chiyo Ishikawa. Though Ishikawa is retiring this year, after 30 years with SAM, she will return for the planning of Monet of Étretat, opening May 2021.

Focused around SAM’s colorful Monet painting, Fishing Boats at Étretat, 1885, the exhibition considers the artist’s engagement with Étretat, a seaside village in Normandy known for its stunning chalk cliffs. During a difficult period in his life, Monet traveled there alone and painted over 80 works, immersing himself in the place and committing himself to the process of painting in all kinds of conditions. He went there in the off-season, interested not in the summer tourist scene but in the daily fishing activity and the timeless rock formations. SAM’s focused exhibition will feature 11 works by Monet, plus contemporaneous paintings by other artists who worked at the same site. Watch this talk and look forward to the exhibition while you stay home with SAM.

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

Muse/News: Chiyo’s goodbye, the art of hom bows, and Earth’s mini moon

SAM News

Last week, we announced that Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, will retire this summer after 30 years with the museum. The Seattle Times, KUOW, Artforum, Artnet, ARTnews, Artdaily, and Hyperallergic all shared the news. In Crosscut’s Arts & Culture newsletter, Brangien Davis spoke for everyone when she wrote, “Beloved in the Seattle arts community for her insight, approachability and très chic personal style, Ishikawa will be missed.”

“A Place for Meaningful Cultural Conversations” declared the headline for art critic Lee Lawrence’s thoughtful review of the reimagined Asian Art Museum, which appeared in the February 25 print edition of the Wall Street Journal.

“These 19th-century bululs, or rice deities, from the Philippines once watched over terraced paddies, and they’re among the museum’s most modest yet most powerful works. Given the nature and small size of its Philippine holdings, the Seattle Asian Art Museum probably would have kept them in storage had it opted for a traditional installation. But in another benefit of thematic groupings, they—and other long-warehoused treasures in the museum’s collection—now have a role, enriching the new installation not just with their stories but with their spirit.”

Local News

Seattle-based artist Susie J. Lee is making a short video about what makes a museum “interesting and cool.” The Seattle Times’ Alan Berner captured photos of the recent shoot at the Asian Art Museum.

Crosscut’s new video series, Art Seen, explores “the hidden art of the everyday”; they recently showed us how Mee Sum Pastry makes all those hom bows, day in and day out.

The Seattle Times’ Crystal Paul reviews the new collection of stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick.

“As a trained anthropologist, Hurston traveled down the East Coast and sat on stoops and corners, the storytelling stages and communal gathering spaces of Black communities, where, with academic rigor and a loving gaze, she listened, studied and collected the stories Black folk tell.”

Inter/National News

Tara Bahrampour for the Washington Post on the Phillips Collection’s Creative Aging program, which helps seniors connect and make art.

Holland Cotter of the New York Times on MoMA’s Donald Judd survey that opens on Sunday, noting that his work “can now be seen to offer pleasures, visual and conceptual, that any audience with open eyes, can relate to.”

Hyperallergic’s Kealey Boyd reviews the exhibition of Chinese contemporary art, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China; its national tour has now brought it to the Smart Museum of Art and Wrightwood 659 in Chicago, before it heads to SAM this summer.

“It is not often a new category of art historical research is proposed as a solution to these persistent problems, but The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China makes a compelling case for the usefulness of a new analytical structure around Chinese art.” 

And Finally

Earth can have a mini moon (as a treat).

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Scott Areman

The Dark, Divine Wonder of Naples Comes to SAM

Ask of Naples, and you will likely receive a description comprised of contradictions. A sprawling Italian city at the foot of towering Mount Vesuvius. A dense metropolis bordered by open sea. A vibrant place with a violent side to its history. Visitors to SAM through January 26, 2020, will become familiar with Naples through the exhibition Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum. Drawn from the collection of one of the largest museums in Italy—dramatically situated in a former palace, atop a hill overlooking Naples—the exhibition brings together renowned artists of the High Renaissance and Neapolitan Baroque periods as it explores the intersection of physical and spiritual existence.

Naples has historically been claimed by a range of ruling powers, including the Spanish Empire for two centuries, beginning in 1503. At this time in Rome Alessandro Farnese was building a monumental collection of works by Italian Renaissance masters, including a powerful portrait of himself as Pope Paul III that he commissioned from Titian in 1543, which is on view in Flesh and Blood. This art collection was ultimately inherited by Charles of Bourbon, who brought it to Naples when he assumed power over the city in 1735.

