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Lunchtime Artist Spotlight: Kristen Ramirez

Take a lunch break for a conversation and some art making with Kristen Ramirez, a Seattle-based interdisciplinary artist. Ramirez toggles between many media and practices and tends to use hard-edge geometric forms in her large-scale murals and public works. Ramirez’s work has a clear visual connection to artists like Anne Truit, Frank Stella, and Kenneth Noland, featured in SAM’s collections.

Want to make art with Kristen? Be ready with a piece of paper, blue tape (aka painters tape), and some mark-making tools (like markers, paint, or crayons). If you have scrap wood and old house paint, all the better.

About the artist

Ramirez is also an educator and arts administrator, championing aspiring artists and established artists alike. Ramirez has taught at the University of Washington, Edmonds Community College, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Path with Art, and Cornish College of the Arts. She currently manages public art projects for the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture and Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT).

Object of the Week: Dancewand for Sango

2020 has unleashed epic storms—a pandemic hurricane, tornadoes of lost jobs, and whirlwinds of racism. Meanwhile, in the center of Seattle, a new monument has appeared, offering the vision of a goddess named Oya, who offers to make way for changes in 2021. 

Oya comes from a culture—the Yoruba of Nigeria—that has long seen storms as cultural texts. She is related to a kneeling woman at SAM who holds a bowl and supports two thunderbolts on her head. This woman is a devotee of Sango, a deity who resides in the skies as a champion of justice who hates liars, thieves, and wrongdoers; who claps thunder and throws lightning down to strike them.[1] Sango is tempestuous but can also be generous, and he may choose to send his explosive energy to women who care for children and others. In this sculpture at SAM, the devotee kneels to pay tribute to the earth as an omnipotent witness, remaining calm to balance Sango’s bolts, and was once carried by a priest or priestess in a sacred drama filled with a unique soundtrack. Sango employs thunder—the loudest sound that nature makes—and his powerful presence is evoked in a distinctive way. If you’ve never heard bata drumming, below is a clip recorded in Nigeria; the video takes you to a family of drummers who fill the air with the intensity of a storm with frenetic crescendos that boggle the mind and ignite the spirit. [2]   

Oya is Sango’s consort. Her winds clear the path of opposition, helping him remove any obstacles to change. You can feel her presence in playful winds, or in more dangerous tornadoes and hurricanes. This year, she has risen to public glory at 24th and Jackson, in Seattle’s Central District. A creative couple—Marita Dingus and Preston Hampton—gave her new form, inventing a swirling body of metal ribbons that suggest her windy demeanor, while her face of concentrated composure looks for places where she can sweep aside trauma and deceit to make way for healing. 

Here is the couple’s explanation of how Oya came into focus:

So, how can Oya help us at the end of 2020?  In Yorubaland, she is known to be fond of black-eyed peas. When Yoruba were forced to move to America, Cuba, and Brazil as slaves, they brought black-eyed peas, called ewa, with them. In a turn of language, ewa puns with wa, the essence of existence. Eating them in America was coded secret devotion. Today, it is understood that eating black-eyed peas at new years can bring good luck.[3]

You may join in Oya’s quest to stir up radical shifts of being in 2021. Cook some black-eyes peas and talk about what changes you’d like to see, then visit Oya, or stand in her winds, and send her your words of hope for new paths to be found. Goodbye, 2020—let Oya’s breeze of blessing and winds of transformation unfurl in the New Year. 

Pam McClusky, SAM Curator of African and Oceanic Art


[1] Babatunde Lawal is a Yoruba scholar whose work on Sango sculpture and explanations of the larger context for understanding Sango is highly recommended. Here is one talk by Professsor Lawal: Stellar Connections: Explorations in Cultural Astronomy – Pt. 4, Babatunde Lawal – YouTube
[2] Performance by Ayan Agalu, “May the spirit of drumming carry one aloft,” March 2017, Erin Osun, recorded by Andrew Frankel. 
[3] Franck Kuwonu, “Black-eyed peas: A taste of Africa in the AmericasUN | Africa Renewal, December 24, 2019.
Image: Dancewand for Sango, Nigerian, wood, 19 7/8 x 7 9/16 x 4 5/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 67.91. Winds of Change: We Are Still Here, 2020, Marita Dingus and Preston Hampton, Jackson Apartments, Seattle, Washington.

