“‘If you saw my score, which I always keep close at hand, you’d see I’ve written breathe! Breathe! Breathe! all over it,’ says [Anne] Allgood, who has studied and now teaches singing technique. ‘I use the inhalations as a chance to relax, reset, refuel, even if they are very quick.’”
Have a listen to The Week in Art, The Art Newspaper’s podcast; this edition, they talk about Hilma af Klint and Piet Mondrian: Forms of Life at the Tate Modern, a reconstructed Roman gateway, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map, which just opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art and heads to SAM in 2024.
LA-based artist Lauren Halsey has debuted a new monument on the roof garden of the Met. Halsey was the winner of SAM’s 2021 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize and the museum acquired her Untitled (2022), a work of hand-carved gypsum that resembles the new monument.
“Where the ancient Egyptians covered the walls of their tombs and shrines with illustrations from the Book of the Dead, Halsey and her team of artists and artisans have created an immersive Book of Everyday Life, one focused on, but by no means restricted to, contemporary Black urban existence, evoked and preserved in words and images carved into hundreds of concrete panels.”
In celebration of Black History Month this February, we gave our Instagram followers an up-close look at artworks in Lauren Halsey, on view at our downtown location through July 17. Check back next month, as we choose a new SAM gallery to walk through as part of our live #SAMSnippets series and appreciate art from any location!
Highly attuned to growing gentrification in her neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles, 2021 Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Award winner Lauren Halsey, who studied architecture and art, celebrates Black culture by making space for representations of the people and places around her as a method of creative resistance. In her installation at SAM, the artist shows works in which proud declarations of Black-owned businesses intermingle with images of Egyptian pyramids, the Sphinx, pharaohs, and queens, all drawn from a personal archive Halsey has developed through research and community interactions.
The tour begins with a look at four carved gypsum relief panels which line the perimeter of the gallery. These four works—all untitled and created between 2019 and 2022—are reminiscent of temple walls. Each of these panels features fictional advertisements for local Black-owned businesses in South Central Los Angeles.
The final work shown in the video acts as the centerpiece to the gallery. This large-scale sculpture of colorful boxes stacked atop one another represent the metaphorical building blocks for future architecture while resonating with imagery from the past.
Through her archive and daily life, Halsey strives to record the unique expressions of her neighborhood before the forces of capital erase them. Placing these hyperlocal portraits, signs, and imagery in the context of real and imagined histories, the artist remixes ancient and contemporary cultures into a unifying vision.
“On a recent Sunday afternoon, three art critics sniffed, prowled, jumped and climbed their way through a new exhibit. Khione gravitated to a colorful installation featuring cloth orbs and plastic linked chains. Oliver climbed on top of an austere, spiraling sculpture made out of 4x4s, plywood, masonite and carpet. And Luna sat in a small separate room, processing her impressions.”
Via Artnet: Another Super Bowl “friendly wager” of art sees a Robert Henri painting from the Cincinnati Art Museum heading to LA’s Huntington Library. SAM’s adventures in Super Bowl-ing in 2014 and 2015 are mentioned.
Tatler names “4 Power Couples of Design” from history, including the architects of the 1991 Seattle Art Museum building, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi.
“Halsey said it was one of her dreams in life to design a stage for Clinton to perform on that would match the scale of the maximalist P-Funk concerts of the 1970s. And why not? If nothing else, Clinton’s career has been an ongoing argument that anything is possible. He has a handful of live performances on the horizon, and when asked if he was planning to ever go back on tour, Clinton responded, ‘Oh, hell, yeah.’”
An artist whose work defies easy definition, Aaron Fowler’s “memoiristic, maximalist bricolage” sculptures are comprised of carefully sourced found materials and second-hand objects that have the “feel of human in them.”1 Taking compositional cues from American history painting, religious iconography, and family lore, Fowler’s work includes both imagined narratives and real stories from his own experiences as well as those of his friends and family.
Me and Pops—included in the artist’s 2020 solo exhibition at SAM, titled Aaron Fowler: Into Existence—depicts the artist in the foreground, ironing used clothing that will later be incorporated into a sculpture. He works alongside his father, a relationship that he hoped to continue building. The background includes references to other works (then in-progress) that were also included in his SAM exhibition—a nod to moments in the past as well as hopes for the future—while the canopy structure overhead refers to a shared dream with his father to build a home on their own land. Fowler describes his mirrored self-portrait as a means by which others can see themselves within the personal dreams he is relaying, lending them a more universal message: “I’m having these experiences to share with others…So whether it’s good, bad or ugly—I feel these experiences I’m having are not just for myself.”
