“This particular one is both contemporary and historical,” [museum director and CEO Sandra] Jackson-Dumont said, referring to the caricatures depicted in the painting. “It bridges popular culture and history. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to make sure the Lucas Museum is participating in expanding the canon.”
Are you ready for
DRAMA? SAM’s trailer for
the major fall exhibition is here in all its glory. Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum
opens October 17; both Seattle
Met and Seattle
Magazine recommend it.
forever. It’s been here since before my grandparents were born and will be here
for longer than my grandchildren. This bubble with outlast my life as a symbol
of how my own life is fleeting. Amongst all that oil paint!”
Reggie Ugwu of the New
York Times reports on last
week’s unveiling in Times Square of Kehinde Wiley’s bronze sculpture
Rumors of War, of a man and “the horse he rode in on, from a previous
century, perhaps, or was it a future one?”
she explains matter-of-factly. “He did not conform to any of the canonical
ideas about painting, about depictions, about points of view—he just misbehaved
and we’re all better for it.”
“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
“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.”
“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.’”
“’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.”
As National Poetry Month comes to a close, if you’re not sure what to read, visit the library inside of the exhibition Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, closing May 13. While there you’ll notice a book of poetry by Morgan Parker titled There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House, 2017). It’s a recent favorite read of this particular copywriter and the cover of the first edition (now sold out) featured a Mickalene Thomas artwork. More importantly, within the pages of this smart, irreverent, and deeply personal collection of poetry is a piece inspired by Thomas, reprinted below! Morgan Parker simultaneously brings great depth to listening to Drake and immense weight to racial discrimination as she fearlessly invokes generations of social injustices within her powerful and playful prose. Parker stopped by the exhibition while visiting Seattle and shared some thoughts on Figuring History as well!
We Don’t Know When We Were Opened (Or, The Origin of the Universe) after Mickalene Thomas
By Morgan Parker
A sip of liquor from a creek. Saturday syndicated
Good Times, bare legs, colors draped like
an afterthought. We bright enough to blind you.
Dear anyone, dear high-heel metronome, white
noise, hush us, shhhhh, hush us. We’re artisinal
crafts, rare gems, bed of leafy bush you call
us superfood. Jeweled lips, we’re rich
We’re everyone. We have ideas and vaginas,
history and clothes and a mother. Portrait-ready
American blues. Palm trees and back issues
of JET, pink lotion, gin on ice, zebras, fig lipstick.
One day we learned to migrate. One day we studied
Mamma making her face. Bright new brown, scent of Nana
and cinnamon. Shadows of husbands and vineyards,
records curated to our allure, incense, unconcern.
Champagne is how the Xanax goes down, royal blue
reigning. We’re begging anyone not to forget
we’re turned on with control. We better homes and gardens.
We real grown. We garden of soiled panties.
We low hum of satisfaction. We is is is is is is is is
touch, touch, shine, a little taste. You’re gonna
give us the love we need.
SAM: Reading We Don’t Know When We Were Opened there’s a lot of assonance that creates repetition and fragmentation that feels to me like a sonic equivalent to Mickalene’s visual fragmentation. What in Thomas’ work inspired you and this poem, formally or thematically?
Morgan Parker: I’ve always loved Mickalene’s work, for the glitter and the color and the attention and the audaciousness. Her work is a celebration, and it’s also a politically intentional decolonization of the art history canon. She builds new worlds and revels in those worlds. I wanted my poem to reflect her work and add to it, translate it in my own words.
How do you think the persona poem and the way that Mickalene Thomas casts her models as art historical figures and tropes relate? Mickalene’s figures are looking right at you and this alters their role—makes them dimensional, such as in a painting like Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet. Where do you think that same dimension lives persona poems?
God I love this painting. I like to think of all my first-person poems as playing with dimensionality. I’m interested in using the singular figure, or voice, to call up cultural figureheads and historical tropes. Persona poems are an extension of that—they have two first-person speakers.
What stuck with you from your visit to the exhibition? Any lingering or new thoughts?
Kerry James Marshall’s Souvenir I always makes me cry. It was also fantastic to see Robert Colescott’s work in person, as I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I love the way it engages stereotypes and recasts history so playfully and comically. In a different way than Mickalene, there’s trickery in acknowledging the audience’s gaze—that’s something I’ll be thinking over for a while.