“I am struck by the way that Neapolitan artists seem to collapse the distance between heaven and earth. This was also my sense of Naples itself—the sea, the dense city, and the hills are all squeezed into a narrow space, so you get the most amazing visual juxtapositions,” says Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture. Juxtapositions are also pronounced in the development of the chiaroscuro style of painting that became a signature of the Baroque era.

In the early 17th century, a uniquely Neapolitan school of painting emerged. Among the school’s founders, was Naples native Battistello Caracciolo (1578–1635), whose stunning painting, The Virgin Rescuing Souls from Purgatory (1622–1623) presents a group of figures—saintly and earthly alike—against a darkened background that at once feels confined and infinite. Also featured prominently is Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652), a Spanish painter who relocated to Naples in 1611. Like many of the works in this exhibition, his dramatic portrayal of Saint Jerome and the Angel of Judgement (1626) echoes the vivid contrasts of Naples, eternally oscillating between an enthralling light and a violent darkness. Visit Flesh and Blood to develop your own sense of Naples.

Images: The Virgin of the Souls with Saints Clare and Francis, 1622–23, Battistello Caracciolo, Italian, 1578–1635, oil on canvas, 114 3/16 × 80 11/16 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. Pope Paul III, 1543, Titian, Italian, 1488/90–1576, oil on canvas, 44 3/4 × 34 15/16 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. Saint Jerome, 1626, Jusepe de Ribera, Spanish, 1591–1652, oil on canvas, 105 1/8 × 64 9/16 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte.

Muse/News: Victorian extra-ness, tree art, and what happens when artists curate

SAM News

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis recommends that you “judge for yourself … and consider just what makes art radical” in her write-up of Victorian Radicals.

And GRAY Magazine’s Rachel Gallaher chats with curator Chiyo Ishikawa about the exhibition on “what’s so radical” about it.

“Rich in saturated color and minute detail, the works sit in bold contrast to the zeitgeisty minimalism and pastel palettes of the past few years. It’s a rather refreshing aesthetic twist, and a veritable feast for the eyes.”

Watch Evening Magazine’s thoughtful story on Hear & Now, featuring interviews with artist Trimpin, poet Pam Winter, and Path with Art director Holly Jacobson.

Comedy Gold from the American Cinema kicks off this week; with classics like The Thin Man and The Awful Truth it’s no wonder the series is included on Seattle Magazine’s list of “21 Best Things to Do in Seattle in July 2019” and is one of the Seattle Times’ “hottest Seattle events for July 2019.”

Congrats! SAM trustee Charles Wright has been named Middle Market Family Business Executive of the Year by the Puget Sound Business Journal. 

Local News

Crosscut’s Agueda Pacheco Flores (just named New Journalist of the Year by the Society of Professional Journalists [Western Washington]!) visits The Beacon, Columbia City’s new single-screen cinema.

The Stranger’s Rich Smith wrote about Seattle’s newest “pretty dreamy” dance company, Seattle Dance Collective; their first show, Program One, premieres at Vashon Center for the Arts this weekend.

An SOS, a lofty reminder, a memento mori: Crosscut’s Brangien Davis visits Ted Youngs’ new Smoke Season installation and looks at some other trees in art, including John Grade’s Middle Fork at SAM and the Neukom Vivarium at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

“They peer up at the tree, which stands parallel to the Space Needle — one conceived as a beacon of humanity’s bright future, the other an urgent message from the here and now.”

Inter/National News

You love to see it: As part of NPR Music’s exploration of the Seattle music scene, they look at “11 Visual Artists Creating The Look Of Seattle Music.” 

Who knew this was such a rich genre? Artnet’s Caroline Goldstein brings you the “Finest Artistic Depictions of Totally Wasted People Ever.”

The New York Times’ Roberta Smith on Artistic License at the Guggenheim, a show curated by six artists—one for each of the ramps of the museum’s rotunda.  

“Artists look at a collection more freely and greedily than most of us, from odd angles. They often ferret out neglected or eccentric treasures, highlighting what museums have but aren’t using; they can also reveal a collection’s weaknesses, its biases and blind spots.”

And Finally

A world of cages.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view “Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement” at Seattle Art Museum, 2019, photo: Natali Wiseman.

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

SAM News

In a ceremony at the Seattle Art Museum last Wednesday, Dr. Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters), joining a prestigious group of artists, writers, scholars, and producers recognized for fostering French arts and culture. ARTnews and Vanguard Seattle both shared the news.

