Object of the Week: The Lost Boys

Artist Andy Warhol said, “Everybody has their own America, and then they have the pieces of a fantasy America that they think is out there, but they can’t see…” Before getting started, it’s important to acknowledge the America that I live in: I am a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied woman who was born in the northeast United States during the 1980s. I am looking at a work of art created by Kerry James Marshall: a Black, cis-gendered, able-bodied man who was born in the segregated South during the 1950s. Both Marshall and I are artists and educators, but sadly I don’t have a MacArthur Genius Award or paintings in any major museums. I’ll be approaching this work of art using my own lens and the same facilitation strategy I use for my (now virtual) tours of SAM’s collection: Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS).[1] VTS is used to spark dialogue and empower people to approach a work of art using their own observations and experiences, asking three simple questions. I encourage you to follow along and ask yourself these questions, noticing where our backgrounds may overlap or differ.

The first question of VTS is, “What’s going on in this picture?” This is a portrait of a young boy––his skin is a rich, dark black matte, and his features are defined by white outlines. He has heavy-lidded, almost tired eyes and his mouth is neutral, conveying an expression that is difficult to read. Radiating outward from his head are straight thin lines, evocative of a halo. The background is divided horizontally: the bottom third is a golden color, almost a desert landscape; the top is a deep blue overlaid with white shapes, bringing to mind a sky with clouds, though closer inspection reveals that the organic shapes are actually white roses. The paint looks to be hastily applied, as evidenced by the drip down the forehead of the young man. The drip, although white, mimics blood, similar to depictions of Christ or another martyr and links this to religious iconography.

The next question, “What do you see that makes you say that?” challenges our assumptions and biases. As we conclude Black History Month after a year of increased visibility in mainstream media of the racial inequities for Black Americans, I’ve seen myself get caught up in the imagery of Black trauma, recounting video and photos of the brutal murders of Brianna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Aubrey. I start to wonder if calling this Black figure a martyr is Marshall’s intention, or my own prejudice? Marshall’s own words confirm that I need to dig deeper: “I paint things I care about. It would have been easy to represent these places (and situations) as zones of hopelessness and despair, but I know they’re more complex than that.” 

As I read the label, the curatorial voice chimes in and indicates that Marshall is memorializing Black boys who have lost their lives, stating that the leading cause of death for young, Black men is homicide. In fact, when comparing statistics among racial groups, Black youth (0-18 years old) are seven times more likely to die by homicide than white youth.[2] As an educator, I also can’t help but think about the school-to-prison pipeline and the fact that Black students are three and half times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled, and that Black youth disproportionately make up those youth incarcerated in juvenile detention centers.[3]

The final question is, “What more can we find?” The language here is intentional—creating meaning is a generative process. This is where, if I were actually speaking to people, I would hear different perspectives and my understanding of a work would evolve. However, when at home, I take this question as an invitation to start researching. After procrastinating on this blog post, watching hours of interviews with Marshall, I was especially struck by one quote by the artist: “If you’re constantly being reminded of the ways in which your history and your narrative as a people were rooted in loss and decay, then you’re in deep trouble. Once you make a certain kind of peace with the past, then you should be completely oriented towards speculation about the future.”[4]

I challenge my initial response to this work. I start to see glimmers of hope in the white roses— symbols of youth, innocence, and new beginnings. I begin to unpack the ways that this painting may embody Afrofuturism, the cultural movement that explores the intersection of the African diaspora with technology, science, and liberation. A few Google searches quickly link the Eurocentric religious iconography that I saw in my art history classes to contemporary icons such as Solange Knowles’s appearance on SNL

In asking, “What more can we find?” we open ourselves up to dialogue and start to imagine a different world, a different America––maybe one that’s fantasy, or maybe one that could be our reality? Marshall’s work gives me hope and I’m reminded of the contemporary author and educator bell hooks’s words, The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is––it’s to imagine what is possible.”

– Kelsey Donahue, SAM Assistant Manager for Gallery Learning

[1] “Visual Thinking Strategies,” www.vtshome.org
[2] “Health Equity: Leading Causes of Death – Males – United States, 2017,” Center for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/healthequity/lcod/men/2017/index.html
[3] “Our Demands,” Black Lives Matter, Seattle, blacklivesseattle.org/our-demands.
[4] “Kerry James Marshall,” Art21, art21.org/artist/kerry-james-marshall.
Image: The Lost Boys (A.K.A. Untitled), 1993, Kerry James Marshall, collage of acrylic on paper, 28 x 30 in., Gift of the Collectors’ Forum, 97.32 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

Muse/News: SAM Reopens, ID Favorites, and Lawrence Revisited

SAM News

Museums in Seattle can now reopen! With new safety protocols in place, the Seattle Art Museum will reopen to the general public on September 11. Catch up on all the details covered in The Seattle Times, The Stranger, Capitol Hill Seattle, ARTnews, and Artdaily.

Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, was Marcie Sillman’s guest on KUOW The Record’s Wednesday show, sharing details on what SAM has been working on and how much we’ve missed you.

Also last week, SAM’s Priya Frank appeared on KING5’s New Day NW, talking with guest host Angela Poe Russell about equity at SAM and artists & organizations she loves.

Local News

“All creative people love a good challenge”: Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal speaks with Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald about their upcoming, all-digital season.

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig covers the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair, both of which feature Black artists (Kerry James Marshall, Jordan Casteel, Amy Sherald) creating new paintings of Black women (someone imagined, Aurora James, Breonna Taylor).

JiaYing Grygiel shares restaurant recommendations in the International District from Seattle notables, including SAM’s recently retired Deputy Director of Art, Chiyo Ishikawa. The article is a part of a series, Chinatown USA, which is meant as both a celebration and a call to action amid economic devastation and anti-Asian racism.

“The history of the Asian communities in Seattle isn’t all just barbecue pork buns and egg tarts. The ugly side of Seattle’s past includes anti-Chinese riots, discriminatory laws, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Now here we are, in the middle of a pandemic that has been tinged, including by the president, with anti-Asian overtones, and restaurants in the ID are hurting badly. Yet they’re remaining open.”

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic’s Valentina Di Liscia reports on the newly unveiled monument in Central Park to Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth.

Artnet’s Naomi Rea reports on the recent controversy at the Whitney Museum of American Art, in which they came under fire for acquiring works of activist art from discounted benefits and fundraisers.

In advance of the opening of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at the Met (which heads to SAM next year), the New York Times revisits a 1996 interview with Jacob Lawrence. The artist spoke with their then chief art critic Michael Kimmelman during visits to the Met and MoMA, discussing art and technique as they went along.

“The three of us looked at whatever interested him, from Dogon sculptures to Dubuffet. Lawrence was a bearish, humble man, courtly, endearing. ‘I guess there’s nothing wrong with a negative statement,’ he reassured himself out loud at one moment, before screwing up his courage to dis Jackson Pollock.”

And Finally

“The Shooting of John T. Williams, 10 Years Later.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Muse/News: Soul partners, gamechangers, and Kerry James Marshall’s birds

SAM News

Priya Frank, SAM’s associate director for community programs, and Jaimée Marsh, executive director of FEEST Seattle, are the latest leaders to share a message for the city on the Stranger’s Slog. Together, they talk about being “soul partners” and showing up in our relationships.

Barbara Earl Thomas—whose solo show at SAM, The Geography of Innocence, opens later this year—has been commissioned to create a set of windows for a residential college at Yale University; her design will “confront and contextualize the history of the residential college’s name, which originally honored 19th-century statesman and notorious slavery advocate John C. Calhoun.”

Local News

“A gamechanger”: It is with great sadness and appreciation that we say goodbye to P. Raaze Garrison, who has died at the age of 92. Her obituary in Seattle Medium recounts her role as an educator, activist, and becoming one of the first Black docents at SAM in 1995.

Brendan Kiley of the Seattle Times has details on the Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair, in which 40 local galleries have come together to promote shows at their own sites (both online and virtual).

Stefan Milne of Seattle Met asks what an online art world looks like. Discussed: seamless virtual sales, man vs. machine, and Walter Benjamin.

“As images on screens, many look like they’ve been rendered by the algorithm alone—a view of the mind of the machine, intricate and sterile. But in person these are big canvases, emphatically textured with oil paint. The colors look different. The intricate lines wobble humanly. The paintings exist in a hierarchy. And—sadly for our moment when quarantines may come in waves—you need to see them in person to grasp the final step.”

Inter/National News

Julia Jacobs of the New York Times reports that a National Museum of the American Latino has reached a milestone in its path to existence, with a House vote approving it be established.

An intriguing poll from Artnet of over 2,000 of their readers finds that this art-loving group doesn’t plan to change their art-going behavior once venues reopen. Also among the findings: they are most excited about getting back to museums specifically, and their top reasons for wanting to return are a desire for inspiration, to learn, and to support the arts.