A sense of optimism, ambition, and aspiration underscore Fowler’s practice. Me and Pops, like so many of his works, depicts a poignant subject and action that the artist wished to manifest, borrowing from the words of encouragement spoken by his grandmother: “you need to speak it into existence.”
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate
“For Black people, these are really unique and special moments because so many of our intersectional identities are sort of subsumed by our phenotypic Blackness,” Marin says. “People don’t want to see us as being possibly more than one thing at once — of both and and— happening all at the same time.”
Artnet asks a slew of experts to name 12 artists “poised to take off” in 2021. On the list? Lauren Halsey, the LA-based artist just named the winner of SAM’s Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize.
ARTnews on Sam Pollard’s new documentary Black Art: In the Absence of Light, which devotes running time to exploring the legacy of artist David Driskell, who curated the landmark 1976 LACMA exhibition Two Centuries of Black American Art.
“Navigating the pandemic and shifting government responses has not been easy for museums. Some spent tens of thousands of dollars to try to make sure they could reopen safely in the fall for an art-starved public — only to be ordered to close again several weeks later as the outbreak worsened.”
Museums across the country are contending with the structural racism that shapes their collections and organizations. One component of this process, in striving for transparency, is assessing the individuals and communities who are—and who are not—represented in these collections.
In the summer of 2019, SAM’s Curatorial Department began the challenging—and ongoing—work of collecting data to better understand the diversity of the museum’s permanent collection. While I helped initiate this research, it was carried forward by one amazing and dedicated curatorial intern, Rachel Kim, whose time, energy, and care laid essential groundwork for future initiatives to increase the representation of artists of color at SAM.
The methodology that guides this undertaking is shaped by a study titled “Diversity of Artists in Major U.S. Museums,” published in March 2019 by a cross-departmental group of colleagues at Williams College in the departments of Statistics, Mathematics, Art, and Art History. The study used crowdsourcing to mine the online databases of 18 major American museums, inferring data related to artists’ ethnicities, genders, and geographic origins. As in the Williams College study, we focused our attention on artists whose identities are known to us, first conducting research to manually calculate representation by gender and, later on, ethnicity, within SAM’s permanent collection. The Williams College study relied on the crowdsourcing platform Amazon Mechanical Turk to gather data and, like much of such data collection, is subject to human error. Still, the study found that 85% of works in major U.S. museum collections are by white artists, and that 87% are by men. Works by Black artists make up just 1% of collections; works by Asian artists, 9%; and works by Latinx artists, 3%.
I should pause here and note that the complexities and sensitivities of this research are many—there are often limited resources, including limited biographical information, available on a number of artists; many artists’ identities and orientations are intersectional or non-binary, and the application of one singular identity for the sake of data collection reduces the complexity of many artists’ backgrounds and biographies; and most important of all is how the artist personally chooses to identify. With this in mind, Rachel Kim thoughtfully reflected, “No person’s identity can be relegated to simple formulas and spreadsheet labels. With this recognition, I made it a priority to extract source material on an artist from the words of the artists themselves before turning to secondary accounts.” Many museums are beginning to conduct similar data collection and research, and some are even developing surveys to be sent to living artists during the acquisitions process; this way, the artist may self-identify and share details related to their own biography as they would like for it to be recorded. It is crucial to acknowledge another limitation as well: this first phase of data collection, focusing on “individual, identifiable” artists, inherently privileges a Western perspective and valuation of a singular object with a singular, documented maker.
Yet, as nuanced and imperfect as this data may be, it acts as a critical blueprint that reflects what SAM—like too many museums around the country—has known and knows must be corrected. We must confront the inherent biases and narratives that collecting histories, including our own, perpetuates. Serving the museum’s larger institutional goal of addressing racial inequity within its walls and collection, this research further underscores the need for increased investment in 20th- and 21st-century artists of color.
Focusing on the museum’s modern and contemporary collection as one example, roughly 7% of works are by artists of color. However, since 2010, this collection has also seen the number of works by Black artists increase by over one-third. Many of these acquisitions are directly linked to the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize, a $10,000 award offered biannually to an early career Black artist, along with a solo exhibition at SAM. The first prize was awarded in 2009, and SAM has consistently acquired works by the exhibiting artists in the years since.
