Muse/News: American Themes, Fannie’s Debut, and Witnessing History

SAM News

There’s only three weeks left before we close the shutter on Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective, and a lot to look forward to in Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water, opening in March. But let’s look even further to October, when SAM will unveil its reinstalled American art galleries…

The project is guided by Theresa Papanikolas, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, and it engages Indigenous artists Wendy Red Star and Nicholas Galanin as well as 11 paid advisors from the Seattle community. Papanikolas was interviewed for an article by Zachary Small for Artnet; in it, he explores several similar projects in the works across the country to reimagine the meanings of “American” art.

“‘Chronology is something that is imposed onto history,’ said Theresa Papanikolas, curator of American art at the Seattle Art Museum. ‘It gets to be a little deterministic.’ Papanikolas said that viewers can expect a very different kind of gallery experience. She is particularly excited for Red Star’s installation, which is still being completed but will ‘conjure ideas of portraiture, landscape, and Seattle’ while also ‘literally bringing Indigenous voices into the gallery.’”

Local News

Emily Benson for High Country News on Evergreen, a new anthology of Northwest writings that’s notably “grim” and “gloomy.”

Allison Williams for Seattle Met with a deep dive on two “strange” interpretive museums in the Columbia Gorge.

Gemma Alexander for the Seattle Times on “Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer,”  playwright Cheryl L. West’s one-woman show now playing at Seattle Rep.

“I believe stories come along to show you something. This one encouraged me on my courage journey. Who would have known that it would happen during a time when we were all really looking for hope, when we were looking for that sort of resilience of spirit?” asks West. “She was such an inspiring woman. So the show asks the question, ‘What can we do at this point?’”

Inter/National News

Alex Greenberger for ARTnews reports: Interscope Records, LACMA Team Up for Show of Artworks Inspired by Music.”

Kristian Vistrup Madsen for Artforum on the debut in Dresden of a newly conserved painting by Johannes Vermeer; Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window now includes a painting of Cupid where once was a white wall.

Jillian Steinhauer for the New York Times on Arrivals, now on view at New York’s Katonah Museum of Art, yet another exhibition that grapples with American myths.

“At its best, ‘Arrivals’ offers the feeling of witnessing arguments or conversations between artists across place and time — and it makes you understand the stakes of those conversations.”

And Finally

Crosscut’s Knute Berger and Stephen Hegg with a video story on the “dogs that helped shape PNW history.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Tim Aguero.

Object of the Week: Yakima River at Thorp, WA, January 17, 1980

Unlike summer, with its durational heat and drought, winter in the Pacific Northwest brings with it water—and lots of it. We’re only two weeks into 2022 and we’ve seen over six inches of rain already, thanks to a deluge of atmospheric rivers.1

With water as its subject, this photograph by Johsel Namkung (1919–2013)—taken almost exactly 42 years ago on January 17, 1980—focuses on the swirling, glistening eddies of the Yakima River. One can feel the temperature of the waters—once snowmelt—merely by looking at the image. Rocks and sediment visible through the river’s crystal-clear waters are in rhythmic balance with translucent currents of refracted light and bubbles.

With a background in classical music, studying at the Tokyo Conservatory of Music and later the University of Washington School of Music, Namkung possessed a penchant for visual composition as well. However, his studies of nature are more than mere documentation, they express “the impression of sound, music, emotion or philosophy.”2 In a 1989 interview he described his attraction to the “beauty in the lowly humble clumps of, or groups of plants, and weeds, and things like that. I think that is the essence or a component of a great nature.”3

Namkung’s work will be on view in the upcoming special exhibition, Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water, opening March 18 at our downtown location. Showcasing a diverse range of artists and practices, the exhibition examines water’s pleasures and perils, as well as its changing role in our lives.

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate


1 Seattle Weather Blog, “2022 Rainfall,” https://www.seattleweatherblog.com/rain-stats/rainfall-2022/.

2 Delores Tarzan Ament, “Namkung, Johsel (1919-2013),” HistoryLink.org, March 3, 2003, https://www.historylink.org/File/5346.

3 Archives of American Art, “Oral history interview with Johsel Namkung, 1989 Oct. 5-1991 Feb. 25,” https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-johsel-namkung-12201#transcript.

Image: Yakima River at Thorp, WA, January 17, 1980, 1980, Johsel Namkung, Chromogenic digital laser print, 40 × 50 in., Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2006.114 © Johsel Namkung.

