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The Contemporary American Struggle: Hank Willis Thomas

Sit down with multi-media artist Hank Willis Thomas and hear about the works on view in SAM’s exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle. The exhibition questions the stories we’ve been told by amplifying narratives that have been systematically overlooked from America’s history. This exhibition reunites Lawrence’s revolutionary 30-panel series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) for the first time since 1958, and SAM is its only West Coast venue. These 30 panels are heavily informed by the contemporary issues of Lawrence’s time as they address the history of what it means to be an American. Viewing this rarely exhibited series today is a reminder of shared histories during this current divisive chapter in America, where the struggle for freedom and justice marches on.

Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. A trained photographer, Thomas incorporates mirrors and retroreflective vinyl to challenge perspectives and explore often overlooked historical narratives. My Father Died for This Country Too/I Am an American Also in this exhibition is an example of his work that is activated by flash photography. This role reversal makes the viewer create the image and asks who is included or erased in the biased storytelling of history. Rich Black Specimen #460, Thomas’ sculptural contribution to the exhibition, is a life-size interpretation of a symbol used in runaway slave advertisements in the 19th century.

Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series interprets the democratic debates that defined early America and echoed into the civil rights movements during which he was painting the series. Works by contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas engage themes of democracy, justice, truth, and the politics of inclusion to show that the struggle for expansive representation in America continues.

Muse/News: Enticing Art at SAM, Identity at Wing Luke, and the Huntington Gets Hip

SAM News

For USA Today, Harriet Baskas shares “some of the most enticing exhibits across the US,” including Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at SAM. The exhibition closes May 23.

And for Fodor’s, Chantel Delulio highlights 10 sculpture gardens in the US “where you can stretch your legs and take in some stunning pieces of art.” First on the list: SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park, which remains open 365 days a year. 

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Jenn Smith on “Tales of Quarantine,” a national art and writing contest for teens sponsored by Seattle-based nonprofit Mission InspirEd, which asked the question: “How has COVID-19 impacted you and your community?” 

Brangien Davis of Crosscut with her weekly ArtSEA: in this edition, she spotlights pop-up gallery From Typhoon, a local artist’s work for the Academy Awards graphics, and more. 

For her South Seattle Emerald column, Jasmine J. Mahmoud engages in conversations with artists & culture makers and also shares recommendations. For a recent edition, she speaks with poet and artist Shin Yu Pai about her work in Paths Intertwined, a group show now on view at the Wing Luke Museum. 

“…For people who don’t know much about Chinese American artists or artists of the diaspora and/or how they relate to or connect to their culture or cultural traditions, this show is an opportunity for people from outside those communities to come in and look at the many ways in which Chinese American artists are innovating the ways in which they reflect upon and interrogate their identities and their cultures.”

Inter/National News

“Fragile Art for the Anxious Mind”: Nia Bowers for Art & Object on kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending pottery with gold lacquer

As you’re catching up with all the Oscar-nominated films, don’t miss out on the nominees for international feature, including one inspired by an actual artwork.

The Made in L.A. biennial returns, this time with a new venue in the mix: The Huntington Art Museum. The New York Times’ Robin Pogrebin on how the museum you thought you knew is suddenly “a hub for cutting-edge contemporary art.”

“‘It’s a shot across the bow,’ said Christina Nielsen, who became the director of the Huntington Art Museum in 2018. She considers the exhibition ‘an opportunity to engage with the broader contemporary art community here in L.A. It’s really opening the doors.’”

And Finally

What is, “one step closer to the best host” for $1000?

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at Seattle Art Museum, 2021, photo: Natali Wiseman.

The Contemporary American Struggle with Derrick Adams

Hear Derrick Adams discuss his artworks included in SAM’s exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle. The exhibition reunites Lawrence’s revolutionary 30-panel series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) for the first time since 1958 and features contemporary art, all of which work together to question the stories we’ve been told by amplifying narratives that have been systematically overlooked from America’s history.

Derrick Adams’s (b. 1970) multidisciplinary practice probes the influence of popular culture on self-image, and the relationship between man and monument. Adams is deeply immersed in questions of how African American experiences intersect with art history, American iconography, and consumerism. He describes his two works in The American StruggleSaints March and Jacob’s Ladder—as a way to “contribute to conversations that expand on histories that are both Black American and American overall.” Saints March is a video considering the original American dance form of tap and contemporary street tap performance, while Jacob’s Ladder brings Lawrence’s personal archives into the gallery through a sculptural installation that lends optimism to the concept of struggle.

Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series interprets the democratic debates that defined early America and echoed into the civil rights movements during which he was painting the series. Works by contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas engage themes of democracy, justice, truth, and the politics of inclusion to show that the struggle for expansive representation in America continues.

Who is Jacob Lawrence? The American Struggle Overview

Join Theresa Papanikolas, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, for an in-depth virtual exhibition overview of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, on view at SAM through May 23. Get to know Jacob Lawrence—a New Yorker, a University of Washington professor, a modernist painter, and an influential Black American artist—through this talk and by visiting SAM to see Lawrence’s revolutionary story. Advance tickets are required and are selling out so get yours soon, more tickets will be made available on a weekly basis, every Thursday. Speaking of Thursdays, starting April 1, First Thursdays at SAM are entirely free!