Tour Public Art with Jinny Wright

While you can’t visit City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped a New Seattle currently, you can still experience the artful legacy left behind by Jinny Wright. Discover outdoor art in Seattle with this tour of public art acquired or commissioned by The Virginia Wright Fund. The fund was created for Jinny by her father Prentice Bloedel in 1969. Jinny stated, “Commissioning works of art for public spaces was unheard of in the late ’60s.”

Follow along to see the outdoor art that shaped a new Seattle through the initiative of Jinny Wright.

Broken Obelisk, Barnett Newman, (1963-67)
University of Washington

The representation of the obelisk as broken and inverted is intended as protest and critique of power and colonial ambition. It’s as resonant today as it was in the midst of the Vietnam War when the artist created the work.

Iliad, Alexander Liberman, 1984
Seattle Center

See this piece from all angles by walking both around and through the portal of this bright red constellation of circular forms.

Moses, Tony Smith, 1975
Seattle Center

Originally commissioned as a plywood maquette in the 1960s by the Contemporary Art Council—another brainchild of Jinny Wright—the welded steel piece, coated in black paint was realized with the help of the Wright Fund.

Wandering Rocks, Tony Smith, 2016
Olympic Sculpture Park

Make sure to walk around this five-part installation for a sense of how the artist plays with volume and perspective and geometric forms.

Bunyon’s Chess, 1965 & Schubert’s Sonata, 1992, Mark di Suvero,
Olympic Sculpture Park

Jinny Wright greatly admired Mark di Suvero. Bunyon’s Chess was Jinny’s first private commission made for her garden in the 1960s, while Schubert’s Sonata was commissioned by Jinny and the museum to be installed at the edge of Puget Sound.

Adjacent, Against, Upon, 1976, Michael Heizer
Myrtle Edwards Park

This art by Michael Heizer combines cast concrete forms and granite slabs quarried in the Cascade Mountains.

Curve, Ellsworth Kelly, 1981 & Split, Roxy Paine, 2003
Olympic Sculpture Park

Head to the PACCAR Pavilion and you’ll spot two more works from Jinny’s personal collection. Ellsworth Kelly’s Curve is installed on the entrance wall to the Pavilion and Roxy Pain’s stainless steel tree Split can be seen in the meadow below.

Hammering Man, Jonathon Borofsky, 1992
Seattle Art Museum

Conclude at SAM’s downtown location where the Hammering Man hammers 24/7, only resting once a year on Labor Day. This piece was commissioned for In Public: Seattle 1991 and supported by the Wright Fund.

Extend your tour to Western Washington University in Bellingham for a campus sculpture tour—Jinny’s Wright Fund brought spectacular commissions by artists such as Nancy Holt, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, and Mark di Suvero to campus for all to enjoy.

Images: Hammering Man (detail), 1992, Jonathan Borofsky, Seattle Art Museum 1% for Art funds, Museum Development Authority, Virginia Wright Fund, and Seattle City Light 1% for Art funds, photo: Natali Wiseman. Mark di Suvero, painted and unpainted steel, height: 22 ft., Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, The Virginia Wright Fund, and Bagley Wright, 95.81, © Mark di Suvero. Adjacent, Against, Upon, 1976, Michael Heizer, National Endowment for the Arts, Contemporary Art Council of the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Arts Commission, Seattle City Light 1% for Art funds, photo: Spike Mafford. Curve XXIV, 1981, Ellsworth Kelly, American, born 1923, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2016.17.2, © Ellsworth Kelly. Split, 2003, Roxy Paine, American, born 1966, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, © Roxy Paine.

Object of the Week: War

Art has always played a key role in the work of protest and social reform. Artists’ reactions to our current moment, filled with social unrest and calls for social change, echo the works of revolutionary artists working during the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920). Amelio Amero, like his contemporaries Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, created murals for the public art projects supported by the Revolutionary government of Mexico.