Morgan Parker is the author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé and Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night. In 2019, a third collection of poems, Magical Negro, will be published by Tin House, and a young adult novel will be published with Delacorte Press. Her debut book of nonfiction will be released in 2020 by OneWorld. Parker is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, winner of a Pushcart Prize, and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is the creator and host of Reparations, Live! at the Ace Hotel. With Tommy Pico, she co-curates the Poets with Attitude (PWA) reading series, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. She lives in Los Angeles.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager
“So often Black women are made small and the idea of expanding into an exhibition that is so large and so inviting and welcoming is incredible and awe inspiring to see a reflection of myself so large in the world.” – Imani Sims, poet and Central District Forum for Art and Ideas curator
Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas is a chance to reflect on your personal history as well as art history and American history. Take a tip from our Personal Histories video series and spend some time at SAM thinking about how you connect to the work on view because of the history that impacts you. Figuring History brings together three generations of contemporary American artists, whose work challenges a Western painting tradition that underrepresents people of color. The vibrant and monumental paintings by these artists offer bold perspectives on Black culture and representation. Presented together for the first time, the figurative paintings of Colescott, Marshall, and Thomas are shaped by distinctive historic events, unique in style, and united in questioning the narratives of history through Black experience. The exhibition closes May 13, so don’t delay!
Looking for more videos related Figuring History? Check out Youtube to hear from the artists!
“Storytelling is very important in hip-hop and I feel like with [Kerry James Marshall’s] pieces that he has in this room, he’s taking the stories and interpreting it in his way and then also giving the next generation something to look at.” – Stasia Irons, rapper and KEXP DJ
“I immediately recognized what I was seeing as happening in my own neighborhood back home in Mississippi.” – Marcellus Turner, City Librarian of Seattle Public Library
Brangien Davis of Crosscut talks with Victoria Haven about Banner Year, an installation in the windows of her South Lake Union studio that beams out messages to passing motorists like “MONEY BALL” and “CULT CLASSIC.”
“’We can say, let’s look at this artwork and appreciate the work that the artist has done to create this, but let’s use a contemporary lens to unpack where these artists were coming from and why they painted the work in this manner,’ said curator Faith Brower. ‘Thankfully our views have now changed over time so we can see this work and critique it in a way that they weren’t capable of critiquing it in the time it was made.’”
“Such was the reality of German and Austrian art, and German and Austrian society, in the initial years of Nazi rule: the awkward coexistence of fascists, democrats and Communists, who heard the rhetoric, who witnessed the hatred, but who still could not see how much horror lay ahead.”
In February, as I prepared to enter the Seattle Art Museum for the Community Celebration for Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, what seemed like endless thoughts swirled around in my mind. It was Black History month and opening weekend for the movie Black Panther— the joy and exuberance of Black culture was palpable in the air.
This was in stark contrast to just over a year earlier, when the collective anguish and discontent of Black society was reeling in the wake of the latest barrage of Black bodies murdered in the streets and broadcast in ‘real time’ for all to view. I still recall the gut-wrenching emotion of watching a Black father, murdered in his vehicle, minutes away from where my own father lived. I remember this pain so vividly because it was not the first time I’d felt it. It was not the first time the Black community watched their brothers, fathers, and sons murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. It was not the first time we were dehumanized in the public theater. It was not the first time we were criminalized for being. It was history repeating itself.
The weight and memory of historical trauma accompanied me into the museum, tugging at my coat with each breath of Black excellence I inhaled. As I stood in gratitude for Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, and Robert Colescott, I also stood in sorrow of the circumstances that produced such beautiful stories and art. In each historical work I found traces of my own story. In Colescott’s Matthew Henson and the Quest for the North Pole, (pictured at the top of this post) the images of Black bodies being simultaneously brutalized and fetishized depict the story of my great-great-grandmother who was raped by her oppressor, giving birth to my great-grandfather who would later be praised for his “passable” complexion, wavy hair, and light eyes. Marshall’s Souvenir II portrays a cloud of witnesses, prominently featuring Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, hallmarks in the home of my own, and many other Black grandmothers across the country, and emblematic of the complicated socio-political relationship we share with this nation.
