“Everyone has a part to play in this tradition, whether you work with indigo or not. Anyone who wears blue jeans has a part to play in this tradition.” – Norbert Herber
What sound does a seed make? How about compost? Experience how digital images and color can translate to timber in the hands of Norbert Herber.
As you enter Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World you encounter a contemporary compliment to the historic scope of the exhibition exploring this vibrant dye. A collaboration between textile artist Rowland Ricketts and sound artist Norbert Herber, “Mobile Section” is a responsive and immersive installation combining a large-scale, hanging textile and field recordings of Ricketts’ indigo dyeing process synthesized using data from various conditions that produced the dye and color gradations of the cloth in the installation. Sensors in the gallery register people as they move around the installation and accelerate or decelerate the sound mix so that the audio element on “Mobile Section” will never sound the same twice.
See this work before it’s too late—it will be on view through October 9 in the exhibition Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park.
Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World is a chance to absorb a unique spectrum of global history from Flanders to Africa, tapestries to kimonos—the exhibition balances ancient fragments with the inclusion of an immersive contemporary installation by Rowland Ricketts, an artist working in traditional indigo dying techniques. “Mobile Section” is made up of a large, indigo-dyed textile, 11½ ft. tall by 30 ft. circumference, dried indigo plants, and a video illustrating the indigo cultivation and dying process. Watch this video with the artist for more information on his process and how, beyond the blue, indigo is about the deep connection of the physical labor that connects Ricketts to other people who have also worked with indigo.
Field recordings of Rickett’s indigo process—growing, processing, vatting, and dyeing—were synthesized in collaboration with sound artist Norbert Herber and the audio reacts to the movements of visitors in the gallery as they move around the large hanging textile. The work plays upon the notions of materiality and immateriality, and is a true multisensory experience.
You’ve got one more month to see Mood Indigo at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park before it closes October 9. So go on, give yourself the blues.
“The montages were works that were not intended as art. I made them as Xeroxes. It used to be at demonstrations somebody would hand you this incredibly text-ridden sheet of mimeographs against war, and I had this idea not to have any text at all, just pictures to be handed out at demonstrations, and that’s where they went.”
–Artist Martha Rosler on the origin of her series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, 1967-’72
Martha Rosler: Below the Surface focuses on two series of photomontages by Martha Rosler—House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967–72) and House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series (2004–2008). Rosler works across a range of media—including photography, video, writing, performance, sculpture, and installation—addressing social and political issues of the public sphere and everyday life, from gender norms and labor issues to consumer culture and urban development.
Back Garden by Martha Rosler, 2004
“This exhibition shows a selection of Rosler’s early work, which addresses political, social, and media issues that have remained at the forefront of her practice to this day. It is a special honor to present this exhibition at this time, as Rosler was singled out by the New Foundation Seattle as the recipient of its inaugural 100K Prize,” said Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. The New Foundation Seattle established the prize as a biennial award to be presented to an influential, US-based woman artist in honor of her exemplary artistic achievements and enduring commitment to her practice.
Martha Rosler: Below the Surface is on view at Seattle Art Museum through July 4, 2016.
Images:Cleaning the Drapes, 1967-72, Martha Rosler, American, b. 1943, photomontage, 17 5/16 x 23 3/4 in., Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY. Back Garden, 2004, Martha Rosler, American, b. 1943, photomontage, 20 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY.
SAM is highlighting a series of documentary photographs exploring the lived experiences of African American men and women during the Civil Rights era, featuring major works from the collection by artists including Dan Budnik, Danny Lyon, Roy deCarava, Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, Marion Post Wolcott, and others. The exhibition includes a photo series capturing Martin Luther King Jr.’s march to Montgomery, a stark image of man entering the “colored” entrance of a movie theater in Jim Crow Mississippi, a powerful image of a black nanny holding a white baby, and lithographic renderings of mugshots that reclaim these stigmatizing documentary portraits.
As a contemporary counterpart to these historical works, the exhibition also features a work by Philadelphia-based interdisciplinary artist, Shikeith, called #Blackmendream. In this documentary video, the artist interviews nine young black men, their bare backs turned to the camera as they answer questions such as: “When did you become a black man? Do you cry? How were you raised to deal with your emotions?”. The resulting film is a poetic take on what it means to occupy a black body today, and an exploration of the emotional lives of black men. The hashtag in the film’s title is an invitation for viewers to respond to the artist’s questions themselves, and to continue discussions about what is happening to people of color in the country today.
“The history of painting by and large has pictured very few black and brown people, and in particular very few black men. My interest is in countering that absence.”
Experiencing a meteoric rise on the art scene, Los Angeles native Kehinde Wiley has assumed his place as an influential contemporary American artist. Graduating from the influential Yale School of Art, Wiley received his MFA from the program in 2001. The artist went from the Ivy League to a leading art program—residency at The Studio Museum in Harlem. It was there that a lot of things came together for Wiley in the context of the show he was working on: he found inspiration in the assertive and self-empowered young men of the neighborhood. This kicked off the artist’s serious work in portraiture on modes of representation and the black body.
“It’s almost like he’s looking back into history to envision a new present and a new future,” said Catharina Manchanda, Seattle Art Museum’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art.Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic is a 14-year retrospective of the artist’s work that features 60 works, including his signature portraits of African American men reworked in the grand portraiture traditions of Western culture, as well as sculptures, videos, and stained glass windows.
The Brooklyn Art Museum organized the exhibition, which is traveling to a number of cities around the country, experiencing a rousing reception. “He’s received a great amount of attention in part because the work is so captivating, but perhaps what adds special urgency to the work are the political discussions Americans have been having over the course of the last year regarding the lives of black men and women in this country,” Manchanda said. “There is so much possibility in this moment. It’s my hope that this exhibition will engage viewers in an important conversation, as well as create a galvanizing experience that will last long after they leave the galleries.”
Wiley does not copy traditional portraiture styles from the 18th and 19th centuries, but rather creates mashups where he’s drawing from many sources, like a jazz artist improvising or a hip hop artist mixing pieces of songs together using different ideas and references. The same process—mining elements and then combining them from various sources—fuels Wiley’s work: classic portraiture styles and floral wallpaper designs from the 19th century, among others, serve as inspiration. Altered in color as much as detailing, these compositions frame and elevate his contemporary subjects.
Also on view in the exhibition is the full length film, An Economy of Grace, which documents Wiley as he steps out of his comfort zone to create a series of classical portraits of African-American women for the first time. The exhibition includes works from this project and highlights Wiley’s collaboration with fashion designer Riccardo Tisci at the couture firm Givenchy to design gowns inspired by 19th- and 20th century paintings.
Don’t miss this exhibition— which closes very soon on May 8! We also invite you to hear from scholar and independent curator Tumelo Mosaka, who will be at Seattle Art Museum on Thursday, April 14, to explore topics related to the exhibition and Wiley’s unapologetic ability to address the historical absence of the black figure by creating portraits of his own desire.
In our February-May 2016 issue of SAM Magazine, our member-only publication, we featured an article about the Silk Road Caves in Dunhuang, China as a preview of our upcoming exhibition Journey to Dunhuang: Buddhist Art of the Silk Road Caves. Our space was limited in print, so we’re featuring the whole article here on the SAM Blog.
In 1943, James and Lucy Lo were newlyweds. Budding adventurers that they were, the couple set out to Dunhuang, China, by donkey cart for their honeymoon. In the remote town, there was no electricity or running water. A friend of theirs in India managed to find several thousand rolls of film for James to take with him for the trip to the area’s sacred cave-grottoes.
The nearly 500 caves are collectively called the Mogao Caves—now a UNESCO World Heritage site—and are carved into cliffs about 15 miles from the oasis town of Dunhuang on the edge of the Gobi Desert. At the start of the 20th century, European explorers discovered the caves, finding a treasure trove of sculptures, manuscripts, painted scrolls, and wall paintings inside. The cave temples range in date from about the 4th to the 14th centuries, and 2,000 Buddhist sculptures, 45,000 square meters of murals, and more than 60,000 texts are preserved today. Some caves were built and rebuilt over the millennium by the devout and they continue to be an astonishing experience for visitors.
The couple spent their time in Dunhuang documenting the interiors: brilliantly colored paintings that covered cave walls, ceilings, and floors, and the finely rendered stucco sculptures, some of which were of immense, towering Buddhas. The site reveals shifting artistic influences and ritual practices, attesting to a long and varied history of political, religious, and private patronage as well as local, court, and foreign military protection. That Dunhuang was a multicultural center is also attested to by surviving printed texts and hand-written manuscripts with calligraphy in the Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Uighur, and Tangut languages Visitors from the West couldn’t get to China without going through Dunhuang, as it is located at the crossroads of the northern and southern routes of the ancient Silk Road.