The project to renovate and expand the Asian Art Museum met some important milestones in recent public hearings with the Seattle City Council. Last week, Brendan Kiley of the Seattle Times filed an update on the project.

Local News

Seattle says farewell to educator Mona Humphries Bailey, who passed away recently at the age of 85. We here at SAM were honored to have her once serve on our Education & Community Engagement Committee.

Last week’s New Yorker cover featured an illustration by Mark Ulriksen depicting Seahawk and activist Michael Bennett kneeling with Colin Kaepernick and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Alison Marks: One Gray Hair, now on view at the Frye Art Museum, was reviewed by Erin Langner for Hyperallergic.

“ . . . instigates an urgent conversation about the perspectives that are lost in a monolithic world, with questions and answers moving fluidly between the work, the viewer and the artist.”

Inter/National News

The Brooklyn Museum has announced that they’ll present a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat in a one-painting exhibition (which will then go on tour); the work made headlines last spring after it was purchased by collector Yusaku Maezawa.

Meredith Mendelsohn of the New York Times profiles artist Derrick Adams, whose exhibition opening this week at the Museum of Arts and Design was inspired by the “Green Book,” guides for black travelers published from 1936 through 1966.

Antwaun Sargent writes for Artsy about LaToya Ruby Frazier—2013 winner of SAM’s Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize—who has a new show at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in Harlem.

‘”Whenever I’m making a portrait,’ says Frazier, and its subjects are ‘looking back at me, showing their dignity and pride and humanity, they are a marker on the timeline of history.’”

And Finally

This past weekend saw the Women’s March 2.0 take over cities and towns across the country. Here’s a song for those who want to keep the party going.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman

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

SAM News

City Arts’ Margo Vansynghel interviewed Sondra Perry, winner of the 2017 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize, about her newly opened installation at SAM.

“When I meet her in the darkened gallery, she speaks softly and fast, her ideas and sentences tumbling over each other like waves without arrest. One can find a similar sense of intellectual excitement and multiplicity in Perry’s work.”

The winter edition of the Stranger’s Art & Performance Quarterly is out! Zoom in on Winter 1946, a painting from Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, in their recurring “Anatomy of a Painting” feature.

Zagat features their picks for best restaurants and bars near SAM—hey, thanks for the tips!

Local News

City Arts on the impending closure of INCA in Queen Anne; this avant-garde gallery hosted Sondra Perry’s first solo show back in 2015.

Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, lent her thoughts to this KUOW story by Marcie Sillman on the artistic and civic legacy of the Tsutakawa family.

City Arts names the local artists of the year in a colorful two-page spread, with illustrations by Kelly Björk.

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic reviews Mentors, Muses, and Celebrities, Mickalene Thomas’ show that’s now on view at the Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis.

“[It] is not only about looking at black women, it is about them observing the world around them and finding their place in it, and even amidst the trials and tribulations waged against them, finding ways to rejoice.”

Kerry James Marshall has designed a monumental public sculpture for Des Moines honoring the National Bar Association, the nation’s oldest network of African-American attorneys and judges.

Rumaan Alam for the New Yorker with a charming piece about bringing his children to art museums—and how they’ve changed how he sees and experiences art himself.

And Finally

Kendrick Lamar’s video “ELEMENT.” was inspired by the photography of Gordon Parks; now, the Gordon Parks Foundation presents an exhibition of the video and the works that inspired them.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Sondra Perry: Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photo: Natali Wiseman.

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

Welcome to our newest blog series, Muse/News—your weekly recap of what’s happening in art news at the Seattle Art Museum and across the world. Check back Mondays for updates on the artists and events making headlines around the world. With the Seattle Art Fair come and gone over the weekend, there’s plenty to digest and our PR Manager, Rachel Eggers delivers the scoop here in a perfect bite size. Enjoy!

All was fair in the city this past week as the Seattle Art Fair breezed into town for the third year in a row. What initially seemed an ambitious experiment is quickly becoming a welcome mainstay of the Seattle cultural calendar.

SAM News

Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture (phew!) has been named Best Curator in Seattle Weekly’s annual readers’ poll. We’re glad everyone loves her as much as we do. Congrats, Chiyo!

Loved this substantial dive into the tensions of “selfie obliteration” in the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibition by Erin Langner for ARCADE.

