In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will feature artworks from SAM’s collection that explore Black art and artists. Black lives matter every day of the year, but this month is a particular opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and legacies of Black leaders in civic and cultural life. Exploring and reflecting on the past and present of Black lives is one important way to continue to imagine better futures. Here’s the final of four reflections from four different SAM voices on one artwork and what it means to them.
Black History Month is the perfect time to envision a new world, one that is governed by empathy, equity, and justice.
Through her multi-year project, ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space (2015–16), New York-based artist Saya Woolfalk invites viewers to imagine a new reality. When you step into her virtual utopia, it invokes the spirit of the Empathics, a fictional race of women who can alter their genetic makeup and fuse with plants. Their world centers around the divine feminine, and their superpower is the ability to unite with the plant and animal kingdoms.
Woolfalk’s immersive installation was acquired by the museum in 2017 and is now on view as part of Lessons from The Institute of Empathy. There, her dynamic work is in dialogue with works from the museum’s African art collection, along with thought-provoking “empathy lessons” from the Empathics to guide your experience. Her aesthetic produces a resonance that stirs the soul. The choice of African symbols and rich colors, the incorporation of digital media, and the inclusion of sculptures that resemble spiritual totems create a hypnotic experience that transports audiences into an imaginative world. Deific figures speak to you through the movement of the images in the backdrop, evoking a sense of wonder and awe. The result is that through the exhibition, you also fuse with empathy and sense the etheric euphoria that comes from authentic connection.
Today, the immersive world portrayed in ChimaTEK is more relevant than ever. Society, from farmers to financiers, is being forced to examine business as usual. For example, the concept of regeneration, from regenerative agriculture to regenerative capital, exposes the harmful impacts of creating monocultures, being extractive, and being reductionist (on the soil and on the human soul) and offers a powerful alternative. These new approaches are proving that mimicking the ways of nature—embracing diversity, interdependence, and cooperation—are reversing the climate crisis, restoring plant and animal health, and providing the conditions for abundance, thriving, and flourishing in our businesses, institutions, and relationships.
Lessons from Woolfalk’s Institute of Empathy, like regenerative models, remind us that humanity is a part of nature, not apart from nature. That the result of a true union with nature can produce a sea change: a society where everyone resonates with the frequency of empathy. The Institute reminds us that nature’s language is love.
As Black History Month concludes and we transition from winter to spring, let’s reflect on our collective future and imagine a world governed by indigeneity (the fact of originating or occurring naturally in a particular place). Let’s respond to Woolfalk’s call to action to create a future that is inclusive, just, abundant, and flourishing. Let’s fuse with nature and shape our world, empathetically.
– Falona Joy, President of SNP Strategies, Inc. and SAM Trustee
Photo: Natali Wiseman.
Celebrate Black History Month in Seattle with these suggested events and additional resources.
In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will feature artworks from SAM’s collection that explore Black art and artists. Black lives matter every day of the year, but this month is a particular opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and legacies of Black leaders in civic and cultural life. Exploring and reflecting on the past and present of Black lives is one important way to continue to imagine better futures. Here’s the third of four reflections from four different SAM voices on one artwork and what it means to them.
Twenty eight days a year isn’t long enough to commemorate hundreds of years of Black history that has shaped the world we live in. The contributions to the United States by Black Americans is everlasting; even the White House was built by Black Americans, free and enslaved. Every February, American institutions pay respects to the brave Black Americans for fighting an almost impossible battle against white supremacy to advocate for the value of Black life. Celebrated are the many contributions that have been made by Black culture: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., jazz music, the invention of peanut butter, and more. Many Black Americans find it is hard not to feel like these recycled acts aren’t performative when ushered right back into that impossible battle on March 1. This anxiety and dissociation is captured so authentically in a short film currently on view in SAM’s galleries through August 6, Howard L. “GATO” Mitchell’s Forgive Us Our Debts (2018).
Based in Portland, Oregon, GATO is an award-winning American director. GATO showcases his unique point of view as an Afro-Panamanian along with the tangible and intangible intricacies of his identity in his artwork. His universal theme is to depict what isn’t seen. GATO’s multi-disciplinary talents in painting and filmmaking make his work a full sensory experience. This 15-minute narrative film is about a young Black 13-year-old boy named Trey, who is struggling to make sense of the hate he was born into. Riddled with stress and anxiety, the almost disorienting video truly captures the chaos of being a Black person in America living in poverty. Between tender family dynamics and unsettling visuals, Mitchell gives viewers a sense of the helplessness that is left behind from the impact of racism.
Every day, Black people fight to live peacefully and prosper. As a teenager, Trey is learning how to become a man from his father, who teaches him how to be tough through the power of his fist. With generational trauma instead of generational wealth as a legacy, Trey’s coming of age is complex. A good education, livable income, providing for your family, and pursuing your dreams: none of these are presented options as for Trey. Being a young teen, it’s heartbreaking for Trey to accept these harsh truths, when he would likely prefer to live as the average American teen as portrayed in the media: discovering themselves, having fun, and getting a good education.
Society is telling Trey that he’ll always be seen as a criminal without resources or opportunities for a better life. He is forced to carry burdens passed down hundreds of years that cause him to grow up disadvantaged and affect his mental health negatively. Yet he also has to reconcile his love for his family and the hope they instill in him to live better than them. The familial responsibility along with the current and constant visualization of Black boys and men being murdered by police doesn’t allow Trey to stay in the naiveté of adolescence. There isn’t much difference from Trey and Trayvon Martin, and the film makes that clear in the shot of an officer with a “G. Zimmerman” name tag.
Racial tensions and inflation have increased tremendously over the past few years. With so many outlets and resources of information, America is more divided than ever on how to improve the quality of life for its citizens. Black Americans, and especially Black Americans living in poverty, are still having to overcome institutional racism while overt racism is on the rise. Many white Americans will denounce racism and claim allyship. Having liberal beliefs, online activism, and celebrating Black History Month, while commendable, isn’t enough. Young Black children similar to Trey continuously live in that perplexing reality regardless if people decide to vote blue or red. What can be done to help Black citizens all year?
Forgive Us Our Debts can be seen as a call to action for non-Black Americans to get involved in Black disenfranchised communities and organizations, whether it be volunteering, teaching a free class, or helping a local community center. It’s key to think about what Black history means and what can be done all twelve months of the year. Black Americans have to think about it every day, whether they want to or not.
– Karly Norment Meneses, SAM Marketing Coordinator
Photos: Forgive Us Our Debts, 2018, Howard L. Gato Mitchell, American, digital video, 15 minutes, Courtesy of the artist.
Celebrate Black History Month in Seattle with these suggested events and additional resources.
In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will feature artworks from SAM’s collection that explore Black art and artists. Black lives matter every day of the year, but this month is a particular opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and legacies of Black leaders in civic and cultural life. Exploring and reflecting on the past and present of Black lives is one important way to continue to imagine better futures. Here’s the second of four reflections from four different SAM voices on one artwork and what it means to them.
There are images that have become synonymous with the pandemic years: boarded shop windows, deserted streets, protests, and tear gas, to name a few. Seattle was a center for it all, and there remain some remnants of that turbulent first year of the pandemic around the city. Still, we possess a collective anxiety. We have bruises on our hearts and souls from the images of violence and injustice; The feeling of powerlessness that came from being trapped inside and glued to our screens. It wasn’t safe to go out, but inside was a cycle of mania.
These feelings are aggressively and powerfully rendered in Untitled Anxious Bruise Drawing (2021) by Chicago-based artist Rashid Johnson (b. 1977). He portrays the anguish, frantic energy, and damage of the upheavals of 2020 with sustained, forceful brush strokes until the paint thins to a faint wisp. A series of boxes with confused, startled eyes. Mouths blurred in motion. Oscillating from dense to light, black and blue. The unraveling chaos is contained by rough edges, where strokes of paint find their way out of bounds. With the same curatorial intent of modern media, we’re viewing a selection of the multitude of blue cells. All wavering, unnerved, and anxious. There’s more beyond what we see; truths we have yet to acknowledge.