Rivera’s 1932 lithographic print depicting Emiliano Zapata, the leader of the peasant revolution who became a symbol for agrarian rights, showcases the naturalist style that the Mexican muralists used. These socialist artists were aptly committed to public art and they were committed to creating art that was accessible to the general public. As a member of the Estridentistas artist group, he followed the Italian Futurist groups and believed in non-elitist art. In addition to large public murals, these artists also created prints which could be quickly and cheaply made and disseminated widely. Although highly skilled in the case of Rivera, the lithograph—made using a stone and a crayon—didn’t require the artist to make their image in reverse, nor did it require specialized training. Additionally, the prints could easily be transported and would reach a broader audience.

In War (1944), Amero uses the same lithographic printing technique in an image that combines a critique of violence and militarized conflict with a promise that violence can end through the hands of brave citizens. As the booted, helmeted soldier prepares to thrash a citizen who has been literally brought to her knees, with a hungry child beside her, she raises her face to the sky, closes her eyes, and holds up a strong, oversized hand in an act of faith and protest. The hand reaches out from the shadows to provide hope for those struggling through the unjust times.

Born in Ixtlahuaca, Mexico in 1901, Amero came to the United States in 1925 via Cuba to work in New York, which is where he became interested in Lithography. In 1940 Amero returned to the United States to teach art in Seattle at the University of Washington and the Cornish College of the Arts. During his time teaching in Seattle, Washington, and Norman, Oklahoma, where he taught at the University of Oklahoma from 1946 until the end of his career. Amero continued to create works that depicted Mexico, and worked in the Mexican muralist style, favoring realistic, hyper-cylindrical figures depicted in tempera and lithography, over the abstract and oil paint heavy styles gaining popularity in the mid-century.

As we all confront issues of violence and oppression in our current society, Amero’s work is a reminder for us to support artists calling for change.

– Genevieve Hulley, SAM Curatorial Intern, American Art

Images: War, 1944, Emilio Amero, lithograph, 23 1/8 x 19 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.84 © Estate of Emilio Amero. Zapata, 1932, Diego Rivera, lithograph, 16 1/4 x 13 3/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.623 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

Muse/News: Eagle’s makeover, open gazes, and dancing wire

SAM News

Brangien Davis of Crosscut notices that Alexander Calder’s The Eagle, the monumental sculpture that perches in the Olympic Sculpture Park, has its own protective covering these days. She spoke with SAM Chief Conservator Nick Dorman about the conservation and repainting of the steel sculpture, thanks to a grant from Bank of America. Look for “the big reveal” sometime around Labor Day. 

The sculpture park is where it’s at these days: John Prentice of KOMO’s Seattle Refined interviewed SAM curator Carrie Dedon about how important accessible public art is—now more than ever.

“‘Anything that can broaden your horizons or challenge your worldview, or spark your emotions, these are the things that make us human and connect us to our humanity,’ Dedon said.”

Local News

Longtime cultural critic Misha Berson writes an opinion piece for Crosscut, outlining her thoughts on how “the arts need a New Deal to survive the pandemic.”

Tom Keogh for the Seattle Times has recommendations for some streamable films (a TV series) about presidential campaigns that “give us a peek into the peculiar business of running for the White House.”

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig takes her “Currently Hanging” series outside of Seattle; here, she visits Jordan Casteel’s Within Reach, viewable via the New Museum

“Her subject, Devan, stares openly at the viewer, seemingly aware of our gaze on his body, our intrusion on his space, our sussing out of his mental state…Devan projects an openness, a sort of straightforward vulnerability that makes this painting compelling.”

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone on several upcoming art projects in Tusla, Oklahoma to memorialize the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, during which white mobs destroyed homes and “Black Wall Street,” killing at least 300 Black residents. 

The American Alliance of Museums is out with another survey on the impacts of COVID-19; Valentina Di Liscia of Hyperallergic outlines the major findings, including that 12,000 institutions may close permanently.

