At the recent Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition, SAM Education’s Priya Frank and David Rue joyfully represented as judges; don’t miss this Evergrey video with Priya about the event, which raises funds for our neighbor the Pike Market Senior Center.
“’The aesthetic of the book is totally an homage to every community cookbook — every church, Junior League, elementary school cookbook — ever made,’ she says. She found an old-school cursive typewriter font to use for some of the recipes. ‘If I could’ve made it on a ditto machine, I would’ve,’ Ito adds.”
“’It’s one of the many ways we are embracing the idea of meeting our customers where they are, welcoming them to the space, helping them find surprise and delight,’ said Douglas Hegley, Mia’s chief digital officer.”
Claire Partington: Taking Tea is now on view! This site-specific installation brings out the untold human stories of the 1,000 European and Asian porcelain pieces in SAM’s Porcelain Room, reminding viewers of the reality of precarious ocean voyages and human exploitation. Brangien Davis of Crosscut offers this review of this “intervention” that will be on view for the next two years.
“Now, smack in the middle of the room — unprotected except by a guard at the door — stand six ceramic people in old-fashioned dress, positioned as if having tea. Suddenly, our focus is shifted to the figures, who don’t have any teacups in hand, but seem to get their pick of the room. These party-crashers might just change the space forever.”
This Thursday, light up the dreary days of December with SAM Lights. The Seattle Times has all the details on this annual event in their feature, “Holiday sights light up the night.”
“A recent Tuesday afternoon at the library didn’t turn up a single photo snapper. Instead, people could be found using the lofty building for a range of purposes: a man excitedly picking up a stack of books that had just come available; a chatty cluster of folks having coffee at the cafe; people with all their belongings in bags using the computer stations in the so-called Mixing Chamber; a young adult practicing violin in one of the reservable music rooms; one woman seeking documentation of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s debut; another in search of a name steeped in Seattle history for a new restaurant.”
Roberta Smith, Holland Cotter and Jason Farago of the New York Times look back at “The Best Art of 2018,” including Hilma af Klimt at the Guggenheim, Charles White at MoMA, and Delacroix at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“If storytelling is one of humanity’s most powerful gifts, then visual activism feels like alchemy. Especially when the work in all of its detail, subtle or overt, moves you in a way you don’t all the way understand.”
“The display highlights Hendrix’s quintessential experience growing up in the Central District—from a photo of 5-year-old Jimi at a family picnic at Leschi Park to some of his impressive drawings that include what appears to be the Miss Circus Circus hydroplane.”
“France holds at least 90,000 sub-Saharan artifacts, of which 70,000 are in the Quai Branly Museum. The report estimated that up to 95 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage is held by institutions outside of Africa.”
Over the years, SAM has from time to time brought together a group of community members from diverse backgrounds and affiliations to advise on the presentation of a special exhibition. In 2009, SAM met with leaders of the city’s South Asian community when a set of exquisite royal paintings from Jodhpur would be presented at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. A group of fashion designers and instructors advised the museum—and helped create a fashion show featuring local designers at the museum—for SAM’s fall 2016 exhibition celebrating the work of the legendary Yves Saint Laurent.
These, and numerous other examples, signify the importance to SAM of connecting with people outside of the organization to fulfill its mission of reflecting the community it serves. This ethos guides much of SAM’s work already; for example, the Education & Public Engagement Division nurtures ongoing relationships with local artists, performers, writers, and other culture-makers in presenting dynamic programming and events.
Now it’s official: going forward, the museum will bring this community-centered process to the development of all major special exhibitions presented throughout the year, convening Advisory Committees who will meet and advise the museum throughout the planning process.
The exhibition would be held for the sesquicentennial of the birth of photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952), but far from a celebration, SAM would present a richly nuanced re-evaluation of his legacy. “While Curtis made many contributions to the fields of art and ethnography, his romanticized picture of Native identity has cast a lingering shadow over the perception of Native peoples,” noted Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art. “Today, Indigenous artists are creating aesthetic archives reclaiming agency over their visual representation.” Brotherton worked with three contemporary Indigenous artists—Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, and Will Wilson—to conceive of Double Exposure, an exhibition that would thread their works in conversation with Curtis’ iconic photographs, as well as objects from SAM’s collection.
This collaboration between curator and contemporary artists also included the advisory committee, whose feedback helped make space at the museum for a reckoning with Curtis’s legacy. With Double Exposure, SAM took a big step in its efforts to decolonize the museum. We’d like to acknowledge the committee members once again: Dr. Charlotte Coté (Tseshaht / Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation), Jarrod Da (San Ildefonso Pueblo), Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi (Pawnee Nation / Upper Ahtna Athabascan), Andy Everson (K’ómoks First Nation), Jason Gobin (Tulalip Tribe), Darrell Hillaire (Lummi Nation), Madrienne Salgado (Muckleshoot Tribe), Lydia Sigo (Suquamish Tribe), Asia Tail (Cherokee Nation), and Ken Workman (Duwamish Tribe).