The unjust experiences of Black people in America continues to be a bruise on the national consciousness. It’s often difficult to talk about or relate to, although art can provide a conduit. With Untitled Anxious Bruise Drawing, there’s a possibility of relation, of realization, and even relearning. Johnson boldly carries the torch proclaiming that the arts have a role to play in confronting the past for a better future.
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?
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.
Hong Kong-born and Vancouver-based artist Lam Tung Pang made his Seattle debut earlier this year in Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artist on the Classical Forms at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. In September, the artist made the trip to the museum to see his artwork The Great Escape (2020) in the galleries for the first time. While in town, we sat down with the remarkable contemporary artist to talk about his pandemic-inspired kinetic installation and what it means to bring classical Chinese practices into the modern era. After you’ve watched the video, read below for even more from our conversation with the artist!
SAM: How does it feel to be showing your artwork to Seattle audiences for the first time?
LAM TUNG PANG: It’s so exciting to debut my artwork here in Seattle and especially at the Seattle Asian Art Museum! This museum features a lot of very interesting antique work, but my artwork is modern. It’s fascinating to see this all together in one museum, and I hope audiences will enjoy seeing all of this in one setting.
SAM: You worked with FOONG Ping, SAM Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art, in bringing your artwork to life. What was it like to collaborate with her from afar?
LTP: I met Ping last year when she [virtually] walked me through the gallery space and we discussed how to best display my work. It was a big challenge because I hadn’t shown my artwork in this setting before and wanted to add in new elements. So, the version of The Great Escape that you’re seeing now at the Seattle Asian Art Museum was made especially for this exhibition and the audiences here. In working with Ping, I was talking to someone that had a good knowledge of traditional Chinese art but at the same time was open to incorporating new and contemporary art. When you work with someone like Ping who is really passionate about art, it’s amazing.
SAM: Tell us about The Great Escape. What inspired this work?
LTP: It came together in 2020 during the pandemic. I couldn’t really go back to my studio at the time, so I began copying drawings I saw in children’s books as an escape from reality. I then took all of these drawings and turned them into an installation. What I suggest audiences look at specifically is the one row of drawings that is taken out of the installation and hung on the wall. When you look at the rotating projection, eventually you’ll see a gap, which the light passes through and illuminates the wall in the gallery space. This isn’t a high-tech synchronized setting, but you do see different images project alongside the drawings on the wall. So, please come spend a bit more time looking at The Great Escape because you’ll have a totally different experience every time you see it.
A version of this interview first appeared in the January 2023 edition 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.
Curating an art exhibition isn’t a competition—unless you’re a University of Washington student attending the School of Art + Art History + Design’s upper-level seminar, Exhibiting Chinese Art, taught by FOONG Ping, SAM’s Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art.
Pivoting from in-person to virtual learning, FOONG thought a little friendly competition would engage her students. She split them into teams and assigned three seemingly unrelated artworks by contemporary Chinese artists for them to research. Each team created a cohesive and imaginative exhibition framework to display the three works.
“I wanted to challenge my students, and they really impressed me,” says FOONG. “This exhibition has been in the works for a long time, but a few of their ideas have since been incorporated into the show. Beyond the Mountain wouldn’t be what it is today without their insights.”
Opening this July, Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artists on the Classical Formsis the latest special exhibition to open at the renovated and reimagined Seattle Asian Art Museum. Introducing Chinese artists never before exhibited at SAM as well as drawing from the museum’s collection, the exhibition sees artistic themes of the past revitalized. It explores age-old subjects such as Chinese ink painting, proverbs, and landscapes while reflecting upon current or recent events—from the global language of street protests to escape in a time of contagion. Together, the artists contemplate the societal toll of modernity and globalization as well as the impact of humans on the natural world.
One of the works FOONG is most excited to see back on view is Ai Weiwei’s Colored Vases (2010). An acclaimed contemporary artist and outspoken dissident, Ai dipped nine earthenware vases into buckets of industrial paint and then left them to dry. In covering the surface of these purportedly ancient artifacts with bright new paint, Ai suggests that our perceptions of authenticity are a status quo that might be challenged. Much like history, he says, the vases are “no longer visible, but are still there.”
Another highlight are two videos by Yang Yongliang. From afar, these large-scale projections look like classical ink paintings—until you realize that they are actually digital pastiche of video and photography where construction cranes and other modern interventions disturb the majestical natural scene.
“The exhibition is about this moment in our lives,” says FOONG. “These Chinese artists engage with classical Chinese themes, but they speak to everyone.”
Read below for a short interview with exhibition curator FOONG Ping on visitors can expect to experience in the galleries.
SAM: What artwork are you most excited for audiences to see and interact with in the galleries?
FOONG Ping: With this exhibition, I’m introducing Seattleites to an artist new to us: Lam Tung Pang. He has created a site-specific installation in one of our galleries that I really think is going to blow people’s minds. It’s titled The Great Escape and responds directly to his experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong. To escape the stress of the 2020 lockdown, Pang started reading kids’ books and also became fascinated with the master of escape, Harry Houdini. The artwork reflects this specific time in our lives and his thinking about the ways we might free ourselves from constraints—mental & physical—that bind us. I’m confident that the piece goes beyond expectations when people think about Chinese art.
SAM: You’ve described this exhibition as both traditional and modern Chinese artistic forms. How is this seen throughout the exhibition?
FP: Everyone has certain stereotypes about Chinese art—including Chinese folks! Although there are common Chinese artistic elements of ink-brush painting and images of landscape, Beyond the Mountain is so much more than that. The artists in this exhibition have taken these identifiable ideas from Chinese art and transformed them for a modern audience. This exhibition is intentionally small and precise, so visitors can deeply explore each artwork’s clear and distinct voice.
SAM: What message do you want audiences to take away from this exhibition?
FP: I want audiences to understand the legacies of Chinese art, language, and culture and how these legacies remain incredibly relevant today. No matter a visitor’s background, Beyond the Mountain reveals the existence of a global common language, where everyone can reflect on Chinese history and make a connection to their own experiences.
– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator
Segments of this article first appeared in the July and October 2022 editions of SAM Magazineand 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.
“I’m a total optimist. I believe museums are places where people can find inspiration. I want SAM to inspire the next generation of curators and artists and patrons. This is something that museum curators are discussing — we’ve been discussing this for years, but it’s more urgent now.”
– José Carlos Diaz
Following a months-long international search, SAM is proud to announce José Carlos Diaz as its new Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art. Diaz comes to SAM from The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to oversee SAM’s eight brilliant curators in developing thoughtful exhibitions and maintaining the museum’s collections, publications, and libraries across SAM’s downtown location, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and the Olympic Sculpture Park. He succeeds Chiyo Ishikawa who retired in 2020 after 30 years at SAM.
In celebration of his new role, we spoke with Diaz about his background, hopes for SAM, and becoming a part of Seattle’s artistic community. Read below for the full interview and check out his interview in The Seattle Times to learn even more about what Diaz will bring to SAM when he starts on July 1.
SAM: Tell us about your new role. Why is it important at a museum?
José Carlos Diaz: In this role, I will be part of the senior leadership team and responsible for ensuring we develop a relevant and ambitious curatorial program across all three of our sites. I bring management, administrative, and fundraising experience and possess a track record of creating dynamic exhibitions and projects. This role also has a direct impact on what SAM audiences will see in SAM’s galleries. The exhibitions we’ll be designing going forward will be the result of the needs and wants of our visitors and will uphold SAM’s mission of connecting art to life.
SAM: What drew you to this position, and this position with SAM, in particular?
JCD: I actually have a background working in multi-site institutions! I previously worked at Tate Liverpool, which is part of the Tate Museums in the UK. I’m also coming directly from The Andy Warhol Museum, which is part of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. So, managing the curatorial team of a multi-site institution isn’t too foreign for me.
I think what drew me most to SAM was its vast collection which spans across period and place. In college, I studied art history and cultural history. So, to have access to a collection which combines historical and contemporary art is very exciting to me. When you visit any SAM location, you’re bound to encounter a combination of painting, sculpture, drawing, architecture, costume, and more. From a curation standpoint, the versatility SAM has to offer is thrilling.