The American Struggle reunites Lawrence’s revolutionary 30-panel series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) for the first time since 1958, and SAM will be its only West Coast venue. Works by Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas engage themes of democracy, justice, truth, and the politics of inclusion to show that the struggle for expansive representation in America continues.

This talk was originally offered as a free SAM member-exclusive event. Interested in learning more about the perks of membership? Find out more about all the benefits you get when you join SAM.

Muse/News: SAM Reopens, a Thoughtful Leader Departs, and Lost Art Found

SAM News

The Seattle Art Museum is back! We’ve reopened our doors just in time for the opening of  Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle and Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence.

The Seattle Times featured the Struggle series in their Friday edition, with a preview by Megan Burbank and a look at youth art featured in the exhibition by Gemma Alexander. The front page of their Saturday edition featured a photo from the opening by Alan Berner.

“Rather than choose between abstraction or realism, Lawrence deftly navigated between the two. ‘He found narrative to be very important. That act of storytelling and reviving history and really thinking about events of the past and how you communicate those in a very modern way—it was really central to his practice and his process as an artist,’ [curator Theresa Papanikolas] said.”

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis talked up the reopening in her ArtSEA letter; she also celebrated SAM’s recent gift of art from the Lang Collection. The Seattle Times’ editorial board lauded the generous gift, as did Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger; the whole community will be able to see the artworks later this fall.

“The Langs were intentional in collecting art, he said, listening to friends and dealers but ultimately making independent decisions about what they liked. They lived with these paintings and sculptures; everything they owned was up on the wall or on display. And in a similar spirit, this donation is intended for the public good—these babies need to be seen.”

Local News

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig also has an update on the public art blooming along the AIDS Memorial Pathway.

Seattle Met has some great recommendations for what to do in Seattle over the coming week.

Lisa Edge speaks with Marcellus Turner, the outgoing chief librarian of the Seattle Public Library, about the legacy he’ll leave behind.

“‘It was amazing how many people recognized me the first couple of years I was here,” said Turner. “While walking down the street, I would often get asked the question was I the chief librarian.’ That appreciation was a pleasant and welcome surprise, but it didn’t put more pressure on Turner. Rather, it increased his awareness that it was more than just library staff and the board of directors keeping tabs on his performance. The Seattle community would also be a vocal stakeholder.”

Inter/National News

For International Women’s Day, Artnet asks art-world women to share about the women who have inspired them.

ARTnews reports that Amy Sherald’s portrait of Breonna Taylor, which originally graced the cover of Vanity Fair, has been jointly acquired by two museums.

Hilarie Sheets of the New York Times announced the discovery of yet another missing panel from Lawrence’s series. There are still three panels out there!

“[Curator Lydia] Gordon is pinning her hopes on the huge community of Lawrence’s former students and supportive gallerists and curators in Seattle, where the painter lived for the last three decades of his life after leaving New York. ‘Oh, we’re totally going to find them!’ she said firmly.”

And Finally

Curating is an act of generosity.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at Seattle Art Museum, 2021, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: A Gift to SAM, Tariqa Waters at BAM, and the Frick’s New Rental

SAM News

Last week, the Seattle Times announced some major news for SAM: The museum received a gift of 19 artworks and dedicated funds for their care and conservation from the Friday Foundation, which celebrates the legacy of two exceptional, art-loving philanthropists. The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection at SAM features significant examples of Abstract Expressionist and post-war European art and will be on view later this fall.

In addition to the Seattle Times, the good news was shared by the Art Newspaper, ARTNews, Artnet, Artdaily, ARTFIXdaily, Puget Sound Business Journal, KOMO TV, Seattle PI, The Spokesman-Review, and more.

Also, the downtown museum reopens to the public on this Friday, just in time for the opening of the special exhibition, Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, as well as the long-anticipated solo show, Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence. The Seattle Medium has this preview of the beloved artist’s “illuminating” show

Local News

Deems Tsutakawa, beloved Seattle jazz pianist, died last week at the age of 69. Listen to an original piano piece written by Deems inspired by a work at SAM’s Asian Art Museum.

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis touches on the effort to save the Weyerhaeuser campus from development and other cultural news in her weekly ArtsSea letter.

KING 5’s Evening Magazine heads to Pioneer Square to visit Tariqa Waters and her gallery, Martyr Sauce. Waters talks about her pop-inspired work, which is also on view at the Bellevue Arts Museum.

“‘I take things that often marginalize me as a black woman and I reshape those things. The point is to not qualify my art as Black art, it’s American art,’ said Waters.”

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone on the mysterious arrival in a Portland park of a bust of York, an enslaved Black man who was part of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Salamishah Tillet for Harper’s Bazaar on “how the Studio Museum in Harlem transformed the art world forever,” which is presented with fabulous portraits of artists linked to the pioneering institution.

The New York Times tracks the Frick Collection’s two-year sublet of the Breuer building, where their critic Jason Farago finds “European art history distilled.”

“Now the Bellini has been isolated in a room of its own, in a gallery bare as a monastic cell. Light falls, from the same angle as in the painting, through a small Breuer window that the Whitney and Met often obscured. As I sat in that empty room, the cold February sun streaming in, it felt like a space worth a pilgrimage.”

And Finally

A museum that is mapping Black legacy foodways.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Night Watch, 1960, Lee Krasner, American, 1908–1984, oil on canvas, 70 x 99 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Friday Foundation in honor of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis, 2020.14.4 © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation. Photo: Spike Mafford / Zocalo Studios. Courtesy of the Friday Foundation.

Muse/News: A Prize for Lauren Halsey, Sites of Power, and Prince in The Rain

SAM News

The downtown Seattle Art Museum will reopen to the public on March 5, just in time for the special exhibition, Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle. And there’s something else to look forward to: Last week, SAM announced that Lauren Halsey is the recipient of the 2021 Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize, which is awarded biannually to an early career Black artist. She’ll have a solo exhibition at SAM in winter 2021. ARTNews, Culture Type, Artdaily, Hyperallergic, Seattle Medium, The Stranger, and The Skanner all shared the news.

Local News

In honor of Black History Month, Charles Mudede and Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger present “five extraordinary films directed by five extraordinary Black directors” they’ve virtually discussed as part of the Stranger’s Film Club over the past three months. Catch up!

“Funny, anxious, angry, discursive”: Stefan Milne of Seattle Met gets a sneak peek at (Don’t Be Absurd) Alice in Parts, poet Anastacia-Reneé’s new exhibition opening at the Frye Art Museum on February 11.

Margo Vansynghel of Crosscut interviews Natasha Marin about her new virtual exhibition, Sites of Power; part of her ongoing Black Imagination series, it features audio and video testimonies from Black creatives.

“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.”

Inter/National News

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.

Julia Jacobs of the New York Times takes a look at the different approaches museums across the country have taken to the pandemic.

“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.”

And Finally

“He wants to know if you can make it rain harder”: The oral history of the best Super Bowl halftime show ever.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: land of the sunshine wherever we go, 2020, Lauren Halsey, mixed media on foil-insulated foam and wood, 97 x 52 x 49 inches. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Allen Chen.

Muse/News: Reflections, Lives They Lived, and Room Tone

SAM News

All SAM locations are currently closed until further notice, but we continue to reflect and plan for the future.

The Seattle Times shared remembrances of 11 cultural figures we lost in 2020. Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s former Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, wrote about Virginia “Jinny” Wright. Jinny and her enormous contributions to SAM and to the Puget Sound region are celebrated in SAM’s exhibition City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art Shaped A New Seattle, which closes January 18.

Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka asked four leaders in the region to reflect on the past year and on what they’ll take into 2021; Priya Frank, SAM’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, reflected on creativity, care, and an ubiquitous sweatshirt. And in case you missed it: Priya appeared on KUOW’s The Record back in November talking museums and accessibility.

Local News

2020 feel like a blur? Seattle Met has you covered with this timeline of the year, including the February reopening of the reimagined Asian Art Museum (we hardly knew ye!).

“A giant of Native Northwest Coast art”: Artist, curator, and teacher Bill Holm passed away at the age of 95 earlier in December. Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art, spoke with the Seattle Times about how she “found her calling” in his classes.

Also in the Seattle Times: The largest-ever edition of their annual Pictures of the Year project. Take a moment to reflect on the visual stories that their team of photojournalists captured, against all odds.

“Everything we needed was suddenly in short supply. One photographer sewed masks for the entire staff. Others dredged masks out of their garages and closets. Yet another photographer found a supply of hand sanitizer made by a local distiller. Not wanting to worsen the shortage of PPE in this country, we eventually found a supply of more masks overseas. We’ve gone through a lot of them.”

Inter/National News

Artnet writers name 10 acclaimed exhibitions they wish they could have seen this year, including Artemisia at London’s National Gallery, Awol Erizku’s show at FLAG Art Foundation, and—what’s this?—Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at the Met? Lucky you, the exhibition arrives at SAM next spring.

Artist John Outterbridge passed away December 23 at the age of 87. Celebrated for his assemblage work, he was also a former director of the Watts Towers Arts Center; read more about his life and practice in the Los Angeles Times obituary.

The New York Times Magazine shares its annual end-of-year project, “The Lives They Lived.” Don’t miss Jenna Wortham on grappling with the afterlife of Breonna Taylor.

“I’ve come to see the thousands of images of Taylor as a memory of our collective will — even though it was betrayed by the state. Anti-lynching efforts were ultimately successful in reshaping the historical and cultural memory of the brutality and immorality of those deaths. ‘We shouldn’t see them — or this — as a failure, but as a project on the road to redemption,’ [Leigh] Raiford told me. She reminded me that memory and memorialization are necessary for that work, as is the honest appraisal of the past to work toward justice in the present and the future.”

And Finally

Let’s get some room tone.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations