10 Surprising Facts about Artist Robert Colescott

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Robert Colescott married five times.
  4. Colescott was thrust into international spotlight as the first Black painter to have a solo exhibit at the Venice Biennale in Italy.
  5. Robert Colescott’s older brother Warrington Colescott is an also an artist best known for his etchings.
  6. Oski wow wow! Colescott graduated from the University of California, Berkeley where he received both his bachelors and masters.
  7. A world traveler, Colescott spent an year in Paris at an atelier studying with artist Fernand Léger.
  8. In the early 1950s, Colescott moved to Seattle and taught junior high school in the Seattle Public School District.
  9. 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.
  10. 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

Wyeth’s Cast of Characters: Christina Olson

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

Images: Christina Olson, 1947, Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917–2009, tempera on hardboard panel, 33 x 25 in., Myron Kunin Collection of American Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota, © 2017 Andrew Wyeth / Artist Rights Society (ARS). Alvaro and Christina, 1968, Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917–2009, watercolor on paper, 22 ½ x 28 ¾ in., Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine, Museum Purchase, 1969, © 2017 Andrew Wyeth / Artist Rights Society. Installation views of Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at Seattle Art Museum, 2017. Photos by Natali Wiseman.

Wyeth’s Cast of Characters: Helga Testorf

“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

Talent among Beauty at SAM

Downtown, we have two galleries dedicated to Chinese and Japanese art. So, while the Seattle Asian Art Museum is temporarily closed, get your fill of Asian art with the latest installation, Talents and Beauties: Art of Women in Japan, on view through July 15, 2018. “We know women as subjects; we see that all the time in artwork,” says Xiaojin Wu, SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art. “But to look at women as artists in addition to as a subject of art—that’s what you’ll see evidenced here from the 11th to the 21st century.”

The heart of the installation features artworks inspired by The Tale of Genji. Written by Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th century and debated as the first novel ever written, the illustrations of this literary masterpiece may not be by women, but as Wu states, “How many women writers do we know from 1,000 years ago? How many artworks have been made from every scene in The Tale of Genji, including the contemporary manga? It’s just countless. In a way we are attributing all of these wonderful works back to the original writer, the woman who wrote the tale.” The two pages below excerpt the scene depicted in the right-hand panels of the screen above.

This excerpt and the page below refer to the right-hand panels of the image above.

Murasaki Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji to entertain the members of her court. Because of this, it was written in an archaic court language that was little used and quickly lost to Japanese speakers. This accounts for one of the reasons why there are so many illustrations of the tale—as a classic piece of literature, the tale continued to be told in images and annotations across the centuries until in the 20th century when it was first fully translated into modern Japanese.

 

The Tale of Genji follows the life of  Hikaru Genji, the son of an ancient Japanese emperor, and his many romantic endeavors. Featuring over 400 characters that age throughout the book and whose family lineages are often intertwined, Genji is considered a feat of characterization consistency for having been written in installments of chapters over a long period time. Although the book does not have what we might consider a plot nowadays (events simply take place and the characters age), it is one of the first pieces of literature to feature a protagonist, supporting characters, strong characterization, and a sequence of events following the lifetime of the main character.

Xiaojin Wu is planning “. . . a sequence of installations that look at various patronage and audience groups. Following Talents and Beauties we’ll focus on aristocrats, and then samurai.” Make the time to visit this gallery for new perspectives on Asian art and culture.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist and Social Media Manager

Images: Installation view Talents and Beauties: Art of Women in Japan, 2017, Seattle Art Museum, photo: Natali Wiseman.
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji,  trans. Royal Tyler (New York: Viking Press, 2001)

Sondra Perry: Opening Up Through Technology and Media

Artist Sondra Perry is the first video artist to win the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize! Using a wide range of digital platforms and tools including 3-D avatars, blue screens, Chroma keys, and computer graphics software, Perry’s installations and performances draw from an eclectic mix of inspiration. She is focused on how a lens can turn a subject into an object. See Perry’s immersive and unique (bring your hard hat!) installation, Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY from December 8, 2017 through July 1, 2018 at SAM.

Below, Perry discusses how the internet, technology, and her personal history factor into her investigations into representations of black identity. This is taken from a talk she gave to SAM staff this February. She opened the talk with a tutorial video from YouTube on how to play an Isley Brothers song on guitar, so we will too!

The interesting thing about this clip is that he’s talking about that soaring note at the beginning of the song. That’s an E Flat played backwards. In the sidebar, all of these people who have also done tutorials for this song reference this video for showing them how to play that note. This is a piece of internet archaeology that touches on my interest in the parallel; two things happening at the same time in this YouTube space. The original and the improvised other. And also, like he’s amazing. He reminds me of my uncle who played guitar for lots of different people.

I spend a lot of my time on YouTube. Tons, probably too much. Not too long ago, when there were many black people dying, being murdered at the hands of police. I found this YouTube channel that was not connected to any news agency that does 3-D renderings of space travel, biology, and crimes. One of their 3-D renderings was the slaying of Michael Brown in Ferguson. I am interested in the rendering of the body, of this man in a 3-D render space. I’m interested in circulation and how these images are represented outside of the video of someone being killed. That’s not what I’m interested in at all. I’m interested in how those things are able to happen.

When I was younger I read the Superman books. In the Superman Universe, the Phantom Zone is a parallel dimension that acts as a prison, an ethical one. Superman’s father, Kal-El, was the Security Minister on Krypton before it blew up, of course. He created this parallel dimension that was the Phantom Zone where you could send people to be rehabilitated. In the Phantom Zone you could see what was happening in your dimension, but you couldn’t interact with it. I’ve taken this Phantom Zone, spinning, 1980’s special effect to visualize some notions of double consciousness. I’m also playing with how a video can act as a space where there are multiple perspectives. So, you’re not just looking directly at an image—there are other things happening. I’m trying to encompass all these things into one really vibey piece of art.

I’m interested in video and its production spaces. In 2016 at The Kitchen in New York I created an installation, Resident Evil. The back is a Flesh Wall—an animation of my skin with the contrast boosted. I do this through programs used to make 3-D renderings of things. The ocean modifier I used for this is supposed to help you make a realistic 3-D rendered ocean.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/197309087

This installation is where I transitioned from using the Chroma key green to the blue screen. The Chroma key is a video, film, and photo production technique that allows you to separate the foreground of an image and a background. So usually these images have a person in the foreground and in post-production you’re able to take that out and replace whatever kind of background you want in there.

The blue screen became interesting to me because it’s the technique you would use when you’re trying to replace a background with something that’s dark because of its relationship to the end of the spectrum. I like this idea of this blue space that is simultaneously a black space that is my grandmother’s house, a park at night, or the Avengers destroying Manhattan. I like the collapse of all of those things and that’s why I decided to start covering as much of the physical spaces I was putting these videos into in this color, that is also a space.

It’s also a proposition to myself and the viewership because it is a space of production. In thinking of these colors as spaces, they are not complete. I’m trying to propose that maybe we’re the ones who figure out what’s happening there. It’s a space of contemplation.

via GIPHY

Have you seen Coming to America? This movie is really funny, but there’s also a lot happening in it. You have two American men making a film about a fictional African country and there’s the contrast of Black folks from the states and Black folks from the continent. I was thinking about this family of upwardly mobile Black people who make a fortune on selling other Black folks things that change their visage in order to assimilate. There’s something complex about what it takes to be an upper-class, upwardly mobile Black person. Maybe you have to shapeshift. In that shapeshifting, there is this kind of grotesque thing that happens. They left a mark of themselves, like on this couch. I’d wanted to make this couch for a really long time and I finally did.

The bike is a workstation that comes with a desk. They’re sold to people that work at home and want to maintain their physical health while they’re working. I’ve been thinking a lot about these efficiency machines that do that capitalism thing. They fix a problem that is kind of inherent in these issues of overwork. People shouldn’t work as much as they do, but rather than change, we make objects like this is bike machine. I made an avatar of myself that kind of serves as the Operating System and it talks about being efficient, efficiency, what that does for you. I don’t primarily work in video, but when I do I like working on a multi-monitor workstation because it’s a lot easier; you have your preview monitor and you have a monitor where you can edit. This set up is just a way to produce video that I wanted to mimic in the installation.

Across all of this my interest is in the possibilities of blackness related to my body and also blackness as an idea of expansion, of radicalism. These things open themselves up to me through the technologies I use and through the media I gravitate towards. The issue I find with representation is that we assume that all we have to do is figure out the right way to look and we will know what something is or know what someone is. I think that’s an impossibility.

– Sondra Perry

Awarded bi-annually since 2009, the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence prize grants an early career black artist who has been producing work for less than 10 years with a $10,000 award, along with a solo show at SAM.

Images: Young Women Sitting and Standing and Talking and Stuff (No, No, No), April 21, 2015, Sondra Perry, performance at the Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery in NYC with performers Joiri Minaya, Victoria Udondian, and Ilana Harris-Babou. Installation view of Resident Evil (Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation in foreground) at The Kitchen, 2016, Sondra Perry, Photo: Jason Mandella.