“…Kusama’s inclination to control and present her own image in the 1960s seems well ahead of its time. Accepting the way images are consumed, she chose to control the construction, proliferation, and obliteration of hers rather than allowing someone else to do so. Some of her true self was left out in the fiction of the performance. But, she also ensured the performance was conveyed the way she envisioned it. To this end, maybe taking selfies, in an Infinity Mirror Room or elsewhere, can have meaning when done with similar intent—when they give us the chance to perform and let go of ourselves at the same time.”

Local News

Emily Pothast of the Stranger offered compelling thoughts on the fair and offered her five don’t-miss highlights.

SAM staff got out and about this weekend; check out tips for the Seattle Art Fair from SAM’s Chiyo Ishikawa in Crosscut and David Rue in CityArts.

Michael Upchurch of the Seattle Times recently reviewed the Henry show on local sculptor Doris Totten Chase (looks groovy!).

Inter/National News

Are you “here for the right reasons”? The New York Times visits a rose-filled one-night show. After the recent casting call here, maybe we’ll see a Seattleite embark on the “journey” next season (ugh, you know you’ll watch again).

Artist Julie Mehretu, represented in SAM’s collection, is working on a monumental commission for the San Francisco MoMA; her paintings “are trying to make sense of where we are in our country right now.”

“What should one do when faced with images of violence?” That’s the question writer and critical theorist Sarah Sentilles took up this week for the New Yorker. She appears tonight at Elliott Bay Book Company to discuss her new book, Draw Your Weapons.

– Rachel Eggers, Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, dresses the part while considering Kusama’s multiverse.

The Ins and Outs of Acquisitions: A Newly Discovered French Masterpiece

Adding a piece to a museum collection is an involved process. In the case of Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska, a painting by Louis-Philippe Crépin, the first interaction was on a trip to London when Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European and Sculpture got an email from Christie’s auction house in London about a private sale of a uniquely important painting.

Museum curators continually consider art for the museum’s collection. They assess intellectual and historical importance of artworks, ownership, relevance to the larger collection, as well as condition, potential costs for conservation, framing, display, and storage. SAM’s collection includes approximately 25,000 objects, with 36 new artworks acquired so far in 2017.

To acquire a work of art, the curator has to first convince the director and then the Committee on Collections (COC), an advisory group of board members and community arts leaders, who, in turn, make recommendations to the Executive Committee of the Board, which has the final vote.

To give you a peek into the acquisition process, below is the curatorial argument for this newly acquired painting by Louis-Philippe Crépin.

This painting represents a shipwreck of two launches from the famous French Enlightenment-era expedition led by Count Jean-François de La Pérouse, which reached Alaska in July 1786. The ships were getting ready to leave Lituya Bay when two boats were caught up in violent tidal currents and one boat capsized. The second vessel may have tried to rescue the sailors but itself went under. This painting was commissioned by the family of two brother officers who were killed in this event, and it was enthusiastically reviewed when it was displayed at the 1806 Salon. It has been in the family since that time.

La Pérouse’s expedition into the Pacific Northwest followed celebrated efforts by Spanish and British explorers in the previous decade. Scientific inquiry was a primary motivation, but the explorers were also seeking political advantage for their governments. On July 2, 1786 the expedition arrived at a previously uncharted bay on the Alaskan coast. La Pérouse named it Port des Français, but we know it today as Lituya Bay. After successfully navigating the rocky entrance to the bay, the crews set up camp, planning to stay for a month to explore the bay and glaciers on the mainland at the northeast end of the bay. They concluded their investigations sooner than planned and made ready to leave on July 13. Two boats were sent ahead to sound the channel near the perilous entrance to the bay so that they could chart the depth; one officer miscalculated the distance from the rocks and found his boat engulfed by a sudden high tide. Both boats capsized, and twenty-one men were lost in ten minutes.

The painting closely follows La Pérouse’s own narrative of the disaster and draws on images by the professional artists who illustrated the Atlas du voyage de La Pérouse. The two endangered boats teeter in the foreground amid boulders and high waves as a third tries vainly to reach them. The two mother ships emerge from behind Observatory Island (after the tragedy, La Pérouse redubbed this Cenotaph Island). The urgent efforts of the sailors caught up in the roiling waves are set against the majestic backdrop of the Fairweather mountain range. At the right, gesturing from a rock, are two members of the Tlingit tribe, witnesses to the event, who searched in vain for survivors, according to La Pérouse. The interaction with the French and the story of the shipwreck would remain part of the Tlingit oral tradition.