Muse/News: Art of Folding, Artists in Storefronts, and Rembrandt’s Close-Up

SAM News

You’ve got just under a month to see Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective, closing February 6 at SAM! Catch up on why this exhibition is a can’t-miss with KING5; curator Carrie Dedon recently appeared on both New Day NW and Evening Magazine to share her love for the photographer.

While you’re there, check out the collection galleries, including Folding Into Shape: Japanese Design and Crafts. The Seattle Times’ Jade Yamazaki Stewart recently visited the show, connecting the works on view with childhood memories of intricately wrapped onigiri.

“Folding, wrapping, layering, and weaving are part of some of life’s most important events in Japan: birth, marriage and death. At such significant times in one’s life, the care taken to fold, wrap and layer shows respect and consideration. This carefulness, and astounding craftsmanship, is on full display at the exhibition.”

And finally, here’s the Seattle Times’ list of “13 Seattle-area arts-and-culture events to look forward to in 2022.” Brendan Kiley recommends Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water, SAM’s next special exhibition that opens March 18.

Local News

Here’s Rain Embuscado for the Seattle Times on “Why ‘people have been craving’ Seattle’s First Thursday Art Walks.”

Margo Vansynghel of Crosscut floats to the Belltown studio housing Moth & Myth, a paper butterfly business creating beautiful swarms for customers and galleries.

Amanda Omg for South Seattle Emerald reports on the recent launch of Seattle Restored, a program from the City of Seattle “focused on activating vacant commercial storefronts in Downtown Seattle neighborhoods” that will “prioritize featuring BIPOC artists and entrepreneurs.” Applications are open and on a rolling basis, so get your idea in!

“This is so, so, so important for giving voice to people who might not have a voice in our society,” [Shunpike Executive Director Line] Sandsmark said. “I’ve been in many situations where I’ve been able to see how impactful the arts are in really supporting a healthy society. It’s a wonderful way to make the space available and accessible to people, to artists, who have lost so much space, who have been displaced because of gentrification, to focus on and create more opportunity for those who have had less opportunity in the past.”

Inter/National News

The lede from Artnet’s Sarah Cascone: “A year ago, before the smoke had fully cleared after a group of insurrectionists stormed the Capitol building, curators and historians were already grappling with the complicated question of how best to preserve the historical record.” Read the rest about the rapid-response collecting for January 6 artifacts.

Watch this space: ARTnews reports that a new biopic about the young Jean-Michel Basquiat is in the works, directed by Julius Onah and starring Kelvin Harrison, Jr.

Here’s the Associated Press on how a “new hi-tech photo brings Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ up close.”

“The 717-gigapixel photo allows viewers to zoom in on Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and see how the 17th-century master put the tiniest of white dots in his eyes to give life to the painting’s main character. It also shows the minute cracks in his pupils, brought on by the passage of time.”

And Finally

A must-read: The New York Times’ Wesley Morris on Sidney Poitier.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: L. Fried.

Object of the Week: Nguzu Nguzu

News from Glasgow’s UN Climate Change conference is full of speeches, protests, and debate. Among all the words being spoken, dire predictions of rising sea levels and fresh water scarcity are two issues ringing bells at the museum as we prepare texts and concerns about an exhibition titled Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water to be featured next March. For those who want to augment the news, the exhibition aims to offer a multidimensional exploration based on selections from the museum’s permanent collection and other contemporary works that have been created to help us pause and consider how water is shaping our destiny on this planet. 

A face from the past is an example of art that leads to a haunting reality check. It’s a spirit who stares us down, with wide open eyes, while carefully holding a man’s head. Originally, this spirit was placed as the guardian of a canoe carrying up to 35 men into warfare, or on a quest to chase schools of bonito fish. The stare would have cut through the waves at the prow of the canoe and served to protect the canoe from enemies, difficult waters, or to help keep track of the silvery blue bonito who are known for their speed and unpredictability. Just as this face is adorned with exquisite patterns of shell inlay, so too was the entire canoe, which had towering prows and sterns. Moving into the 21st century, Solomon Islanders continue to create canoes that have guardian prows and vivid decoration that make for astonishing arrivals at festivals.  

However, another Solomon Island offers a tragic story, as seen in a recent BBC trip to the island of Kale. In it, we recognize how talk about the effects of rising sea levels is no longer abstract, but a lived reality.  Please stay tuned for more updates as we prepare our special exhibition for many diverse views of art devoted to water around the world.  

– Pam McClusky, Oliver E. and Pamela F. Cobb Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Image: Canoe prow figure (Nguzu Nguzu), 19th century, Melanesian, Wood, nautilus shell, 10 5/8 x 7 7/8 in., L: 5 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.1443.

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