To bring together the advisory committees, invitations are sent to leaders, artists, and thinkers whose own work and communities are reflected in the particular themes of an exhibition. These selections are drawn from SAM’s already-rich network of partnerships and more importantly provide opportunities to create new connections with community leaders and organizations in the region. Reflecting the value of this work, and ensuring that the opportunity to serve is accessible to everyone, SAM offers a stipend to all committee members. Each committee meets with a cross-divisional group of SAM staff who are charged with taking the feedback and guidance of the members back to their colleagues. Interacting with each step of the exhibition-making process over the course of multiple meetings—including curatorial, marketing, education, and more—the committee’s input contributes to the development of exhibition content, communication, and interpretation.
Advisory Committees for upcoming exhibitions are already at work. SAM is grateful for their dedication—and eager to experience how this community-centered model contributes to SAM’s mission to connect art to life.
– Rachel Eggers,SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair
Photo: Natali Wiseman. Pictured, L to R: Ken Workman (Duwamish Tribe), Jarrod Da (San Ildefonso Pueblo), Dr. Charlotte Coté (Tseshaht / Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation), Curator of Native American Art Barbara Brotherton, Double Exposure artist Tracy Rector, Asia Tail (Cherokee Nation), Lydia Sigo (Suquamish Tribe), Madrienne Salgado (Muckleshoot Tribe). Not pictured: Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi (Pawnee Nation / Upper Ahtna Athabascan), Andy Everson (K’ómoks First Nation), Jason Gobin (Tulalip Tribe), Darrell Hillaire (Lummi Nation).
Like a Hammer, the solo exhibition of contemporary art star Jeffrey Gibson, opens at SAM in about three months! Learn more about his exciting artistic practice from OUT and Architects + Artisans, who both review his solo show This Is the Day, now on view at the Wellin Museum in New York State.
“Not only were women guardians of many aspects of spiritual life, and carriers of the concept of revenge, but there’s evidence they were also warriors, and were buried in high-status graves packed with weapons—a custom previously believed to have been only for men.”
“The single-venue show will be topical in London, which has seen a recent escalation in gang violence. There have been fatal stabbings in Camberwell and Peckham, two neighborhoods that are near Dulwich. Payne says that the violence in Ribera’s art is ‘not gratuitous.’”
Image: Like A Hammer, 2014, Jeffrey Gibson, Mississippi Band Choctaw/Cherokee, b. 1972, elk hide, glass beads, artificial sinew, wool blanket, metal studs, steel, found pinewood block, and fur, 56 × 24 × 11 in., Collection of Tracy Richelle High and Roman Johnson, courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery, New York, image courtesy of Jeffrey Gibson Studio and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California, photo: Peter Mauney.
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
Last week, SAM announced that Kimerly Rorschach, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, will retire in fall 2019 after seven years leading the institution. The Seattle Times shared the news in their Thursday print edition, featuring an interview with Kim. ARTNews, Artforum, and others picked up the news.
“On another front, the appointment of one more white man to a powerful museum position is not likely to sit well with those who have demanded greater diversity in such jobs. That call, heard widely throughout the field, was taken up by FAMSF staff in June, when a letter signed by more than 100 employees asked the board to seriously consider women and people of color during the search.”
“This is one of the best places I’ve seen masks installed because normally they would hang it on the wall. But doing it this way, with the costumes and everything, also gives it character because these masks were not really meant to be hanging on the wall like that.” – Emeka Ogboh
Remember when Disguise: Masks and Global African Art was on view in 2015? We’re bringing you a flashback to Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh discussing masks by Chukwu Okoro in SAM’s collection, why he chose them as one of his favorite things in the museum, and their significance in regards to the soundscapes he created for Disguise. Currently, these masks can be viewed in our African art galleries as part of Lessons from the Institute of Empathywhere three Empathics have surrounded themselves with works from our African art collection as a way to help visitors awaken their own empathy. The Empathics display their trademarked process for transformation and ask you to consider the other artwork around you. Come see what we mean.
Image: Installation view Chukwu Okoro Masks at Seattle Art Museum, 2016, photo: Natali Wiseman.
“Spanning five centuries, Peacock is an eye-popping look at a royal-family legacy. It uses video, audio and room-filling installations, along with dozens of fantastically detailed paintings (magnifying glasses are provided so you can study them closely), to immerse you in its world.” —Michael Upchurch, Crosscut
“’It’s like she’s thinking about something else. She’s in command of her own space. Her own time,’ said curator Pam McClusky.”
Seattle Magazine’s annual list of the city’s movers and shakers is out—and Priya Frank, SAM’s Associate Director of Community Partnerships, is on it! She’s named “one to watch”—we couldn’t agree more. Congrats, Priya!
“’Art is information as much as it is something inexplicable,’ Bustillo said. ‘When we look at it, we have an emotional and a visceral reaction, but it is not removed from the way we’ve been conditioned to process information.’”