Ted Loos in the New York Times on work from Kerry James Marshall now on view online with David Zwirner. The new canvases take John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” as inspiration.

“‘The picture plane is the site of every action,’ Mr. Marshall said. He seemed to be speaking not only about the painting process but also how he conducts his whole life — after all, this is a man who captured a live crow to get to know it better. ‘How things occupy that space,’ he added, ‘matters more than anything.’”

And Finally

Beyoncé’s “Black Is King”: Six New York Times critics say, let’s discuss.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Stephanie Fink. 

Muse/News: A Peacock party, a garment reborn, and a muse named Cardi B.

SAM News

Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India opens to the public this Thursday! The Seattle Times highlighted the free community opening celebration, which will include live performances, an art market, music, and art making.

SAM’s Día de los Muertos Community Night Out on Friday, October 26, is featured as one of “6 free Seattle area events to celebrate” the annual holiday.

Seattle Bride Magazine on the “art of love,” highlighting SAM among its recommendations for the best local museums to host a wedding.

Local News

City Arts’ Margo Vansynghel shares the news that Cornish has awarded its 2018 Neddy Artist Awards to Lakshmi Muirhead (painting) and Timea Tihanyi (open media).

Poet Natalie Diaz was awarded a 2018 MacArthur genius grant; The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig wrote about her recent reading at Hugo House, which in part touched on the legacy of Edward S. Curtis.

Tamiko Nimura for Crosscut on Tacoma artist Anida Yoeu Ali, whose sequined “Red Chador” that appeared across the world was recently lost. The artist is mourning the garment as a death—and planning its rebirth.

“Because the work was disrupted she has to come back,” she says, “but in solidarity with other issues that are going on.”

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic’s Zachary Small on the Met’s announcement of next year’s gala exhibition: Camp: Notes on Fashion, a “complete 180-degree turn toward sacrilegious” following last year’s Catholic-themed Heavenly Bodies.

Artnet’s Eileen Kinsella on the long overdue retrospective of Charles White, who inspired notable artists as both an artist and a teacher. Kinsella asks, “why did it take so many so long to learn about him?”

The Studio Museum and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts have announced the gift of over 650 works of art from the collection of Peggy Cooper Cafritz, including works by Kerry James Marshall, Theaster Gates, and Nick Cave.

“Tia Powell Harris, the chief executive of the school, said, ‘It’s as if we will now have direct access to Peggy’s amazing vision, seeing the world’s possibilities as she did.’”

And Finally

Went from makin’ tuna sandwiches to Mickalene’s muse.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Shiva and Parvati in Conversation; Shiva on His Vimana (Aircraft) with Himalaya, Folio 53 from the Shiva Rahasya, 1827, Jodhpur, opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 16 1/2 × 45 5/8 in., Mehrangarh Museum Trust, photo: Neil Greentree.

Muse/News: Sculptures in fall, erasure poems, and the wonderful Kerry James Marshall

SAM News

Curbed Seattle highlights the Olympic Sculpture Park as one of “26 best places to visit in Seattle this fall,” calling a visit to the sculpture park “the easiest way to feel artsy in Seattle without needing to spend half a day inside a museum.”

Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India is featured in the Stranger’s “Complete Guide to October 2018 Events in Seattle.” Diwali Ball, SAM’s annual fundraiser, and Night Heat, the 41st edition of our film noir series, also get mentions.

Did you know that SAM’s design team makes awesome videos? Don’t miss this fantastic My Favorite Things video featuring sailor Marc Onetto talking about the accuracy of Louis-Philippe Crépin’s Shipwreck off the Coast of Alaska, now on view at SAM.

Local News

Mayumi Tsutakawa for the Seattle Globalist on a documentary film about two women who—75 years apart—chronicled the cultures of Melanesia; one of the two held an exhibition on her work at SAM in 1935.

Here’s Emily Pothast for The Stranger on 10 not-to-be-missed gallery shows in Pioneer Square on view in October.

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis has a lovely review of Ballast, the Frye Art Museum’s new exhibition; Quenton Baker’s erasure and invented form poems were inspired by a massive historical research project into a little-known successful 1841 slave revolt.

“On the museum walls, their voices emerge like ghosts from the inky morass: ‘I am a crisis arrived.’ ‘A cargo of alarm.’ ‘Answer me.’”