The Los photographed the caves for 18 months, producing an unparalleled set of black-and-white negatives, remarkable for their documentary value as well as their artistic quality. They were not the first photographers to arrive at the Mogao Caves, but they were the first to document the caves with artistic intention. Indeed, the Los established iconic ways to view Dunhuang. While at Dunhuang, the Los also collected manuscript fragments, including texts and pictures. This group is the largest collection in the U.S. and reflects their broad interests in unusual scripts and in a variety of painting techniques. Also while at Dunhuang, the Los met with famed Chinese painter (and infamous forger) Zhang Daqian (1899–1983), who was there repairing and making replicas of Mogao murals.
After moving to Taiwan in the 1950s, the Los became part of a community of artists and intellectuals. They invited a group of young artists to produce life-size copies of the Lo’s photographs. Some were done freehand, while others were tracings made by projecting the Lo slides on the wall. The artists then added color to the renderings by relying on the Lo’s comprehensive notes and their memories of the caves. These facsimiles are unique in their fidelity to the originals since they are collaborative and imaginative recreations.
James and Lucy Lo’s photographic archive, manuscript collection, and artist renderings belong to Princeton University’s Art Museum, P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art, and the East Asian Library. Their current exhibition, Sacred Caves of the Silk Road: Ways of Knowing and Recreating Dunhuang, formed the basis of scholarship for the exhibition, Journey to Dunhuang: Buddhist Art of the Silk Road Caves, coming to the Asian Art Museum in March. Together, with SAM’s Director Emerita Mimi Gates’ exhibition at The Getty Museum, Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road, we are bringing Dunhuang to the West Coast in 2016.
An installation of Buddhist art will also be on view during the Dunhuang exhibition. The focus will be on the Buddha as depicted in Asian art, with both sculpted and painted works drawn from SAM’s own collection. The exhibition will be a geographically broad survey, and will represent works from various parts of Asia where Buddhism spread, including East Asia, Tibet, Nepal, and Southeast Asia.
IMAGES:Parinirvana, Mogao Cave 158, Middle Tang dynasty (781–848), Photograph taken in 1943–44, The Lo Archive. View of the Northern Mogao Cave, Photograph taken in 1943–44, The Lo Archive.
In our February-May 2016 issue of SAM Magazine, our member-only publication, we featured an interview with indigo textile artist Rowland Ricketts in anticipation of our upcoming exhibition Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World. Our space was limited in print, so we’re featuring the whole interview here on the SAM Blog.
Setting the Mood
The upcoming exhibition heading to the Asian Art Museum, Mood Indigo, honors the unique ability of the color blue to create many moods in cloth. Drawn primarily from the Seattle Art Museum’s global textile collection, Mood Indigo illuminates the historic scope of this vibrant pigment. The exhibition features a set of tapestries from Belgium, a silk court robe from China, a vast array of kimonos from Japan, batiks and ikats from Indonesia and Africa, and ancient fragments from Peru and Egypt. An immersive contemporary installation devoted to indigo by Rowland Ricketts will be accompanied by a soundtrack by sound artist Nobert Herber that unveils the musical nuances indigo can suggest. From the sultry darkness of midnight to the vitality of a bright sky, come let the myriad blues in their multiple forms surround you.
Rowland Ricketts’s Historical Processes For Creating Contemporary Textiles
Artist Rowland Ricketts adapts historical processes to create contemporary textiles. He came to indigo by way of a two-year apprenticeship in 1996. Today, Ricketts works with his wife and fellow artist, Chinami, as they handle indigo in all the stages of its inception: growing, processing, vatting, and dyeing. Read on to learn about this artist’s journey with indigo, from seed to cloth.
SAM: Hi Rowland! Thanks for speaking with us.
Rowland Ricketts: No problem!
SAM: What would you say your work is about at the heart? What are the central themes inherent in it?
Ricketts: On some level, it’s awe and wonder. That is a huge, meta-interest for me. Indigo is imbued with mystery. It’s an enigma of sorts in that it is a dye found throughout the world, and a dye found in synthetic forms. People have been drawn to it for millennia, working with it for millennia, and the end of the day, the color is immaterial, a wavelength of light. There are myriad connections indigo, from history, to plants and the environment, to art, time, etc. We (indigo makers) create these connections and at the end of the day, we’re making something immaterial. Part of the human condition is the drive to create beauty, and yet it is so immaterial. It’s all part of the bigger picture. On a smaller scale, planting, harvesting, and dye-making are all central to what I do.
