Calder Smartphone Tour: Constellation with Red Knife

With his typical artistic materials in short supply at the height of World War II, Alexander Calder sought out alternatives. His resourcefulness led to the debut of an important series of carved wood and wire forms in 1943.

In 1943, James Johnson Sweeney and Marcel Duchamp, who were in the midst of curating a major retrospective of Calder’s work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, proposed calling these new sculptural works ‘Constellations.’

“[The Constellations] had a suggestion of some kind of cosmic nuclear gases—which I won’t try to explain,” Calder once noted. “I was interested in the extremely delicate, open composition.”

Gaze upon Calder’s Constellation with Red Knife by visiting Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection at SAM. Then, tune in to the exhibition’s free smartphone tour to learn more about the artist’s universe of constellations—along with his passion for woodcarving—via our SoundCloud.

Constellation with Red Knife, 1943

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: Constellation with Red Knife is a singular work in this exhibition that really highlights the assemblage of carved wooden forms.  

NARRATOR: José Diaz:

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: As a youth, Calder was experienced with carving with wood, and it’s a material that actually is found in a lot of his sculptural practice.  

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: He was fascinated by not just the look of the wood, but the particular kind of grain of the wood, the way a grain would be straight or wavy and have characteristics.

NARRATOR: Sandy Rower:

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: The central object, which is the tallest piece of wood in the composition, is kind of the shape of a palette knife like a painter might use to mix paint.

NARRATOR: The work is one of a series called Constellations. The name didn’t come from Calder himself but from the artist Marcel Duchamp, and the curator James Johnson Sweeney. 

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: Calder referred to them as an open form composition like some kind of nuclear gases, and then he said, “But I won’t try to explain.” 

NARRATOR: The work may reflect Calder’s interest in time and space, but it is important to note that he wasn’t concerned with the observable universe (the sun, moon, earth, etc.). Rather, he was describing a universe. Or rather, the universal—an exploration of the unifying force posited by physicists today as string theory. 

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: When one thinks about constellations, there is an assumption that this is a specific reference to planets and stars and elements in our known universe. However, Calder’s really interested in a universe, his universe. 

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: They are objects tied together with these wire lines, existing in space in three dimensions.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of “Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection,” Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Chloe Collyer.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Yellow Stalk With Stone

“Since the beginning of my work in abstract art, and even though it was not obvious at that time, I felt that there was no better model for me to work from than the Universe. Spheres of different sizes, densities, colors and volumes, floating in space, surrounded by vivid clouds and tides, currents of air, viscosities and fragrances—in their utmost variety and disparity.”

– Alexander Calder

Yellow Stalk with Stone is a prime example of Calder’s experimental approach to sculpture, embracing both the transcendent and the ordinary. During the artist’s lifetime, the artwork was exhibited globally with notable stops at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museu de Arte Moderna in Brazil, and the Museo de Bellas Artes in Venezuela.

Despite its global adventures, the standing mobile highlights the important role of found objects in Calder’s oeuvre. Its titular stone—found by the artist on a walking meditation around his property in Roxbury, Connecticut—invites a dialogue between found, manipulated, and artificial materials in art.

Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection closes Sunday, August 4 at SAM! Don’t miss your chance to see over 45 of the iconic American artist’s renowned works (including Yellow Stalk with Stone) and explore the exhibition’s free smartphone tour from the museum’s galleries. Plus, you can listen to all 16 stops of the tour on your own time via our SoundCloud.

Yellow Stalk with Stone, 1953

NARRATOR: Calder was a truly international artist. During his lifetime, this work was exhibited multiple times, including in Brazil, New York, and Venezuela. But the stone referred to in the title came from close to home; he picked it up near his studio in Roxbury, Connecticut. 

The stone creates a dialogue with the man-made elements of the sculpture. Sandy Rower:

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: Calder’s process of creation and composition was very intuitive. It was in the moment. It was in the spirit of the moment. It wasn’t something that was planned. He didn’t make diagrammatic plans for creating his sculptures.

NARRATOR: It’s a way of working that resonates with artist Kennedy Yanko.  

KENNEDY YANKO: He’s clearly thinking in a way where he needs to explore something, where he needs to understand something in his own way, to his own hand. Maybe he was in the studio, and he just had the stone and just went and placed it on there or he had been thinking about it for a while and then placed it on there, and that moment, that decision is what transforms the piece into what you wanted it to be.

NARRATOR: Found objects have an important role in Calder’s work. José Diaz.

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: I really hope that visitors will walk through this exhibition and see Calder through an ecological lens. He was certainly resourceful—you’ll notice that there’s works that incorporate wood, rocks, bits of material, or discarded objects—but also the fact that Calder could make art from the most ordinary materials and make something so complex, yet so beautiful.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Animated Coat Hanger

A material as humble and mundane as wire proved inspiring for Alexander Calder, who used it to create three-dimensional line drawings. During the late 1920s, he sculpted a range of wire acrobats, performers, animals, and portraits of famed figures of the day, including Fernand Léger, Josephine Baker, and Joan Miró.

These ‘drawings in space’ enthralled the international avant-garde for their projected shadows, captured voids, and challenged perceptions. His radical objects not only upended space through their transparent volumes, but also presented the reality of motion through vibrating wire lines and the inclusion of actual moving parts. As a result of these works, Calder was lauded as Le roi du fil de fer, or the king of wire.

Although intimate in size, Animated Coat Hanger speaks volumes about Calder’s ingenuity and resourcefulness with wire. The work’s title implies that a coat hanger was used to sculpt the profiled subject, but that is not the case. Perhaps the title is a nod to the artists from the Dada movement, who used the choice of selection to create readymades from preexisting common objects, such as hangers.

Tune in to the ninth stop on the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection to hear SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz and New York-based artist Kennedy Yanko share their perspectives on this simple yet surprising wire sculpture. Explore all 16 stops of the audio tour now via our SoundCloud or in our galleries by scanning the QR code next to select artworks on view.

Animated Coat Hanger, 1927

NARRATOR: Wire sculpture was Calder’s first great invention. He removed mass from sculpture and introduced transparency as well as gentle movement through vibration.

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: Animated Coat Hanger is really special to this exhibition.

NARRATOR: Curator José Diaz.

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: This particular work is from 1927 which is an example of one of the earliest works in the show. Calder had been so innovative with wire, so much so that we use the term drawing in space.

NARRATOR: Artist Kennedy Yanko:

KENNEDY YANKO: The fact that he would carry pliers in his pocket and just decide to start drawing is such a true thing to me, the idea of choosing a medium to represent drawing.  

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: But what’s really beautiful about it is the simplicity. You’ll notice the wooden base, which looks like it could have been a discarded material. You’ll notice the figurative aspect of it, sort of the profile of an individual.

KENNEDY YANKO: It’s surprising, and it’s intriguing, and somehow it’s barely there, but when you take a closer look at it, the sensibility, the delicacy, the gesture, the breasts, the face, how can a line have so much effect and so much life within it? So, I think that it’s just a gesture to like how powerful the way that the eyes can read something, and the way that the mind can fill the rest of the space. And I think with Calder’s work there’s always opportunity for that. He knows that the mind will always fill the blank spaces and always complete what needs to be there.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Chloe Collyer.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Group of Circus-Themed Prints

Throughout the 1920s, Alexander Calder worked as an illustrator for the National Police Gazette. On one assignment, Calder was tasked with visiting Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to sketch circus life. The experience led to a newfound interest for the circus.

A series of seven lithographs on view in Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection at SAM demonstrate Calder’s lifelong fascination with the circus. Originally drawn in 1931–32, the prints were published in New York in 1964 as part of an unbound portfolio reproducing the artist’s circus scenes. The portfolio, titled Calder’s Circus, includes a signature page by Cleve Gray and a reproduction of a letter from Joan Miró. Notably, the original line drawings were made during a time of transition for the artist: after his performative Cirque Calder (1926–31) and during his exploration of purely abstract forms—as well as voids and volumes—in his mobiles and stabiles.

On the eleventh stop of the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz explains why Calder considered the circus to be a ‘highly sophisticated form of entertainment’ and shares details of the artist’s famous Cirque Calder. Listen at any time via our SoundCloud or, if you’re in SAM’s galleries, scan the QR codes next to select artworks on view to access the tour.

Group of Circus-Themed Prints, 1931–32, 1964

NARRATOR: These offset lithographs date from 1964; but they’re based on drawings that Calder made as a young man. 

During the 1920s, Calder took a job illustrating for the National Police Gazette. They sent him to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to sketch circus scenes. The circus became a lifelong interest for Calder. José Diaz:

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: During Calder’s youth, the circus was a great point of inspiration for him. This was a highly sophisticated form of entertainment. It had a global appeal. It included performative aspects—larger than life theatricality. It included actors, performers, and animals. And he illustrated this. He even went on to make his Cirque Calder, which was his own representation of a performative, sculptural circus that he himself was sort of the ringmaster of.  

NARRATOR: The Cirque Calder dates from after Calder’s move to Paris in 1926. It was a complex and unique body of art, and included tiny performers, animals and props such as he’d observed on his sketching trips to the circus. José Diaz:

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: The Cirque Calder was a reenacted performative circus made of small figurines and design sets that mimic the circus. The Cirque Calder was something that was small enough to fit in one suitcase and eventually five, and Calder would perform the Cirque Calder across the Atlantic from Paris to New York. 

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Group of Photos

By the 1950s, Alexander Calder had established himself as an internationally renowned artist. Although the public perceived him as a social butterfly, he preferred to work in his Roxbury, Connecticut studio alone and in silence. Few outsiders were granted access to the artist’s workspace. Among them, however, was acclaimed photojournalist and filmmaker Gordon Parks.

Parks visited Calder in his home and studio in 1952 on assignment for Life magazine. That year, Calder represented the United States at the 26th Venice Biennale, an international exposition that highlights global artistic achievements. This photograph, featuring a mobile now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is one of several images that were taken by Parks for the August 25, 1952, issue of the magazine. The accompanying story celebrated Calder’s winning of the biennale’s grand prize for sculpture.

Learn more about this work and two other photographs of Calder in his studio by tuning in to the seventh stop on the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection at SAM. The full tour is available to explore on your own time via our SoundCloud or in our galleries by scanning the QR code next to select works in the exhibition.

Group of Photos: Calder Installing Gamma (1947), Alexander Calder, Roxbury Ct. (1957), and Alexander Calder (1952)

NARRATOR: These three photographs offer an intimate glimpse of Calder at work. 

Let’s focus on the image to the far right of the group. It was taken by the important photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks in 1952. That year, Calder had been selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. Curator José Diaz:

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: The Venice Biennale is sort of the Olympics of the art world where artists are chosen to represent their countries, and Calder actually won the Grand Prize that year.

This photo was taken for the August 25, 1952, issue of Life magazine and features Calder not installing an exhibition at the Venice Biennale but actually in his studio in Roxbury, Connecticut. This was a very private space, and for Life magazine—or really the American public—to see the artist behind the scenes would have been really captivating at the time.

NARRATOR: For artist Kennedy Yanko, the photographs offer a different perspective on the work.

KENNEDY YANKO: When you typically see Calder’s work, you’re looking up and you’re looking around. So your entire physical gesture and exploration of it changes. But you can see here how different it is when he’s so close to it and how he’s experienced it in the making. He’s living within the work, and he’s living within the sculpture, and I think that that’s what allowed all of these monumental sculptures to kind of continue to carry us. That sense of life and that sense of curiosity is how deeply immersed and present he was inside of the pieces.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Chloe Collyer.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Dispersed Objects with Brass Gong

“You have weight, form, size, color, motion and then you have noise.”

– Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder’s mobiles are recognized for their subtle movements, but their innovative use of sound is lesser known. Of over 22,000 artworks attributed to Calder, scholars have identified dozens of sound-producing mobiles. Beginning in the 1930s, Calder used sound in his abstract objects as a means to enhance ‘disparity’ within a composition. His most recognizable sonorous objects feature gongs, which he developed in earnest in the 1940s and 1950s.

Following its creation in 1948, Dispersed Objects with Brass Gong hung in the artist’s Roxbury studio, where incoming winds from the Connecticut countryside would ‘compose’ an unpredictable musical backdrop as he worked. A glimpse into this experience is offered in the Herbert Matter film Works of Calder (1950), with music by John Cage, in which elements of Dispersed Objects with Brass Gong slice through space. In the following decade, the mobile was presented as part of Philadelphia Collects 20th Century at the Philadelphia Museum of Art before being acquired by the Shirley family in 1999.

Sound objects like Dispersed Objects with Brass Gong express the possibilities that Marcel Duchamp recognized in Calder’s mobiles in 1949: “The symphony is complete when color and sound join in and call on all our senses to follow the unwritten score. Pure joie de vivre. The art of Calder is the sublimation of a tree in the wind.”