Not only that, but the museum is in the artistic center of a great American city known for having a robust cultural landscape. I think it has the potential to be one of the top art cities in the country—almost even rivaling New York or London. Plus, Seattle is home to a strong Latinx population and LGBTQ community which I am looking forward to joining and representing. I’m really excited to bring more representation to these communities at SAM and highlight the work of artists from these communities.
SAM: You’re stepping into a leadership role from a curatorial one: what lessons and skills from curation will you bring? Also, will you still be curating?
JCD: As a curator, I form ideas and craft narratives using art. This process requires creative thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, research, and a direct connection to the mission of the institution—and these are all really important skills to me. These are skills that I will bring to this new role while building a unified and creative team of curators and exhibitions. Occasionally I would love to curate if there’s the opportunity or if a certain curator needed support because of the robust exhibition and programming schedule, but I’m mostly focused on looking ahead and rebuilding a strong museum as we continue to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
SAM: Even though this will take some time to develop, what are some of your goals or ideas for this role, and overseeing a global collection and large team of curators across disciplines?
JCD: One of the top goals is understanding the internal climate at SAM and how to best contribute to its existing environment. At the same time, I want to consider what the city and its artistic community want from SAM, and how we can do better and be better. With a vast collection of artworks across three locations and the varied curatorial expertise of our team, I’d love to unify our offerings and collaborate to build awareness across the city that would allow SAM to explore a broad range of ideas and themes in its exhibitions. Perhaps some of our artworks could also travel to other cities for public art commissions, publications, and/or exhibitions.
SAM: An easy one: Why is art important?
JCD: Art, in my opinion, is a form of expression, but also a form of self-care, especially in these times. It’s as simple as that.
SAM: What role do museums serve in a city and for the communities they serve?
JCD: Museums are places to inspire and seek inspiration. They’re also social spaces which continuously evolve and improve. SAM shows historic works, but also global and local creativity through its incredible collections. It features limited-run exhibitions as well as ongoing installations, while continuously rotating its collection and introducing new narratives, often around current affairs and through multiple voices. So, using SAM as an example, I think museums in general seek civic excellence through varied representation.
SAM: Tell us more about you! Outside of art curation, what do you like to do with your time?
JCD: I’m originally from Miami, but my family is from Mexico so I’m Latin American. My husband is an oceanographer and we share a dog named Elvira, Mistress of Bark. I have a fraternal twin who’s a Latin Grammy Award-winning and Grammy-nominated children’s music artist named Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band. I love to travel and go to the beach. On my time off, you can often find me on a boat or somewhere by the water. It’s just my happy place.
– Interview conducted by Lily Hansen, Marketing Content Creator
One of the thrills of working on Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Waterwas the chance to collaborate with my colleagues, Barbara Brotherton and Natalia Di Pietrantonio. Of the many outstanding photographs that emerged from a collection that Natalia was familiar with, Edward Burtynsky’s Oil Spill #5 is now on view with other efforts to document how our species is enacting the desecration of water. Here is Burtynsky in his own words:
“When I first started photographing industry, it was out of a sense of awe at what we as a species were up to. Our achievements became a source of infinite possibilities. But time goes on, and that flush of wonder began to turn. The car that I drove cross-country began to represent not only freedom, but also something much more conflicted. I began to think about oil itself: as both the source of energy that makes everything possible, and as a source of dread, for its ongoing endangerment of our habitat.”
– Edward Burtynsky
This image is of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The colors of the red emergency vehicles, the orange flare of the well flame, and the arc of water sprays appear minuscule against the backdrop of a blackening sea.
One of the agonies of curating is the need to reduce an artist’s corpus to a short paragraph, so I’d urge you to move on to hear from this artist to learn more about his process and intentions. Oil Spill #5 is part of a series he narrates in this video, Water—Where I Stand: A Behind the Scenes Look.
On April 12, 2022, Edward Burtynsky was awarded a SONY World Photography Award in London. In his acceptance speech, he spoke as the son of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, and deferred his contribution to honor others, saying, “Photography is about light conquering darkness. And as we speak, Ukrainian photographers are conquering an unimaginable form of darkness. I can think of no more outstanding contribution to photography than that.” More about Ukrainian photographers that he is supporting can be found on his website.
– Pam McClusky, SAM Oliver E. and Pamela F. Cobb Curator of African Art
“The story that’s happening right now is we are in a struggle to be more human.”
– Barbara Earl Thomas
For more than a year, SAM visitors were mesmerized by the intricate and detailed cut-paper artwork of Seattle-based artist Barbara Earl Thomas in The Geography of Innocence. On the final few days of the installation, SAM sat down with Thomas to discuss how her breathtaking installation came together.
Watch this video to learn about the importance Barbara placed on bringing light into her work, her experiences working with children as models, the story behind the catechism in the installation, and the lessons she hopes her portraits impart.
Hear Derrick Adams discuss his artworks included in SAM’s exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle. The exhibition reunites Lawrence’s revolutionary 30-panel series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) for the first time since 1958 and features contemporary art, all of which work together to question the stories we’ve been told by amplifying narratives that have been systematically overlooked from America’s history.
Derrick Adams’s (b. 1970) multidisciplinary practice probes the influence of popular culture on self-image, and the relationship between man and monument. Adams is deeply immersed in questions of how African American experiences intersect with art history, American iconography, and consumerism. He describes his two works in The American Struggle—Saints March and Jacob’s Ladder—as a way to “contribute to conversations that expand on histories that are both Black American and American overall.” Saints March is a video considering the original American dance form of tap and contemporary street tap performance, while Jacob’s Ladder brings Lawrence’s personal archives into the gallery through a sculptural installation that lends optimism to the concept of struggle.
Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series interprets the democratic debates that defined early America and echoed into the civil rights movements during which he was painting the series. Works by contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas engage themes of democracy, justice, truth, and the politics of inclusion to show that the struggle for expansive representation in America continues.
Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence, which will be on view for a year at SAM, centers Black youth in a series of all-new artworks at once delicate and resilient. This Seattle-based artist uses cut-paper and glass portraits and transforms an entire gallery into a luminaria. A place for reflection, the works cut to the core of the fundamental values we assign to light and dark. The disarming expressions of children in Thomas’ portraits ask us to consider how we see each other and how we internalize and project innocence and guilt. Drawn from a community of family and friends, The Geography of Innocence celebrates young lives and their futures in full consciousness of the pervasive violence against Black children. SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Catharina Manchanda interview this important artist in anticipation of the upcoming exhibition. Tickets to visit the galleries will be available starting November 1!
Catharina Manchanda: Biblical narratives form the backdrop of many of your works, and you bring the symbolism of light and shadow to bear on the political situation in this country. What narratives do you explore in The Geography of Innocence?
Barbara Earl Thomas: It’s the two-way mirror through which I see the world. It’s narrated to me in my grandmother Phoebe’s voice with whom I often spent the weekends and summers; where at each exit to the bathroom, kitchen, or bedroom, she’d say, “I’ll be right back, God willing.” This set a tone for the temporality of each moment of this life as she moved through her day. Her God ruled every moment and was the reason for everything good. The devil, his dark wily opposite, was the root of all evil. She loved and admonished us in those terms. Everything was literal. When I misbehaved, the devil had gotten into me. This meant I was not quite responsible for my misdeeds, but in some moment of inattention, I’d let down my guard, and admitted the demon who caused me to climb that tree and fall out, or say some bad words to my cousins who were also full of devils. She reminded me that hell was paved with hot stones, filled with fire, and it came out of your eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. I saw this, clear as day. My grandfather admonished her because he knew by nightfall, I’d be so crazed with this idea of the devil, that instead of sleeping on the couch, I might have to sleep with them. These were some of my first stories heard, sung, and repeated. They formed the backdrop of beauty and mystery of my world.