Short Films and A Long Shot: Wyeth Film Sprint Winners

Judges’ Pick: Based on a cumulative score of the following categories: creativity, connection to Wyeth, and concept.
Winner: This Film Instead by Team Wyethian (Lead: Peter Moran // team members: Christen Leonard, Audrey O’Neil, Kelly Hennessey)

When we say that Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect offers new perspectives on the life and career of this American master, one of the things we mean is that the exhibition explores the cinematic influence of Andrew Wyeth’s work. Wyeth drew inspiration from filmmakers such as King Vidor and Ingmar Bergman as well as visually influenced a wide range of moving image classics, from Twin Peaks to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. To imbue this new insight into Wyeth’s work with more dimension, SAM invited local filmmakers to create a short film over the course of a week inspired by paintings in Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect during the Wyeth Film Sprint. There were very few rules, but the key was that the film had to incorporate one of the preselected Wyeth images.

Over 200 people attended the public screening on November 8 of 25 submitted films, followed by an awards ceremony honoring $500 each to three winning films. The judges were Patricia Junker, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art; and local filmmakers and artists Clyde Petersen and Wynter Rhys. As well as the audience, which selected a winner. Here are the three winning films for your entertainment. We love them all. The Judges’ Pick, above, will linger with you, the Curator’s Pick grapples with the gossip surrounding Wyeth’s greatest muse, and the Audience Pick revels in the surreal oddity and dark humor that Wyeth dabbled in.

Curator’s Pick: Patti Junker selected a single film that she felt was most evocative of Wyeth’s practice and work.
Winner: Helga by Team Egg Tempera (Lead: Cody Whealy // team members: Sarah MacDonald)

Audience Pick: Visitors selected one film that was tallied at the end of the night.
Winner: New Tomorrow by Weird Dog Productions (Lead: Claire Buss // team members: Lindsay Gilbert, Amanda K. Pisch, Nick Shively, Andrew Hall, Dave Lubell)

Wyeth’s Cast of Characters: N.C. Wyeth

“He’d look at me like a Brahman bull when he walked in the door to criticize my work, and if he was glowering, I braced myself. In a few incisive words he’d bit right at some puny characteristics in my nature.”
– Andrew Wyeth

This unfinished sketch is the only portrait Andrew Wyeth ever made of his father, an imposing figure in the story of Andrew’s life. Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth was an accomplished illustrator with strong opinions. At 19 Andrew made this pencil portrait. The challenge of drawing the man who was not just father but also Andrew’s teacher and toughest critic must have been daunting. Though small in size, the portrait nevertheless conveys a looming figure. In life, N.C. Wyeth was domineering; in death, he haunted his painter son to the end of his life. Wyeth always regretted that he never painted his famous father before the man’s tragic death in 1945.

“The boy was me at a loss really. His hand, drifting in the air, was my hand almost groping, my free soul.”
– Andrew Wyeth

Throughout Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, the landscape of his neighbors’ farm appears repeatedly. Kuerner’s Hill rears up towards the viewer on occasion and, on others, slopes gradually toward the horizon. At the bottom of this hill are the train tracks where N.C. Wyeth was killed by an oncoming train. A few months later Andrew painted Allan Lynch, the boy who found N.C. Wyeth’s body, running down Kuerner’s Hill. Andrew Wyeth described the sensation of painting Kuerner’s Hill in Winter 1946 by saying that he could almost hear his father breathe. Andrew’s inspiration for the painting came from an afternoon of playing with Allan on Kuerner’s Hill, and yet the ominous and somber tone of the painting indicates the presence of his father in the landscape.

Installation view of Brown Swiss

“A hump in the earth. Hell—a nice shape, but it reminds you of your father. Where he’s buried.”
– Andrew Wyeth

One November afternoon as he climbed Kuerner’s Hill, Wyeth looked over his shoulder and saw the Kuerner house mirrored, upside down, in the pond below. He worked in vain on a tempera that might recreate that vision. Betsy Wyeth criticized Andrew’s art process for being so meticulous and unable to take advantage of chance effect. Working on this painting, Andrew began changing this when he threw a watery mix of yellow-brown ochre and red-brown sienna tempera across the panel. Never able to escape the internalized critic of his father, you can see the shadow of Kuerner’s Hill cast across the middle of the painting—the shadow of death. This scene would not appear this way in reality because the lake would not be visible in shadow. Here Kuerner’s Hill becomes emblematic of the mournful loss of his father.

Installation view of Snow Hill

“A hump like a snow-hill”
– Herman Melville, Moby Dick

There is a lot going on in this painting but in the story Andrew Wyeth tells us about his father, this painting is unique for one small detail. This is the only painting that depicts the train tracks at the bottom of Kuerner’s Hill where N.C. Wyeth died. Titled from a quote taken from Moby Dick about the great white whale, once again Kuerner’s Hill, now covered in snow, becomes a metaphor for Andrew Wyeth’s own nemesis, his father N.C. Wyeth.

See Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, on view at SAM through January 15 and learn more about the characters and narratives that dominate the life and art of Andrew Wyeth.

—Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist and Social Media Manager

Images: Installation views of Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photos: Natali Wiseman.

Andrew Wyeth’s Dog Life

“You know, dogs are the damnedest thing. They just take over the house.”
– Andrew Wyeth

Dig into the life and paintings of Andrew Wyeth and you’ll start to notice that there are dogs all over the place. As a dog owner, it seems Wyeth was as susceptible as anyone to sharing images of his favorite mutts—man’s best friend often makes an appearance in Wyeth’s paintings. Visit Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect and keep your eye out in the galleries for K-9 companions, Rattler, Nell Gwyn, or neighborhood hounds. So how did Wyeth’s love for his four-legged friends influence his artwork?

Old faithful isn’t just a geyser. Ides of March, above, shows Wyeth’s dog lying in front of the cooking fireplace in the Wyeth’s old home. Is this an idyllic domestic dog scene or a metaphor for the murder of Julius Caesar? Why not both? The title helps us see, perhaps, the detailed antique iron fireplace implements as spears and an emperor’s crown, its wearer dead and gone, his pyre or tomb protected by a loyal dog.

 

Installation view of Andrew Wyeth in Retrospect at Seattle Art Museum

These poor pups! The occupant of this decrepit mill kept starving coon dogs tied up outside the old granary. We never promised cute-overload here, but the good news is that eventually Betsy Wyeth purchased the historic mill property and restored it as a new home for the Wyeths. We hope these dogs found better homes and treatment too.

 

Installation view of Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at Seattle Art Museum

Is this guard dog asleep on the job? Wyeth’s dog, Nell Gwyn, sleeps on a bag: does the bag contain a secret? Does the dog guard the secret? Betsy imagined Andrew would move his studio into the mill house she renovated for them, but he refused. Wyeth was living a double life at the time this painting was made—painting a woman, Helga Testorf, in secret. This dog was named for the mistress of Charles II, which probably amused the artist since he admitted that the painting was an extension of his studies of a sleeping Helga.

 

Adam (study)

This study for his painting, Adam, does not include any dogs, so what’s it doing in this blog post about Andrew Wyeth’s dogs? Look closely. Moving across the sketch you can see paw prints. Perhaps Andrew Wyeth left this sketch on the floor of his studio to reference while producing the final painting and one of his dogs wandered in, without care for the artist at work—what does a dog care for fine art? Snoopy might have an opinion on that.

 

Obviously, Charles Schulz was a fan.

 

 

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Images: Ides of March, 1974, Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917–2009, tempera on hardboard panel, 24 ½ x 41 ½ in., Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Fowler, © 2017 Andrew Wyeth / Artist Rights Society (ARS). Raccoon, 1958, Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917– 2009. tempera on hardboard panel 48 × 48 in. Brandywine River Museum of Art, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Acquisition in memory of Nancy Hanks made possible by David Rockefeller, Laurance S. Rockefeller, Mimi Haskell, and the Pew Memorial Trust. Installation views of Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photos by Natali Wiseman.

Conserving and Conversing: Andrew Wyeth

I had the amazing privilege of serving as Andrew Wyeth’s conservator for the last 12 years of his life. Conservators dream about being able to speak with the artists and ask them questions while making decisions about treating their works. (When I worked as senior conservator for the treatment of Whistler’s Peacock Room 1988–1992, we joked about how wonderful it would be to be able to have a séance in order to ask Whistler questions such as “just how shiny do you want the final varnish to be?”) And there Andrew Wyeth would be, live and in person, visiting my paintings conservation studio at Winterthur just about once a month, when I was treating one of his works or works by artists he especially admired, including Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth.

He would sometimes give instructions that I might not have intuited without him present: “inpaint this scratch (from handling) but don’t inpaint this other scratch; it makes the stone wall look older and rougher.” The egg medium in his tempera paint sometimes produces a white efflorescence that looks a bit like spray Christmas snow. He would ask me to LEAVE this white powdery substance on areas of snow in his winter landscapes, but to remove it where it took away the “snap” of the brown or black tree trunks. If a part of a gessoed panel had gotten wet and a few areas had flaked away, we would work out together how to inpaint the missing areas after I carried out consolidation and filling; twice we did this jointly.