In Thomas’ Resist, the Civil Rights era struggle of my parents was laid in front of me through a collage of violent vignettes. As I watched this piece I saw my uncle’s resistance, which left him brutally beaten and jailed for having the audacity to seek a human existence. I also saw my father and his siblings, the first to integrate the school systems in North Carolina. I felt the collective fear and courage he carried with him as the only Black student in his school. And as my chest tightened, breath shortened and fists clinched I remembered where I stood—rooted in the past, squarely in the present, carrying my portion of the mantle of Black excellence. As I gathered myself, I walked out of the museum breathing in the joy and exuberance of Black culture. Each breath gradually healing the wounds of my genetic trauma.
– Benji Anderson, Artist (@benjipnewton)
Benji Anderson is an artist, theologian and philosopher. Three identities that suffered separate existences for much of Benji’s life. Born in the South and raised in the Mid West, his early cultural learnings taught Benji that it was not only prudent, but necessary to compartmentalize his identities. Surprisingly it was through his academic journey that Benji began to fully exist as a being capable of complex, and seemingly contradictory identity. As a Master of Divinity student, Benji embarked on a process of deep self-excavation, which, upon completion of his degree, provided Benji with the license to live authentically.
As theologian and philosopher, Benji is concerned with the quality and depth of life. As artist, Benji concerns himself with the creative expression of his theosophical existence. Using a variety of mediums Benji endeavors to create multi-sensory pieces that thrust the viewer into the experience of the artist – not simply as a voyeur, but as a participant.
“If your heart is in the right place, if you put in the work, and have the diligence to be the best at your craft, and people can see that, they’ll want to help you. When I do my job better, people get to interact with the arts better, so that demands that I rise to the occasion because there’s a lot of other people’s work on my shoulders that I don’t want to disappoint.”
“We have a very particular way of relating to objects,” she notes. “They can generate emotion. They can literally transport you to the moment in which you received the object. Or they can tell you the story of your whole family or of your whole culture.”
This week, on April 4, marks 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis. The New York Times asks what the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel can tell us about this moment.
“What they’ll find in its permanent collection is a monument to a movement and, secondarily, to a man, in a display that focuses on difficult, sometimes ambiguous historical data more than on pure celebration. And they’ll find, if they are patient, useful information for the 2018 present, and for the future.”
“Did somebody mention ART?” Art history + celebrity culture = genius.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations
Image: Installation view Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at Seattle Art Museum, 2018. Photo: Natali Wiseman
“One thing I always try to do in my choreography is to make the dancers as human as possible. I want the audience to be able to relate to them as people, as opposed to classical 18th-century ballet figures.”
“It hurts because those Birmingham girls, often commemorated in what look like class portraits, could have been goofy, self-conscious, bookish, or disobedient. Maybe they didn’t even want to go to church that day; maybe one had a sore throat. They were kids.”
The Seattle Art Museum collection spans ancient and contemporary art across continents—perfect for examining historical artworks through the critical framework of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas. While you’re here, listen to new collection audio tour additions from creative community members on objects from our collection or use the question and information below as way of looking again at the works you see at SAM regularly.
How does the narrator of a story change how the story is told?
Susanna and the Elders, an oft-painted Old Testament tale, is recast in a contemporary context by Robert Colescott in the image of his painting, above. This subject is popular throughout art history for featuring the nude female figure and also allowing viewers to morally condemn the lecherous elders. Colescott inserts himself in this scene as a Peeping Tom in the window to show how, in his presentation of the nude female form, the artist is complicit with the elders, as are the viewers as they too watch Susanna bathe.
Albert Beirstadt had not visited inland Washington when he painted Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast in 1870. It was likely commissioned by a shipping magnate making money from the West coast who wanted a painting to get America imagining where their future modern seaport might soon arise. Because of the patron, this pioneering painting of the past is actually a new maritime civilization’s prologue.
Louis-Philippe Crépin depicts lives lost in the name of discovery in Shipwreck Off the Coast of Alaska. At the right are two Tlingit witnesses who helped search for survivors of the La Pérouse expedition. The French expedition and the shipwreck became part of the Tlingit oral tradition. However, when La Pérouse named this the Bay of the French, it was clear from the trading skills of the Tlingit, that this expedition was not the first to find this bay.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist and Social Media Manager
Photos: Installation view of Close Ups at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman. Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, 1870, Albert Bierstadt, born Solingen, Prussia, 1830; died New York City, 1902, oil on canvas, 52 1/2 x 82 in., Gift of the Friends of American Art at the Seattle Art Museum, with additional funds from the General Acquisition Fund, 2000.70, photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Extreme Nature at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
Margo Vansynghel of City Arts lauds the exhibition’s “dazzling brilliance” in her review, which includes interviews with both Kerry James Marshall and Mickalene Thomas, conducted while the artists were in Seattle for the opening.