It’s a Halloween tradition! To all you ghouls and goblins, I present: The Pumpkin Dance.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations
Image: His Highness Maharaja GajSingh II of Marwar-Jodhpur and Baijilal Shivranjani Rajye of Marwar-Jodhpur in Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Stephanie Fink.
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.
Laughing at leaders in public can be a welcome release. Lawrence Lemaoana created banners to shout back at the powerful president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. Zuma, who was a controversial leader, had many annoying traits. One of his most despised public maneuvers was a tendency to dance as if there were no problems in his midst, and then add the antagonism of raising his fist as a sign of victory. Observers groaned. Lemaoana said of this, “Once the raised fist was a symbol used to motivate the people for a public cause, but here Zuma uses it as a tool to enrich himself, to bolster himself against any criticism or interference.”
In another cloth banner, the artist mimics a newspaper announcing “Things Fall Apart.” As the artist said, “You get hit by those headlines on the side of the road. On the one hand, it’s informative, but it’s also dangerous; there’s almost a propagandistic element to it. It shapes the way we live.” His choice of a cloth known as kanga is another obvious clue of disapproval. When Jacob Zuma went on trial for rape in 2006, he claimed that the young woman wearing a kanga cloth wrapped around her was signaling an invitation to assault her. Lemaoana turned that assault right back at Zuma by making his banners from that cloth, and by offering a chance to laugh or express outrage at Zuma’s dangerous absurdity. See Lemaona’s work as part of In This Imperfect Present Moment at SAM through June 16, 2019, and experience this welcome release.
– Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of African and Oceanic Art
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.
When viewing New Topographics, you’ll want to lean in and look closely—on close inspection you discover the dead-pan humor as well as the disquiet in seeing the land sliced up and rapidly developed in this group of photography.
This new installation at SAM brings together a group of photographers who became widely known through a 1975 exhibition at the George Eastman House. What made all the work instantly (in)famous was that the artists turned their back on celebrated landscape imagery.
Landscape as wild and tempestuous (think Bierstadt) or picturesque was set aside. Instead, artists such as Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Stephen Shore, and others trained their cameras on new housing developments that turned farmland into suburbia, or looked at the topography of cities.
In addition to the new subject of man-altered landscape, the photographers also created a new aesthetic: Modern photography had become known for stark black and white contrast and dramatic perspectives, while the New Topographics photographers had a decidedly quiet and descriptive approach.
A lone beer bottle here, wires and hookups there, are anything but grand but then the piles of dirt come with glamorous titles such as Prospector Park.
In addition to some of the artists who were featured in the original 1975 show, included are artworks that are related and expand this vision into other directions. Thus you will find Mark Tobey’s early painting, Middle West, in an entirely new context. You will also discover several of the great artist books by Ed Ruscha—whose work was very influential to this new generation. Last not least, you will find several of Howard Kottler’s “souvenir plates” that are adorned with birds-eye views of downtown Seattle. (Watch out for his dead-pan humor.)
While you’re visiting, sit down with photocopies of the original New Topographics catalogue and text as well as Robert Smithson’s groundbreaking and fabulously written essay: “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey.”
The rapid transformation of the urban and suburban areas of Seattle by new development right now provide a new context for the work of these artists. See New Topographics on view through the end of the year.
– Catharina Manchanda, Jon and Mary Shirely Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Images: Installation view of New Topographics at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photos: Stephanie Fink
“’The work of these artists stands in sharp juxtaposition to the elegant Curtis photographs with their romanticized approach that casts Native people in the past,’ Brotherton concludes. ‘Native people did not vanish. They are resilient and deeply engaged in the issues of identity today.’”
“Freedom and progress look like something I can’t even envision yet. And I think art is very similar—the future of art doesn’t look like anything you see right now. That’s maybe the next five minutes of art.”
“’You can’t stop now,’” Bedford says. ‘You have to acknowledge that you will never, at least in our lifetime, get to true equity within the museum. But I think there is virtue in continuing to push for it relentlessly.’”
“These African masks, African jewelry, African clothes—made to be worn by fictional figures who run a fictional institute that deals with things like Empathy Deficit Disorder, and made to exist in real and virtual spaces—now have, for young and old Americans, a mainstream point of reference.”
I can’t believe it’s almost July. Seattle Magazine has great picks for cultural happenings next month, including an upcoming show at the Henry featuring Figuring History artist Mickalene Thomas as photographer, designer, and curator.
“I may need to lie down.” Yes, the art world and everyone else recently went—well, you know—when Beyoncé and Jay-Z released a new joint album and a video shot at the Louvre. Artnet has a good round-up on the mania.
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!
At the center of Project 42: Molly Vaughan stands an elaborate dress with a 25-foot-long train hanging down from the ceiling. Created for the 2017 Betty Bowen Award winner installation at SAM, it is one of artist Molly Vaughan’s most ambitious pieces in the series that will eventually include 42 garments memorializing murdered trans individuals.
Seattle-based artist Molly Vaughan made this particular garment in collaboration with Lesley Dill in memory of Lorena Escalera Xtravaganza. Created using a vintage victorian form for a bustle, the train is covered in a reorganized poem by Emily Dickinson. Lesley Dill selected “The Soul Has Bandaged Moments” and stenciled it by hand as she rearranged the text and broke stanzas.
“Lesley was an inspiration to me and to Project 42,” says Molly Vaughan. “As a docent at the the Orlando Museum of Art I toured a dress of Lesley’s and it left a big impact on me. As a printer, it’s my job to replicate the hand of the artist who intentionally hand-stenciled the text, rather than digitally reproducing it.” Look closely and you’ll see the pen strokes of Lesley Dill’s process. What you won’t see when you visit, is the embroidery on the interior of the garment that Molly has created just for Lorena that is meant to convey her inner life and extravagance.
Lesley Dill says that she works with Emily Dickinson’s text often because “Dickinson’s writing is the door I walked through to become an artist.” After reciting a stanza of this specific poem over the phone she continues to explain: “It’s a gothic poem and speaks of a poetic persona whose identity is haunted and exhilarated. A large part of the entire Project 42 is about the vivacity of life and bandages of the soul. I feel that Lorena and the project are deserving of intensity and multiple layers of meaning.”
Formatted on the train of the garment in the gallery the poem is difficult to read so we’re sharing it here for you.
The Soul Has Bandaged Moments
The Soul has Bandaged moments –
When too appalled to stir –
She feels some ghastly Fright come up
And stop to look at her –
Salute her, with long fingers –
Caress her freezing hair –
Sip, Goblin, from the very lips
The Lover – hovered – o’er –
Unworthy, that a thought so mean
Accost a Theme – so – fair –
The soul has moments of escape –
When bursting all the doors –
She dances like a Bomb, abroad,
And swings opon the Hours,
As do the Bee – delirious borne –
Long Dungeoned from his Rose –
Touch Liberty – then know no more –
But Noon, and Paradise
The Soul’s retaken moments –
When, Felon led along,
With shackles on the plumed feet,
And staples, in the song,
The Horror welcomes her, again,
These, are not brayed of Tongue –
– Emily Dickinson1
A large part of Molly’s collaborative process involves asking her collaborators to research the individual being memorialized. The process left Lesley Dill reflecting that “Lorena Xtravaganza was trying to find and name her true self in a world that had no room for this search. Her murder is a catastrophe of culture. Molly is giving us a chance to memorialize individuals who wanted to simply exist inside of their nature. When our culture murders trans people, I feel our belief in human goodness is wounded. With Molly’s work we are given new faith, we are reinvesting in faith.”
Find your faith renewed in humanity with a visit to Project 42. If you are looking for another reason to come, the garment created for Lorena Escalera Xtravaganza includes an interactive element where visitors are invited to tie fabric flowers to the train. Visit often if you hope to catch one of the unannounced performances that will take place in the galleries.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager
The Institute is glad to announce that their installation of lessons is on view at Seattle Art Museum. Three Empathics now oversee the production of transformative vapors and invite you to sit with them in Lessons from the Institute of Empathy in the Seattle Art Museum’s African Art galleries, to invigorate your mental clarity.
Better yet, you are also invited to step into their restorative pool and partake of a mosaic shower from above. A 10 minute power point given by a representative from the Institute, Aurelia Wallace, is also available to explain the lessons on view.
“Basquiat’s art — raw, inventive, socially engaged — continues to speak to us even as the artist himself cannot. Near the end of the movie, one of Basquiat’s friends refers to him as ‘a true investigator.’ In Ms. Driver, the artist finds a kindred spirit, a fellow investigator who pays him proper and enthralling tribute.”
“’You’ll find books on Latinx identity next to a book about Harriet Tubman, next to Karl Marx, next to a first edition John Steinbeck,’ he says, gesturing toward a packed shelf. Though some of the titles have Dewey Decimal stickers (‘They’re really hard to remove!’ he marvels), the books aren’t arranged in any particular order. Lindo hopes instead that people will make discoveries by proximity, or perhaps by suggestion from someone sitting at the next table.”
Lessons From the Institute of Empathy artist Jacolby Satterwhite has a solo show at NYC’s Gavin Brown’s Enterprise; Blessed Avenue is a “mythical place created by the fantasies of cyborgs — possibly a digital hereafter.”
“The video is full of madness and reflects what’s going on in America and around the world right now. The kids and the choir are supposed to be the happy part of that, so there are two different worlds at the same time. Multiple parts of the video are meant to catch the viewer off-guard, with people smiling and enjoying themselves before it goes dark.”
Hoping everyone had a wonderful Mother’s Day on Sunday: mothers, departed mothers, in-all-but-name mothers, unjustly absent mothers.