Additionally I would be invited to cocktails at the Mill with Betsy and Andrew Wyeth; I typed extensive notes each night when I got back to my computer and have about two linear feet of notebooks detailing conversation topics, comments they’d make, and challenging questions they would ask all visitors; cocktails beside the Wyeths’ fireplace was never relaxing. (The pointy fireplace tongs, etc. give you a hint.) Often Andrew Wyeth would be “unveiling” a new tempera and the only faux pas would be NOT to have a lot to say—what does this remind you of? “Princess Diana in the tunnel where she died?” (That was Sparks.) While looking at a new tempera you had to produce a stream-of-consciousness monologue featuring your personal reactions and meaningful associations. Or you might hear Andrew in front of The Carry: “THIS calm area of water represents me doing temperas, but THIS turbulent water represents my ‘wild side’—doing watercolors.” For the same painting, Betsy said, “THIS turbulent water is me during the Helga crisis, but this calm area is after I got over the Helga crisis!” Andrew then said, “DID YOU get over the Helga crisis?” Dead silence in the room. I gave a cheery hostess-type laugh and changed the subject quickly to help retrieve equanimity.

On one occasion when we were walking into the Winterthur Research Building together to look at a treatment in progress, he patted my hair and said, “I like your hair, can I paint you?” (Richard Meryman, Wyeth’s biographer, had told me that he had always regretted saying he was too busy to pose when he was asked.) So I answered immediately: “Send up a flare and I’ll be there!” Wyeth looked puzzled, so I said “Absolutely!” He said, “I’ll call you” and asked what time I came in to work each day, and I said “8:15.”  (I regretted this instantly because I don’t usually come in that early, but now I had to.)

Almost a month went by of sitting by the phone each morning. I’d come up with excuses to drive paintings up Route 100 to consult him. Then on one visit to the Mill, Andy and Betsy told me that Anna Kuerner had just died, and the Kuerner family had given Anna’s pink raincoat to Betsy. It didn’t fit Betsy so she asked me to try it on. It fit perfectly, so Andrew took my hand and said, “come on!” He led me into the Granary building, adjacent to the Mill, and began drawing me. This was May 1999. After a few hours he showed me a beautiful drawing and then said “now I’ll turn it into a watercolor.” I almost involuntarily shouted ”NO” because the drawing was so elegant, and my first thought was not to hide it with paint.

Luckily he ignored me, opened his large metal tool box full of tubed watercolors and began painting. He had me posed looking away, out of a window, which was disappointing for me as a conservator—I wanted to watch him paint. I kept trying to sneak little glimpses without being caught. However, I had heard from others that if things aren’t going well, or you’re too wiggly as a model, he closes the sketchbook and says, “that’s all for now, let’s go to lunch” and that’s that. I’d heard that Helga tried to be so still that she fainted at one point. So I tried to be especially still and cooperative, but he’d keep suggesting we take breaks. There were three half-day posing sessions in all, but he didn’t show me the finished work, and I didn’t know it actually was finished. Other models told me “you never know—either it came to naught, or later you might see it hanging at the Whitney.” But he had it framed and presented it to me for the following Christmas! (It hangs in my studio at the Research Building at Winterthur under a special shade which I pull up ONLY when someone is looking; conservators are very concerned about light levels for watercolors.)

While I was posing it had to be a secret from everyone except Betsy, who had given me the pink coat; I would have occasional teas with Helga, but I wasn’t allowed to tell her. You weren’t welcome in Wyeth World if you couldn’t keep secrets. Other paintings Helga would know about, but then they would be a secret from Betsy. I don’t believe Wyeth ever gave Helga a Helga painting (he did give her drawings he did of her four children). I wondered for a while why he gave me my portrait. I now think that he knew exactly what he was doing. As one artist told a group of conservators, “You are our pediatricians; you take care of our children!” He knew that as a conservator I would now in the future never turn down a request to see about one of his paintings.

Joyce Hill Stoner, Conservator

See Sparks and The Carry in person when you visit Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, on view at Seattle Art Museum through January 15. The exhibition features over 100 of the artist’s finest paintings and drawings and reveals new perspectives on his work and influences.

Images: courtesy of Joyce Hill Stoner

Andrew Wyeth’s Dramatic Genius

Andrew Wyeth’s studio was an old schoolhouse near his childhood home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. His bookshelves there hold numerous titles on film. From movie rental catalogues to a Marlon Brando biography, to Classics of the Silent Screen, this view inside the American icon’s creative space sets Wyeth against a backdrop of the movies.

Film books in Wyeth's library

Wyeth is sometimes considered a realist in an abstract art world; however, this limited focus on his realism glosses over his strange and eerie images. But on the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth, Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect examines what creates Wyeth’s haunting effect on us and shows the influence of cinema on his art through his 75-year career. This major exhibition presents more than 100 of the artist’s finest paintings and drawings, including rarely seen loans from the Wyeth family.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, critical favor was given to abstraction and formal investigations into painting. Exhibitions and critical thinking about fine art didn’t include media, like films,” Patricia Junker, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art points out. “Now that our concepts of fine art have broadened, Wyeth can be understood in the realm of modern filmmaking, as well as painting. He connected with an art form that used the human figure as a form for storytelling and was not abstract.”

Betsy Wyeth likened her husband to Swedish director Ingmar Bergman: “He’s creating a world they [his models] don’t realize and they’re acting out a part without any script.” In the 1989 painting Snow Hill, Wyeth’s Chadds Ford models, living and dead, dance on Kuerner’s Hill—a meaningful motif in Wyeth’s paintings—and recall Bergman’s dance of death from the iconic final scene of The Seventh Seal. Just as Death dances the players off to their graves in the film, Wyeth danced his characters off to their art-muse graves, and he would never use them again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abusPM-9mqQ

An owner of King Vidor’s 1925 silent masterpiece, The Big Parade, Wyeth claimed he watched these film reels hundreds of times. A young man running down Kuerner’s Hill in Wyeth’s Winter 1946 echoes the film’s hero hobbling down a hillside into the arms of a lost love. The Big Parade used objects to convey emotional states and inspired Wyeth to depict belongings and interiors as portraits, as in a pair of weathered doors that represent the deceased brother and sister in Alvaro and Christina (1968).

“Think of Wyeth’s paintings as movie stills—each as a frozen moment within some ongoing action,” says Junker. “What story do they tell?” Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect offers a chance to piece together the story of Wyeth himself—his figures are characters acting out a role in the artist’s life, allowing us to understand him. The exhibition is an epic, the story of a great American artist told through the people and places he portrayed.

Widen your view into Wyeth’s World through SAM’s screenings of these, and other, films that either influenced Andrew Wyeth or vice versa. The Big Parade will be screened on November 15 and The Seventh Seal is presented as part of an Ingmar Bergman series on January 25. Find out more about all of SAM’s upcoming film events and get inspired.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

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

SAM News

“See Wyeth whole and re-evaluate his stature as an artist,” says Michael Upchurch in his exhibition preview featuring an interview with curator Patricia Junker that appeared in Sunday’s print edition of the Seattle Times. Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect opens this Thursday.

“Because reproductions of his work circulated far more widely than the paintings themselves, Junker says, few people in recent years have had a chance to take true measure of his achievement. Younger people she talks to know his name, but don’t know the art. The SAM show promises to change that.”

Welcome the return of layers with SAM’s video featuring Haida artist/fashion designer Dorothy Grant talking about her exquisite Raven Great Coat, now on view on the third floor.

Local News

City Arts’ Margo Vansynghel on Pantry by Joey Veltkamp and Ben Gannon, which ran for one night only as the final show of Calypte Gallery.

“The jam became a personal metaphor for loss, and the act of making jam a means of preserving something inevitably slipping through their fingers—‘canning the memory of something that was,’ as Gannon says.”

Seattle Times’ Gayle Clemans invites you to get “[UN]contained” at CoCA’s new artist residency site held in three shipping containers; the first three artists were Anastacia Renee Tolbert, Anissa Amalia, and Edward Raub.

Darren Davis of Seattle Met interviews the inimitable Waxie Moon on the eve of his (non-singing) opera debut in The Barber of Seville at Seattle Opera.

Inter/National News

Behold, 24 newly minted geniuses. OK, they prefer to say “MacArthur Fellows.” Amongst the ranks are painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby, photographer Dawoud Bey, and two authors soon visiting Seattle.

Yes, wire hangings! The innovative wire sculptures of mid-century artist Ruth Asawa are now on view at David Zwirner. Artnet asks: why did this re-appraisal of her work take so long?

Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald will paint the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery. They are the first black artists commissioned to paint a presidential couple.

And Finally

I think we can all agree that GIFs are an important and moving art form. Now, there’s an instant camera that creates GIFs you can hold in your hand.

– Rachel Eggers, Public Relations Manager

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

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

SAM News

Like the suddenly falling leaves, fall arts happenings are swirling all around. The Stranger offered their “complete guide” to the best of October—including SAM picks like Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, the Jean-Pierre Melville film series, and the (sold out!) Diwali Ball.

Noted architect Tom Kundig leads a tour of the best Seattle architecture in this CNN Travel video; the Olympic Sculpture Park is one of his picks.

We enjoyed this Architects Newspaper salute to Denise Scott Brown on her 85th birthday; in which they share notable stories of her general awesomeness. Scott Brown—along with her partner, Robert Venturi—designed the original Seattle Art Museum that opened in 1991.