As a young person I was drawn to the oratorical language of the sermon and its talk of miracles and prophecy—none of which I’d seen. It was the music I listened to, the silences from the adults as I entered the room, and the ladies who prayed over me when I was sick. The ritual and the shape of sanctuary no matter the denomination—Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, Lutheran and Evangelical—was all the same to me. I’d wander into Holy Names Cathedral just off Union Street, or accompany a friend to one of the many Pentecostal churches often set up in temporary store fronts, fleeting in their residence. During these services accompanied by full bands, there were people who sang as each member became possessed by a holy spirit. There were the Jewish people walking to synagogue on Saturday. All these places in my small world were little fires of community where deep emotion and imagination converged. There were stories, food, songs, candles, holy water, and scenes of strange happenings from some mythical past about some next world.
I was intrigued by the language and cultural references around how we describe victims when we think and speak about the violence so prevalent in our country. There is something of heaven and hell to this: violence spirals down from police shootings of young Black men, to nightclub massacres, to random sniper killings of the oldest and then to the youngest among us, our children. I thought, this is where it will stop, with the children. Certainly every adult will draw the line when it comes to the wholesale slaughter of children. Sadly, that was not the case, but what emerged for me from the myriad mass shootings—with Sandy Hook most notably—was the language around sympathy, guilt, and innocence. In thinking about why we as adults couldn’t put children first, I was drawn to studies that demonstrated how we, as a culture, see our children. Here young Black children are seen as less innocent and, therefore, less worthy of public grief than white children.
My ideas for this exhibit surfaced after several readings of Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows and a subsequent re-reading of a mid-1980’s James Hillman essay, Notes on White Supremacy. Prescient in its content, Hillman explores the deep-seated world of mythology around the concepts of light and dark, black and white. As I’d read the essay so long ago, I’d forgotten Hillman’s reference to Tanizaki’s book. It was a happy connection. Both the book and essay deal with how deeply imprinted our associations with language and its usage of the words and concepts are associated with darkness and light. From guilt to innocence they hold a deep well of our associated fears of the unclean and besmirched. Conversely, we associate light and white with all that is pure, clear, clean, and, therefore, innocent and unblemished.
Light and dark. Light and shadow. What is seen and unseen. What is clear and what is mystery—these kinds of experiences are part of my story in addition to my formal education. This is the base that provided the vocabulary and shaped my narrative of the world. As a Black person, I can’t help but see myself in the landscape and imagine how others might experience me based on how I appear to them. I search myself to see how I react to and employ my thoughts and opinions, because aside from being Black I’m also human and subject to the world’s influences.
In this new body of work, I use multiple images of Black children: bold, frontal, and almost life size, so that their faces engage the viewer. In my cuts, I explore youth and its innocence imprinted in and on the subjects’ expressions. I purposefully insist on this particular view and stance because it’s not the one most given to us often in the media or popular culture. The backgrounds may hold contrasting stories that compete with the figures and their stance—the push and pull of the opposites; the yin and yang.
CM: Elsewhere you noted: “I create stories from the apocalypse we live in now and narrate how life goes on in the midst of chaos.” This statement is acutely felt right now—can you talk about it in relationship to the work that will be on view at SAM?
BET: As a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s, now as then, there was much ado and action around issues of inequity. The utopian movements that sprang up were numerous. Like formal religion, these communities and/or cults were created as foils to the many disasters life holds. We are afraid and terrified; there is nothing new in that. We construct magic circles and ritual movements to distract and protect ourselves from floods, storms, fires, famines, diseases and yes, now plagues. It is my observations and my experiences that interest me, so like a good witness I note, record, and echo back to my viewer my literal experience of the world through visual stories.
CM: You call yourself “artist, writer, thinker.” We also know that you are an engaged reader. How does your reading and writing practice inform your visual work?
BET: Reading is life. As an active reader I’ve always used literature and all of my reading to inform my world. I read and write to get at truth and to clarify my own thought process. It’s easy for me to talk about my thoughts and correct or rephrase as I go. There is something about being in a room and engaging in a conversation that can make even confused thought processes sound plausible. But when I write I am forced to create clear sentences and connect thoughts and see if they hold water. When I read, I’m looking for the rigor and willingness in the author to think things all the way through. Writers like James Baldwin, August Wilson, and John Edgar Widman are American writers who do that for me. Poets like Pablo Neruda and Rilke capture truth in a nonlinear image condensed. Most recently, I’ve been reading Colin Thurbron’s travel writing, Pico Iyer, and rereading Robert D. Kaplan. I love good travel writing as it is a way to see the world through others’ eyes and be in other parts of this world without traveling. What all these authors share is clear thinking and hard truth telling, which is something I demand of myself in my own work.
CM: You are making a lot of new work for the exhibition, which include different kinds of processes. Would you tell us about the use of the negative space in your paper cuts (you say you draw with the knife!) compared to the wall hangings?
BET: The negative space allows the light to shine in contrast. It heightens the experience. When paired with the positive it creates shadows and mystery. The concept demonstrates that both are needed to create the particular magic that is this story. Both positive and negative space are needed to create a world that exists as sculpture in the round—one that is not flat or one-dimensional. Both are needed to create the emotional response that I seek. When people are surrounded, they are forced to surrender their senses for a moment.
CM: You are pairing your cut paper works with illuminated glass panels for the installation at SAM, what prompted you to pair these in the two adjacent galleries?
BET: I think of this exhibition as one installation made up of several parts. Each separate element has its role in the installation of the paper-cut portraits. Most of the figures are inspired by children of friends and neighbors, some are random portraits I’ve found. All are chosen because there is a way for me to show the part that I think is missing in many of our depictions of the innocence that lives in and marks the dark face of a child. I’m creating a space that holds the viewer in light and shadow to demonstrate something about illusion and how our imagination creates the monsters in the shadows even when there is nothing there. In this case I’m cutting the beautiful from the darkness and placing viewers in the shadows to make them a part of the world they observe. The portraits are cast as precious objects, surrounded by what feels like sacred objects—my candelabras. The hand-cut wallpaper is designed to create fountains of movement as the viewer is invited to the suspended centerpiece, Bodies in the Matrix.
Images: Siblings, 2020, Barbara Earl Thomas, American, cut paper and hand-printed color backing, 40 x 26 in., Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, photo: Spike Mafford. Color Wheel, 2020, Barbara Earl Thomas, American, cut paper and hand-printed color backing, 40 x 26 in., Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, photo: Spike Mafford.
In honor of Women’s
History Month, Object of the Week will highlight works by celebrated women
artists in SAM’s permanent collection throughout the month of March.
“My antennas were also meant to be ‘feelers,’ things you stretch out to feel something, like the sound of the world and its many tones.”
– Isa Genzken
Metal antennae extend full-length from a series of seven objects
resembling vintage shortwave radios. Heads tilt and ears pique while viewing Isa
literally as “world receivers”—expecting the cast concrete to make audible the
signals they’ve received from unknown sources. Although silent, the antennae
appear deliberately and mysteriously tuned at slight angles; they must be
picking up something. Can’t we hear it,
or are we not listening––or looking––hard enough?
Isa Genzken (German, b. 1948) is regarded as one of the most influential contemporary artists of the last 40 years, working in sculpture and a variety of multidisciplinary media. In the late 1970s to early 80s, Genzken gained prominence for her series of floor-based sculptures in the complex and elegant shapes of Ellipsoids and Hyperbolos. Handcrafted in lacquered wood from computer designs created in collaboration with physicist Ralph Krotz, the elongated, colorful sculptures drew from the geometric forms of Minimalism, but offered more nuanced connections to industrial design, digital technology, and commercial production. During this same period in 1982, Genzken exhibited her only stand-alone readymade sculpture, a functional radio receiver entitled Weltempfänger (World Receiver), which solidified her continued interests in consumer culture, value, and material.
By the late 1980s, Genzken departed abruptly from the refined
forms of her ellipsoids to rough-hewn sculptures made of concrete and plaster. She
began an ongoing series, casting concrete weltempfängersof
various sizes and groupings, where the receivers take on symbolic roles of relics
or ruins rather than functional devices, such as the 1982 readymade. The simple
forms are layered with meaning. Together, the radio, a medium of power or
opposition, and concrete, a material of ruin or reconstruction, evoke
connections to a postwar Germany that Genzken experienced firsthand. More
broadly, the receivers ask us to consider how communication is transmitted and
received, and how we decide what is made permanent or temporary.