SAM: What inspired you to work with indigo? When did you start?
Ricketts: In 1996 I did a two-year apprenticeship in Japan, and spent one year working with a farmer and one with a dyer making indigo out of composted leaves. What inspired me was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet. I did photography, taught high school, and was developing black and white photos. I stopped eventually, pre-digital photography. I thought that there’s got to be more ways to create. I met people who were very conscious of their environment, very direct with it. I met them folks who dyed indigo, and worked with them on plants. They first told me about indigo and said to visit the Folk Art Museum in Osaka. When I went, there happened to be an indigo dyer exhibit up. I just started gardening and thought, “Wow, this is what I want to do.” It brought together my interests: working in a sustainable way with the environment, gardening, and farming.
SAM: Tell us about the work that you’ll have on view as a part of Mood Indigo.
Ricketts: The installation was a part of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (Crafted: Objects in Flux, which was on view through January 10, 2016) and it will be reconfigured to fit the space. It’s coming SAM’s way next. It’s called “Mobile Sections.” For it, I collaborated with a sound artist, Norbert Herber, for an audio component. It’s made up of a large, indigo-dyed textile, 11½ ft. tall by 30 ft. circumference, dried indigo plants, and possibly a video projection. The inspiration for it was drawn from the process: field recordings of the harvesting, planting, drying, and positions of sound. It is playing with materiality and immateriality and it’s a thing that’s so much bigger in person.
SAM: For those of us who have yet to dye things with indigo, can you walk us through your indigo-making process?
Ricketts: Sure. There are four main steps:
STEP 1: GROWING
I plants seeds in late March, and transplant seedlings in early May and tend them, then harvest them in early July by cutting at the base to allow the leaves to dry.
STEP 2: PROCESSING
In the fall, these dry indigo leaves are put in a special shed, mixed with water, and composted for one hundred days to make the traditional Japanese indigo dye-stuff known as sukumo.
STEP 3: VATTING
By January, a concentrated compost with dye is left behind.
STEP 4: DYEING
To dye cloth, I take the composed leaves, add wood ash lye, and mix them. Indigo bacteria removes oxygen to make the dyeing possible. The dye lasts from four months to a year, and the leaves used to make the dye are returned to the fields to nurture the next planting. With this process, the only thing taken from the leaves is the dye.
SAM: Okay, last question: What do you think people should know about indigo?
Ricketts: One connection people should definitely make: that the color they’re seeing comes from plants. I grew up in suburban America, and was driven by cars. I only became interested in plants after living abroad. People have been making indigo for millennia! I hope that after they leave the installation visitors think about what the color is, where it came from, and how it got there.
Mood Indigo will be on view at the Asian Art Museum April 9–October 9, 2016. Don’t miss it!
Beauty is often associated with symmetry; Order, even lines, and pleasing color palettes are all indicative qualities of something that aims to catch the eye. The earliest Western theory of beauty can be found in the works of Greek philosophers from the pre-Socratic period, such as Pythagoras. The Pythagorean school saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. Notably, they believed that objects proportioned to meet the golden ratio (two objects are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities) were more attractive. Many greats including Da Vinci and Dali have incorporated the number in their works. Artist Yee Sookyung—currently showing work in the exhibition Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art at the Asian Art Museum—does not.
Rather than create pieces that follow this long-held belief, she takes existing pieces of art as well as broken shards, bits, and pieces of work made by traditional Korean master ceramicists (what she calls “ceramic trash”) and turns them into gold—literally.
“My concern is not about the history of Korean ceramics, but it is to play with the fragments which exist now, and this is different from the ceramics masters who produce all of the ceramics adhering to traditional methodology,” Yee said. “Korean traditional ceramic masters break almost 70% of the product that don’t reach up to the standards of masterpieces. So I put the broken bits and pieces of ceramic trash together, one by one, as if putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I covered them with 24k gold leaf, and I wanted to emphasize the crack. In Korean, the word for crack is also the same for gold.”
She describes the process of the pieces coming together in a rather romantic, predetermined way:
“A broken ceramic piece finds another piece, and they rely on each other,” Yee said.