Crépin captures the men’s desperate actions as conditions suddenly changed. The two La Borde brothers, in the boat at right, offer a line to their doomed comrades just before they too are swept under. The terrible drama is all in the foreground, at eye level. Beyond the turbulent waves in the pass the bay is calm, the mountains of the Fairweather range are impassively still, and the sky is clear and blue.

Born in Paris, Louis-Philippe Crépin was a specialist in marine painting who had trained under celebrated artists Claude-Joseph Vernet and Hubert Robert. His interest in marine subjects kindled by Vernet, Crépin made his debut at the Salon of 1796 with a painting of the port of Brest. His primary patron throughout his long career would be the Naval Ministry of the government. Many of his works are in the National Maritime Museum in Paris, while others are in provincial museums throughout France. This work would likely be the first painting by Crépin in an American museum.

This painting transcends the standard conventions of marine painting. It stands alone within the artist’s oeuvre, achieving a peak of clarity, drama, and pathos that are typical of more highly valued history painting. The prestige of the La Pérouse expedition, the spectacular American landscape, and the portraits of the Laborde brothers make this one of  Crépin’s most outstanding works. In his review of the 1806 Salon, Pierre-Jean-Baptiste Chaussard singled out the painting: “But the most beautiful painting by M. Crépin, and the one which most attracted the attention of art lovers and artists, was the Shipwreck of the Dinghies of M. de la Peyrouse. It is in this tragic event that he has deployed all his genius and all the resources of his art. The scene is represented with a touching simplicity, and yet with an energy which inspires at once terror and pity. There are no superfluous figures or accessories: all dramatic interest is in the truth of the action. . . . In sum, this painting promises that he is the rightful successor to Vernet, and that no other country has produced a rival to match this celebrated man.”

In addition to the painting’s superb quality, it has never been on the market, remaining in the family that commissioned it for over 200 years. This undoubtedly has contributed to its excellent state of preservation. The Empire frame, an impressive part of its visual impact, is from the same period as the painting.

Like the curators of the Salon, Ishikawa saw something exceptional in this work that lent itself to SAM’s focus. “It offers an insight into the European perspective of the Northwest as an uncharted area that hadn’t been recorded—the wonder and exoticism. Count Jean-François de La Pérouse who led the expedition to Lituya Bay, which at the time he named the Bay of the French, though it was clear by the trading skills of the Tlingit that this expedition was not the first to find this bay.” Ishikawa continues to point out that, “Crépin is not a famous artist but this is a painting that transcends its genre. It’s an impressive and successful example of human drama.” See this painting installed in Extreme Nature: Two Landscape Paintings from the Age of Enlightenment, opening December 23. Accompanied by the return of  Volaire’s much admired Eruption of Mount Vesuvius with Ponte della Maddalena in the Distance, painted around the same time as the Crépin and last seen hanging at SAM this spring in Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, this installation will instill a very human awe and fear in the face of nature’s power.

Image: Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska, 1806, Louis-Philippe Crepin, French, 1772-1851, oil on canvas, 40 15/16 × 58 11/16 in., Seattle Art Museum, European Art Acquisition Fund; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund; by exchange Gift of Mrs. Lew V. Day in memory of her husband; Gift of Arthur F. Ederer; H. Neil Meitzler, Issaquah, Washington; Col. Philip L. Thurber Memorial; Gift of Mrs. Donald E. Frederick; The late Mr. Arrigo M. Young and Mrs. Young in memory of their son, Lieut. (j.g.) Lawrence H. Young; Phillips Morrison Memorial; Gift of Mrs. Oswald Brown, in memory of her parents Simeon and Fannie B. Leland; Gift of Miss Grace G. Denny in memory of her sister Miss Coral M. Denny; Gift of friends in memory of Frank Molitor; Purchased from funds contributed in memory of Henry H. Judson; Purchased from the bequest of Charles M. Clark; Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr.; Norman and Amelia Davis Collection; Norman Davis Collection; Mrs. Cebert Baillargeon, in memory of her husband, 2017.15.

Personal Landscapes

What’s your personal landscape? Watch our video series, Personal Landscapes, to hear from creatives, scientists, and an athlete on what draws their eye in Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection. The exhibition features 39 historically significant European and American landscape paintings from the past 400 years. From Brueghel’s allegorical series of the five senses painted in the 15th century to David Hockney’s The Grand Canyon, completed in 1998, there’s something for everyone in Seeing Nature. See it yourself before it closes, May 23! Get $5 off between now and closing by using the code SEE$5OFF at check out.