“There’s a million ways to be a woman. There’s a million ways to be a mother. And there’s a million ways to be an architect.” –Denise Scott Brown.

Local News

Watch this lovely KCTS tribute to ceramicist Akio Takamori, featuring interviews with his former UW colleagues and students, including Patti Warashina and Jamie Walker. His Blue Princess (2009) is currently on view at SAM.

“The boundary between the figurative and the abstract is erased in curious ways,” says the Seattle Times’ Michael Upchurch in this glowing review of the Frye Museum’s two new photography shows.

Farewell to Jon Rowley, the “fish missionary” whose art form was teaching us to appreciate perfect things like Copper River salmon and Olympic oysters.

Inter/National News

Author Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature. You really need to read Tacoma bookseller/Ishiguro Superfan Kenny Coble’s tweetstorm when he heard the news.

The Art Newspaper takes you inside two new recently opened museums: the Zeitz Mocaa in Cape Town and the Yves Saint Laurent museum in Paris.

What’s the most iconic artwork of the 21st century? Artnet asked experts to weigh in. Mentioned: Mickalene Thomas’s Le Déjeuner sur L’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires, coming to SAM’s walls in February as part of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas.

And Finally

We can now listen to ripples in space-time. (Really!)

– Rachel Eggers, Public Relations Manager

Image: Installation view of European art galleries at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photo: Natali Wiseman.

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

As of today, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is closed! What a wild ride the last few months have been during this blockbuster exhibition. Now we’re looking ahead to Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect and so is the press. Take a gander at this past week’s press clippings, hand selected by SAM’s PR Manager.

*Clutches Yayoi Kusama exhibition catalogue and cries while Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” plays*

SAM News

Seattle Times photographer Alan Berner visited during the final days of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors and filed this dot-filled send-off. Don’t miss the cameo from our mascot, Sammy the Camel. (Why a camel? Here’s the scoop.)

SAM lands on the celebrity news beat: When Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and singer Ciara had a date night at SAM after we’d closed, the news hit Page Six, W Magazine, Artnet, Ebony, Yahoo, Daily Mail, Entertainment Tonight, Jet, and HuffPo.

Love this Seattle Times RAVE for SAM staff: A visitor lauds our “daily, herculean efforts” during the Kusama run. We couldn’t have done it without our awesome visitors!

Seattle Magazine’s September print edition features our Andrew Wyeth retrospective among their picks for “Fall’s Most Buzzworthy Arts and Culture Events.”

“’The goal was to show that this unrelenting realist evolved and changed, sometimes quite dramatically, over time,’ Junker says. ‘If you think you know Wyeth’s art from the examples we see reproduced and hanging in the well-known museums, I feel certain you will come away from this exhibition totally surprised.’”

Local News

The Seattle Times reports on The Grocery, a new “cutting-edge” arts center in a former—you guessed it—grocery store in Beacon Hill.

Also in the neighborhood: Artist Ari Glass unveiled a new installation at Beacon Hill’s Art Deco building Pacific Tower, featuring his signature gold leaf and mica elements.

This should be an amazing show: The Stranger’s A&P features the sculpture of Humaira Abid, coming soon to a solo show at Bellevue Arts Museum.

Inter/National News

The journey continues for the home of Rosa Parks, recently shipped to Berlin and restored by an American artist. The house now has a ticket back home to the US—with an uncertain future ahead.

Poet John Ashbery died on Sunday at the age of 90; did you know he was also a collage artist, who made his solo debut as a professional at the age of 81?

Pierre Bergé, longtime business partner of Yves Saint Laurent, died Friday at the age of 86. We were honored to share his legacy during Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style.

 And Finally

The art of eating: Artsy with seven recipes from artists, including—wait for it—avocado toast (by Salvador Dalí, of course).

– Rachel Eggers, SAM’s Manager of Public Relations

SAM Staff Reads: Kusama’s Sleepless Midnight

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is quickly coming to a close (September 10!) but we have one more reflection on the prolific artist’s poetry from SAM staff. Read closely and let the words of Yayoi Kusama linger long after the exhibition leaves our galleries. The three poems we’ve shared here on SAM Blog were all published in Violet Obsession, a collection released in 1998 by Wandering Mind Books. Kusama’s poetry makes explicit much of the subtle and dark underpinnings of her playful visual art. In her writing, we can delve into the sentiments that propel the creation of her soft sculptures, her paintings, her yearning towards an experience of the infinite within a finite world—and these sentiments are perhaps unexpected when held in contrast to the Pop aesthetic that is strongly associated with Kusama.

Rayna Mathis is a writer, swing dancer, and history nerd. She chose to dig into Kusama’s poem, “Sleepless Midnight,” offering her thoughts on the divergence between what we project and how we are perceived as compared to what we feel and how we behave.

SLEEPLESS MIDNIGHT

that I suffer such sorrow and gloom
more wounds than I know what to do with
inflicted by others upon my heart             on sleepless nights like this
I forget I’m covered with cherry petals this spring
I sit dazed by the pain in my heart as time passes me by
the world of men, like the realm of foxes and badgers, bewitched
I go out among people                   and am constantly amazed
they wound one another
behold the wounds and rejoice
ah!         what sort of        world is this?

leaving my body here for now
I stop suddenly                 and gaze at
a nameless wildflower
petals drinking deeply of sunlight
trampled by people, covered with wounds
just keeping silent
my bitter tears know no end

(1987)

– Yayoi Kusama

When I read Yayoi Kusama’s poems, I can’t help but place myself into them. As I turned each page of Violet Obsessions, I became increasingly sad. However, sad is not a wrong feeling to feel. I appreciate things that force me (whether I am aware of it or not) to feel feelings I often deny myself. Anger, sadness, love, jealousy—the feelings society tells me that I am not allowed to feel—the feelings society does not acknowledge because I should have every reason to be happy, always. I become used to the conformity of the business voice, the polite laugh, the casual conversing of hellos and the weather. I become accustomed to crossing my legs while a man spreads his and speeding up when the catcalls latch on to my back.

But, Kusama isn’t here to adjust for anyone. And that is one of the largest reasons I have so much respect and admiration for her. She is so unapologetically herself and better yet, so unapologetically human. To embrace pain, to acknowledge fear, to speak and create despite other people’s comfort—it is chain breaking.

Many of the works in Violet Obsessions are uncomfortable. They are dark, and sad, and gross. Kusama challenges me to understand why I think any of those things.

When I think of the wounds I have inflicted onto others and what has been inflicted onto me, it is always the thoughts that are unspoken. The silence we feel compelled to keep. I wonder who it is that is “just keeping silent”? The petals beneath our feet—the ones we love but hurt through our selfishness? or the people covered in wounds, who have gotten used to their pain?

– Rayna Mathis, School & Educator Programs Coordinator

Source: Kusama, Yayoi. Violet Obsession. Translated by Hisako Ifshin and Ralph F. McCarthy with Leza Lowitz. Edited by Alexandra Munro. Berkeley, CA: Wandering Mind Books, 1998.
Illustration: Natali Wiseman

Behind the Scenes of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors

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

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

 

10 Surprising Facts About Yayoi Kusama

There are eleven days left to see Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at Seattle Art Museum and by now, you’ve probably seen an infinite number of images of her artwork in your Instagram and Facebook feeds. Hopefully you’ve seen the exhibition in person as well! If not, learn more about Yayoi Kusama below and plan to line up at SAM for day-of timed tickets between now and September 10 to experience infinity through the immersive art of this icon, rebel, and visionary.

  1. Yayoi Kusama arrived in Seattle in 1957 with two kimonos and 200 paintings. This is the first city Kusama visited when she moved to the US.
  2. Kusama was pen pals with Georgia O’Keeffe, Richard Nixon, and the President of France.
  3. She partnered with Louis Vuitton to design a clothing line in 2012.
  4. Narcissus Garden, a rogue performance piece by Kusama, was installed outside of the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966 with the support of one of the curators, however she was asked to leave the premises.
  5. She was making Pop art before Andy Warhol.
  6. Assemblage artist and filmmaker, Joseph Cornell and Kusama had an intimate friendship that prompted his mother to dump a bucket of water on them once when she caught them kissing.
  7. The quintessential polymath, Kusama has published numerous literary works.
  8.  A firm believer in love forever, Kusama performed a gay marriage way before gay marriage was legal.
  9. In 2016, she was ranked as the most expensive living female artist on aggregate.
  10. Yayoi Kusama has been producing art work for more than six decades.
Image: Yayoi Kusama with recent works in Tokyo, 2016, Courtesy of the artist, © YAYOI KUSAMA, Photo: Tomoaki Makino.

SAM Staff Reads: Kusama’s Doing Nothing

As Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors continues through September 10, SAM staff is discovering new dimensions to this infinite artist through Kusama’s writing. Violet Obsession, published in 1998 by Wandering Mind Books pairs her poetry with images from Kusama’s Happenings and performative activations of her artworks. Like the threads through the many media this versatile artist has worked in, the themes in Kusama’s poetry continue to extend the driving force behind her creations. They also bring new insights into the personal life, rather than the persona, of Yayoi Kusama. SAM Staff, like the rest of the world, is fascinated by this iconic and impressive woman, and reading her poetry in Violet Obsession has prompted some reflection on the artwork currently installed in our galleries, as well as on our own lives and perspectives.