Inter/National News

Way to go, genius: Three artists, including painter—and SAM Knight Lawrence Prize winner!—Titus Kaphar, were named “genius” grant winners from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Think pink! Hyperallergic’s Dany Chan reviews a new exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology exploring the many meanings—from pretty to punk—of the color pink.

I get Google alerts for Kerry James Marshall, and here’s why: this week Hyperallergic shared a wonderful essay he wrote about Bill Traylor, and ARTNews reported his wonderful reaction to Chicago’s sale of one of his murals.

“Considering that only last year Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and Commissioner [of the Department of Cultural Affairs Mark] Kelly dedicated another mural I designed downtown for which I was asked to accept one dollar, you could say the City of Big Shoulders has wrung every bit of value they could from the fruits of my labor.”

And Finally

Say goodbye to the last good thing on Twitter?

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Olympic Sculpture Park, 2015, photo: Nina Dubinsky.

Muse/News: Tech in museums, revolutionary fashion, and the magic of akari

SAM News

The museum’s first-ever Chief Technology Officer, Manish Engineer, appeared on Geekwire’s podcast to talk about his path to SAM, his plans for the institution, and the balance he wants to strike between art and technology.

“’I always want to make sure that people are looking at the art more so than anything else,’ he said. ‘When you think of things like visual hierarchy, I want to make sure that the art is first and on top of hierarchy.’ And that phone or tablet with its supplemental information? ‘I want to make sure that’s secondary,’ he said.”

Kerry James Marshall’s Past Times recently set an auction high for any work by a living African-American artist; The New York Times’s Scott Reyburn wrote about the rise of value for works by Black artists. He notes that these shifts are also reflected in curatorial choices; SAM’s recent Figuring History exhibition and current Basquiat painting on view are referenced.

Local News

Vogue features Indigenous fashion designers, in advance of Toronto’s first-ever Indigenous Fashion Week; blankets by Bethany Yellowtail are available at Seattle’s Eighth Generation.

Who went Upstream this weekend? Seattle Times music writer Michael Rietmulder attended and tweeted all weekend; here’s his take from the first day of the second edition of the music festival.

City Arts’ June cover photo of Prairie Underground’s Davora Lindner is amazing; don’t miss Amanda Manitach’s fantastic profile of Davora, either.

“’Prairie Underground embodies the idea of political uprising, insurrection and a secret society,’ Lindner says.”

Inter/National News

On the newsstands: The New Yorker’s annual Fiction Issue, with cover art by artist Loveis Wise; it was her debut for the magazine and also only the second time a Black woman’s art has been featured on the cover.

Raise your hand if you have an electric paper lantern in your home: yep, that’s everyone. Artsy traces Isamu Noguchi’s creation of the simple—yet magical—forms of akari.

What happens when you’ve booked a show four years ago—called Casanova: The Seduction of Europeand it’s opening now in the age of #MeToo? Hyperallergic’s Emily Wilson shares what San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum did.

“’The simplest problem to fix is framing his rapes as seductions and Casanova as a kind of sexy scoundrel,’ she said. ‘We can avoid glorifying or censuring and try to imagine if, instead of a wealthy white European man, this story was told through some of the women of the time.’”

And Finally

It’s June!!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: GeekWire Photo / Clare McGrane

Muse/News: Royal treasures, royal brides, and the Sikh Captain America

SAM News

Sebastian Smee for The Washington Post with a glittering review of Peacock in the Desert, now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston—and traveling to Seattle Art Museum this fall. Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India illuminates nearly four centuries of Indian courtly life and opens at SAM on October 18.

“A thoughtful, stately and scholarly exhibition, filled with objects of almost unbelievable refinement, most of which have never left Jodhpur, let alone India.”

Local News

The Henry announced last week that Shamim M. Momin will be their new Senior Curator; Momin’s previous experience includes LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division) and the Whitney.

Naomi Ishisaka, Ramon Dompor, and Corinne Chin of The Seattle Times tell the story of “accidental cartoonist,” performance artist, and activist Vishavjit Singh—AKA the Sikh Captain America.

Rich Smith of The Stranger speaks with Alexandra Gardner, the Seattle Symphony’s composer-in-residence, who worked with queer homeless youth on a new work that debuted underneath SAM’s tree sculpture Middle Fork last Saturday.

“The piece starts off with a lot of bells. It’s very sparkly. Some of the musicians were like, ‘Oh it’s so beautiful and sparkly, I thought it would be more angry,’ but it’s not at all. There are some ever-so-slightly dark parts. Overall the feeling they wanted to communicate was not about their past experiences, which may have been very dark, but rather a hopeful future. And I think that really speaks to the participants’ resilience and imagination.”