In this present moment, the receivers
offer a resonance more immediate. Facing a public health crisis that compels us
to connect more and more through technology, and to seek out news and facts in
order to keep our communities safe, these world receivers provide a moment to “stretch
out to feel something,” and to contemplate how we look, listen, and decide what
we value and make permanent for the future.
– Philip Nadasdy, SAM Associate Director of Public Engagement
 Diedrich Diederichsen, “Diedrich Diederichsen in Conversation with Isa Genzken,” in Alex Farquharson et al., Isa Genzken (London: Phaidon, 2006), 25; reprinted in Lisa Lee, ed., Isa Genzken (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015), 120.
“The real magic of Carpe Fin is in the space between the object and the observer.”
– Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
Hear from the artist behind the 6 x 19–foot watercolor mural commissioned for SAM. Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas describes Carpe Fin as “Haida manga.” This unique approach developed by Yahgulanaas blends several artistic and cultural traditions, including Haida formline art, Japanese manga, Pop Art, and graphic novels.
Inspired by a traditional Haida oral story, the story is also linked to a 19th-century headdress in SAM’s collection carved by Yahgulanaas’s relative, Albert Edward Edenshaw. Carpe Fin calls attention to issues of environmental degradation and the rupture of the values that honor human-nature interdependence.
We asked SAM staff to reflect on the work and what stood out to them by answering which panel impacted them most. Have you seen the artwork at SAM or read the book? Read some reflections below and share your thoughts with us in the comments!
The very center panel—it’s more free form so it draws the eye. It’s the moment when Carpe realizes he’s been left behind on the island. His phases of expression and gesture really struck me.
The central panels—frames break down, creative topsy-turvy!
The third panel (upper center) for the transition from the human to the underwater world. The contrast of thick, thin, and detailed brushwork make it come alive.
The middle panels stand out because of the dynamic between the sea lions and humans. There’s a chaotic structure that reminds me of the circle of life, but it also shows an imbalance.
The central panel and how it just seems to come alive and break out of the typical comic book boxes/outlines; the overall image captivates your attention and makes you want to keep looking at the intricate, smaller details.
I was most impacted by the panel in which Carpe swims back wearing sewed-up seal skin. There is something about embodying the animal that he had been killing. I wonder how much the message of “you’re killing our women” would have sunk in without this physical experience or if he would have heard it in a different way?
I’m most impacted by the panel where the young boys kill a flicker. This senseless, purposeless killing of a living thing in a microcosm of the imbalance and lack of respect for the environment that has created dire circumstances for this community and communities across the globe. The energy that youth are bringing to climate activism lies in contrast to this detail and gives hope for the future. We all need to take responsibility and enact laws and regulations that will ensure the survival of future generations.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Object of the
Week will highlight works by celebrated women artists in SAM’s permanent collection
throughout the month of March.
From across a gallery, Focus
No. 37 looks like the face of someone seen in passing. The person might
appear vaguely familiar, prompting the viewer to stop and focus. But the face
does not become any clearer after directing attention to the image, or moving
closer. Instead, it is the white threads that wind across the surface of the
portrait to form a neat braid that become more visible. The threads further
obscure an already out-of-focus photograph, making the individual’s age and
gender seem ambiguous.
This work is part of the Focus
series by artist Lin Tianmiao, who created multiple portraits of herself,
family members, and friends modified by her thread-winding technique. Her
artistic practice often involves materials associated with domestic labor and
the Chinese household during the 1960s and 70s. Reflecting on her personal
association with white cotton thread, Lin recalls the childhood chore of
unwinding old uniforms and gloves provided by state-owned “work units,” or danwei, and rewinding them into sweaters,
tablecloths, hats, and curtains for family use or to exchange with relatives
Speaking about the connection between her choice of materials and her own memories, Lin remarks, “When I look back at the materials I chose over the years and think about why I chose thread and other soft materials, I think it has to do with my personal experience. When I was a child, my [mom] sometimes asked me to help her with housework. It was actually like a form of corporal punishment in that it stamped a physical memory on me. When I came back [to China] from America and saw those kinds of materials again, I thought to myself: this is it, these are going to be my materials. It happened very naturally. Also, since I did a lot of housework when I was a child, it helped me acquire endurance and tenacity.” 2
While the thread in Focus
No. 37 does produce the effect of obscuring the photograph beneath, the
central braid humanizes an anonymous face by bringing to mind a familiar haptic
act. Just as Lin Tianmiao describes her memories of housework, the viewer might
think about their experiences braiding someone’s hair, having their own hair
braided, or someone they know with braided hair. In this way, the work raises
the question of how identity is formed. Individuals are not only defined by
their outward appearance, but also by their everyday actions and practices.
Meschac Gaba takes much inspiration from the streets of Cotonou, Benin,
the city where he was born. The artist, full of clarity and humor about the
nature of his work, understands the power of art in social environments.
After finding millions (Gaba’s estimate) of cut banknotes on the street,
the artist started incorporating money into his work. This was the early 1990s,
when Benin first devalued currency, and Gaba was fascinated.
In Artist with African Inspiration: Salle de Francophonie (2004),
Gaba prints new images on a West African 1000 CFA franc. On the back of the
original bill, a chalkboard appears on the lower right side with the letters
“abc” in cursive. However, Gaba replaces the letters and uses the chalkboard to
frame his own face—smiling. On the left side of the bill appears an image of
one of the artist’s braided hair sculptures as well. It’s a small revision, and
Gaba employs the same intervention with an American dollar bill in Artist
with American Inspiration: 4 World Financial Center, swapping out our
stately eagle for his face (again, smiling). One of Gaba’s sculptures appears
on the left as well. These could be read as ironic: an act of empowerment or a
moment of tongue-in-cheek capitalist self-promotion.
However you might interpret his actions, Gaba
uses everyday objects to continually play with questions of global trade and
economy, and call attention to the modern conditions that drive us to
constantly earn, measure, and compete against one another. Through his artistic
practice, he questions who can be an artist, and how artists can create space.
– Jenae Williams, Exhibitions and Publications Associate
identical, white clocks sit on a scale. One—reading 12:15—appears the heavier
of the two, sitting ever so slightly below its counterpart at 12:04. Of course,
the minute discrepancy (pun intended) between the weights of the two
clocks—correlating with their respective times—is impossible, but the power of
the photographic image lies in its ability to convince us otherwise.
a master of the conceptual punchline, photographer Kenji Nakahashi plays with our
interpretation of time and its assumed objectivity. His longstanding interest
in the documentary value and, again, assumed objectivity of photography—a
time-based medium—is also at play, and clearly inextricable. In his
characteristically understated way, Nakahashi tackles the subjectivity of both
time and photography in one fell swoop.
Born in present-day Ibigawa, Japan, Nakahashi moved to New York City in 1973, where he lived until his death in 2017. His time in Japan was formative, but living and working in the United States is where Nakahashi developed a robust studio practice centered on everyday objects and materials. This is when he began turning the mundane—such as two clocks and a scale—into a source of poetic beauty, conceptual rigor, and humor. For Nakahashi, such small observations and actions became an important activity that allowed him to render the world anew.
– Elisabeth Smith, Collection and Provenance Associate
It wouldn’t be too difficult to argue that we live in a
youth-obsessed culture. If we only take a moment to look around, we can see it
everywhere. It pops up in advertisements, in movies, and in TV. It works its
way into our minds with anti-ageing skin creams and anti-graying hair dyes. It
settles into our society and fills us with the irrefutable fear of getting older.
To be young—or so our culture seems to suggest—is to be wild, uninhibited, and
free. And, conversely, to be old is to be slow, sidelined, and ignored.
While this is never fully true in reality, it is difficult
to deny that, in our current society, old age is a thing that many people fear.
Some might argue that this is even more prevalent for women, who are judged
more frequently on their looks than men and who, as such, feel more pressure to
maintain a youthful appearance. How many times have you heard a woman complain
about “getting old”? It is because women have so much more to lose when they
lose their youth.