Hear from Wendy Saffel, a dancer, marketing pro, and killer copy editor, on the demure progressions of time in “Doing Nothing.”

DOING NOTHING

the trees dropped all their colored leaves
the earth is hidden ’neath fallen leaves
time has come ’round to the autumn season
I sit among all the fallen leaves
having become an old gray-haired woman
just     stacking up days, doing nothing
all I’ve done, all I do     is reluctantly
grow old

the wind took all the fallen leaves
carried them off to the ends of the cosmos
empty landscapes wherever you look
here and there     crushed bits of rubbish
I go off that way, ramble back this way
falling apart with no rhyme or reason     trembling
just idly tagging along as the seasons advance

(1983)

– Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama is a sextuple threat. She’s a painter, sculptor, film maker, performance artist, installation artist, and, as SAM staff are exploring about her right now, a writer. Reading Kusama’s poems from the collection Violet Obsession is a thought-provoking dive, deep into the artist’s despair. Unrequited love. Depression. Germaphobia. Fear of sex. Sleeplessness. More. The images she weaves are visceral. The language is shocking. The impact—indelible.

But this poem, one of the shortest and quietest of the collection, this is the one that has me thinking curious thoughts and scouring the internet to understand the woman behind SAM’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition. Here, Kusama’s despair is around having grown old, being a gray-haired woman doing nothing, falling apart, and idly tagging along. When I reached the end of the poem and saw that she wrote it in 1983, I thought “whaaaaaaat?” That was 34 years ago! She was a mere 54 at the time!

In the 34 years since, she has been named “World’s Most Popular Artist” multiple times by organizations looking at annual figures for the most-visited exhibitions in the world. She was named to Time magazine’s list of The 100 Most Influential People, has earned lifetime achievement awards, film and literary awards, and . . . oh I could go on about what I found in my hours of internet searching, but suffice it to say that Yayoi Kusama has had a brilliant career in the decades since she expressed feeling old and worthless. Granted, her career seemed to have had a revival in the 1980s, right about the time she wrote this poem, so of course, how could she have seen this all coming. Now at 88, she is still a prolific artist, having created all the massive, eye-popping paintings and sculptures in our exhibition’s first gallery in just the last two years.

I yearn to sit down and talk with her and hear what perspective she has on all of it now. Is she satisfied? Or does she still feel worthless? What drives her still into her ninth decade? I bet some of this is answered in 2011’s Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, which is now going to the top of my nightstand reading stack.

Oh, if only I can do as much nothing as her in my remaining years.

– Wendy Saffel, Marketing Manager

Source: Kusama, Yayoi. Violet Obsession. Translated by Hisako Ifshin and Ralph F. McCarthy with Leza Lowitz. Edited by Alexandra Munro. Berkeley, CA: Wandering Mind Books, 1998.
Illustration: Natali Wiseman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Object of the Week Special Edition: The Western Mystery

This blog series is designed to focus on art works on SAM’s collection but this week we’re bringing you a special feature on Spencer Finch: The Western Mystery. This nebulous formation of suspended glass panes is currently installed at the Olympic Sculpture Park in the PACCAR Pavilion and will be on view through March 3, 2019. So, while not actually an artwork owned by SAM, this piece will be hanging above the heads of visitors to the sculpture park for years to come. Find out more about the artist and this mesmerizing art work from Carrie Dedon, Assistant Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art.

SAM Staff Reads: Kusama’s Turbulent Garden

Yayoi Kusama’s visual art output is prolific, but did you know that she was also a writer? Beyond penning her autobiography, Infinity Net, in 2002 she is also the author of Hustler’s Grotto (1992), a collection of three novellas written between 1983 and 1992, and various books of poetry. Stay tuned to this blog series for a focus on Violet Obsession (1998), a collection of Kusama’s poems paired with images of her performative work including her Happenings and her activations of her Infinity Mirror Rooms. We’ve invited SAM staff to spend some time with Kusama’s poems and select a piece that speaks to them. We’ll be sharing selections from Violet Obsession alongside the musings and inspirations of SAM Staff. The exhibition, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is on view at SAM through September 10.

SAM’s Copywriter and Content Strategist, and an author in her own right, Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, gets things started with with her thoughts on one of the more light-hearted poems in the collection.

TURBULENT GARDEN (AT THE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL)

it’s a breeding ground of stray cats here
parent cats have mated with their children to produce children
brothers have mated with sisters to produce children
and now the place is teeming with cats
when beams of the crescent moon fell upon the garden
the cats ate that moon
stars adhered one by one to the garden
the cats played with the stars
it’s a garden of cats
where no one dies and the numbers only multiply

it’s an exceedingly strange
cat way of calculating
all the leaves from the treetops       fell upon the cats
when the lonely winter comes
the shadows of cats just keep on increasing
they’re playing with one another
in the deathless garden
the rotting tails of fish accumulate
left over rice too is put aside
things human beings have contributed

they’re all disfigured cats
some with only half a tail
some with an ear torn off
some lame
not one complete cat in the lot

No one appears to have died
it’s even more turbulent on windy days
“meow, meow”—they run around
busy f***ing
they leap about
I’m glad I’m not a cat
I wasn’t born a cat
because I’m not really fond of all that f***ing

(1983)

– Yayoi Kusama

For me, the first appeal of this poem is the repetition. Kusama’s concerns with reproduction ad infinitum are clearly linked with breeding in this poem in a way that a work like Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field only implies. But in this poem, as in her visual work, what she reproduces is imagery, not just words (though the refrain of “cats” does reverberate throughout). Disfigured cats nibbling on a sliver of moon or batting around stars, never dying and endlessly multiplying are the fish tails and rice (rather than meat and potatoes) of the poem. But, it’s the turn that occurs at the end, when Kusama interjects in the first person, that lifts the poem above a landscape of feral felines into a psychological setting, all too fitting given the subtitle of the poem. We are taken directly into Kusama’s self proclaimed issues with sex at the end of this poem in a straightforward way. In her autobiography she talks at length about her fear of the phallus as the impetus to creating the soft sculptures that have appeared often in her work: in frames on wall, on furniture and boats, and in her Infinity Mirror Room. In contrast to the sheer volume of this motif in her visual work, her quick mention of being glad she’s not a cat allows the poem to be a playful menagerie in some undying garden, only lightly touched by human influence.

I think immediately of Turtle, my childhood cat. For weeks my brother almost had me convinced that she was a robot, until I saw her give birth. My father found her on a construction site in Manhattan on his walk home from work. She must have already been pregnant when he brought her into our tiny apartment. A few weeks later my parents pulled me out of elementary school in the middle of the day to come witness the birth of two kittens. Turtle caused another kind of issue at school: inquiries as to if everything was OK at home in response to the large and numerous scratches on my arms. Turtle didn’t take to domesticity and ran away within the year. We eventually gave her kittens to a neighbor. Turtle might not have liked being a mother, but she taught me how to climb trees.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Source: Kusama, Yayoi. Violet Obsession. Translated by Hisako Ifshin and Ralph F. McCarthy with Leza Lowitz. Edited by Alexandra Munro. Berkeley, CA: Wandering Mind Books, 1998.
Illustration: Natali Wiseman.

 

 

 

Kusama’s Full Circle

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

–Yayoi Kusama

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

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

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

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

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter/Content Strategist

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

Personal Landscapes

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

Seeing Nature through The Eyes of Curators: Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, and Impressionism

Waterloo Bridge, Overcast Weather

One of Paul Allen’s favorite periods is obviously French Impressionism, and he has some exquisite examples. In Seeing Nature there are five paintings by Claude Monet. Monet had such a long life that he underwent a long evolution based on seeing and communicating his subjective experience to the viewer.

Monet was constantly trying to forget what he knew and what his mind told him—such as that if a stone building is brown it should be depicted as brown. He wanted to forget logic and just paint what he saw. In Waterloo Bridge, Overcast Weather, London was beset by terrible pollution and it created a very foggy atmosphere. For Monet, those atmospheric effects made for a series of beautiful paintings where you can subtly perceive the fact that there’s a bridge before you with smoke stacks beyond. The brushstrokes depicting sunlight coming through the arches of the bridge have more substance than the bridge itself. He was interested in the changing color effects of different times and days so he painted the Waterloo Bridge at different times of day.

Landscape on île Saint-Martin, Claude Monet, 1881.

Landscape on île Saint-Martin

Earlier in his career, Monet didn’t have the luxury of going far afield to paint. It took him years to be able to make a living. Landscape on île Saint-Martin and The Fisherman’s House, Overcast Weather are from the early 1880s when he was still years away from becoming successful. He painted where he was living with his family. During one summer, Monet was on a little island just north of Paris and painted it in all of its summertime glory with this beautiful field of poppies. There is a little fisherman’s cabin that used to be a watchtower right on the Normandy coast, an area of his childhood that he would return to many times over the years. These paintings reward looking close up, but they also reward standing back and taking in the whole—he’s thinking about both perspectives at the same time.

The Fisherman's House, Overcast Weather, Claude Monet, 1882.