Inter/National News

Past Times by Kerry James Marshall, which once hung in a Chicago convention center, sold for $21.1 million at Sotheby’s. The price is a new record for the artist—and among living Black American artists, too.

This May marks the 50th anniversary of Paris’ 1968 student riots; Artsy’s Digby Warde-Aldam reflects on the protests’ legacy on the visual culture of protests.

The sacred, the profane, and the Rihanna: we’re still recovering from the recent Met Gala coverage. Here’s Eleanor Heartney of Artnet with a review of the “gorgeous and unsettling” exhibition that explores the Catholic imagination.

“Contemporary art and religion have long been perceived as antagonists. However, this show suggests that the real chasm is between religion and fashion—the one focused on the realm of spirit and values, the other on luxury and conspicuous consumption.”

And Finally

A couple got married last Saturday, and millions of people watched. The cultural meanings of it all were much discussed; don’t miss The New Yorker’s Doreen St. Félix on the “profound presence of Doria Ragland,” the bride’s mother.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Maharaja Abhai Singh on Horseback, c. 1725, Dalchand, Jodhpur, opaque watercolor and gold on paper, Mehrangarh Museum Trust, photo: Neil Greentree.

My Favorite Things: DJ Riz Rollins & Choreographer Donald Byrd

“The painting is delightful but the content of it is not.” – Donald Byrd

If you missed seeing Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, or if you just can’t enough of these artists—don’t fret! We’ve got works by Robert Colescott and Kerry James Marshall from SAM’s collection on view in our third floor galleries! KEXP DJ Riz Rollins and Executive Artistic Director Donald Byrd have shared some thoughts on these paintings with us. Look through the eyes of these opinionated individuals and continue to consider the questions and lessons that Figuring History explored.

“. . . I think this individual is prescient. Which means he has a sense of something deeper . . . .” – Riz Rollins

Muse/News: Basquiat Unpacked, Public Poetics, and The Magic of The Shirelles

SAM News

The latest episode of Seattle Channel’s ArtZone features their interview with curator Catharina Manchanda about Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled.

Artsy debuts their “Vanguard” series, recognizing influential contemporary artists at various points in their careers. Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize-winner Sondra Perry is included among the “newly established”—artists at “crucial tipping points in their careers.”

Los Angeles-based magazine Riot Material reviews Figuring History, in advance of its closing on May 13.

“Figuring History is as visually stunning as it is historically significant. For Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas, the show is validation that they succeeded in their passionate quest to make themselves visible. These artists matter and their art will be a beacon for us all, for those who write the histories and create the shows and for those are able to see themselves represented in museums for perhaps the first time.”

Local News

Seattle Times has the first look at the Nordic Museum as it prepares for its grand opening this weekend.

The Stranger staff picks their top 15 art shows in Pioneer Square for the month of May.

City Art’s Margo Vansynghel reviews A LONE, a series of 10 public artworks across the city co-curated by Vignettes and Gramma Poetry.

“Dealing with themes such as gentrification and the mass media’s (biased) coverage of the events in Charlottesville, the works in A LONE blend poetry and visual art and speak to the intricacies of being alone in a big city full of people. ‘You’re alone together,’ Stinson says. ‘That’s kind of a fascinating thing.’”

Inter/National News

The fun we’re not having at Frieze: Roberta Smith of the New York Times goes on the hunt for “artistic gems” at the annual art fair. (There’s a shout-out to Everyday Poetics artist Sonia Gomes!)

The American Antiquarian Society has digitized 225 photographs of Native people; taken decades before Edward S. Curtis began his project, these photos “represent the chapter one of the photographic history of Native people.”

The Baltimore Museum of Art has an “absolutely transformative” plan for their collection: deaccessioning works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Franz Kline, and Robert Rauschenberg in order to acquire works by contemporary artists who are women and artists of color.

“’The decision to do this rests very strongly on my commitment to rewrite the postwar canon,’ Bedford told artnet News. And while institutions sell art to fund new acquisitions every so often, the BMA’s latest deaccession stands out. ‘To state it explicitly and act on it with discipline—there is no question that is an unusual and radical act to take,’ Bedford says.”

And Finally

I will still love them tomorrow—and forever. The New Yorker’s Elon Green interviews Beverly Lee of The Shirelles about a “magical ten seconds” of the legendary group.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Installation view of Basquiat—Untitled at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.