Thessaly La Force for the New York Times’ T Magazine on artist Ruth Asawa, who spent her teenage years in two concentration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II and whose important sculptural work has long been overlooked.

“I have stood in a gallery hung with Asawa’s wire sculptures, where the movement of my own body has caused them to sway, the shadows of the woven wire dancing against the floor. For a moment, I was quietly transported elsewhere — to the deep sea, to a forest or maybe to someplace altogether unearthly.”

And Finally

The making of washi paper

Photo: Sarah Michael

Muse/News: Art parks, virtual festivals, and good trouble

SAM News

For Smithsonian Magazine, Elissaveta M. Brandon explores “the magic of open-air, art-studded parks.” SAM director and CEO Amada Cruz is quoted on the importance of the Olympic Sculpture Park to “the daily life of the city.”

SAM Shop is included in this HuffPost round-up of “The Best Museum Stores For Online Shopping.” Head to the site to explore SAM exclusives and other art-centric finds.

Local News

Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger reports on the quiet reopening of Seattle galleries. A group of galleries had asked to be included in Phase 2 and were granted permission; with precautions in place, “going to the gallery doesn’t look that much different from before.”

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis makes a quick run to their offices at Seattle Center—and finds herself pondering public art and spaces and the stories they’ve told and tell. She also shouts out In the Spirit, a new online show of work by contemporary Native artists from the Washington State History Museum.

The Seattle Times’ Yasmeen Wafai reports on Seattle’s Bon Odori festival, which will be going virtual for the first time in its 88 years of annual celebration. 

“Although the festival won’t be the same this year, Moriguchi noted that part of Buddhism is about change and adapting, so they still plan to make the most of it. He said he will try to do a Google Hangout or Zoom with friends while they watch. Mostly, he hopes people will still dance along at home.”

Inter/National News

Lesley L. L. Blume for the New York Times on museums’ intense efforts to locate and preserve artifacts and ephemera of this three-pronged historic moment.

Writer Saidiya Hartman for Artforum on Black radical traditions of refusal and imagination, and how they persist throughout history up to the present day.

Washington Post contributor Michele Norris with a powerful tribute to civil rights hero and Congressman John Lewis, who has passed away at the age of 80. In 2017, SAM was honored to host Congressman Lewis for a talk on his graphic novel, MARCH.

“He took the billy club they beat him with at Selma and turned it into a baton, a relay man running toward that promise in our founding documents that says all men are created equal when the word “all” really meant some and not others.”

And Finally

Suggested viewing: Good Trouble, the documentary directed by Dawn Porter.

 Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Benjamin Benschneider

Virtual Art Talks: Public Art with Teresita Fernández

Listen in as artist Teresita Fernández joins Amada Cruz, SAM’s llsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, for a virtual salon. This talk took place just days before our country erupted in protest of systemic racism and touches on how Teresita has been addressing America’s long history of power and oppression in her public artworks as well as within her current installation at the Pérez Art Museum. Featuring artworks created between 2005 and 2017, this exhibition includes “Fire (United States of the Americas).” Made shortly after the election of Donald Trump but referencing an 1848 treaty with Mexico that drastically altered the maps and notions of our present day nation states, “Fire” is a timely and haunting vision of how ideas of land and ownership impact concepts of who the public is when we talk about public art. This important conversation asks us to consider our role as viewers in understanding and shifting our own perspectives.

MacArthur fellow, Teresita Fernández is renowned for her immersive installations that seduce the viewer with their beauty but serve as a reminder of how landscapes contain history, violence, and power. Here, in Seattle, she is known for her stunning work commissioned for SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park, “Seattle Cloud Cover.” This salon was originally presented as part of SAM’s Contributors Circles Members Salon Series. A benefit to our generous Contributor Circles Members, we are pleased to share this intimate salon with all of you while you stay home home SAM.

Object of the Week: Fountain

Situated beside the sublime glass and steel edifice of the Seattle Public Library Central branch stands Fountain of Wisdom (1958–60), designed by George Tsutakawa. This piece was the artists’ first public fountain commission after a prolific career as a painter, sculptor, and teacher in the Pacific Northwest. Within the Seattle Art Museum’s collection is Fountain (1971), a bronze metal sculpture that helps tell the story of Tsutakawa’s unique Japanese-American experience.