The Fisherman’s House, Overcast Weather

Claude Monet painted Venice fairly late in his career. It’s important to mention The Palazzo da Mula in conjunction with View in Venice–The Grand Canal by Edouard Manet. Manet was such an inspiration for Monet. Though he never called himself an Impressionist, Manet was absolutely fundamental to the movement. It’s interesting that both artists went to Venice—Manet painting in 1874 and Monet in 1908. By this time there is a historical body of work that artists have created about Venice. There are conventions about what Venetian paintings look like and both of these artists are interested in breaking those conventions.

The Palazzo da Mula, Claude Monet, 1908.

The Palazzo da Mula

Manet’s painting is particularly radical. He is right on the water. It’s as though he’s painting in a boat. All of the grand views, the many beautiful buildings that intersect with the sky and water, are not his main subject. The dome, which was originally much bigger—there’s a pentiment that shows through a little bit now—he suppresses it. He doesn’t want that to be the main event. He’s instead much more interested in the mooring poles that are part of the navigational system of all the boat traffic in Venice.

View in Venice–The Grand Canal, Edouard Manet, 1874.

View in Venice–The Grand Canal

When you see just the prow of the gondola come into the picture, it reminds you that photography has become part of the visual vocabulary by this time. A view can be cut off like a snapshot and a form can end abruptly. It’s not composed in that traditional way, it almost looks like a found view although he obviously worked at it. To me, this painting is an antidote to the kind of more melancholy mysterious aspect of Venice, which is so much a part of its literary reputation. This is more about a bustling city full of movement. It’s full of vigor and sparkling light in the middle of the day.

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

See these and other Impressionist artworks in Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, on view at SAM through May 23.

Note: This text is taken from an audio recording of a staff tour of the exhibition led by SAM curators.
Images: Waterloo Bridge, Overcast Weather, 1904, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 25 9/16 x 39 1/8 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection. Landscape on île Saint-Martin, 1881, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 28 13/16 x 23 5/8 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection. The Fisherman’s House, Overcast Weather, 1882, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 22 3/4 x 28 3/4 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection. The Palazzo da Mula, 1908, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 26 1/6 x 36 3/4 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection. View in Venice–The Grand Canal, 1874, Edouard Manet, French, 1832-1883, oil on canvas, 22 9/16 x 18 3/4 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection.

Seeing Nature through The Eyes of Curators: The Grand Canyon

The first time I saw Cosmic Cities, I found it hard to believe that the Arthur Wesley Dow who I was familiar with could paint so large and boldly. This is what the Grand Canyon did for him. Dow was famous as a teacher at Columbia Teachers College. He developed a course of composition study based on Japanese prints, on filling the page or canvas through flat patterns and linear rhythms. This is what he taught to people like Georgia O’Keeffe, a new modern way of looking. In his own practice, he created beautiful little wood cut prints and tiny paintings done in the landscape around his Massachusetts home. But when he went west it changed him completely.

When Arthur Wesley Dow got to the Grand Canyon, he said it compelled him to think about pictures in three different ways. One was color, because the sedimentary rock, sand, and shell shimmered, changing colors all day long and giving a glittery quality to the atmosphere and the surfaces. He said the immersive experience of the Grand Canyon made him think differently about the structures of pictures—he loved that disorienting quality, the feeling that we have no footing, that we might tumble into the scene. He also said he saw nature’s innate architecture. In Cosmic Cities, this strange architecture looks like it could have come from some ancient builders, but it is the product of nature itself. This painting was commented on by critiques as a great breakthrough for American painting at this time in 1912. Because of its large scale and its all-over, painterly color pattern, it doesn’t look like a Victorian-era painting—it looks like it could have been painted today.

Dow went to the Grand Canyon because he saw paintings like Thomas Moran’s Grand Canyon, also in the Allen collection. Moran visited the Grand Canyon repeatedly. His trips were paid for by the Santa Fe Railroad and the Fred Harvey Hotel. The Santa Fe Railroad extended its tracks right up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon and built the famous Fred Harvey Hotel there. It was a tourist destination for a long time before Theodore Roosevelt designated the Grand Canyon a national monument in 1908. When you look out across the vast space, you see the horizon in the Moran painting, and so you get a sense of firm grounding, and of deep landscape. It’s a very different effect from Dow’s boundless, dizzying place.

–Patricia Junker, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art

I don’t know how many of you have been to the Grand Canyon, but the drama of the Grand Canyon is just extraordinary. When you stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon you can hardly ever see straight down to the Colorado River because it is so deep. What you see is this texture of different planes that unfold in front of you. I have this idea that Dow painted the Grand Canyon at sunrise because once I got up at four in the morning to see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon and the lavender tones start coming out. In David Hockney’s Grand Canyon, on the other hand, I see sunset colors because that’s when there are intense orange and yellows. You can’t believe how much purple there can be in a rock! Of course, Hockney exaggerates since these are not natural colors.

A British artist who spends a lot of time in Los Angeles and travels to the Grand Canyon, David Hockney did some work designing stage sets. I think that’s especially pronounced in his Grand Canyon. He uses these small squares of canvas corresponding to photographs he took at the Grand Canyon. Initially he planned a photographic series. He took all these photographs, taped them together, and then decided the photographic representation wasn’t successful. So he painted the Grand Canyon in three different versions. This one is called The Grand Canyon and conceptually, if you think of stage design, the purple form would be one slice that you roll onto stage and the yellow form could be another. There’s a way in which he was learning from his experience in stagecraft for the composition of this scene. The stroke of genius here, that tiny sliver of sky—which when you’re standing there, would instead feel enormous—puts so much pressure on the entire composition. It’s really an extraordinary painting.

–Catharina Manchanda, Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Bring your own experience of the Grand Canyon to Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection and compare it to three wildly divergent depictions of this natural wonder. Seeing Nature presents 39 exquisite, highly detailed paintings as a platform for visitors to consider their own experience with the world through sight, touch, smell, sound, and taste. On view through May 23, don’t miss it!

Images: Cosmic Cities, Grand Canyon of Arizona, 1912, Arthur Wesley Dow, American, 1857-1922, oil on canvas, 61 x 79 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection.
Grand Canyon of Arizona at Sunset, 1909, Thomas Moran, American, born England, 1837–1926, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection. David Hockney, British, b. 1937, The Grand Canyon, 1998, oil on canvas, 48 ½ x 14 ft. 1 in. overall, Paul G. Allen Family Collection, © David Hockney.

Seeing Nature through The Eyes of Curators: Venice

By the 18th century, landscape has become a full-fledged genre. One of the reasons that artists paint landscapes is for a shifting international clientele that is doing a lot of travel. Of course, it is the wealthiest elite that is doing this kind of travel, such as English gentlemen on the Grand Tour. It becomes a mandatory part of one’s education to spend time in Italy, which is where European systems of government formed and where there are still ancient monuments for people to see. It also has a lush and exotic landscape from an English perspective. In Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection you’ll see works focused on Italy, and particularly Venice—a favorite place for people to visit and a very favorite place for artists to portray. It is also a favorite place of Paul Allen’s—there are eight paintings of Venice in this exhibition. Throughout, you have the opportunity to think about places you have, or haven’t, visited, and see them through the eyes of artists. And this is especially true of Venice.

The first great painter of Venice is Canaletto, a Venetian, and he paints very exacting images of particular locations in Venice. Venice is a magical place because it is so unchanged. You can seek out this view of the Grand Canal and it will look just like the painting. Canaletto had his studio in Venice where these paintings were displayed and English visitors would commission paintings or buy them in groups as decoration for their homes. Both of the Canaletto paintings in Seeing Nature are spectacular paintings in their own quiet way. He can easily describe the rhythms of everyday life, but can also describe pageantry and the kind of stately and more decorated trappings that Venice could put on for grand occasions. The ingredients that you see here—buildings, water, boats, sky—those are the basic ingredients of any painting about Venice and artists will address these elements according to their own interests.

J. M. W. Turner painted about a century after Canaletto, in the mid-19th century. By 1841 when he painted this painting, Turner had visited Venice three times. His early works are watercolor studies made on the spot—probably influenced by images by Canaletto and other Venetian artists. By the time he is well into his career, he has made Venice the scene for a kind of more poetic rumination on mood and atmosphere–and also a sense of nostalgia for the past, which often accompanies views of Venice as well as poetry and literature about the city. Turner has invented a story here about the great 15th century painter, Giovanni Bellini, whose paintings are still to be seen in many churches in Venice. In Turner’s fantasy, three Bellini paintings are being delivered to the church that you see in the painting. He has created a lavish and dignified pageant: you can practically hear the music playing, with richly dressed people and flags and banners and a full flotilla delivering these paintings to this beautiful church. Sky, water, boats, buildings—it’s all here, but what a different effect from the Canaletto paintings. Most of the paintings in the exhibition have Plexiglass over them so you can get close to them and study the surface and brushwork. This one is almost like enamel. It looks like palette-knife work. Turner’s texture and color contribute to the mood. This is all part of concocting an emotional and poetic response to this place.

Later in the exhibition you can see how Manet, Monet and other Impressionists saw Venice through the lens of the artistic issues of their own time.