Looking at another data sample, SAM acquired approximately 1,360 works by 20th- and 21st-century artists since 2010. Of these, roughly 48% are by artists of color. In addition, well over two times the funds were spent on the purchase of 110 works by artists of color compared to 94 works by white artists. These numbers are heartening and signal the progress that an intentional approach can accomplish, though we acknowledge that our work is only beginning.
This research and its analysis is far from definitive or complete, but it is a helpful tool—a compass, perhaps—that can help guide current and future actions to correct the systemic and institutional racism that has invariably shaped the museum field. Supporting, representing, and investing in artists of color through exhibitions and acquisitions is just one part of this anti-racist work for SAM.
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate
 The authors importantly see this study as a companion to the 2014-15 “Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey” conducted by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which found that 72% of staff at its member institutions identify as white. It will take more than simply acquiring more works by artists of color to correct racial inequity within museums––equal attention must be given to staffing, workplace culture, board membership, programs, exhibitions, and collections.
 SAM is a comprehensive museum, which means that its permanent collection houses artworks by artists and makers across time and place, from antiquity to the present, and we cannot always know the identities of an artwork’s maker or makers. If we expand the scope of our data to include works by artists whose specific identities are unknown to us, or perhaps worked as a community or collectively, the museum’s holdings of works by artists of color hovers around 58%. This high percentage is due in no small part to SAM’s foundational collection of historic Asian art, renowned collection of African art, and strong representation of Indigenous—especially Northwest Coast Native—art.
Hear from Aaron Fowler, the recipient of the Seattle Art Museum’s Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize. Part of the award includes a solo show at the museum. Fowler created a site-specific installation called Into Existence that fills one of SAM’s galleries with larger-than-life works that are at once paintings, sculptures, and installations. They are made from everyday discarded items and materials sourced from the artist’s local surroundings in Los Angeles and St. Louis, among other places. The works in Into Existence are illustrations of dreams and ideas that Fowler is working to bring into being. The title of the exhibition is a nod to words of encouragement—almost a mantra—that the artist’s grandmother has uttered his entire life: “You need to speak it into existence.”
Each work illustrates a poignant subject, event, or action Aaron Fowler wishes to manifest—from portraits of incarcerated loved ones being freed to fantastical scenarios incorporating historical figures alongside friends, role models, contemporary public icons, and often his own likeness. Funding for the prize and exhibition is provided by the Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence and Jacob Lawrence Endowment and generous support from the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation. See it when SAM can reopen, Aaron Fowler: Into Existence will be on view through January 2021 .
“In the scratches, cracks, fingerprints, and delicate color shifts that surround and sometimes cover the sitters’ faces, we are looking at portraits of individuals through the unmistakable portal of time.”
With her current installation at SAM, the 2017 Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize winner, Sondra Perry asks, “What happens if we go to a place that we want to create as a habitable place for full life on earth but we don’t know what life looks like there?” Combining 3D rendering, terraforming, family, and the desire to bring people together inside the gallery, Perry’s work gives a machine its voice while creating a cosmic commingling of minds. See Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY at SAM before it closes July 8!
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.
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.
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.
We’re honored to share that the 2015 Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize Winner is Los Angeles-based visual artist, Brenna Youngblood, who incorporates symbols and elements—with strong but not-so-obvious references to everyday life—into her sculptures and atmospheric paintings. The Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize is awarded bi-annually to an early career black artist—an individual who has been producing mature work for less than 10 years.
Youngblood is a prolific artist with a rigorous studio practice where she experiments deeply with aspects of formalism, materials, and processes. Rooted in photomontage, she builds the surfaces of many paintings at once while contemplating the relationships between each object in formation. Mixed with humor, satire, and pure creative freedom, she embraces her intuition fully as she makes decisions about composition, line, form, and content. Abstract with a nod to conceptualism, figuration, and the real, Youngblood makes painterly work that is visually grounded by architectural, social, and political cues. She often refers to many of these beautifully messaged works as landscapes.
Her solo exhibition abstracted realities, which was guest curated by Sandra Jackson-Dumont, SAM’s former Kayla Skinner Deputy Director of Education and Public Programs and Adjunct Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, (now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) is on view now through April 17, 2016.
Watch the artist discuss how her pieces explore the iconography of public and private experiences, as well as issues surrounding identity, ethics, and representation. And be sure to visit abstracted realities next time you’re at SAM!