Pictures and Words: National Gallery by Frederick Wiseman

One of the abiding pleasures of my job is that I get to spend so much time in museums—not just the Seattle Art Museum, but great institutions throughout Europe and the United States. That’s where I spend my business trips, and many vacations too. Working in a museum, I am familiar with the teamwork and myriad decisions that go into creating collection installations and exhibitions. Now a gorgeous new film, Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery (playing December 5-11 at the Northwest Film Forum), invites viewers to watch the activity behind the scenes at one of the finest collections of European art in the world, London’s National Gallery.

Wiseman edited down hundreds of hours filmed on-site to craft a paean to the art of looking. We observe masterpiece after masterpiece–close-up, within the grand architecture of the galleries, and unframed in the attic conservation studio. We observe people—the professional staff of the Gallery, which includes the director Nicholas Penny, curators, educators, marketing specialists, scientists, framers, conservators, art handlers, maintenance staff—as well as studious visitors who scrutinize these paintings looking for answers or just marveling at the talents of great artists of the past.

In contrast to many documentaries, there is no narration, no interviews, and no identification of the speakers. We take a fly-on-the-wall position and watch the business of the museum unfold in a non-hierarchical way. The closest thing to a dramatic crisis is a series of conversations among museum staff about whether the august Gallery should succumb to marketing opportunities to appear more hip and reach a broader audience. I was fascinated to recognize that the National Gallery–which has free admission and welcomes over five million visitors annually—is as concerned as we are at SAM to understand our audiences and develop programs with their needs in mind. But in a film that lasts nearly three hours, this is just one of many activities that hum through the museum, seemingly no more or less important than installing a new lighting system, managing a blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, or conserving paintings.

The curators and conservators have unparalleled knowledge about the works of art in their care, but their conversations here are often quite insular and subtle. For me the heroes of the film are the talented and passionate gallery educators who are marvelously effective in helping visitors to understand what the artist was trying to do all those years ago under circumstances that feel quite foreign to us today. All of these dedicated professionals prize active looking, as does Wiseman. He lets scenes unfold in real time, which will require an adjustment from viewers used to quick-paced, plot-driven films. But patience has its rewards, and in the final scene the film achieves poetry as a pair of dancers perform in an empty gallery before two of the most moving works that Titian ever painted. These wordless moments where music, dance, and painting come together resonate with a power beyond all of the eloquent words that came before.

–Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture

Image: Courtesy of Zipporah Films.

SAM Art: A new look at an old painting

The naked human body was an acceptable subject for artists illustrating myths or, occasionally, biblical stories. In this painting Venus and her lover Adonis enjoy a brief period of happiness before he is killed. Especially popular in the region of Venice, Veronese’s large, richly colored decorations were fashionable throughout Europe.

Members Art History Lecture Series: Curator’s Choice with Chiyo Ishikawa and Nicholas Dorman
Venus and Adonis by Paolo Veronese and Workshop
Wednesday, March 20, 7–8:30 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, first floor, SAM downtown

This winter, one of the most imposing paintings in our European collection, Venus and Adonis by Paolo Veronese and Workshop, has been in the exhibition Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice at the Ringling Museum of Art. In preparation for the show, SAM’s Chief Conservator Nicholas Dorman oversaw conservation and technical evaluation of our painting. He and Chiyo Ishikawa, The Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting & Sculpture, will discuss the painting’s history, subject matter, and the intriguing question of its authorship.

Venus and Adonis (pictured prior to conservation treatment), before 1580, Paolo di Gabriele di Piero Caliaro (known as Veronese; Italian, 1528-1588) and workshop, oil on canvas, 88 3/8 x 66 1/4 in., Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.174, Photo: Paul Macapia. Currently on view at the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, in Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice, through April 14, 2013.

Why a plate?

Michelangelo Public and Private invites us into the artistic process behind some of the most astonishing works of art ever created – the Sistine Chapel frescoes. Through preparatory drawings – quick figure sketches to capture a pose, analytical studies of outstretched limbs, a highly finished portrait that will be incorporated into a populous narrative – we watch Michelangelo making decisions that lead to the finished work.

It is easy to understand why these preparatory drawings – the artist’s first ideas – are at the centerpiece of the Michelangelo exhibition. But what about some of the other objects? Read More

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