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

Hearing from SAM ‘s curators is a treat and this post is only a taste of what Chiyo Ishikawa and Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator, will be speaking on Wednesday, April 19 during A Constant Entertainment: A View Of Venice From Canaletto’s Studio. This lecture is part of our Conversations with Curators series. This popular members-only lecture series still has tickets available and single lectures are open to the public. Get your ticket now for more on Venice and our current exhibition, Seeing Nature, on view through May 23.

Images: Installation view of Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection at Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman. The Grand Canal, Venice, Looking Southeast from San Stae to the Fabbriche Nuove di Rialto, ca. 1738, Canaletto, Italian, 1697–1768, oil on canvas, 18 1/2 x 30 5/8 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection. Depositing of John Bellini’s Three Pictures in La Chiesa Redentore, Venice, 1841, Joseph Mallord William Turner, British, 1775–1851, oil on canvas, 29 x 45 1/2 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection. View in Venice–The Grand Canal, 1874, Edouard Manet, French, 1832–1883, oil on canvas, 22 9/16 x 18 3/4 in., Paul G. Allen Family Collection.

Expansive Terratopia: Chinese Landscape in Poetry

The Way dissolves into rivers
The Way coagulates into mountains.

–Sun Ch’o, Fourth Century [1]

Shan Shui, or river and mountains, is a Chinese term for landscape.[2] During the Six Dynasties (220 AD–589 AD) Shan Shui became a popular style of landscape painting as well as referring to a specific form of landscape poetry. In Terratopia: The Chinese Landscape in Painting and Film at the Asian Art Museum you will see examples of Shan Shui painting as the exhibition displays centuries of works to examine the role of landscape as an enduring subject of artistic, philosophical, and environmental reflection from the 3rd to the 21st century. In the paintings of the exhibition, you’ll notice calligraphy on pieces such as Wangchuan Villa (17th Century). The inscription refers to a series of Shan Shui poems by Wang Wei whose country retreat at Wang River is depicted in the painting. Wang’s couplets, focused on the natural landscape of his retreat, are collected, with the poems of fellow poet Pei Di, as the Wheel River Sequence. A sample of these poems, meant to convey imagery and tranquility are below.

Deer Park

No one seen. In empty mountains,
hints of drifting voice, no more.

Entering these deep woods, late sun-
light ablaze on green moss, rising.

Magnolia Park

Autumn mountains gathering last light,
one bird follows another in flight away.

Shifting kingfisher-greens flash radiant
scatters. Evening mists: nowhere they are.

Vagary Lake

Flute-song carries beyond furthest shores.
In dusk light, I bid you a sage’s farewell.

Across this lake, in the turn of a head,
mountain greens furl into white clouds.[3]

Perhaps one of the most iconic pieces of writing that begins to unfold a long history of the role of poetry in Chinese landscape painting is written on The Orchid Pavilion Gathering created in 1732 by Chen Fu based on the original work of Wang Xizhi (303-361), the whereabouts of which has been unknown since the Tang Dynasty. This calligraphy is the Lanting Xu (Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion), written as a preface to a collection of poems generated during the famed Orchid Pavilion Gathering of literati. Read the Lanting Xu to begin your own journey into the poetry associated with the works of art you can see at Asian Art Museum before Terratopia closes.

“First Inscription: In the ninth year of the Eternal Harmony era in the beginning of the last month of spring when the calendar was in kuei-ch’ou [353], we met at the Orchid Pavilion in Shan-yin, Kuei-chi to celebrate the Bathing Festival. All the worthy men assembled; the young and the senior gathered together. Here were lofty mountains and towering hills, thick groves and tall bamboo. And, there was a clear, rapid stream reflecting everything around that had been diverted to play the game of floating wine-cups along a winding course. We sat down in order of precedence. Though we had none of the magnificent sounds of strings and flutes, a cup of wine and then a poem was enough to stir our innermost feelings. This was a day when the sky was bright and the air was pure. A gentle breeze warmed us. Upwards we gazed to contemplate the immensity of the universe; downwards we peered to scrutinize the abundance of living things. In this way, we let our eyes roam and our emotions become aroused so that we enjoy to the fullest these sights and sounds. This was happiness, indeed! Men associate with each other but for the brief span of their lives. Some are content to control their innermost feelings as they converse inside a room. Some are prompted to give rein to their ambitions and lead wild, unfettered lives. There is all the difference between controlled and abandoned natures, just as the quiescent and the frenzied are unalike. Yet, both take pleasure from whatever they encounter, possessing it but for a while. Happy and content, they remain unaware that old age is fast approaching. And, when they tire of something, they let their feelings change along with events as they experience a deep melancholy. What they had taken pleasure in has now passed away in an instant, so how could their hearts not give rise to longing? Furthermore, a long or short life depends on the transformation of all things: everything must come to an end. An ancient said, “Life and death are the greatest of matters, indeed!” Isn’t this reason enough to be sad? Whenever I read of the causes of melancholy felt by men of the past, it is like joining together two halves of a tally. I always feel sad when I read them, yet I cannot quite understand why. But I know that it is meaningless to say life and death are the same; and to equate the longevity of P’eng-tsu with that of Shang-tzu is simply wrong. Future readers will look back upon today just as we look back at the past. How sad it all is! Therefore, I have recorded my contemporaries and transcribed what they have written. Over distant generations and changing events, what gives rise to melancholy will be the same. Future readers will also feel moved by these writings.”

This is your final weekend to see the historical paintings and the contemporary film work of Yang Fudong in Terratopia before it closes on Sunday, February 26. As it says in the Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion, “. . . life depends on the transformation of all things: everything must come to an end.”

If all this poetry has you yearning for more landscapes, come to Seattle Art Museum to see Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, on view through May 23. And keep in mind, the Asian Art Museum is temporarily closing for renovation beginning Monday but installations featuring SAM’s Asian art collection will continue to be on view at the Seattle Art Museum for all to take retreat within.

–Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Images: Wangchuan Villa, 17th century, Wang Wei, Chinese, ink and color on silk, 36 ft x 11 13/16 in., Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 47.142, photo: Mark Woods. The Orchid Pavilion Gathering (detail), 1732, color added 1739, Chen Fu, Chinese, active 1730s, ink and color on paper, 13 1/4 X 25 7/8 In., Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 52.138, photo: Elizabeth Mann.
[1] “Yu T’ien-t’ai-shan fu” (Fu-poem of My Wanderings on Mount T’ien-t’ai), Wen-hsü an, 2 vols. (Shanghai), Chapter XI, pp 223–227
[2] Frodsham, J.D. “Landscape Poetry in China and Europe.” Comparative Literature 19, no. 3 (Summer, 1967): pp. 193-215 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1770207
[3] Wang Wei, The Selected Poems of Wang Wei, trans. David Hinton. New York: New Directions, 2006.

Migrations & Marches: Congressman John Lewis, Writer Andrew Aydin, & Artist Nate Powell

On February 22 Congressman John Lewis presented his graphic novel trilogy, MARCH, during Migrations & Marches, a SAM event taking place at Benaroya Hall in order to accommodate a larger audience. The event was presented as an educational opportunity for regional youth and a majority of the seats were reserved for students and their families. As a result, public seating was limited and the event sold out almost immediately. To allow more people to take part in this exciting program, we stayed open late to host a free live stream of the talk in Plestcheeff Auditorium. We also kept the Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series exhibition open and free until 9 pm. If you missed it, not to worry! You can tune in from the comfort of your home anytime, right here!

Created with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell, MARCH, recently the winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, recounts the story of the civil rights movement through the eyes of one of its most well-known figures and shares important lessons about nonviolent activism and empowerment. Congressman John Lewis is an American icon whose commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to a seat in Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from being beaten by state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Photo: Robert Wade

Object of the Week: Scenes of Life in and around the Capital

SAM’s six-panel screen picturing Scenes of Life in and around the Capital serves to celebrate the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto, giving a flattering impression of the city as one that is full of jovial activity. Gold leaf, in the form of clouds, covers a large area of the screen and lends to Kyoto an air of royalty and prosperity. As a compositional element, the clouds divide this very large panel into bite-sized vignettes. When your eye scans across the panel, and up and down, it encounters figures sitting, running, parading, and celebrating in scenes alternately private and public. Both rural and urban citizens have a place here, as life in the city blends seamlessly with the surrounding countryside, and the city’s attractions are enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. What your eye won’t find in its flyover of Japan’s ancient capital is any element that disagrees with the established order and the abiding image of prosperity. The humdrum of day-to-day life, the majority of which involves work, doesn’t fit into the picture. Neither does illness, disease, or death much affect this heavenly realm.

The screen has interesting things to say about how we see, and how we aim to be seen. As I look at the screen, I’m reminded of spinning around and above Seattle during a special brunch in the Space Needle’s SkyCity restaurant (an experience I hope everyone has a chance to enjoy). To look over a city with great energy, lots happening, and an incredible geographic diversity brought, for me, feelings of joy and pride. Surely Kyoto’s citizens in the Edo period appreciated everything their city offered—its rich culture and vibrant lifestyle—in a similar way. It’s also worth noting how, from the top of the Space Needle, or standing in front of this screen, we take up the perspective of a passive observer. We watch others go about their lives without being seen ourselves and, with no fear of being caught watching, we’re encouraged to watch even more closely.

It’s this aspect of looking that contemporary artist Tabaimo has pointed to in her exhibition at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi. In the show, Scenes of Life in and around the Capital relates meaningfully to Tabaimo’s video work Haunted House, seen nearby. Haunted House mimics the movement of an eye scanning a long row of houses, while our view is limited to a small circle, as if we are viewing these scenes through a telescope. In Haunted House and in SAM’s screen, stories present themselves one at a time, providing the viewer a steady stream of entertainment.

Tabaimo’s installation of the screen encourages us to take pause and ask: How do we see each other? From what perspective? With what agendas? From there, we might also ask how and why we present ourselves to the world, and whether that image carries pretension much like the screen’s gilded view of ancient imperial Kyoto.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Scenes of Life in and around the Capital, second half 17th century, Japanese (Edo period, 1603-1868), ink, color, and gold on paper, 67 7/8 x 149 3/4 in. Seattle Art Museum, Purchased with funds from Mildred and Bryant Dunn and the Floyd A. Naramore Memorial Purchase Fund, 75.38.1. Haunted House (detail), 2003, Tabaimo, video installation, © Tabaimo / Courtesy of Gallery Koyanagi, Photo: Patrick Gries.

Guest Blogger: Barbie’s Five Faves from SAM

In October I took a trip to Seattle for opening day of Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style at Seattle Art Museum. And how perfect it was! Seattle delivers everything you might expect—great coffee, abundant shopping, cool culture, and endless opportunities to accessorize for rainy weather. But the reason for the season was an exclusive first look at the my-sized recreations of the defining designs on display as part of the exhibition at SAM.

Life can be so busy but it’s nice to stop and reflect on recent experiences. So here are my five favorite things from my visit to the Seattle Art Museum to take in the stunning style of Yves Saint Laurent. Spoiler alert, I have more than five favorites but you’ll just have to get to the exhibition during closing weekend (that’s this weekend, Jan 7 & 8) and see it for yourself!

  1. The Bow Dress

Yves Saint Laurent’s style is superb. In the photo above, the evening gown behind me from Autumn-Winter 1983, with its giant and oh-so-pink silk satin bow, is a perfect example of flawless color and shape combos. I was thrilled to get to see this dress, one of Saint Laurent’s most well known, in person.

  1. The Pop Moment

I’m a big fan of bright colors! And, like Yves Saint Laurent, I find literature, theater, and film inspiring. In this gallery you can see how the art of his time had an impact on Saint Laurent’s designs. The geometric shapes and strong hues of these dresses draw directly from Pop art. I’m all about this wearable art.

YSL Paper Dolls

  1. The Prodigy’s Paper Dolls

I wish I’d had paper dolls this fancy to play with as a kid! Yves Saint Laurent made these paper dolls from magazines when he was a teenager and this is the first time they’ve been shown in the United States. I feel so lucky that they are at the Seattle Art Museum right now and I got to see them up close!

  1. A Modular Wardrobe

Yves Saint Laurent changed the fashion industry forever when he opened his first boutique, SAINT LAURENT – rive gauche. The store sold prêt- à-porter clothes, which means, “ready to wear.” Thanks to him, now we can all shop for a slice of high fashion for a fraction of the price! Now if only I could find this white silk crepe blouse with red lips in stores still.

  1. Catching up with a Friend

Traveling means getting to reconnect with old friends! I love getting to discuss all the thoughts that come up after seeing world-class art and it’s so important to have a good friend to talk about creative ideas with. Visiting Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style at the Seattle Art Museum wouldn’t be that same without someone to gush over the beautiful fashions with.

—Barbie

IMAGES: Barbie photos courtesy of Mattel. Installation views of Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style, Photos: Natali Wiseman.

Felt Suit: The Fabric of Joseph Beuys’s Life

Inspired by the election year and conversations around art and politics, Grace Billingslea, SAM curatorial intern, wrote this blog post on Joseph Beuys’s Felt Suit as her final project. See Felt Suit on view now in the latest iteration of Big Picture: Art after 1945. Big Picture presents vibrant developments in painting and sculpture in the decades following World War II as an ongoing and evolving exhibition. The November re-install introduces works by European artists grappling with their unique experiences and concerns in the wake of World War II, centered more strongly on the figure and the environment. As the galleries change, new connections and points of departure will be uncovered. There’s always a reason to return to SAM!

Felt Suit, modeled after 20th-century German artist Joseph Beuys’s own, appears to be nothing more than a slightly frumpy, plain grey, felt suit. With sleeves a little too wide and a collar one itches to fold down properly, it is the kind of art piece that makes even an avid museum-goer wonder: Why does a felt suit have a place on a gallery wall?

Beuys’s Felt Suit carries a fascinating story complete with adventure, political strife, and fame.

Joseph Beuys was born in 1921 near Kleve, Germany. His great artistic success came from humble and rambunctious beginnings. Beuys was always adventurous and eccentric and memorably ran away with the circus a year before his high school graduation. His character translates strongly to his art, which elicited intense reactions, both positive and negative, over the course of his lifetime and through to today. The artist’s unique blend of sculpture, performance art, and installations dealt with broad themes of social activism, inclusivity, creative freedom, and energy.

Beuys’s choice of materials often informed the meanings of his works—and this feature of his art-making helps explain his notable and frequent use of animal fat and felt. By the artist’s own telling, Tartar tribesmen used those two substances to save his life when, as a member of the German Airforce during World War II, his plane was shot down on the Crimean Front. From this experience (whether myth or fact, no one knows) the Joseph Beuys we celebrate today was born, along with his ideas of felt as a protective and life-giving fabric. Felt Suit can be partially understood through the choice of material but, in this case, the history of the piece plays an especially important role.

One of sixty nearly identical suits, Seattle Art Museum’s Felt Suit was worn with its brothers in the 1978 Fat Tuesday parade in Basel, Switzerland. In the event, sixty felt-clad men, all wearing their suits accessorized with animal masks, marched together to protest the sale of Joseph Beuys’s piece Feuerstelle to their local art museum for $159,000. In their view, this was an exorbitant amount for their city to spend on art. Upon seeing the demonstration, Beuys donned a long felt coat and his iconic hat and raced out to join the protest himself. After the event, the artist collected the suits and included them in an installation titled Feuerstelle II, which he then donated to the same local museum.

Felt Suit’s role in political activism represents only a small fraction of Joseph Beuys’s political inclinations. Beuys was just as much an activist as an artist, and in fact, he considered those two roles fundamentally linked. He famously stated that, “Every human being is an artist, a freedom being, called to participate in transforming and reshaping the conditions, thinking and structures that shape and inform our lives.” This belief informed nearly every work of art he created.

Extremely progressive for his time, Beuys was a strong proponent of protecting the environment, effecting institutional change through referendums, and opening universities free of charge to any student who wished to attend. He argued that the government should recognize a woman’s work in the home as an occupation and therefore assign wages to home-makers to help achieve gender equality. In 1967, while a professor at the Düsseldorf Academy, Beuys started the German Student Party. Evolving from class debates into a full-fledged organization, the group supported objectives such as increased access to education, breaking down barriers between the West and the East, eliminating nationalistic interests, and complete disarmament. Beuys went on to create the Organization for Direct Democracy through Referendum (People’s Free Initiative) in 1971, which aimed to increase public participation in forming and shaping governmental policy and legislation. The artist also ran for numerous elected positions, notably running for the European Parliament in 1979 as a member of the Green Party. Although he was not elected, Beuys never weakened in his political convictions. Throughout all of this Beuys was creating and performing, with nearly all of his work political in some respect.

Utilizing his success as an artist, Beuys shared his progressive ideas with a huge audience. In a time before social media, art was an important vehicle for spreading political messages. By organizing public performances/protests, the artist drew attention to the issue of ecological preservation and effected change. In Sweeping out the Grafenberger Wald (1971), Beuys and fifty of his students occupied a tract of woodland set to be cleared and developed into tennis courts, sweeping it with birch brooms and painting white crosses with rings on all the trees. The protest was a great success, encouraging many citizens to join Beuys in the protest or write to city hall. Such a feat, at the time, was made possible through the collaboration of art and politics and Beuys’s masterful melding of the two.

Joseph Beuys was a unique man who dedicated both his artistic and teaching careers to sharing his firmly-held political ideas with his students first, and then with the world. He worked at great lengths to involve students in his mission and even succeeded in opening Free International University in 1973, a tuition-free learning and research space. This, along with his other causes, pushed him to travel the globe and hold interactive performances in various galleries for up to 100 days at a time where audience members could question or debate him on his progressive stances—many of which are still contentious today. Beuys managed to retain the same audacious and original spirit as the boy who ran off to join the circus throughout his whole career, while also becoming an important political figure. Learning Beuys’s compelling personal history, as well as understanding his art and symbolic use of materials, allows one to see his plain grey suit in an entirely fresh way. Felt Suit was created with the fabric that saved his life, worn in the spirit of how he lived his life, and hangs today to share the legacy of his life.

–Grace Billingslea, SAM curatorial intern

Joseph Beuys. Felt Suit, 1978. Wool felt. JACKET: 32 x 33 1/2 in. (81.3 x 114.3 cm). TROUSERS: 45 x 18 in. (85.1 x 45.7 cm). Gift of Joan and Roger Sonnabend, 97.48 © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
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