“…filled to the brink with visual sumptuousness. Chambers to remember. Spaces filled with Black joy and Black books. Behind every corner, there’s texture and depth, and dazzling brilliance.”
In what’s definitely the most fascinating interview I read this week, Artnet spoke with Arthur Jafa about intersectionality, blackness, and “not going for ‘good.’”
Hyperallergic reviews the Monarchs exhibition, now on view at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, which features work by “people native to the Americas,” including Jeffrey Gibson, Nicholas Galanin, and Wendy Red Star.
What DOES one get Rihanna on the occasion of her 30th birthday?? One artist decided on this.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations
Photo: Installation view of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Stephanie Fink.
What do you know about the three artists in Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas? Take a minute to learn more about the people behind the paintings currently on view at SAM as we share 10 surprising facts about each of them. This month we’re focused on Robert Colescott. Colescott’s work is bold, colorful, often satirical, and packed with meaning.
Colescott’s parents were accomplished musicians who played jazz, blues, and classical music. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Colescott also had musical talent—growing up he played the drums and always kept a drum kit in his studio.
Despite painting and drawing from a young age, Colescott originally wanted to go into international relations. He decided to pursue his passion for art since he was told at the time there wouldn’t be a future for him in the field as an Black person.
Robert Colescott married five times.
Colescott was thrust into international spotlight as the first Black painter to have a solo exhibit at the Venice Biennale in Italy.
Robert Colescott’s older brother Warrington Colescott is an also an artist best known for his etchings.
Oski wow wow! Colescott graduated from the University of California, Berkeley where he received both his bachelors and masters.
A world traveler, Colescott spent an year in Paris at an atelier studying with artist Fernand Léger.
In the early 1950s, Colescott moved to Seattle and taught junior high school in the Seattle Public School District.
Colescott was a veteran—he volunteered to serve in the US Army after graduating High School in 1942 and fought in the 86th Blackhawk Division during World War II.
Colescott has five sons and a grandson. His grandson, Colescott Rubin, is also a jazz musician and played at the opening celebration of Figuring History in front of his grandfather’s painting, Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas.
See Colescott’s work in person at the Seattle Art Museum. Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas will be on view until Sunday May 13!
– Nina Dubinsky, Social Media Coordinator
Image: Installation view Figuring History: Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, 2018, at Seattle Art Museum. Photo: Natali Wiseman
The Stranger put together a list of all the best Black History Month events: SAM exhibitions Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas and Sondra Perry: Eclogue for [in]HABITABILITY both make the cut.
“It’s often difficult to know which way up a painting should be.” A Morris Lewis painting at the Jewish Museum is on view with a new name—and a new orientation.
Joyce J. Scott’s sculptures, quilts, and necklaces are on view in her most comprehensive exhibition to date at New Jersey’s Grounds for Sculpture; one of the exhibition’s curators is Lowery Stokes Sims, who contributed an essay to the Figuring History catalogue.
“’My work is politically and socially oriented because that’s what keeps me up at night,’ Scott added. ‘It’s important to me to use art in a manner that incites people to look and carry something home — even if it’s subliminal — that might make a change in them.’”
February also brings the return of Seattle Museum Month, during which visitors to participating downtown hotels get half-price admission to area museums (including SAM!). For that, Travel + Leisure and Architectural Digest both included Seattle among their winter travel recommendations.
“There’s nothing that I’ve created in the gallery that’s more horrifying than what’s outside those doors. The lynchings have not stopped, they’ve merely changed forms—from rope to guns. I created a new piece called ‘You Might be Disturbed by Images Beyond This Point.’ I’ll place it at the exit of every gallery I show at, because I can’t make anything more disturbing than reality.”
“Look at it this way: A film like The Commuter, which must not be missed, is your fat-rich steak, and a movie like Bergman’s Through the Glass Darkly or Silence or Persona is your broccoli. You just can’t eat steak all of the time. You will die from just eating steak. You need your veggies. You can almost live forever on a diet of just films of the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.”
“Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires (The Three Black Women), part of a new group exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, depicts the subjects in a mosaic of vibrant colors, fragmented shapes, rhinestones and glittered Afros. ‘These women are so grounded and perfectly comfortable in their own space,’ says Catharina Manchanda, a curator at the museum. ‘While we might be looking at them, they are also sizing us up.’”
Noted architect Tom Kundig leads a tour of the best Seattle architecture in this CNN Travel video; the Olympic Sculpture Park is one of his picks.
We enjoyed this Architects Newspaper salute to Denise Scott Brown on her 85th birthday; in which they share notable stories of her general awesomeness. Scott Brown—along with her partner, Robert Venturi—designed the original Seattle Art Museum that opened in 1991.
“There’s a million ways to be a woman. There’s a million ways to be a mother. And there’s a million ways to be an architect.” –Denise Scott Brown.
Watch this lovely KCTS tribute to ceramicist Akio Takamori, featuring interviews with his former UW colleagues and students, including Patti Warashina and Jamie Walker. His Blue Princess (2009) is currently on view at SAM.
“This major career survey of the American artist who bucked every ‘-ism’ of the late 20th century to follow his own distinctive path in figurative art looks like a stunner. SAM curator Patricia Junker has assembled 110 works by Wyeth for the show and written an impressive-looking catalog that digs deep into the accomplishments of the painter on the 100th anniversary of his birth.”
And Seattle Met’s October print edition recommends In Retrospect as one of their picks for the month, noting the “profound emotional stakes underneath all the quotidian realism” found in Wyeth’s work.
“’These films have so much charisma, so much dark, wicked glamour to the way the stories are told and visualized,’ said SAM film curator Greg Olson, who has curated the series since its beginnings in the mid-70s. ‘It’s kind of intoxicating.’”
Seattle Weekly’s Minh Nguyen reviews the “luminous, underrated” media art of Doris Totten Chase, now on view at the Henry.
Last Friday, SAM announced that Molly Vaughan is the winner of the 2017 Betty Bowen Award; The Stranger and Seattle Gay Scene shared the news. Deborah Lawrence and Ko Kirk Yamahira also won Special Recognition Awards. Join us for a free award ceremony honoring all the winners on Thursday, November 9 at the Seattle Art Museum. Vaughan’s installation premieres at SAM on April 21, 2018.
UW’s School of Art + Art History + Design and the Jacob Lawrence Gallery announced this week that artist C. Davida Ingram is the recipient of the 2018 Jacob Lawrence Legacy Residency. Go, Davida!
This fall, the Office of Arts & Culture brings you the Seattle Center Sculpture Walk, featuring eight temporary installations—including one from our recent Emerging Arts Leader Intern, Kalina Chung. Go, Kalina!
Hyperallergic on We the People, now on view at the M in Minneapolis, featuring “pieces that grapple not only with American identity but with an all-out call for revolution.” Molly Vaughan is one of the exhibition’s artists (hey, we know her!).
Could be that first bit of fall chill in the air, but I enjoyed this Artnet article—inspired by a show on view at Bowdoin College Museum of Art—on the art historical roots of memento mori.
Ezra Jack Keats’s bestselling children’s book The Snowy Day has charmed generations—and now its hero, Peter, will be featured on U.S. Postal Service Forever stamps.
Crayola debuted “Bluetiful,” its new hue inspired by chemist Mas Subramanian’s accidental pigment discovery. Bliss out on the magic of crayon-creation with this Sesame Street throwback.
Sometimes our reactions and reflections on artwork do not take the shape of words. Sometimes the most accurate portrayal of emotion and thought is an ephemeral, physical reaction. David Rue, dancer and SAM’s Public Programs Coordinator, had just such a reaction to Robert Colescott’s Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas while leading an Art & Social Justice Tour in January of 2017. Enjoy this video of Rue’s response to the vibrant colors of Colescott’s “outsider’s” perspective. Colescott’s artistic identity as an African American painter led to a lifelong practice of inventing new narrative scenarios to address the persistent racial tensions in the US. See more work by Colescott in Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas opening at SAM, February 15, 2018.
Artwork: Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas, Robert Colescott, American, 1925—2009, 1985, acrylic on canvas, 96 x 92 in., General Acquisition Fund, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, and Patricia Denny Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.12.