As National Poetry Month comes to a close, if you’re not sure what to read, visit the library inside of the exhibition Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, closing May 13. While there you’ll notice a book of poetry by Morgan Parker titled There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House, 2017). It’s a recent favorite read of this particular copywriter and the cover of the first edition (now sold out) featured a Mickalene Thomas artwork. More importantly, within the pages of this smart, irreverent, and deeply personal collection of poetry is a piece inspired by Thomas, reprinted below! Morgan Parker simultaneously brings great depth to listening to Drake and immense weight to racial discrimination as she fearlessly invokes generations of social injustices within her powerful and playful prose. Parker stopped by the exhibition while visiting Seattle and shared some thoughts on Figuring History as well!
We Don’t Know When We Were Opened (Or, The Origin of the Universe) after Mickalene Thomas
By Morgan Parker
A sip of liquor from a creek. Saturday syndicated
Good Times, bare legs, colors draped like
an afterthought. We bright enough to blind you.
Dear anyone, dear high-heel metronome, white
noise, hush us, shhhhh, hush us. We’re artisinal
crafts, rare gems, bed of leafy bush you call
us superfood. Jeweled lips, we’re rich
We’re everyone. We have ideas and vaginas,
history and clothes and a mother. Portrait-ready
American blues. Palm trees and back issues
of JET, pink lotion, gin on ice, zebras, fig lipstick.
One day we learned to migrate. One day we studied
Mamma making her face. Bright new brown, scent of Nana
and cinnamon. Shadows of husbands and vineyards,
records curated to our allure, incense, unconcern.
Champagne is how the Xanax goes down, royal blue
reigning. We’re begging anyone not to forget
we’re turned on with control. We better homes and gardens.
We real grown. We garden of soiled panties.
We low hum of satisfaction. We is is is is is is is is
touch, touch, shine, a little taste. You’re gonna
give us the love we need.
SAM: Reading We Don’t Know When We Were Opened there’s a lot of assonance that creates repetition and fragmentation that feels to me like a sonic equivalent to Mickalene’s visual fragmentation. What in Thomas’ work inspired you and this poem, formally or thematically?
Morgan Parker: I’ve always loved Mickalene’s work, for the glitter and the color and the attention and the audaciousness. Her work is a celebration, and it’s also a politically intentional decolonization of the art history canon. She builds new worlds and revels in those worlds. I wanted my poem to reflect her work and add to it, translate it in my own words.
How do you think the persona poem and the way that Mickalene Thomas casts her models as art historical figures and tropes relate? Mickalene’s figures are looking right at you and this alters their role—makes them dimensional, such as in a painting like Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet. Where do you think that same dimension lives persona poems?
God I love this painting. I like to think of all my first-person poems as playing with dimensionality. I’m interested in using the singular figure, or voice, to call up cultural figureheads and historical tropes. Persona poems are an extension of that—they have two first-person speakers.
What stuck with you from your visit to the exhibition? Any lingering or new thoughts?
Kerry James Marshall’s Souvenir I always makes me cry. It was also fantastic to see Robert Colescott’s work in person, as I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I love the way it engages stereotypes and recasts history so playfully and comically. In a different way than Mickalene, there’s trickery in acknowledging the audience’s gaze—that’s something I’ll be thinking over for a while.
Morgan Parker is the author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé and Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night. In 2019, a third collection of poems, Magical Negro, will be published by Tin House, and a young adult novel will be published with Delacorte Press. Her debut book of nonfiction will be released in 2020 by OneWorld. Parker is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, winner of a Pushcart Prize, and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is the creator and host of Reparations, Live! at the Ace Hotel. With Tommy Pico, she co-curates the Poets with Attitude (PWA) reading series, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. She lives in Los Angeles.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager
2. A master of many mediums—Marshall has made work in collage, drawing, murals, and even comic books.
3. Marshall created Rythm Mastr in reaction to the absence of black superheroes in comics growing up. His comic book series features black superheroes with powers derived from gods in the Yoruba pantheon.
4. The first time Marshall saw an original artwork was on a field trip to LACMA in the sixth grade.
5. Black social realist painter Charles White was a mentor to Marshall who considered seeing White’s studio for the first time “a life-altering experience.”
6. Marshall considered a career in children’s book illustration.
7. Ralph Ellison’s novel The Invisible Man inspired Marshall to make his painting Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self.
8. Painted in 1980, two years after Marshall’s college graduation, Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self was the first painting he ever made of a Black figure.
9. Marshall received the MacArthur “Genius Grant,” for exceptional merit and creative works.
10. He knew in kindergarten he wanted to be an artist after his teacher Mary Hill showed the class a scrapbook full of greeting cards, pictures, and other imagery.
Don’t miss Marshall’s work in Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas. These three artists are shaped by distinctive historic events, unique in style, and united in questioning the narratives of history through Black experience. On view until Sunday May 13!
– Nina Dubinsky, Social Media Coordinator
Image: Installation view Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
In 27 short years artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has left a legacy far from the same-old same-old. Learn more about the artist’s life and career with 10 facts that might surprise you before you come see the one-work exhibition Basquiat—Untitled at the Seattle Art Museum, on view for the first time on the West Coast through August 13.
3. Aside from painting and drawing, Basquiat was also a musician. He started the industrial sound band, Gray, and produced a hip-hop track called “Beat-Bop” featuring artist Rammellzee and rapper K-Rob. Original vinyl of this track featuring artwork by Basquiat sells for thousands of dollars and it’s named one of the most valuable hip-hop records of all time.
4. Basquiat hung out with a lot of celebrities, including pop artist Andy Warhol. Though some questioned the integrity of the friendship between this seemingly unlikely pair, Warhol and Basquiat were close friends and collaborated on a plethora of works and projects until they had a falling out.
5. Growing up in Brooklyn with a Puerto Rican mother and a Haitian father Basquiat was trilingual and spoke English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.
6. Bought at a whopping $110.5 million dollars by Japanese art collector Yusaku Maezawa, Basquiat’s painting Untitled broke the record for the most expensive American artwork ever auctioned.
7. For a period of time while Basquiat was homeless he was able to support himself by dealing drugs and selling postcards and clothing with his art on it.
8. A man of many talents, Basquiat also starred in the 1980s movie Downtown 81 also known as New York Beat Movie. Due to financial reasons, the film was abandoned in the mid-80s only to be released in 2000 at the Cannes Film Festival.
9. Basquiat dated Madonna in 1982 when she was still an aspiring entertainer. In an interview Madonna said that after they broke up he asked for all the paintings he gifted her back then painted them black.
10.Blondie fans you may have seen a familiar face in the “Rapture” music video. In addition to Basquiat making a cameo in their music video, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein bought his first painting for $200.
—Nina Dubinsky, SAM Social Media Coordinator
Image: installation view Basquiat—Untitled at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
“So often Black women are made small and the idea of expanding into an exhibition that is so large and so inviting and welcoming is incredible and awe inspiring to see a reflection of myself so large in the world.” – Imani Sims, poet and Central District Forum for Art and Ideas curator
Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas is a chance to reflect on your personal history as well as art history and American history. Take a tip from our Personal Histories video series and spend some time at SAM thinking about how you connect to the work on view because of the history that impacts you. Figuring History brings together three generations of contemporary American artists, whose work challenges a Western painting tradition that underrepresents people of color. The vibrant and monumental paintings by these artists offer bold perspectives on Black culture and representation. Presented together for the first time, the figurative paintings of Colescott, Marshall, and Thomas are shaped by distinctive historic events, unique in style, and united in questioning the narratives of history through Black experience. The exhibition closes May 13, so don’t delay!
Looking for more videos related Figuring History? Check out Youtube to hear from the artists!
“Storytelling is very important in hip-hop and I feel like with [Kerry James Marshall’s] pieces that he has in this room, he’s taking the stories and interpreting it in his way and then also giving the next generation something to look at.” – Stasia Irons, rapper and KEXP DJ
“I immediately recognized what I was seeing as happening in my own neighborhood back home in Mississippi.” – Marcellus Turner, City Librarian of Seattle Public Library
In February, as I prepared to enter the Seattle Art Museum for the Community Celebration for Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, what seemed like endless thoughts swirled around in my mind. It was Black History month and opening weekend for the movie Black Panther— the joy and exuberance of Black culture was palpable in the air.
This was in stark contrast to just over a year earlier, when the collective anguish and discontent of Black society was reeling in the wake of the latest barrage of Black bodies murdered in the streets and broadcast in ‘real time’ for all to view. I still recall the gut-wrenching emotion of watching a Black father, murdered in his vehicle, minutes away from where my own father lived. I remember this pain so vividly because it was not the first time I’d felt it. It was not the first time the Black community watched their brothers, fathers, and sons murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. It was not the first time we were dehumanized in the public theater. It was not the first time we were criminalized for being. It was history repeating itself.
The weight and memory of historical trauma accompanied me into the museum, tugging at my coat with each breath of Black excellence I inhaled. As I stood in gratitude for Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, and Robert Colescott, I also stood in sorrow of the circumstances that produced such beautiful stories and art. In each historical work I found traces of my own story. In Colescott’s Matthew Henson and the Quest for the North Pole, (pictured at the top of this post) the images of Black bodies being simultaneously brutalized and fetishized depict the story of my great-great-grandmother who was raped by her oppressor, giving birth to my great-grandfather who would later be praised for his “passable” complexion, wavy hair, and light eyes. Marshall’s Souvenir II portrays a cloud of witnesses, prominently featuring Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, hallmarks in the home of my own, and many other Black grandmothers across the country, and emblematic of the complicated socio-political relationship we share with this nation.