In her series My Grandmothers, however, photographer
Miwa Yanagi presents a fascinating and poignant counterargument to our societal
fear of aging.
For My Grandmothers, Yanagi interviewed a variety of
women between the ages of fourteen and twenty, asking them to describe what
they thought their lives would look like in fifty years. She then staged photos
to capture these descriptions. The photo above is titled Yuka, named for
a woman who imagined herself living on in the U.S. with her younger, playboy
lover. Yuka, with bright red hair and a cigarette, riding down the Golden Gate
Bridge in the sidecar of a motorcycle, hardly fits our stereotypical idea of an
old woman. She is laughing with abandon, unashamed and unconstrained.
With Yuka, as with the other portraits in the series, Yanagi explores the idea that old age is liberating rather than limiting. Women, no longer defined by their beauty and (as one critic noted) by their reproductive abilities, are free to live for themselves, on their own terms, by their own rules. According to Yanagi, young women today are restricted by society’s expectations and are unable to express their true desires for the lives that they want to live. When they are freed from their youth, they are freed from those confines. Old age, it seems, is not so much our great nightmare as it is our ticket to a more liberating life.
In This Imperfect Present Moment closes Sunday, June 16! Don’t miss this chance to see works across a wide array of media by artists hailing from Cape Town, Johannesburg, Cotonou/Rotterdam, Luanda/Lisbon, Baltimore, to Los Angeles, and New York. These works have been brought to Seattle by local collectors who are intrigued by how these artists convey vibrant narratives that resonate across global boundaries. While you’re here take a close look at Surah al-Fatiha (the Opening), by Capetown artist Igshaan Adams.
Visiting Igshaan Adams in his studio in Capetown is to step into a zone
of transformation. He works with a group of weavers who wander in and out as he
shows you mounds of materials that are being upgraded to carry stories and
interpretations of Sufism, the mystical sect of Islam, which offers alternative
ways of looking at the world. He speaks of his love of the mysticism of Islamic
texts, and how they provide guidance for the realities of daily life. Learning
about his family provides further insight for his development as an artist; he
was raised by Christian grandparents who were supportive of his faith, fasted
with him during Ramadan, and invited imams over to the family home. As you trip
over ropes and nearly stumble into a massive maze of beads that are being
arranged in a spiral with a mystic rationale, you try to keep track of the mesmerizing
pull of the artist’s sincerity. His descriptions of involving the sacred to
encourage humankind’s capacity for good and nobility set a tone of deep introspection.
In the instsallation, you’ll see a tapestry named after the first chapter of the Quran. Adams has added beads to convey the opening line, which is meant to be recited and contemplated every time a believer begins to establish a direct connection with Allah. About this, Adams has said, “As an artist, I think I can give a person one moment of reflection or one moment with a different perspective.” So goes this imperfect present description of his effort, which is worth so many more words that you are encouraged to seek out online.
– Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art
Image: Surah al-Fatiha (the Opening), 2016, Igshaan Adams, South African, b. 1982, woven nylon rope, beads, 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 in., Private collection, photo courtesy of Blank Projects, Cape Town.
Stimson Bullitt Library is featuring a display of three new
acquisitions from its Book
Arts Collection. These artists’ books share a common interest in
documents and other historical records—each, in its own way, addresses the
notion of archives.
by Tammy Nguyen (American, born 1984)—A Surreal Archive: The Young-Mallin
Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2018)—announces its connection
to an archive in its title. This work was commissioned in an edition of 250 by
the Philadelphia Museum of Art Library to commemorate the collector Judith
Young-Mallin (American, born 1937) and her gift of the Young-Mallin Surrealist
Archive to the museum. The archive contains a wealth of materials and books
related to the original surrealist artists and those influenced by their work,
including Young-Mallin’s personal library, research files, interviews,
correspondence, photographs, and ephemera. Nguyen has constructed a book that
includes pop-up elements, along with hidden panels and envelopes. As Timothy
Rub says in the accompanying book’s foreword, Nguyen’s work “playfully mirrors
Young-Mallin’s spirit as a collector.”
items from the archive are incorporated into the book:
Tanning’s Lanova: Design for Ballachine Ballet “The Night Shadow”
(1945); Paul Éluard and Max Ernst’s book Misfortunes of the Immortals
(1943); Young-Mallin’s book The Night the Lobster Telephone Rang (2011);
Richard Avedon’s photograph Carol Janeway with Bronze Sculpture by Ossip
Zadkine (no date); Carol Janeway’s pen and ink drawing For My Valentine
(ca. 1940s); a matchbook advertisement for the exhibition Marcel
Duchamp—Addenda (1974); a photograph by an unknown photographer titled
William Copley and Noma Copley on Honeymoon in Egypt (ca. 1954); and images
of The Stein-Toklas Doll House of Judith Young-Mallin (ca. 1970s), a
work that was created in Young-Mallin’s home by various artists, including
Leonora Carrington, Man Ray, Elsa Schiaparelli, and others.
This Is the End (Peter Norton Family Projects, 2017) is an archive of an unusual project undertaken in the name of art. For many in the art world, the most important gift at the holidays was the “Peter Norton Christmas Project.” Each year between 1988 and 2017, software entrepreneur, art collector, and MoMA trustee Peter Norton (American, born 1943) commissioned an art edition to celebrate the holidays. Created by artists in Norton’s collection and sent as gifts to a few thousand personal friends and members of the art community, these art objects were intended to foster engagement with the world of contemporary art. When the project concluded in 2017, Norton created an archive of the series in another edition: This Is the End (with the subtitle Our Closing Project in Three Parts). It includes a 72-page book titled The End, which details each of the thirty releases. The edition also includes a scorpion sculpture excised from the book, a postcard, an electronic video book, and earbuds. The format of this project and its scorpion theme were inspired by the art of Robert The (American, born 1961). The edition is enclosed in a book box that states “The End” on its cover.
Dayanita Singh (Indian, born 1961) continues her series of “book-objects” with Pothi
Box (Spontaneous Books, 2018). Using images from various Indian archives,
this artist’s book holds thirty black-and-white images of paper archives, a
film archive, and a printing press, held together in a wooden structure. This
“unbound book” is meant to be hung on a wall or placed on a table. Similar to
other Singh projects, the structure allows for the collector to play
a curatorial role by changing the cover image as they please. Unlike other
projects that have been contained in constructed boxes, this work is nestled in
a woven textile with needlepoint letters “Pothi Box,” recalling the archival sacks
featured in her photographs. Pothi Box is a smaller version of a larger
structure called Pothi Khana (2018), which was recently displayed at the
57th Carnegie International at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
works will be on view outside of the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library on SAM’s
fifth floor until June 12, 2019. Any questions about our Book Arts Collection
can be directed to email@example.com.
– Traci Timmons, Senior Librarian
Images: This Is the End, 2017, Santa Monica: Peter Norton,Peter Norton, compiler, American, born 1943, BKARTS N 7433.4 N785 T54 2017.ASurreal Archive: The Young-Mallin Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2018, Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Tammy Nguyen, American, born 1984, BKARTS N 7433.4 N58 S87 2018. Pothi Box, 2018, New Delhi, India: Spontaneous Books, Dayanita Singh ,Indian, born 1961, BKARTS N 7433.4 S557 P78 2018. Photos: Natali Wiseman.
In 2016, the Seattle Asian Art Museum invited acclaimed Japanese artist Tabaimo to study the museum’s collection and curate an exhibition. The resulting presentation, Tabaimo:Utsutsushi Utsushi, was based on the concept of utsushi, which literally means “copying or paying homage to a master’s work.” Tabaimo selected several historical objects from SAM’s Asian art collection to present alongside her own work, some of which she produced specifically for the show. The last gallery of the exhibition featured the museum’s beloved pair of 17th-century Crows screens and Tabaimo’s response, a video installation that imagines new possibilities for the screens’ depicted action.