Tsutakawa was born in Seattle in 1910 and spent his early years in Capitol Hill, not far from Volunteer Park. At the age of seven, like many American-born kibei, he was sent to Japan for an education in Japanese art and culture. When he returned to Seattle a decade later, he studied sculpture at the University of Washington and spent his summers working in the Alaska canaries. Drafted into the US Army during World War II, Tsutakawa returned to UW as a graduate student on the GI Bill. Soon after, he began his teaching career in the School of Art.

During the mid-1950s, artist Johsel Namkung introduced Tsutakawa to a book called Beyond the High Himalayas. Included were descriptions of ritually stacked stone structures accumulated by travelers at mountain passes as private and public spiritual offerings.[1] The influence of these obos proved to be profoundly impactful on Tsutakawa, forming the basis of much of the rest of his life’s work. After creating a series of abstract wooden sculptures, Tsutakawa translated obos into metal sculptures and public fountains.

Fountain stands over five feet tall and is composed of a single vertical axis that holds a stack of abstract forms: a footed base, a pronged shallow bowl, intersecting parabolic-shapes, and a hallowed ovoid. It is easy to imagine this sculpture as a fountain, water flowing over and through the bronze forms; the symmetry adding to its geometry.

From 1960 until his death in 1997, Tsutakawa designed and fabricated over 70 fountains. His work can be found all along the West Coast, as well as in Washington, DC, Florida, Canada, and across Japan. Fortunately for Seattleites, a crowd-sourced map has been created to help us locate this important artists’ public works.

– Steffi Morrison, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art

[1] Kingsbury, Martha. George Tsutakawa. Seattle: Bellevue Art Museum and University of Washington Press, 1990.
Image: Fountain, 1971, George Tsutakawa, welded sheet bronze, 65 x 37 x 45 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Langdon S. Simons, Jr., 86.276 © George Tsutakawa Estate

The Hammering Man is the worker in all of us

Twenty-four years ago this month, a near-disaster kept one of the iconic artworks at SAM from swinging into motion.

Johnathan Borofsky’s Hammering Man—a monumental moving sculpture owned by the City of Seattle and situated just outside SAM on 1st Avenue and University—honors the women and men of the working classes in impressive style. Measuring 48 feet tall and weighing in at approximately 22,000 pounds, he needs a long, powerful swing to bring down his hammer, which he manages at a clip of two and a half times per minute. His massive size caused serious issues for the team that took on the tall task of installing him on September 28, 1991. On that unlucky day, a lift-strap supporting the sculpture snapped, causing it to fall roughly one foot. Photographer John Stamets captured the carnage from across 1st Ave., atop the roof of the notorious Lusty Lady exotic dance parlor.

Hamming Man Collapses in 1991, Photo by John Stamets

The damage was significant enough that the sculpture had to be sent back cross-country to the foundry in Connecticut where it had been produced. Seattleites were left to wait another year to see Hammering Man installed again, which happened successfully in September of 1992. Opportunistic vendors turned out for that second installation, selling postcards with Stamets’ crash photography at $2.50 a piece. The multiple efforts and the wait were well worth it. Today, Hammering Man remains one of Seattle’s most popular artworks and public monuments.

As a silhouette, the figure is anonymous, lacking any particular features that might help us to identify him. This allows him to serve as a global symbol—a champion of all working classes and a celebration of their accomplishments.

We hope you’ll visit SAM to see this monument to the worker on Labor Day! As a bonus, you can look forward to the last day of our critically acclaimed Disguise: Masks & Global African Art exhibition, a multi-sensory experience featuring art by contemporary artists of African origin or descent. Cheers!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Photo: Benjamin Benschneider. Collapse of Hammering Man during installation at Seattle Art Museum photographed by John Stamets from the roof of the Lusty Lady exotic dance parlor (and detail), September 28, 1991, Photo by John Stamets,© 1991, John Stamets