In Thomas’ Resist, the Civil Rights era struggle of my parents was laid in front of me through a collage of violent vignettes. As I watched this piece I saw my uncle’s resistance, which left him brutally beaten and jailed for having the audacity to seek a human existence. I also saw my father and his siblings, the first to integrate the school systems in North Carolina. I felt the collective fear and courage he carried with him as the only Black student in his school. And as my chest tightened, breath shortened and fists clinched I remembered where I stood—rooted in the past, squarely in the present, carrying my portion of the mantle of Black excellence. As I gathered myself, I walked out of the museum breathing in the joy and exuberance of Black culture. Each breath gradually healing the wounds of my genetic trauma.
– Benji Anderson, Artist (@benjipnewton)
Benji Anderson is an artist, theologian and philosopher. Three identities that suffered separate existences for much of Benji’s life. Born in the South and raised in the Mid West, his early cultural learnings taught Benji that it was not only prudent, but necessary to compartmentalize his identities. Surprisingly it was through his academic journey that Benji began to fully exist as a being capable of complex, and seemingly contradictory identity. As a Master of Divinity student, Benji embarked on a process of deep self-excavation, which, upon completion of his degree, provided Benji with the license to live authentically.
As theologian and philosopher, Benji is concerned with the quality and depth of life. As artist, Benji concerns himself with the creative expression of his theosophical existence. Using a variety of mediums Benji endeavors to create multi-sensory pieces that thrust the viewer into the experience of the artist – not simply as a voyeur, but as a participant.
The Seattle Art Museum collection spans ancient and contemporary art across continents—perfect for examining historical artworks through the critical framework of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas. While you’re here, listen to new collection audio tour additions from creative community members on objects from our collection or use the question and information below as way of looking again at the works you see at SAM regularly.
How does the narrator of a story change how the story is told?
Susanna and the Elders, an oft-painted Old Testament tale, is recast in a contemporary context by Robert Colescott in the image of his painting, above. This subject is popular throughout art history for featuring the nude female figure and also allowing viewers to morally condemn the lecherous elders. Colescott inserts himself in this scene as a Peeping Tom in the window to show how, in his presentation of the nude female form, the artist is complicit with the elders, as are the viewers as they too watch Susanna bathe.
Albert Beirstadt had not visited inland Washington when he painted Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast in 1870. It was likely commissioned by a shipping magnate making money from the West coast who wanted a painting to get America imagining where their future modern seaport might soon arise. Because of the patron, this pioneering painting of the past is actually a new maritime civilization’s prologue.
Louis-Philippe Crépin depicts lives lost in the name of discovery in Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska. At the right are two Tlingit witnesses who helped search for survivors of the La Pérouse expedition. The French expedition and the shipwreck became part of the Tlingit oral tradition. However, when La Pérouse named this the Bay of the French, it was clear from the trading skills of the Tlingit, that this expedition was not the first to find this bay.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist and Social Media Manager
Photos: Installation view of Close Ups at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman. Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, 1870, Albert Bierstadt, born Solingen, Prussia, 1830; died New York City, 1902, oil on canvas, 52 1/2 x 82 in., Gift of the Friends of American Art at the Seattle Art Museum, with additional funds from the General Acquisition Fund, 2000.70, photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Extreme Nature at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
Margo Vansynghel of City Arts lauds the exhibition’s “dazzling brilliance” in her review, which includes interviews with both Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas, conducted while the artists were in Seattle for the opening.
“…filled to the brink with visual sumptuousness. Chambers to remember. Spaces filled with Black joy and Black books. Behind every corner, there’s texture and depth, and dazzling brilliance.”
In what’s definitely the most fascinating interview I read this week, Artnet spoke with Arthur Jafa about intersectionality, blackness, and “not going for ‘good.’”
Hyperallergic reviews the Monarchs exhibition, now on view at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, which features work by “people native to the Americas,” including Jeffrey Gibson, Nicholas Galanin, and Wendy Red Star.
What DOES one get Rihanna on the occasion of her 30th birthday?? One artist decided on this.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations
Photo: Installation view of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Stephanie Fink.
What do you know about the three artists in Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas? Take a minute to learn more about the people behind the paintings currently on view at SAM as we share 10 surprising facts about each of them. This month we’re focused on Robert Colescott. Colescott’s work is bold, colorful, often satirical, and packed with meaning.
Colescott’s parents were accomplished musicians who played jazz, blues, and classical music. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Colescott also had musical talent—growing up he played the drums and always kept a drum kit in his studio.
Despite painting and drawing from a young age, Colescott originally wanted to go into international relations. He decided to pursue his passion for art since he was told at the time there wouldn’t be a future for him in the field as an Black person.
Robert Colescott married five times.
Colescott was thrust into international spotlight as the first Black painter to have a solo exhibit at the Venice Biennale in Italy.
Robert Colescott’s older brother Warrington Colescott is an also an artist best known for his etchings.
Oski wow wow! Colescott graduated from the University of California, Berkeley where he received both his bachelors and masters.