The result is ultimately sculptural, anthropomorphic, and universally beautiful.
Watch the artist describe this process, the act of combining histories, and the many layered metaphors buried in her large-scale work. Experience Thousand and all of its perfect imperfections in Paradox of Place at the Asian Art Museum.
It’s almost here! Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art opens tomorrow in the Seattle Art Museum special exhibition galleries, and we’ve got an array of opening day activities in store for you. Because we’ve got a robust day of art planned, read on for the complete breakdown of ticket prices, events, hours, and more.
HOURS As tomorrow is First Thursday art walk, the museum will be open late until 9 pm to accommodate your art-loving schedule.
TICKET PRICES As this exhibition will be popular, tickets forIntimate Impressionism are timed, so when purchasing online or in person, select a specific day/time in which you’ll plan to visit the exhibition.
TONIGHT + AND FUTURE FREE DAYS
SAM COLLECTIONS & INSTALLATIONS: FREE TO ALL
SPECIAL EXHIBITION PRICE FOR INTIMATEIMPRESSIONISM ADULTS: $12
SENIORS (62+): $11
MILITARY (WITH ID): $11
STUDENTS (WITH ID): $7
TEENS (13 – 19): FREE
CHILDREN (12 & UNDER: FREE
SPECIAL EXHIBITION – EFFECTIVE OCT 2
Ticket prices for Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art are listed below. This ticket includes access to all collections and installations.
SENIORS (62+): $22.95
MILITARY (WITH ID): $22.95
STUDENTS (WITH ID): $14.95
TEENS (13 – 19): $14.95
CHILDREN (12 & UNDER): FREE
SAM MEMBER: FREE
SPECIAL ADVANCE ONLINE PRICING
Save up to $5 per ticket when you purchase your tickets in advance online! This is a limited time offer. Visitors purchasing tickets onsite will not be eligible for the discount. This online discount not valid on the First Thursday of the month, or for seniors on First Friday.
Experience an overview of the new exhibition Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art with Chiyo Ishikawa, Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, followed by a live performance from Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra’s String Quartet featuring works by Impressionist composers.
The SMCO String Quartet is composed of members of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra, an innovative ensemble that brings unique musical experiences to the ears of young and diverse listeners.
My Favorite Things tours bring some of the most opinionated and fascinating artists, cultural producers, and community figures into the galleries to discuss their favorite works of art. This tour will be led by Mary Anne Carter, a Seattle-based visual artist and curator of the Fashion Hot Dog 225 art space.
Humor, wildness, and structure define both Carter’s character and body of work, which includes printmaking, fashion design, textile design, and performance. Tour starts at 6:30 pm sharp. Don’t miss it!
PHOTOS AND SHARING Non-flash photography will be allowed in the galleries, so feel free to take a selfie next to your favorite painting, with your best friend, or with your Impressionist doppleganger while experiencing Intimate Impressionism! Be sure to tag your photos with #SAMImpressionism.
We’ll see you tomorrow for an extraordinary night of art with Monet, Renoir, Manet, Cézanne, Degas, Van Gogh, among other Masters!
Madame Monet and Her Son (detail), 1874, Auguste Renoir, French, 1841–1919, oil on canvas, 19 13/16 x 26 3/4 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.60.
From live music, to dance lessons, and great art, Community Night Out at Seattle Art Museum has something for children, young adults and whatever classification of other adults there is for a non-young adult like me. I think childish-adult would be fitting, not that it’s a bad thing and I’ll tell you why.
I’m looking forward to nerding out at SAM with the night’s diverse performances and activities. There’s nothing like cutting loose and enjoying the simple things in life. Remember how great it was to be a kid? You didn’t have to know how to move your body to dance and you didn’t have to know great art to know your art was the best, mostly because mom or dad said so.
The cutest thing I’ve seen in a long time, aside from photos of babies, puppies and kittens, is the work a group of children at Early Masters has hanging in the Community Corridor inside SAM. Inspired by the works of Miró, which you can see for yourself in Miró: The Experience of Seeing. They’ve reminded me why being a kid was so great!
As a result, you’ll likely catch me and a couple of friends making a silly painting with Ryan Henry Ward and Xavier Lopez Jr., making a clay sculpture with Sandra Farmer for home décor, or rewriting history with Storme Webber.