Find out if you can hear the subtle ‘ding’ of Dispersed Objects with Brass Gong by visiting Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection at SAM. Until then, you can learn more about this work from SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz and Calder Foundation President Alexander S. C. Rower by tuning in to the eighth stop on the exhibition’s free smartphone tour via our SoundCloud.

Dispersed Objects with Brass Gong, 1948

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: One of the joys about Calder’s work is that one must be prepared for the unexpected…

NARRATOR: José Diaz:

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: … whether you visit the exhibition and you see objects moving—or if you hear sounds. And so this is a wonderful example of one of Calder’s works that actually contains sound.

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: This particular work is one of my favorite works in the Shirley Collection.

NARRATOR: Sandy Rower:

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: Every object has an extraordinary shape except for the white disc—which, the white disc has the kind of purpose of being almost a rudder to drive the hammer, which is this red coil that strikes the gong. Even just people circumnavigating a gallery will activate the mobile, and it will occasionally give a little bright, you know, ‘ding.’

NARRATOR: Calder’s use of sound can be related to his love of music. 

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: Calder was quite obsessed with music. He loved to dance. He was a famous dancer actually. If he was at a party, he would dance with a partner and then wear them out completely and then choose another partner and wear that person out completely. Which I witnessed as a young boy, of course, but much more famously was in the ‘20s and the ‘30s and ‘40s when he was out doing such things, you know.

NARRATOR: Here, the musical vibration is a way of drawing us into the work.  

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: There is a possibility it may never make sound during its presentation at the Seattle Art Museum, but the moment of surprise awaits.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Case of Small Mobiles

It is often assumed that Alexander Calder began experimenting with scale by making small, intimate sculptures before eventually scaling up to monumental commissions, such as The Eagle (1970), on view at the Olympic Sculpture Park. This assumption, however, is incorrect.

Calder’s understanding of scale began in his childhood when he observed his father managing sculpture projects (including the enlargement of monuments from models) for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Throughout his career, Calder worked in all sizes and scales, with a non-linear progression that was daring and fluid. Some of his small-scale works were made as maquettes for colossal objects. Others, including this collection of standing mobiles, were of a different breed, with many being constructed as gifts for family and friends.

In the sixth stop on the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz compares the artistry between Calder’s monumental and miniature sculptures. Tune in to this recording and many more via our SoundCloud or by scanning the QR codes next to select works in the exhibition’s galleries.

Haven’t visited Calder: In Motion yet? Check out visitsam.org/tickets to plan your next visit to SAM and get an up-close look at the intricate details of Alexander Calder’s tiniest sculptures.

Case of Small Mobiles: Untitled (1952), Black, White, Yellow and Brass on Red (1959), Untitled (1947), Two White Dots (1973)

NARRATOR: We often associate Calder with monumental sculpture. But he also worked on a small, delicate scale throughout his career. This case displays a grouping of some of Calder’s small-scale works. Calder was known for making works like these as gifts. José Diaz:

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: There’s a famous story of Calder making small works encased in a cigar box for his wife, and so his wife, Louisa, can travel with these. She can display them as she saw fit. She can curate them within her own setting. But it’s also the small works’ complexity.

So, if you look at this case, you’ll notice that the small mobiles are just as detailed. You’ll notice that they’re balanced. You’ll notice that the use of metal is done with such delicacy that it has just as much attention as Calder would focus on for his larger-scaled works. You also can get a sense of the colors. The palettes are very similar to Calder’s larger scaled works. You’ll notice shapes that are similar to other large-scale works. But it’s often because Calder is working within an aesthetic that can really work within scale. And Calder was very conscious when he played with scale because it allowed him to also explore the way that these stabiles and mobiles could function in a setting, regardless of how big they are.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Artist Fulgencio Lazo’s Tapete Commemorates Migrant Children

Every year, artist Fulgencio Lazo designs a tapete for SAM in celebration of El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). José Carlos Diaz, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art, explores the theme of this year’s tapete and finds connections to an artwork on view in American Art: The Stories We Carry. The tapete is on view in SAM’s Brotman Forum, free and open to the public, through Sunday, November 5.

For SAM’s 29th annual celebration of Día de los Muertos, Seattle-based Oaxacan artist Fulgencio Lazo returns to commemorate innocent youth displaced or lost through extreme circumstances and violence. Acclaimed for his works on paper and paintings, here Lazo expands his visual narratives, often representing fact with folklore, through a short-term sculptural installation and a traditional Oaxacan-style tapete, a colorful “rug” made with sand, pigments, and mixed media.

Lazo dedicates this year’s installation to “the growing number of migrant children who have died as they have embarked on dangerous journeys from their homelands.” He adds, “Thousands of young people have increasingly risked their lives fleeing violence, war, climate change, and extreme poverty.”

On the third floor, visitors can view Diego Rivera’s Sleep (1932), which depicts huddled individuals sleeping, their children, also fatigued, collapsed against them. In a collective moment of peaceful repose, they are temporarily free from the difficulties of daily survival for immigrants. Part of the museum’s founding collection, Rivera’s print thematically links across the decades to Lazo’s installation.

While Rivera depicts unharmed Latin American bodies, including children, Lazo conceptualizes their demise. He notes, “We will honor and remember these young lives, cut short in their quests for brighter futures.” The installation’s central sculpture depicts stylized skeletons, representing deceased children and reflecting the increasing global statistics of lives lost. These mourned figures are accompanied by elements traditionally associated with childhood: toys, bicycles, and sweets.

– José Carlos Diaz, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art

Images: Photo by Chloe Collyer. Sleep, 1932, Diego Rivera, Mexican, 1886-1957, lithograph, matted: 20″ x 24″, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.619. 

Pride Month: The Fleet’s In and Queer Art at SAM

This July marks my one-year anniversary at SAM and June was my first Pride in Seattle. I even had the honor of walking the parade with the city’s Consulate of Mexico. As a gay professional of Mexican descent, this is all a big deal for me!

In my role as the museum’s deputy director for art, I work among so much art, and every day I’m actively discovering captivating items within the SAM collection. Thinking about LGBTQ+ artists, I was surprised to learn that the collection has a print of The Fleet’s In (1934) by gay artist Paul Cadmus. He created this work on paper in response to the censorship of his painting of the same subject. In it, a raucous group of sailors enjoy shore leave while in Manhattan. The original painting, commissioned through the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) during the Great Depression, caused quite a stir in its day. So much so that it was removed from view for what Naval officers and critics considered “outrageous” for the behavior depicted in the work: the figures, many from the LGBTQ+ community, merrymaking with the featured service men. A queer celebration appropriate for Pride Month! The original painting is part of the Met’s collection, and you can learn more about it here.

To this day, the painting has had limited exposure but it is well known within queer art history. The print version, like the one in SAM’s collection, is important because it was intentionally created by Cadmus in an act of rebellion to disseminate the image and prevent its censorship. He would even credit the uproar with making his work more well known during his life. The work may have garnered a negative response, but the image itself carries gay culture, much of it coded and strategically placed by Cadmus, during a period when homosexuality was illegal. The print at SAM is interesting because it was gifted to the collection in 1944 by the founder of our museum, Dr. Richard Fuller. Could he have known about its notoriety and importance before gifting it to the museum? To more surprise, we also have a 1937 photographed portrait of Cadmus by Carl Van Vechten in the museum collection.

Reflecting on the collection during Pride Month, I sought other queerness currently on view in SAM’s galleries and by gay artists. Pop artist Andy Warhol has a strong presence in the museum; he even came to the museum for a solo exhibition in 1976. His large painting of the musician Elvis Presley as a young gunslinger heartthrob immortalized in silver is not only a reference to the future but to the reflective aesthetic of his famed studio the Silver Factory. It was an inclusive space for its day and a beacon for anyone who felt different, including members of the LGBTQ+ community. Some individuals who stood out even took on a role as  “Superstar” of the Factory for their beauty, personality, or talent. While Warhol’s universe tended to focus around himself, his impact on popular culture included making queerness more visual, and many artists today follow in his footsteps.  

Everywhere you turn, the museum also has a younger generation of queer artists on view: Mickalene Thomas’s large bedazzled painting, Chicano artist Laura Aguilar’s evocative and haunting black-and-white photography, Native American multidisciplinary artist Jeffrey Gibson’s beaded punching bag with the phrase “If I Ruled the World” in colorful plastic beadwork, Jacolby Satterwhite’s projected video work about his mother and Ballroom culture, Kehinde Wiley’s portrait featuring a Black subject in a classical style and Nick Cave’s maximalist soundsuit. There’s a recent acquisition by Naama Tsabar, an Israeli artist (and friend) whose practice includes intimacy and contact through the tactile materials that she uses, sculptures she builds, and evocative sonic performances. In my previous role at The Andy Warhol Museum, I hosted a performance of hers in conjunction with the exhibition Fantasy America. Titled Stranger, it comprised a double-sided guitar and two nearly physically identical women (the artist and Kristin Mueller) struggling through a non-verbal but acoustic conversation. Many of these artists I have followed for years and have even met. Having them in the collection is so inspiring and special for Seattle.    

Although marginalized peoples enjoy this honorary month of acknowledgement, the support in this city is ongoing and Pride Month felt the most festive during a time of nationwide hate and oppression against LGBTQ+ people. In addition, I’ve met so many people, including colleagues at SAM, who are also part of the community or dedicated allies. We work across many departments in the museum and it’s clear we really care about the community in Seattle. Pride Month has passed, but the visibility and support of LGBTQ+ artists has and will continue at SAM.

– José Carlos-Diaz, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art

Photos: The Fleet’s In, 1934, Paul Cadmus, American, 1904-1999, print, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.229. © Estate of Paul Cadmus. Paul Cadmus, 1937, gelatin silver print, 10 x 7 5/8 in. (25.4 x 19.4 cm), Mary Arrington Small Estate Acquisition Fund and Photography Purchase Fund in honor of Cheryl Ann Christie, 98.87. © Estate of Paul Cadmus.

 

Muse/News: Gifts on Gifts, Gallerist Retires, and Amy’s America

SAM News

The Art Newspaper’s Carlie Porterfield reports: “Three US museums use prize funds to acquire works from Expo Chicago.” SAM was one of three museums awarded the Northern Trust Purchase Prize, creating the opportunity to select an artwork by an emerging artist. Phahamong III (2023) by South African artist Mohau Modisakeng is now part of SAM’s collection!

“We’re so thankful to be able to acquire a painting by Mohan Modisakeng. It enhances our efforts to collect living artists, especially those from outside the United States. It bridges many areas of our collection and we look forward to seeing it in Seattle,’ said José Carlos Diaz, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art.”

We’re still beaming from the gift of the Shirley Family Calder Collection, announced earlier in April. For her column, Patti Payne of the Puget Sound Business Journal wrote about the gift that brings a “rebirth” to SAM. The gift was also “raved” about by a Seattle Times reader. 

And that’s not all: The White House just announced that Kim Richter Shirley joins a list of art world megastars appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Congratulations, Kim!

Local News

Crosscut’s Alexa Peters spoke with legendary jazz artist Wynton Marsalis, who has joined in the fight against planned cuts to local music programs in Seattle public schools.

Meet The Stranger’s Artist of the Week: Josie Morway (whoa, those feathers!).

The Seattle Times’ Jerald Pierce speaks with Sam Davidson of Davidson Galleries, as he prepares to retire after 50 years and looks to sell

“‘It’s just an incredibly rewarding business in the sense that it brings you into contact with wonderful artists and interesting collectors,’ Davidson said. ‘It’s been rewarding to see those perspectives from all these different artists from all these different countries and how it’s influenced by their cultures.’”

Inter/National News

“Searching for Lost Time in the World’s Most Beautiful Calendar”: You’ve gotta see this New York Times interactive with narrative by Jason Farago. 

Amy Taubin for Artforum reviews Kelly Reichardt’s Showing Up, in which Michelle Williams plays a Portland ceramicist

Artnet has announced a brand-new season of Art21’s flagship series, “Art in the Twenty-First Century.” The first episode takes you inside the studio with artist Amy Sherald

“‘I consider myself an American Realist,’ Sherald said in the exclusive interview. ‘For me, it means recognizing my Americanness first, and wanting the work to join a greater ongoing conversation.’”

And Finally

Respect: “Our food critic ate 500 tacos to pick his top 30 in Western WA.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Phahamong III, 2023, Mohau Modisakeng, oil on canvas, 55.1 x 41.7 in. Photo courtesy Martin Art Projects.

Muse/News: Big Ideas, Cursed Operas, and a Poet Departs

SAM News

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel continues her reporting on the state of the city’s arts ecosystem; this time, she connects with six new arts leaders who’ve arrived with fresh ideas, including José Carlos Diaz, SAM’s new Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art.  

“The country is in a state of flux, but I refuse to think that the arts will vanish in Seattle, because artists have always persevered. Personally, I’d like to see city government address the urgent need for affordable housing.”

Priya Frank, another SAM leader, appeared on New Day NW to discuss her new book and her work as Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the museum.

Local News

Theater nerds, please gather. From the Seattle Times’ Jerald Pierce: “Seattle’s Sara Porkalob started a firestorm on Broadway. And she was right.”

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis headed east to see art in Spokane and Pullman, including flour sacks, Mexican masks, a Trimpin installation, and more.

Via The Stranger’s Meg Van Huygen: “How to Power through Wagner’s Gorgeous, Historically Cursed Tristan and Isolde at Seattle Opera, and Why You Should Want to Do This in the First Place.”

“If it’s not actually cursed, well, suffice it to say that this opera is notoriously difficult both to stage and to perform. Like, most skilled operatic singers just cannot physically sing these notes, to say nothing of doing so for four hours.”

Inter/National News

In advance of Diwali, the New York Times visits five South Asian sweet shops across the country, including Punjab Sweets in Kent, Washington. Don’t miss photographs by Seattle photojournalist Genna Martin!

The New York Times’ Laura van Straaten on the rebranded Catskill Art Space in rural New York, which debuts its new configuration with works including James Turrell’s Avaar (1975), on loan from the Seattle Art Museum’s collection.

Art critic and poet Peter Schjeldahl died last week at the age of 80. Artnet’s Sarah Cascone wrote this short remembrance.

“After a year in Paris, Schjeldahl returned to New York, in 1965, ‘an ambitious poet, a jobber in journalism, and a tyro art nut,’ as he put it earlier this year. Though he had no background in criticism, Thomas B. Hess hired Schjeldahl to write reviews for ARTnews, kickstarting one of the field’s most storied careers.”

And Finally

It is time.

 Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Alexis Gideon & Alborz Kamalizad.

Muse/News: New SAM Leader, Artist Discovered, and Seurat’s Ambiguities

SAM News

Last week, SAM shared the exciting news that José Carlos Diaz will be joining the museum as its new Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art. Formerly Chief Curator at The Andy Warhol Museum, Diaz is passionate about contemporary art, multidisciplinary programming, and connecting with artists and communities. You can learn more about him in this interview in the Seattle Times, or elsewhere on this blog. The news was also shared in The Stranger, Artdaily, and Artnet. Diaz’s fraternal twin–from his very artistically inclined family!–was also excited.

“As Diaz noted, museums across the country are challenged by relevancy, battling perceptions that they’re either archaic or not for everyone. It’s important to remember that museums, he said, are ‘living, breathing institutions that have to evolve.’”

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald shares a moving tribute to her film critic predecessor John Hartl, who died recently at the age of 76. 

Comic artist Jake Slingland draws the Seattle monorail that could have been for the Stranger.

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel on Victor Kai Wang, a Chinese-American artist in his late 80s whose work has never been exhibited in a gallery or museum–until now, with his inclusion in a group show at the Wing Luke Museum, thanks to curator Lele Barnett. 

“‘It was like stumbling upon buried treasure,’ Barnett recalls. With her decades of experience placing art in private and corporate collections, she could easily imagine some of these swirling, semiabstract landscape paintings on the walls of a major museum. But most of the works had never left Wang’s home.”

Inter/National News

ARTnews’ Natalie Frank writes an obituary for feminist painter Paula Rego, who died last week at the age of 87.

Via Time Out New York: “New Met exhibit highlights art works by the museum’s employees.” 

Artnet’s Katie White goes below the sunny surface of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte to explore its ambiguities.

“The painting has been interpreted as revealing the essence of modern existence and its double-edged sword of social spectacle and isolation. A butterfly hovering in the middle left of the painting reinforces this reading. A symbol of fragility, during the Industrial Revolution the butterfly was used in art as motif for the environmental and social consequences of progress. Indeed, this scene of bourgeoise leisure had only recently been enabled by the factory life existing just beyond the painting’s frame.”

And Finally

Via Vulture: “The Highs, Lows, and Whoas From the 2022 Tony Awards.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Alexis Gideon.

A New Era at SAM: Welcome, José Carlos Diaz!

“I’m a total optimist. I believe museums are places where people can find inspiration. I want SAM to inspire the next generation of curators and artists and patrons. This is something that museum curators are discussing — we’ve been discussing this for years, but it’s more urgent now.”

– José Carlos Diaz

Following a months-long international search, SAM is proud to announce José Carlos Diaz as its new Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art. Diaz comes to SAM from The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to oversee SAM’s eight brilliant curators in developing thoughtful exhibitions and maintaining the museum’s collections, publications, and libraries across SAM’s downtown location, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and the Olympic Sculpture Park. He succeeds Chiyo Ishikawa who retired in 2020 after 30 years at SAM.

In celebration of his new role, we spoke with Diaz about his background, hopes for SAM, and becoming a part of Seattle’s artistic community. Read below for the full interview and check out his interview in The Seattle Times to learn even more about what Diaz will bring to SAM when he starts on July 1.

SAM: Tell us about your new role. Why is it important at a museum?

José Carlos Diaz: In this role, I will be part of the senior leadership team and responsible for ensuring we develop a relevant and ambitious curatorial program across all three of our sites. I bring management, administrative, and fundraising experience and possess a track record of creating dynamic exhibitions and projects. This role also has a direct impact on what SAM audiences will see in SAM’s galleries. The exhibitions we’ll be designing going forward will be the result of the needs and wants of our visitors and will uphold SAM’s mission of connecting art to life.

SAM: What drew you to this position, and this position with SAM, in particular?

JCD: I actually have a background working in multi-site institutions! I previously worked at Tate Liverpool, which is part of the Tate Museums in the UK. I’m also coming directly from The Andy Warhol Museum, which is part of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. So, managing the curatorial team of a multi-site institution isn’t too foreign for me.

I think what drew me most to SAM was its vast collection which spans across period and place. In college, I studied art history and cultural history. So, to have access to a collection which combines historical and contemporary art is very exciting to me. When you visit any SAM location, you’re bound to encounter a combination of painting, sculpture, drawing, architecture, costume, and more. From a curation standpoint, the versatility SAM has to offer is thrilling.

Not only that, but the museum is in the artistic center of a great American city known for having a robust cultural landscape. I think it has the potential to be one of the top art cities in the country—almost even rivaling New York or London. Plus, Seattle is home to a strong Latinx population and LGBTQ community which I am looking forward to joining and representing. I’m really excited to bring more representation to these communities at SAM and highlight the work of artists from these communities.

SAM: You’re stepping into a leadership role from a curatorial one: what lessons and skills from curation will you bring? Also, will you still be curating?

JCD: As a curator, I form ideas and craft narratives using art. This process requires creative thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, research, and a direct connection to the mission of the institution—and these are all really important skills to me. These are skills that I will bring to this new role while building a unified and creative team of curators and exhibitions. Occasionally I would love to curate if there’s the opportunity or if a certain curator needed support because of the robust exhibition and programming schedule, but I’m mostly focused on looking ahead and rebuilding a strong museum as we continue to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SAM: Even though this will take some time to develop, what are some of your goals or ideas for this role, and overseeing a global collection and large team of curators across disciplines?

JCD: One of the top goals is understanding the internal climate at SAM and how to best contribute to its existing environment. At the same time, I want to consider what the city and its artistic community want from SAM, and how we can do better and be better. With a vast collection of artworks across three locations and the varied curatorial expertise of our team, I’d love to unify our offerings and collaborate to build awareness across the city that would allow SAM to explore a broad range of ideas and themes in its exhibitions. Perhaps some of our artworks could also travel to other cities for public art commissions, publications, and/or exhibitions.

SAM: An easy one: Why is art important?

JCD: Art, in my opinion, is a form of expression, but also a form of self-care, especially in these times. It’s as simple as that.

SAM: What role do museums serve in a city and for the communities they serve?

JCD: Museums are places to inspire and seek inspiration. They’re also social spaces which continuously evolve and improve. SAM shows historic works, but also global and local creativity through its incredible collections. It features limited-run exhibitions as well as ongoing installations, while continuously rotating its collection and introducing new narratives, often around current affairs and through multiple voices. So, using SAM as an example, I think museums in general seek civic excellence through varied representation.

SAM: Tell us more about you! Outside of art curation, what do you like to do with your time?

JCD: I’m originally from Miami, but my family is from Mexico so I’m Latin American. My husband is an oceanographer and we share a dog named Elvira, Mistress of Bark. I have a fraternal twin who’s a Latin Grammy Award-winning and Grammy-nominated children’s music artist named Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band. I love to travel and go to the beach. On my time off, you can often find me on a boat or somewhere by the water. It’s just my happy place.

– Interview conducted by Lily Hansen, Marketing Content Creator

Image: Alexis Gideon.

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