A world traveler, Colescott spent an year in Paris at an atelier studying with artist Fernand Léger.
In the early 1950s, Colescott moved to Seattle and taught junior high school in the Seattle Public School District.
Colescott was a veteran—he volunteered to serve in the US Army after graduating High School in 1942 and fought in the 86th Blackhawk Division during World War II.
Colescott has five sons and a grandson. His grandson, Colescott Rubin, is also a jazz musician and played at the opening celebration of Figuring History in front of his grandfather’s painting, Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas.
See Colescott’s work in person at the Seattle Art Museum. Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas will be on view until Sunday May 13!
– Nina Dubinsky, Social Media Coordinator
Image: Installation view Figuring History: Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, 2018, at Seattle Art Museum. Photo: Natali Wiseman
One day I came in and saw [Christina] on the back door step in the late afternoon. She had finished all her work in the kitchen and there she was sitting quietly, with a far-off look to the sea. At the time, I thought she looked like a wounded seagull with her bony arms, slightly long hair back over her shoulder, and strange shadows of her cast on the side of the weathered door, which had this white porcelain knob on it. ―Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth met Christina Olson through his wife Betsy and first painted her in 1947. He would paint Christina every summer in Cushing, Maine for the next 20 years until her death in January, 1968. As Betsy explains it, “The key to the Olson pictures is Andy’s relationship with Christina—absolutely at ease with him.” Christina Olson, a New-England native, refused a wheelchair for much of her life, despite being without the use of her legs. Rather, she used her upper body to pull herself through the fields and house where she lived and worked. Her tenacity and intelligence captivated Andrew Wyeth and their friendship blossomed easily.
I think one’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes. I see no reason for painting but that. If I have anything to offer, it is my emotional contact with the place where I live and the people I do. – Andrew Wyeth
Even in death, Andrew continued to draw inspiration from Christina through her house and the objects that had defined her. Wyeth considered this painting of the two entrances to her home a double portrait of the siblings, Alvaro and Christina Olson. When first introduced to the Olson siblings, Andrew was initially taken with Alvaro and painted his portrait before he become focused on the indomitable Christina. Alvaro died on Christmas night, 1967, and Christina, without him, died only weeks later. The house and remnants left abandoned in their wake struck Wyeth as symbolic of the lives they lived—the shadowy Alvaro, who only posed for Wyeth once and remained always in the background as Wyeth painted in the Olson house; and, by contrast, the brilliant, captivating Christina.
The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless . . . limited physically but by no means spiritually. – Andrew Wyeth
Anna Christina is Wyeth’s last portrait of Christina Olson. She died only months after the tempera was completed. The trusting relationship of artist and model is evident: Christina confronts the artist and the viewer completely unselfconsciously, and Wyeth returns the favor with unflinching honesty and respect. “A powerful face with a great deal of fortitude. The Quality of a Medici head,” Wyeth described his friend. He painted Christina against an open doorway filled by a milky gray rectangle of fog that had enshrouded the house for weeks.
This drybrush is intended to be a portrait of the Olson house both outside and inside. Outside is total fragility. Inside is full of secrets. There’s Christina sitting in the kitchen, on the left, and everything’s in there—the stove, the geraniums, the buckets, and the trash. I had to overdo it here and reveal all the secrets. I like to paint in places that are not too nice. ― Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth saw the world around him resounding with hidden meaning. Occasionally considered a magical realist for his emphasis on the inner life of objects such as the stove or the bucket in this painting, Wyeth was certainly a storyteller. His paintings can be seen as stills in a moving image—the story of Christina’s Olson’s life surrounding her and continuing right outside the open door of her kitchen.
This curtain that had been lying there stale for year began slowly to rise, and the birds crocheted on it began to move. My hair about stood on end. – Andrew Wyeth
Christina Olson was a muse for Andrew Wyeth that helped launch his career. As a subject she is forever seated due to the degenerative disease that made her a paraplegic, but in Wyeth’s paintings, the figure of Christina stands out, singular and strong in the stories of Wyeth’s characters. See Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect before it closes, January 15.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager
“The difference between me and a lot of painters is that I have to have a personal contact with my models . . . . I have to become enamored. Smitten. That’s what happened when I saw Helga.” – Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth painted Helga Testorf in secret for 13 years before the world, and his wife, saw the paintings for the first time. The secrecy and intimacy of these paintings stirred quite the scandal when they were first exhibited and they continue to be a source of much conjecture into the details surrounding Wyeth’s relationship with one of his greatest muses. Find out more about the character of Helga both within, and outside of, Wyeth’s life and paintings during a talk given by Patricia Junker, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, in the Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect galleries.
“Remember, he’s a Bergman . . . He’s creating a world they [his models] don’t realize and they’re acting out a part without any script.” – Betsy Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect is on view at Seattle Art Museum through January 15 and the next Wyeth Wednesday tour with Patricia Junker will take place January 3.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager