Muse/News: Cunningham’s BFF, Nomura’s Moment, and Exiting 2021

SAM News

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective is now on view at SAM! Jas Keimig of the Stranger falls for the friendship between Cunningham and sculptor Ruth Asawa, which is explored in the show via portraits and a dynamic installation of Asawa’s “floppy, organic” works.

Misha Berson wrote for Oregon ArtsWatch about the “many faces” of Imogen Cunningham on view in the exhibition, sharing some memories of spotting the artist herself out and about in San Francisco, too.

Seattle Met shares their picks for the best seafood in Seattle, including SAM’s favorite new friend, MARKET Seattle.

Local News

Patheresa Wells for South Seattle Emerald on the meanings of Kwanzaa and how to celebrate the holiday this year, including in-person or virtual events at Wa Na Wari and the Northwest African American Museum.

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel looks back on “10 Seattle artworks that exemplify 2021.”

Jade Yamazaki Stewart on the much-deserved recognition of Seattle painter Kenjiro Nomura in a new book and an exhibition at the Cascadia Art Museum. (Hot tip: You can also see Nomura’s work on view at SAM in the collection installation Northwest Modernism!)

“But [Cascadia Art Museum curator David F.] Martin…said he’s had issues getting major museums to accept Nomura’s work, always getting the same response: that the paintings would better fit in a Japanese historical museum. This bothers Martin, who views Nomura as an American artist. ‘He was integrated in the art society here,” he says. “Why should I separate him by his ethnicity?’”

Inter/National News

The trailblazing thinker bell hooks passed away last week. Janelle Zara for Artnet celebrated hooks’ wide-ranging work, including her art criticism and how the writer was “instrumental in cracking open the white, western canon for Black artists.”

New York Times critics Holland Cotter and Roberta Smith offer their Best Art Exhibitions of 2021.”

“Exit this year through the museum gift shop,” says the New Yorker’s Rachel Syme in her detailed list of recommendations, including the “thank you” tote from SAM Shop, which is open during museum hours and online for holiday needs!

“Although each shop shares its sensibility—and its profits—with the larger institution it is attached to, many of the smaller and funkier museum shops stuff their shelves with eccentric trinkets that echo the museum’s aesthetic more in spirit than in substance.”

And Finally

The story behind Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Ruth Asawa, Sculptor, 1952, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, sepia toned gelatin silver print, 9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier, 2006.114.1, Photo: Randy Dodson, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Object of the Week: Street

Located in the far northwest corner of the contiguous United States, Seattle is oriented more to the Pacific than to Europe, and many of its artists looked to Asia in shaping the region’s singular form of modernism. Some practiced sumi-e (ink painting) and calligraphy as pathways to abstraction; others discovered in Zen a model of self-knowledge and unmitigated expression; still others traveled to Japan and China and made contact with those cultures directly. Artists of Asian descent experienced, on balance, an inclusive artistic environment, despite facing discrimination within the larger community, most tragically during World War II.

Alongside Kamekichi Tokita, Paul Horiuchi, and Geoge Tsutakawa, Kenjiro Nomura was one of Seattle’s leading Japanese American artists. Together, their stories reflect the historical diversity of the Pacific Northwest and its artists, adding further depth to 20th-century American art. As Issei (first-generation Japanese American), Nomura was raised in a traditional Japanese family and educated in the arts and culture of his parentage. He immigrated with his family to the United States in 1907, at the age of eleven. When he was sixteen, his parents returned home, but he stayed on and settled in Seattle to build a successful business and career as an artist.

A self-described “Sunday painter” with little formal training, he specialized in the realist style and vernacular subject matter associated with 1930s American Scene painting. Street, with its formal clarity and unmistakable awareness of place, is typical of his regionalism. Yet, even as he mastered this decidedly Western approach, he also maintained expertise in traditional Japanese painting, whose conventions of color, composition, and line inspired him to approach nature intuitively and on his terms.

Street immortalizes the busy intersection of Fourth Avenue and Yesler Way, the epicenter of Seattle’s thriving Japanese American community during the 1920s and 1930s. Here, Nomura launched Noto Sign Co., a signage manufacturer and popular gathering place for artists, and the headquarters from which he and his business partner, Tokita, established themselves on the local exhibition circuit.

In 1933, Nomura exhibited Street at the Seattle Art Museum’s Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists and with it secured the prestigious Katherine B. Baker Award and a place in the permanent collection of the newly formed museum. When SAM officially opened its doors that same year, it was with a solo exhibition of Nomura’s work. His success, however, was cut short with the Great Depression and resulting forced closure of Noto Sign Co. During World War II, anti-Japanese sentiment and hostility led to his forced internment at the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho. When he returned to Seattle three years later, it was to continued discrimination and limited opportunities for Japanese Americans. Yet, Nomura continued to paint and participate in Seattle’s mid-20th-century cultural scene, sharing common cause with his fellow Northwest Modernists.

Nomura’s work is on view at SAM in the exhibition Northwest Modernism: Four Japanese Americans, and at the Cascadia Art Museum in the major retrospective, Kenjiro Nomura, American Modernist: An Issei Artist’s Journey.

– Theresa Papanikolas, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art

Image: Street, ca. 1932, Kenjiro Nomura, Oil on canvas, 23 3/4 x 28 3/4 in., Gift of West Seattle Art Club, Katherine B. Baker Memorial Purchase Award, 33.225.

Muse/News: Issei & Nisei Art, Breakthrough Moments, and Lightweight Minimalism

SAM News

Japanese-language site Jungle City highlights Northwest Modernism at SAM, an installation featuring work by four legendary Japanese American artists of Seattle: Kenjiro Nomura, Kamekichi Tokita, Paul Horiuchi, and George Tsutakawa.

Architectural Digest includes the Olympic Sculpture Park on their list of the “6 Best Public Sculpture Parks to Visit This Spring and Summer.”

Nicole Pasia for the Seattle Times with recommendations for celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, including the reopening of the Seattle Asian Art Museum on May 28.

Local News

“Part satire, part pop art hallucination”: Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne on MS PAM, the street-level expansion of Martyr Sauce, Tariqa Waters’s Pioneer Square gallery.

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig reports on Murmurations, a collaboration of six cultural institutions—Jacob Lawrence Gallery, Henry Art Gallery, On the Boards, Northwest Film Forum, Frye Art Museum, and Velocity Dance Center—with projects happening all summer.

Also in the Stranger: Chase Burns on the breakthrough moment for artist Drie Chapek, whose paintings and collages are now on view at the Greg Kucera Gallery.

“The breakthrough moment happened after Chapek picked up painting again in 2016, when a gallerist who presented her work in Edison, Washington, suggested she talk to the gallerist’s friend in Seattle named Greg. That Greg was Greg Kucera. When Kucera came to Chapek’s studio, “He was like, ‘Why haven’t you ever contacted me?’” She broke out laughing as she told the story. “I was like, ‘Check your email, dude.’”

Inter/National News

“Who doesn’t love a great find?” asks Menachem Wecker for Artnet, as he ranks seven of the greatest lost-art discoveries.

Jenna Wortham for the New York Times Magazine on the “glamour in the quotidian” of Deana Lawson’s photographs of Black people.

Alex Greenberger for Art in America on Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “lightweight minimalism.”

“Amid it all is an acute sense of loss, though it’s intentionally ambiguous who—or what—is no longer present. How viewers make sense of it all depends on their knowledge of world history and Gonzalez-Torres’s biography, as well as their own identity.”

And Finally

Best friends reunite, visit anthropomorphic deer statues, and talk.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Nina Dubinsky

Japanese Internment Remembered at Final Weekend of “Painting Seattle”

In recognition of Remembrance Day on February 19, guest curator Barbara Johns will give an exhibition tour of Painting Seattle: Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura on Saturday, February 18, at 11 am.

Remembrance Day marks the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which enabled the U.S. military to forcibly relocate anyone considered threatening to national security. The order resulted in the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were American born citizens, the children and grandchildren of the Japanese immigrant generation. Even as the order was signed, ranking officials understood that there were no grounds to suspect and hold an entire population. This year is the 70th anniversary of the signing.

The circumstances leading to the signing and the impact on peoples’ lives is movingly recounted in Tokita’s diary, which is published in Signs of Home: The Paintings and Wartime Diary of Kamekichi Tokita. Two of his paintings from the Minidoka Relocation Center are included in the exhibition.

Admission to the Seattle Asian Art Museum will be free on February 19—also the last day of Painting Seattle—in further recognition of the importance of the day.

Self-portrait, ca. 1936, oil on canvas, Kamekichi Tokita American (born in Japan), 1897-1946, 21 x 17 in., collection of Shokichi and Elsie Y. Tokita.

Resolve to See More Art in 2012!

Finally a New Year’s resolution that will be fun to try and keep–come experience the art at SAM Downtown, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park! Here are our top five picks for what to see and do with SAM in January.

1. Walk through Do Ho Suh’s Gate.
Luminous: The Art of Asia closes January 8, which means there are only five more days to see Do Ho Suh’s magnificent multimedia installation and to take in this gorgeous exhibition representing  5,000 years of Asian art.

2. Take a spin in Theaster Gates: The Listening Room.
Visit the “church of wax” at SAM Downtown and touch, feel and play the records (yes-vinyl records!)  in this installation at SAM Downtown. The Listening Room also extends beyond the walls of the museum to a storefront in Pioneer Square called the Record Store, where you can be part of a listening party.

3. See a unique perspective of 1930s Seattle.
Painting Seattle at the Seattle Asian Art Museum features two painters, Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura, known in 1930s Seattle for their American realist style of landscape painting. They shared the cultural legacy of Japan and the active cultural life of Seattle’s Japantown, while they found a public audience for their work in mainstream art institutions and participated alongside the city’s advanced artists, such as Mark Tobey, Ambrose Patterson and Walter Isaacs.

4. Get ready for Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise.
Seattle Art Museum presents the only United States stop for this landmark show highlighting the complex relationship between Paul Gauguin’s work and the art and culture of Polynesia. The exhibition, on view at SAM Downtown February 9 through April 29, includes about 50 of Gauguin’s brilliantly hued paintings, sculptures and works on paper, which are displayed alongside 60 major examples of Polynesian sculpture that fueled his search for the exotic. Organized by the Art Centre Basel, the show is comprised of works on loan from some of the world’s most prestigious museums and private collections. Buy your advance tickets now!

5. Celebrate the Olympic Sculpture Park’s 5th Birthday Party.
Five years ago Seattle’s waterfront was transformed forever. Come to the Olympic Sculpture Park on January 21 to help us mark this very important milestone with food, art and other activities.

Combine some of your other New Year’s resolutions with art. Trying to exercise more? Take a walk through the Olympic Sculpture Park or ride your bike to the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Looking to save money? Take advantage of First Thursdays or SAM’s suggested admission, which allows you to pay what you can. Art can even help you decrease stress.

SAM is always happy to connect art to your life, and we look forward to seeing you more in 2012!

-Madeline Moy, Digital Media Manager

SAM Art: Tokita, Nomura, and Seattle

Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura were first-generation Japanese Americans, or Issei, who made their home inSeattle. While many artists turned their sights to the Northwest’s natural grandeur, Tokita and Nomura looked to the places they knew well—the neighborhood in and around Japantown or Nihonmachi (today part of the International District), the working waterfront, and the farmlands cultivated by Japanese American families.

Labeled American Scene painters (a popular movement in American art of the 1930s) by their contemporaries, both artists’ work reveals the details of place that derive from daily familiarity, often the intimate views one sees while walking. In their choice of subject, the particularities of place and time, and the reference to cultural heritage, they describe the perspective of American immigrants who have made a new home.

Bridge, 1931, Kamekichi Tokita, American, 1897-1948, oil on canvas, 23 1/4 x 19 1/16 in., Gift of the artist, 33.230, © Kamekichi Tokita. On view in Painting Seattle: Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura starting on Saturday, 22 October, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park.
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