The one thing I will be missing out on is the teen-only Art Lab kickoff, which features a tabletop moviemaking workshop and the exclusive screening of all films made. Young adults looking to find a space to vibe with friends, or make new friends, should look no further. To think, I could have been the next Scorsese!
After I stuff my masterpieces of art into my satchel, I’ll shuffle over to catch A Cedar Suede beat, who not only have a mean accordion and violin player, but they’re sound is so diverse and distinct that one moment you’ll hear an afro-Cuban beat you’re moving your feet to and the next second you’re pondering if you’re catching a hint of bluegrass in the same song. #musicnerdproblems
Speaking of happy feet, Flamenco Seattle is sure to show you a thing or two when it comes to tearing up the dance floor. In true flamenco fashion, their emotionally intense guitar playing, foot stamping, and hand clapping will take your breath away. I’ll likely consider bringing along an oxygen tank because they’ll also have flamenco dance lessons throughout the night.
If your jam is something more contemporary, DJ 100proof is sure to have the right mix to get you groovin’ and moving. I’ve seen this cat keep a room cool, calm, collected, but I’ve also seen him turn venues into a madhouse dance party. Why not grab a drink at Taste Bar and see what way your your friends sway?
On the complete opposite of madhouse, I’m looking forward to taking Nathan Vass’ My Favorite Things tour through SAM’s galleries. This was a pleasant surprise on the night’s bill. Not only because I know Nathan to be one of the nicest and most considerate people I have ever met, but because he is a talented photographer who has a passion for the arts and a love for the community he serves while working as a Metro Bus Driver. He’s also a huge film nerd.
If there’s one thing events like Community Night Out have taught me it’s that I can always forget my age and make room for the simple joys of life. Especially when it’s free! After all, it’s the little things in life that matter most, like candy for breakfast and cereal for dinner. 😉
– Carlos Garcia, Seattle Art Museum’s Communications Coordinator
Join special projects intern Gabriela Ayala every Friday as she travels in Miró’s footsteps through Europe.
Fresh off the train from Madrid and I do not even have my hotel room yet. I sit in this Barcelona taxi with high anticipation. The car curves its way up the hill with trees gathered on all sides and flourished architecture appearing every now and then, as the trees allow. I learn that this mountain is called Montjuïc and was historically used as a military base. In 1992, it was where the Olympics were held. It also has a history of racecar driving until the city realized it was too dangerous, logically because these roads are wickedly narrow.
View from Montjuïc Park, Barcelona. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala
It is currently home to the Museum of National Art of Catalonia and a large theater for plays. For me, my focus and destination is the Fundació Joan Miró. At this point I had only researched photos of this building and studied its unique shape constructed by architect and friend of Miró, Josep Lluís Sert. The taxi driver announces we are close. Seeing the Foundation in person brightens the cloudy day I find myself in. I have been in contact with a conservator from the Foundation who granted my request to look through their archives, consisting of digital images only for conservation reasons. I admire thousands of drawings by Miró learning that when he had an idea, he drew it on anything. Receipts, envelopes, newspaper clippings, pocket calendars, you name it. I am able to see the link between these initial preparatory drawings and his paintings. Symbols constantly repeat themselves in his work and they all start out on these scraps of paper that are now historical treasures. When I finish, I refresh myself with some coffee and headed over to the Foundation’s permanent collection.
I enter the center atrium that leads me to another pair of glass doors. I turn into the exhibition and find myself immediately presented with a giant tapestry of color, texture, and movement. It may be the magnitude of it or maybe the gloomy day but I instantly become emotional. As I walk through the entire collection this sensation is heightened and in the end, creating sentences becomes difficult. All I have are single words:
Top image: Fundació Joan Miró, Montjuïc Park, Barcelona. Photographer: Gabriela Ayala
Join special projects intern Gabriela Ayala every Friday as she travels in Miró’s footsteps through Europe.
I have officially started a focused three-week journey to a land of great coffee, beautiful colors, traditions, and unique elegance. I have been to Spain before but this is very different: I have come with a greater purpose. I take a couple days to adjust my internal clock to tick to a Spanish beat before making my way to one of the most famous museums in Madrid, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. The Reina Sofía has an incredible collection of 20th-century art. They house very famous pieces from Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Alexander Calder, and Joan Miró, just to name a few. It is Joan Miró who brings me to Spain to begin with. The Reina Sofía is partnering with the Seattle Art Museum to bring Miró’s late work to the United States for the first time. I am here to bring a firsthand account of my experiences while learning about Miró and living my life focused on him, seeing what I may be able to understand beyond his many art works.
The Reina Sofía is a combination of two very impressive structures. A contemporary building that has an extensive library, a space for exhibiting, and the offices of all the people who make this museum work every day. Across from this, connected by a sky bridge, is a former 18th-century hospital with major modern renovations. This is where their entire collection can be found. One of the many historical and stirring art works you can see here is Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, a very famous mural that I have the intention of exploring in further detail later on in my trip. The space leading up to Guernica sets the scene for where this piece is shown and what other artists are showing there. And so naturally I run into a large collection of Joan Miró’s art. As my eyes follow the bold black lines and simple compositions of his pieces, I start to think about how interesting it is that my study of Miró starts here. Madrid is my home base because the Reina Sofía is here, but in truth Miró did not spend a lot of time here. What Madrid is really showing me is that Miró expanded his presence in life and after, to all parts of Spain and the world. And so I begin with evidence of Miró’s everlasting impact, but these short three weeks have a lot of plans packed in, plans that hopefully bring me closer to feeling a bit more familiar with who Miró was. To do this, I must go to where he spent more of his time and places that meant a lot to him. I bring myself back to the present moment: at this point I have found a stone bench to sit and digest everything my eyes and mind have just received. I leave the Reina Sofía with a charged sensation of excited interest in what is to come next, on the destination list I have: Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, and none other than Paris, France.
Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, and Paris. Photo by Gabriela Ayala
There is one thing that connects these three locations for me: Joan Miró, the subject of my exploration. I have taken the task upon myself to follow Miró’s remarkable footsteps. I will pass where he passed and see what is left behind from his talent and involvement within the art world. I will see what and who inspired him, like Pablo Picasso. I will visit the Joan Miró Foundation he created in Barcelona. This foundation is a space that is dedicated to him and to the avant-garde and future artists to come. In Palma de Mallorca, Miró’s home base starting in the late 1950’s, The Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation sits next to Miró’s old studio and is completely focused on his life and artwork. Miró traveled between Paris and Spain for many years. He first visited in the 1920’s where he met Pablo Picasso and was surrounded by Surrealist artists and poets. Important to note is that Joan Miró never wanted to be tied down to any description of his art and concepts. He was a part of this circle but he was still very much a man who “did his own thing”. He says it best:
Just as Picasso has been labeled a Cubist, I’ve been labeled a Surrealist. But what I want to do above and beyond anything else, is maintain my total, absolute, rigorous independence. I consider Surrealism an extremely interesting intellectual phenomenon, a positive thing, but I don’t want to subject myself to it’s severe discipline.
In Paris, I will visit a mural at UNESCO and explore the streets in which Miró ventured. For example, his old studio that was next to poet André Masson’s at 45 rue Blomet. I am determined to see what he saw and be inspired by what inspired him.
The other facet to this study is that I am an artist. My passions, likes, and wants, are somewhat closer in relation to that of Miró’s. Although we live in different time periods, with different wars, different expectations, advances, and social norms, his art is immune to all those changes. That immunity is what makes Miró, and art in general, such a beautiful and important thing.
I am an artist, a writer, and a student of life. I started research on Joan Miró in late July and found that I relate to him and deeply agree with his way of thinking. I like what he has to say and how he chooses to express himself. His concepts of life, the way he humbly and harshly viewed his own work, and his intense passion. Miró believed in freedom. This was basically instilled into him because of when he was born and the many wars he lived through. He believed in freedom in many senses, freedom for people but also for ideas. That is why I respect him so much. He was not afraid. He took large risks for his time period and was consistently reinventing himself while also revisiting his past. He was a pioneer for new ideas and ways of working. This is what being an artist means to me, and that is the type of artist I aspire to be. If it is by means of paint, paper, writings, charcoal, wood, or clay, this is what I want for myself and conclusively, why I am humbly retracing the steps of Joan Miró.
Top image: Gabriela Ayala, Miró and Me, drawing, 2013
Ticket prices to Gauguin & Polynesia on March 1 will be $12 for adults, $9 for seniors (62+) and military (w/ID), and $8 for students (w/ID) and teens. SAM members and children 12 & under are free. Please note that if a timeslot is sold out online we hold back a limited number of tickets for day-of sales. Get tickets now>>
SAM Downtown will be open until midnight (last ticket sold at 11 pm).