The subject of the Crows screens is a murder of black-feathered birds set against squares of gold leaf. Descending en masse from the top left-hand corner of each screen, the crows wind their way down to a rocky crag along the bottom edge. In photographs of the screens, the birds appear as silhouettes, though an in-person viewing reveals the unique texture of each creature’s feathers, eyes, beak, and claws. The dynamism of the scene is created through the movements of the individual crows. In some places, they fly towards each other, suggesting an impending clash; in the upper right-hand corner, two birds take part in a midair tussle; and even those grounded crows spread their wings, look about, and caw.
In Tabaimo’s video utsushi of Crows, the birds are flattened into black silhouettes floating against a background of gold squares. Here, the squares take part in the action too. One by one, they sink into the pictorial space revealing rectangular hollows into which the feathered-beasts fly. An exhibition text explains:
In Japanese culture, it is a custom to tidy things up at the end of an event. Crows are often associated with untidiness because they look for food among garbage and create litter. Tabaimo does not intend for us to leave the gallery with a clear understanding of the exhibition, but rather, she would like to invite lively discussions by ending it in an ambiguous way, just as the crow brings untidy debris.
– Murphy Crain, Asian Art and Gardner Center Coordinator
 Not a killing! A group of crows is called a murder.  Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi exhibition brochure
“The resulting collection is a riot of color and texture that playfully draws the viewer into a world—the experience of another human being—impossible to ever fully know, but commanding one’s full consideration anyhow.”
Nancy Guppy included Like a Hammer and the community celebration on Thursday in this New Day NW segment highlighting local arts happenings.
Image: CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU, 2015, Jeffrey Gibson, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians/Cherokee, b. 1972, high fire glazed ceramic, repurposed tipi poles, wool, acrylic paint, wool blanket, glass beads, artificial sinew, copper jingles, and nylon fringe, 72 × 29 × 38 in., Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan, image courtesy of Jeffrey Gibson Studio and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California, photo: Peter Mauney.
We are excited about Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer opening in just a few short days and want to make sure you know all the free and discounted ways to see this new, colorful, and exuberant exhibition!
Artist Jeffrey Gibson is of Cherokee heritage and a citizen of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. He grew up in urban settings in Germany, South Korea, the United States, and England, and his work draws on his experiences in different cultural environments. In his artwork, Gibson creates a new visual language from familiar items associated with Native powwow, such as glass beads, drums, trade blankets, and metal jingles, which are overlaid with markers of queer club culture as well as the legacies of abstract painting. The inspiration and community of dance clubs and pop music reverberate throughout his work.
Mark your calendars with these opportunities to see this visionary contemporary exhibition where powwow meets pop culture meets punching bags.
Also on opening day, Jeffrey Gibson will be in attendance and offering a free talk and screening of new video works. Don’t risk it, reserve a free ticket for Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer and Next Steps at 7 pm on Feb 28!
SAM also offers free and discounted passes to visit our special exhibitions for community organizations or colleges and universities. Find out more and fill out our form to get yours today!
First Thursdays, tickets are to see Like a Hammer are half off and the museum is open late. Swing through on March 7, April 4, or May 2.
First Fridays, seniors get half-off entry to Like a Hammer. If you’re 65+, mark your calendar for March 1, April 5, or May 3.
We’ve also go special deals for teens to pay $5 for a ticket to Like a Hammer through our partner organization TeenTix. Oh, and kids 12 and under are always free!
We also offer free entry to caregivers accompanying a visitor, employees of other museums, gold or flash card holders, and members of the press with ID. Check out our FAQ for more information and other ways to get discounts!
While we’re at it, did you know that it’s always suggested admission to visit SAM’s collection galleries? These are just a few ways SAM connects art to life!
We read each other’s body language all day, every day. In the museum, surrounded by artworks depicting a variety of figures and movements, this instinct can be put to an international test of how well we understand gestures and postures. A walk through the galleries can simulate what it’s like to be in another country, where you don’t know the verbal language and need to navigate based on reading bodies.
In the exhibition In This Imperfect Present Moment, a person’s body is telling you to stop and recognize that their moment has come, and you are a vital participant. They are ready to talk. Which language are they likely to speak? Toyin Ojih Odutola was born in Nigeria, grew up in Alabama, went to art school in San Francisco, and now lives in New York. She’s given many insightful interviews that provide a sense of the conversation you might have with her about her work. For now, here’s just one quote: “I’m attracted to the understated in art: moments that can be quickly passed over, but are complex and layered. There’s nothing wrong with bombast, and the maximalist in aesthetic and presentation, and I often exploit those very qualities. But nothing beats the underwhelming, the quiet, the subtle. When you see the economy of line used so effortlessly—that always gets me, because it isn’t easy.”
– Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art
Utopian visionaries are rare these days. If Black Panther moved you to consider what might be possible in the future, there’s an artist who is opening a new portal into the world of possibilities to come and you can see their work at SAM right now as part of In This Imperfect Present Moment. Athi-Patra Ruga introduces characters from a mythical metaverse. You can see what this means in his performances, which are available online. His avatars wear high heels and balloons, ride zebras, walk down dirt roads or city streets, and occasionally swim upside down. He knows how to turn heads and get people to stare at unexpected visions. For this sculpture, he covers a neoclassical bust with beads, flowers, and gems to mock the usual stagnancy of a bronze-cast monument. He has stated that “our statues are an indictment of our poor imagination.” Calling this sculpture The Ever Promised Erection, Ruga says, “The humorous tone of the title points to the fallacy and impotence of the posturing of the nation-state.”
Ruga replaces the failed state with an ideal femme-centric futurist nation called Azania, inspired by rumors of an ideal Africa described in ancient American myths. You can get to know Azania and see their queens and territories by looking at his large-scale tapestries and videos. His tapestry maps record an Ocean of Repentance, where cleansing waters protect and surround islands inhabited by women. It takes a distinctive rigor to create and carry an entire nation in your mind. When meeting Athi-Patra Ruga, you sense him as someone dedicated to keeping his alternative world alive and well. He’s now about to open his first one-person exhibition in London at the Somerset House, and for those who crave utopian universes, Ruga can take you there.
– Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of African and Oceanic Art
Images: Installation view of In This Imperfect Present Moment at Seattle Art Museum. 2018, photos: Natali Wiseman.
Want is the desire to possess or do, or the feeling of lack or being short of something desirable. As long as you’re wanting, you’re usually in a space of trying to gain something for yourself and yourself only. This is a result of individualized thinking, which is one of the pillars of the Western-American ideology. So what does freedom from want look and feel like? And what does it require of us to consider living free from want?
This possibility is explored by Saya Woolfalk, a New York-based artist who uses science fiction and fantasy to reimagine the world in multiple dimensions. With her multi-year projects No Place: A Ritual of the Empathics and ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space—the latter of which is on view in Lessons from the Institute of Empathy—Woolfalk creates a world of Empathics, a fictional race of women who are able to alter their genetic make-up and fuse with plants. With each body of work Woolfalk says, “I want a person to experience something that simultaneously makes them slightly uncomfortable about the potential of the world that I have created, but also gives them an excitement about a harmonious, multi-cultural society.”
While seemingly very different from human beings, the Empathics actually reflect our multicultural society in myriad ways. Through these beings, who have developed the ability to think collectively, we learn just how powerful the effects of empathy are when honed and used to empower a society in the direction of cultural evolution.
Freedom from want has the potential to take us to a place where this kind of evolution can be realized. In this free state, we are enabled to shift our focus from individual want to helping others gain what they require in order to experience the satisfaction of their needs. With the pressures of scarcity and fear eliminated, a new form of thinking emerges from a place of equity and equality.
Moving closer to freedom from want as a reality—as opposed to an out-of-reach ideal—challenges us to consider others instead of only the self. It challenges us to remove the ego—to listen and understand. It challenges what we consider necessary in order to live happy and successful lives. It challenges us to move beyond individualized, self-centered thinking and towards an elevated level of collective thinking, which is necessary for harmonious living and ultimately stimulates our capacity for acceptance, benefiting every global citizen.
– Adera Gandy, Visitor Services Officer
Image: Installation view of Lessons from the Institute of Empathy at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, Seattle Art Museum, photo: Nathaniel Willson
Unless you’re looking at this image on a gigantic screen with perfect resolution, you’re missing the impact of this Saint Woman. She’s slightly larger than life, which fits the premise of the artist who elevates her subjects to a status that goes beyond our normal vision. Amy Sherald paints portraits that are not trying to convince you they are a substitute for the actual person. Instead, she paints archetypes. She is taking the time to change our minds about what a portrait can be, an evocation of a saint whose name you do not know, but who is standing and waiting for you to recognize them.
This saint is surrounded by a halo of what may appear as bright yellow on your screen. If you’re just seeing a flat expanse of color, you’re missing the depth of a painted surface that is full of nuance, with swirling dimensions that activate this setting. The same nuances of color are true of the skin, which is in variations of gray. Amy Sherald chose this color shift for a reason, “to exclude the idea of color as race.” She also has this woman’s body face forward, while her head is turned in profile. What captures her attention is unknown, and it challenges you to wonder why she’s holding herself so still while her dress is blown in a breeze of urgency. It’s the stance of a saint who’s worth coming to see in person. Visit her with a trip to see In This Imperfect Present Moment, an installation of artworks by 15 artists conveying vibrant narratives that resonate across global boundaries.
– Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of African and Oceanic Art
Images: Saint Woman, 2015, Amy Sherald, American, b. 1973, Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in., Private collection, photo courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Installation view of In This Imperfect Present Moment at Seattle Art Museum. 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
With her current installation at SAM, the 2017 Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize winner, Sondra Perry asks, “What happens if we go to a place that we want to create as a habitable place for full life on earth but we don’t know what life looks like there?” Combining 3D rendering, terraforming, family, and the desire to bring people together inside the gallery, Perry’s work gives a machine its voice while creating a cosmic commingling of minds. See Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY at SAM before it closes July 8!
What does the word “printmaking” mean in our digital age?
SAM Gallery’s June show, ContemporaryPrintmakers, supplies answers as varied as the artwork on view.
From the digital images of Stephen Rock and Troy Gua, to the mélange of techniques used by Kate Sweeney and Iskra Johnson, these artists use printmaking for many reasons. On the practical side, Gua says collector demand led him from painting to digital mediums. Meanwhile, Kate Sweeney’s desire is to push a two-dimensional surface into revealing three-dimensional space.
Printmaking, simplified, is when an artist works on one surface and then applies or transfers that work to a different surface. You’re probably familiar with how a wood block, an acrylic stamp, or a metal plate can be pressed onto a sheet of paper—this is printmaking. The idea of the repeatable image, or part of an image, has held appeal as a way to reprise elements of an artwork for artists and art collectors for millennia. Think of Andy Warhol and how his repeated gestures are fundamental to understanding the work as well as the artist’s intent.
Today’s printmakers come to the medium for similar reasons but their toolkit includes computers, cameras, traditional print presses, handmade “pressure” prints, photocopies, and just about anything else that can be scratched and used to make marks on a surface. Whether it is the psychedelia of color explosions in Gua, Sweeney, and Rock’s work; or the whisper of minimalism in Rachel Illingworth’s pieces, the printmaking process helps artists tell their story in a multitude of ways.
Johnson says it best: “the process forces a certain surrender of control . . . with work that appears to have ‘arrived’ rather than having been ‘made’.” Her current body of work revolves around the theme of impermanence. Sweeney is contemplating gravity waves, dark matter, and all things quantum-theory related. And although 20th-century artist Agnes Martin didn’t work extensively with prints, it’s easy to see that she is a favorite of Illingworth’s. Gua wants to pay homage to the beautiful imagery and composition of Japanese woodblock prints, but also Northwestern-ize his work by using familiar landmarks.
Artist Curt Labitzke, a University of Washington Art Department Professor who runs the print studio there says his work in this show isn’t a print, but rather a painting. However, he used techniques to bring scratched elements through the back of the paper surface. So is it a print, based on the definition above? SAM Gallery invites you to see this show and decide for yourself.
The show runs June 9–July 7 and features the work of Northwest artists Troy Gua, Rachel Illingworth, Iskra Johnson, Curt Labitzke, Stephen Rock, and Kate Sweeney.
SAM Gallery is located in the lower level of Seattle Art Museum’s downtown location and open the same hours as the museum. All of the artwork is for sale and members can try before they buy, with a low-cost art-rental program.
Images: Somerset (Cathedral), Troy Gua, resin coated metallic chromogenic print on panel, 30 x 48 in. Luck or Chance: Many universes are possible, simultaneous and interpenetrated, Kate Sweeney, acrylic on paper collage with digital print, monoprint, braille print and transfer print, 46 x 49 in. View Corridor, Iskra Johnson, archival pigment print, 33 x 61 in. When Flowers Speak to Clouds, Stephen Rock, pigmented print with watercolor, mounted on board, 36 x 24 in. From the Terrace (A Study of Edges) No. 6, Rachel Illingworth, monotype with Pochoir, 40 x 31 in.
In 2013 SAM acquired a video work by contemporary artist Jacolby Satterwhite that would later feature in the SAM-organized exhibition Disguise: Masks and Global African Art (an iteration of which has just opened at the Brooklyn Museum to widerecognition). Though Disguise was still in the planning stages, Satterwhite’s video, called Country Ball 1989-2012, had so much eclectic visual interest, and it was displayed with such a distinctly digital vision, that it was chosen early on as a representative piece for the Seattle show.
Country Ball 1989-2012 is a maelstrom of dancing figures and neon elements, a wild ride for its nearly thirteen minutes of running time. Here’s the artist himself talking through his thoughts and creative process:
Using the whole computer-generated landscape and the various vignettes that appear throughout the video, the artist brings together different modes of communication to create a new way of expressing that is distinctly his. Dance comes to the fore as a versatile language with meaning in a range of contexts. As the artist narrates, the genus of the work lies in a Mother’s Day cookout in the park (by the way, thank you to all the moms!), enlivened by choreographed dance. The artist himself performs dance in eccentric dress to add his own movement and personality to the work. Even the viewer’s perspective seems to dance as it meanders through this dynamic virtual landscape.
Re-presenting a home video and introducing the artist’s original dance performance, and itself being a museum-owned artwork, Country Ball1989-2012 illustrates what a wide spectrum of contexts and environments feature dance as an act of importance and value.
I’m a stranger here I’m a stranger everywhere I would go home But I’m a stranger there.
I’d rather drink muddy water I’d rather sleep on a hollow log Than to stay here in this city Being treated like a dirty dog.
That’s why I got up this mornin’ And I put on my walkin’ shoes I’m goin’ down the road, down the road Cause I got them walkin’ blues
One of the newest works in the Seattle Art Museum collection is Whitfield Lovell’s Stranger Here. Lovell’s piece was inspired by a police mugshot, circa 1910s, depicting a sharp-dressed man of color, and its title comes from an old blues song, whose lyrics we share above. Stranger Here pays homage to a man whose story has been forgotten but whose image remains.
This three-dimensional portrait uses charcoal on found wood, fringe fabric, and an antique lantern to evoke the spirit of the time when the sitter’s picture was taken. The fringe, draped around the man’s bowler hat like drawn curtains, gives the piece a theatrical presence and also creates a sense that something significant is being revealed. In the theater, it’s a dramatic, expectant moment when the curtain is finally drawn and some anticipated spectacle unveils itself. Here, the curtain frames the image and encourages us to pay notice to what we find behind it.
The idea of anonymity, and being disconnected from one another, is especially important to Lovell’s work. Does it bother us that we don’t know the man? That we are denied his story? That we don’t understand all of what we are seeing or truly grasp its significance? In case we might have passed by, missing this quiet figure softly modeled in charcoal, the artist gives us a lantern by which to see.
One floor above Lovell’s piece, in our special exhibition Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, hangs another stranger’s portrait inspired by a mugshot. Kehinde Wiley’s Mugshot Study from 2006 pictures a young person of color, his anonymity emphasized by the case number printed below his image. In life, these two men were separated by a century, but here at SAM they share more similarities than differences: both gaze out of their frame resolutely, meeting the viewer’s eye, embodying strength, yet expressing a sad tiredness from their life’s walk.