SAM Art: A charming drawing and a powerful lady

This lively, prancing horse with its soldier rider originally caught the eye of museum staff as a potential memorial purchase in honor of Emma Collins Downey (Mrs. Archibald Stewart Downey). Mrs. Downey was an early museum supporter, whose bequest to the museum allowed for several important purchases of art; one proposed option was this drawing. However, when Mrs. Downey’s niece, Emma Baillargeon Stimson (Mrs. Thomas D. Stimson) saw the sensitively rendered drawing, she liked it so much that she decided to purchase it for her own collection. Mrs. Stimson ultimately did donate the drawing to the museum, in honor of her late husband rather than her late aunt.

Emma Baillargeon Stimson exerted even more lasting influence on the museum than did her aunt. During WWII, while Dr. Richard E. Fuller completed his military service, she became the first female director of the institution. A woman with wide-ranging tastes, she is one of the leading collectors celebrated in A Fuller View of China, Japan, and Korea, now on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

 Cuirassier on Horseback, 1814-1815, Jean Louis Andre Theodore Gericault (French, 1791-1824), sepia and ink on paper, 14 3/4 x 9 5/16 in., Thomas D. Stimson Memorial Collection, 53.78. Not currently on view.

SAM Art: Age-old Japanese fashion

Worn by a Buddhist holy person, the kesa is a one-piece Japanese garment said to be modeled on the robe of the historical Buddha. Early kesa were composed of brown or saffron colored scraps of fabric cut from discarded rags and sewn together in a patchwork fashion, though luxurious robes were later used within the pieced designs . This construction method resonates with the contemporary techniques used by the designers celebrated in Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion.

While the avant-garde couture in Future Beauty leaves Seattle next week (this Sunday, 8 September, is the last day to see the show), the more traditional Japanese garments highlighted in Going for Gold will remain on view until December.

Kesa, 18th-19th century, Japanese, silk with metallic threads, 46 x 81 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.667. Currently on view in Going for Gold, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: An uncommon history

While we often have a general understanding, rarely does a museum know specifically where works of art were originally used or seen. We do not know what home most Egyptian vases or Peruvian textiles graced; we do not know what parlor or library was home to German prints or American drawings; so many works in the SAM collection have an equal air of mystery.

A rare exception to this rule, we know the entire history of one Assyrian relief in the SAM collection. This fragment adorned a wall in the Palace of Assurbanipal II at Nineveh starting in the 7th century BC, from where it was excavated by a British team in August, 1854. After being given as a gift to a friend of the archaeologist’s, it remained in that man’s family until just before the museum acquired the work in 1946. The fragment, with its unique history, is now featured in the exhibition Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth, at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art (Willamette University, Salem, Oregon), opening this Saturday.

Bas-Relief Fragment, Neo-Assyrian, ca. 670 B.C., stone, 10 x 8 1/2 x 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection and Hagop Kevorkian, 46.49. On view at Hallie Ford Museum, Salem, Oregon, starting Saturday, 31 August.

SAM Art: Ruth Asawa, in memoriam

A key element in Imogen Cunningham’s photography practice was interaction with fellow artists. This began during her years in Edward Curtis’s Seattle portrait studio, and endured through her many decades of work.

After leaving Seattle, Cunningham lived and worked in San Francisco, where she forged a close friendship with American sculptor Ruth Asawa. Asawa’s woven, hanging sculptures figure prominently in Cunningham’s photographs from the 1950s, recurring motifs that are now associated nearly as closely with Cunningham as they are with Asawa.

In Memoriam: Ruth Asawa, 1926-2013

Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture, 1957, Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976), gelatin silver print, 10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.43, © (1957), 2009 Imogen Cunningham Trust. Not currently on view, but accessible at www.seattleartmuseum.org/emuseum.

SAM Art: A legacy that lives on

A man who sought to use his skills and resources to serve his community, Dr. Richard E. Fuller (1897–1976) acted as Director of the Seattle Art Museum from its founding in 1933 until 1973. His passion for Asian art, at a time when its importance was not yet fully acknowledged in this country, was ignited in childhood by his mother’s “cabinet of curiosities,” full of the treasures she collected in her own youthful travels in Asia. Together with his mother, Mrs. Eugene (Margaret Elizabeth MacTavish) Fuller, Dr. Fuller built for Seattle one of the premier collections of Asian art in the United States.

In recent decades, public appreciation and understanding of Asian art has increased greatly. On the occasion of the museum’s 80th anniversary this year, the exhibition, A Fuller View of China, Japan, and Korea is both a tribute and a celebration of Dr. Fuller’s legacy and special recognition of SAM’s sustained efforts in collecting and researching Asian art.

Dr. Richard E. Fuller holding Ewer with bridge handle, early 17th century, Japanese, Mino ware, Oribe style; glazed stoneware, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 58.12 (on view in A Fuller View, starting this Saturday, 10 August, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park). Photo: Paul V. Thomas, 1964.

SAM Art: Sitting pretty

Summer dancing, yoga, and Zumba in the Olympic Sculpture Park will keep you moving throughout the summer. When you are ready to take a break, look for these witty seating designs by local artist, architect and designer Roy McMakin. McMakin brings impeccable craftsmanship and spectacular finish to his work, making materials perform in new and surprising ways. Matte concrete becomes a warm bench, a plastic lawn chair turns out to be made from monumental bronze, and an enamel stool masquerades as a banker’s box. This is seating with a story.

Suspended between art and design, form and function, McMakin’s artistic practice combines the usually separate creative activities of sculpture, architecture, and design. McMakin coyly uses slight changes in context, scale, and material to alter our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to our environment.

Untitled, 2004-07, Roy McMakin (American, born 1956), concrete, bronze, and steel with porcelain enamel, overall dimensions variable, Gift of the artist and Michael Jacobs, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.32, © Roy McMakin. Currently on view in the Olympic Sculpture Park.

SAM Art: New, old masks

Identified as “Giant” by the collector, we can only imagine how the dancer would have revealed the nature of the formidable being—part man, part bird—portrayed in this mask. Naxnox masked dance performances dramatize prestigious names of supernatural beings, including “Giant,” that make up the pantheon of powerful spirits.

Masks exhibit the greatest range of sculptural variation of all Northwest Coast art forms. The diversity of mask types and their uses reflects the unique cultural beliefs and ceremonial traditions of each group. Five new masks, including this Naxnox mask, were recently added to the Native American art galleries.

Naxnox Mask, ca. 1900, Git’ksan, Kitwancool Village, British Columbia, red cedar, paint, 15 3/8 x 12 3/16 x 12 3/16 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.49. Now on view in the Native American art galleries, third floor, SAM Downtown.

SAM Art: A Gift to a City

Comprising works of art from China, Ghana, France, Egypt, Mexico, Bohemia, the Northwest Coast, the East Coast, and more, the Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection represents nearly one third of SAM’s collection. More than 7,500 works were added to the museum collection by Dr. Richard E. Fuller and his mother, Mrs. Eugene (Margaret MacTavish) Fuller—the museum founders who credited the husband and father (Dr. Eugene Fuller) whose wealth provided for the purchases.

While Dr. and Mrs. Fuller were connoisseurs of Asian art, they felt their personal taste was just a starting point—and not a limit—when collecting for a museum. They saw the museum as their gift to the city of Seattle, a gift which encompassed global collecting, and direct support of local artists. Today, works collected and donated by the Fullers are on view in every museum gallery.

This summer marks the 80th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum’s founding.  A Fuller View of China, Japan, and Korea, an exhibition exploring the Fullers’ collecting and gifts, opens in August at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Dr. Richard E. Fuller, co-founder and Director of the Seattle Art Museum, pictured in art storage in 1964, Photo: Paul V. Thomas, © Seattle Art Museum

SAM Art: Summer with a composer in the park

Art takes many forms, which all intersect at the Olympic Sculpture Park this summer. Join us for weekly art-making activities, “Art Hits” Tours, drawing classes, as well as dance parties, live music, food carts, yoga classes, and more. In addition to the programs and activities, you can also visit 25 works of art sited throughout the park.

The intersection of the arts is also apparent in one of the park’s works: Mark di Suvero’s Schubert Sonata. Franz Schubert, the sculpture’s namesake, completed hundreds of musical compositions before his untimely death in 1828, at 31 years of age. This sculpture, delicate and graceful despite its rough metal surface, is part of a series dedicated to great composers.

Schubert Sonata, 1992, Mark di Suvero (American, born Italian, in China, 1933), painted and unpainted steel, 22 ft. H; diameter of top element: 10 ft.; base: 6 ft. H, Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, The Virginia Wright Fund, and Bagley Wright, 95.81, © Mark di Suvero. Currently on view in the Olympic Sculpture Park.

SAM Art: A legacy of friendship

In 1923, Alexander Archipenko arrived in America, already a highly acclaimed sculptor associated with the modern artists of Paris. In great demand as a teacher, he lectured at many institutions, including the University of Washington. He spent the summers of 1935 and 1936 in Seattle as a visiting professor at the University. It is likely that Archipenko created this sculpture while living and working in Seattle.

While in Seattle, Archipenko became friends with Dr. Richard E. Fuller, the founding Director of the Seattle Art Museum. It is because of this personal relationship that The Bride, an important work of cubist sculpture, was made available to the museum. Using his own funds, Dr. Fuller purchased the sculpture from his friend for the museum. It has been part of the museum collection ever since.

The Bride, 1936, Alexander Archipenko (American, born Ukraine, 1887-1964), terracotta on wood base, 34 1/4 x 6 11/16 x 4 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 36.64, © Alexander Archipenko. Currently on view in the American Modernism art galleries, third floor, SAM Downtown.

SAM Art: Quietly powerful

A gifted storyteller, Carrie Mae Weems creates arresting photographs that stage a cinematic narrative revealing a woman in a series of everyday scenarios, dramatically played out around a kitchen table. This woman is Weems herself, poignantly interpreting scenes from an invented love story. Weems takes as her subject the kitchen, the heart of a home, fleshing out the daily dramas that typically occur in this well-trafficked domestic space.

The new installation, In a Silent Way, presents images that quietly reflect on African American identities and histories. Alongside works by Roy DeCarava, David Hammons, Glenn Ligon and Rashid Johnson, four images from Carrie Mae Weems’ Kitchen Table  series are highlighted.

Untitled (Playing harmonica) from the Kitchen Table series, 1990/1999, Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953), gelatin silver print, 28 x 27 ¾ in., Gift of Vascovitz Family, 2012.13.1, © Carrie Mae Weems. Currently on view in In a Silent Way, Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Gallery, third floor, SAM Downtown.

SAM Art: A new look at an ancient tradition

A new installation in SAM’s Native American art galleries explores basketry and ceramics in Native communities of the American west, including this double spout vase made by Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez.

Beginning more than 2,000 years ago, pottery was made by early communities in the southwest, including the ancestors of the Pueblo peoples. Using clay from their homelands to fashion bowls, jars, canteens and figures, Pueblo potters developed distinctive styles that continue unchanged today. Double spout vases symbolizing the marital union were gifted at Pueblo weddings and, with the arrival of tourists in the 1880s, became popular collectors’ pieces. Matte-on-glossy designs were added by Julian after Maria constructed the vessel.

Double spout vase, early-mid-20th century, attributed to Maria Martinez (San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1887–1980) and Julian Martinez (San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1879–1943), ceramic, 10 3/16 x 8 1/8 x 6 3/4 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.1946. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, third floor, SAM Downtown.

SAM Art: A lecture about a life

A lover of art, objects, far-flung lands, beautiful words, and adventure, Katherine C. White amassed one of the world’s premier private collections of African art. Upon her death, the collection of more than 2,000 objects came to the Seattle Art Museum, partially as a gift from Ms. White and her family, and partially as a purchase generously underwritten by the Boeing Corporation.

Ms. White’s life, travels, collection, and words will be the focus of Wednesday evening’s Curators Choice lecture for members.

 

Lectures, art installations, online content, and all SAM activities can only happen with the support and generosity of the Seattle community. Wednesday, 15 May is GiveBIG day, and we hope you will consider making a gift in support of SAM. All contributions made to Seattle Art Museum through GiveBIG today will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $25,000, thanks to a generous challenge grant from Jeff and Susan Brotman.

Members Art History Lecture Series: Katherine White: Her Epic Quest to Collect a Continent

Curator’s Choice with Pam McClusky
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
7–8:30 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, SAM Downtown

Male and Female Figures, 20th century, African, Côte d’Ivoire, Kulango, wood, leather, beads, white chalk, 38 x 5 1/2 x 5 in. and 32 1/4 x 5 x 4 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.225.1-2. Currently on view in the African art galleries, fourth floor, SAM Downtown.

SAM Art: Shining, shimmering gold

Gold has been a shimmering presence in art across cultures and time. When the first metals were unearthed by humans around 5000 b.c., gold was valued for its rarity and lustrous color. Ancient Egyptians believed that gold was the skin of the gods, and for Greeks, gold was a mixture of water and sunlight. Gold is mentioned in the Bible as one of the gifts from the Magi to an infant Jesus. The Peruvian Incas referred to gold as “tears of the Sun.” In China, gold was the color of emperors and today is a symbol of good luck. In Japan, gold was associated with the ruling class and represented the color of the heavens.

A new group of textiles, including in this Japanese brocade kimono, has been installed in Going for Gold this week. This focused show, drawn from the museum’s collections, looks at gold’s use and significance across cultures.

Ceremonial wedding kimono, 3rd quarter 20th century, Japanese, silk brocade with gold thread embroidery (couching), overall 73 ½ x 51 ¼ in., Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, 95.77. Currently on view in Going for Gold, third floor, SAM Downtown.

SAM Art: A vivid tornado of paint

Visual Vertigo

Indigenous artists from the center of the Australian continent unleashed a wave of art production in the 1970s. Their contribution has been described as a renaissance of the world’s oldest living cultures. A new installation in the museum’s Australian Aboriginal art gallery brings together work from this unusual chapter of art history.

Greed is being punished in this vivid tornado of paint, which the artist calls “a really sorry story” from an area known as Walu. The painting chronicles the actions of a naughty boy who stole food, but denied it. Due to his misdeeds, the boy was turned into the wind. Looping lines surge with punitive force, and are delicately dotted to remind us of the dissolving fate of the boy.

Walu, 2008, Tommy Mitchell (Australian Aboriginal, Ngaanyatjarra people, Warakurna, Southwestern Deserts, Western Australia, born 1943), wynthetic polymer paint on canvas, 40 x 60 in., Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, © Tommy Mitchell. On view in the Australian Aboriginal art gallery, third floor, SAM Downtown, starting Saturday, 4 May.

SAM Art: Unlike any St. Anthony you’ve ever seen

An ingenious interpreter of grand Western portraiture traditions, Kehinde Wiley is one of the leading American artists to emerge in the last decade. This spring, the museum acquired the artist’s most recent work.

Since ancient times the portrait has been tied to representations of power. Wiley’s paintings are highly stylized and staged, and draw attention to the interplay between a history of aristocratic representation and the portrait as a statement of power and the individual’s sense of empowerment. For this canvas—based on a Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres stained glass window depicting St. Anthony of Padua—Wiley asked a young man in New York to be his model.  The formal pose contrasts sharply with the man’s contemporary street clothes, objects and emblems, including a Black Panther patch.

Anthony of Padua, 2013, Kehinde Wiley (American, born 1977), oil on canvas, 72 × 60 in., General Acquisition Fund, 2013.8, © Kehinde Wiley, image courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California. Currently on view in the European Art galleries, fourth floor, SAM Downtown.

SAM Art: What are decorative arts?

What, exactly, are the decorative arts? The answer might surprise you…

Part of the answer would certainly include metalwork, and objects meant for use. This contemporary tea and coffee service, commissioned for the museum by Julie Emerson, The Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts, ties the museum’s historical American silver to the present. The design for this service was envisioned by master silversmith John Marshall when he walked into the expanded Seattle Art Museum. He believes that a strong clarity of space is an invitation to the art, and that three-dimensional, sculptural objects are a way of making the space have movement. The silver rises from a carved acrylic base that bears a visual similarity to rock crystal.

Beyond this stunning set, the decorative arts are varied and wide-ranging. Tomorrow evening, please join Julie Emerson as she discusses the decorative arts, and explores their histories and presentation.

Members Art History Lecture Series: Curator’s Choice with Julie Emerson

What, Exactly, are the Decorative Arts?

April 17, 2013, 7:00–8:30 pm

Plestcheeff Auditorium, first floor, SAM downtown

Where and why did the terms “decorative arts” and “fine arts” originate? In the history of Western art, what were the roles of trade guilds, value, and geographical accessibility? Are paintings and sculpture favored over ceramics, metalwork, glass and textiles today? How do curators in European and American museums define and explore artistry, craft and design? Addressing these questions, Julie Emerson, The Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts, will place decorative arts in an historical context and discuss their significance at SAM.

SAM Art: Examining, interpreting, analyzing in public

The multidisciplinary field of art conservation involves the examination, interpretation, analysis and treatment of cultural, historic and artistic objects. Professional conservators rely on their knowledge of both the humanities and the sciences in order to understand the creation and production of material culture in the past and present, and to ensure its preservation for future generations.

After acquiring an extensive traditional technical understanding of clay and glazes, artist Robert Arneson experimented with these elements to push the medium in expressive and colorful new directions. Pool with Splash is currently undergoing conservation treatment before being put on view. This process has been visible to the public in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries at SAM since March. The final two days of public conservation are next Wednesday and Thursday, 17 and 18 April, so stop by SAM before then to see this behind-the-scenes activity.

Conservation intern Josh Summer working with Pool with Splash, 1977, Robert Arneson (American, 1930-1992), ceramic with glaze, 18 1/2 x 145 x 116 in. overall, Gift of Manuel Neri, 82.156, Art © Estate of Robert Arneson/Licensed by VAGA, New York NY. Conservation treatment on view to the public in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown, on Wed., 17 April and Thurs., 18 April.

SAM Art: Small art, big story

Sometimes, collecting small has a big result.

In 1919, following his service in WWI, Richard E. Fuller traveled to “the Orient” with his parents, sister, and brother. Their trip took them from Vancouver, BC, to China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Burma, and India. However, the latter part of the trip nearly did not happen, as Fuller fell ill with appendicitis while in Nikko, Japan. His brother, Dr. Duncan Fuller, ultimately performed emergency surgery, with their father, Dr. Eugene Fuller, assisting. While Richard Fuller convalesced, his family explored the Nikko area, and began collecting small figures known as netsukes.

Years later, when Richard Fuller and his mother Margaret founded the Seattle Art Museum, they donated this large group of small objects to the museum’s collection. These small figures remain part of the museum’s holdings to this day, a collection for which SAM is famous around the world. The Duncan MacTavish Fuller Memorial Collection of netsukes is named in memory of Richard’s brother, and in honor of the unexpected turn of events in 1919 Japan.

Poetess Ono-no-komachi in her old age, sitting on a log, 18th-19th century, Japanese, ivory, 1 1/2 x 2 7/8 x 7/8 in., Duncan MacTavish Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.352. Currently on view in the Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park.

SAM Art: American Abstraction

Early in the 1940s, artists in New York began to develop an expressive, abstract style of painting that was a stark departure from previous ideas, both artistically and historically. Up until World War II, the center of artistic production in the West had been Paris, and artists from around Europe, the United States and South America had flocked to the French capital to study and to work. This changed profoundly in the 1940s, when artists in New York developed bold new practices.

Abstract painting dominated the artistic discourse beyond the 1940s, into the 1950s and early 1960s, but the concerns began to shift from the energy of the painted gesture to the flatness of the canvas. In this painting by Morris Louis, this is achieved by thinned paint that saturates the canvas and melds with the support.

Theta Gamma, 1960, Morris Louis (American, 1912-1962), acrylic resin on canvas, 101 3/4 x 130 in., Gift of Marcella Brenner Revocable Trust, 2011.28. © Seattle Art Museum all rights reserved. Currently on view in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM Downtown.

SAM Art: A new look at an old painting

The naked human body was an acceptable subject for artists illustrating myths or, occasionally, biblical stories. In this painting Venus and her lover Adonis enjoy a brief period of happiness before he is killed. Especially popular in the region of Venice, Veronese’s large, richly colored decorations were fashionable throughout Europe.

Members Art History Lecture Series: Curator’s Choice with Chiyo Ishikawa and Nicholas Dorman
Venus and Adonis by Paolo Veronese and Workshop
Wednesday, March 20, 7–8:30 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, first floor, SAM downtown

This winter, one of the most imposing paintings in our European collection, Venus and Adonis by Paolo Veronese and Workshop, has been in the exhibition Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice at the Ringling Museum of Art. In preparation for the show, SAM’s Chief Conservator Nicholas Dorman oversaw conservation and technical evaluation of our painting. He and Chiyo Ishikawa, The Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting & Sculpture, will discuss the painting’s history, subject matter, and the intriguing question of its authorship.

Venus and Adonis (pictured prior to conservation treatment), before 1580, Paolo di Gabriele di Piero Caliaro (known as Veronese; Italian, 1528-1588) and workshop, oil on canvas, 88 3/8 x 66 1/4 in., Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.174, Photo: Paul Macapia. Currently on view at the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, in Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice, through April 14, 2013.

SAMblog: An extraordinary collection

Starting in 1962, a New York City couple—a librarian and her husband, a postal service employee—built an unlikely collection of art that included some of the most important names in Minimal and Conceptual art. Passionately devoted to the art of their time, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel built an astounding collection of roughly 4000 artworks.  They were avid gallery goers, befriended many artists, and started to champion Minimal and Conceptual art at a time when these art forms were just emerging in New York. The proximity and accessibility of the artists, who had no audience to speak of in the 1960s, paired with an insatiable curiosity and deep appreciation for the most radical ideas, allowed the Vogels to acquire their remarkable collection.

When they decided to gift their collection, their small New York apartment was crammed with art. After the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., accepted some 1000 works from the Vogels as a gift, the collectors and curators decided to create an additional gift: fifty works from their collection would be given to one museum in each of the fifty states of the United States. The Seattle Art Museum is honored to be the recipient in the State of Washington.

Hand Line Reflection Method 5 of 100, 1995, Terry Winters (American, born 1949), ink on paper, 13 x 8 ½ in., The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, a joint initiative of the Trustees of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection and the National Gallery of Art, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute for Museum and Library Services, 2008.29.48, © Terry Winters, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, Photo: Elizabeth Mann. On view in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown, starting Saturday, 16 March.

SAM Art: An unusual self-portrait

“He comes from the Pacific Northwest: an exceedingly tall thin figure, with large transfixed, rather alarmed eyes . . . He is shy and self aware to a degree, aloof yet (you suspect) ruthless in his self-determination. . . . In short he is very birdlike: receding, private, mobile, and migratory. . . he has the willful steely quality of a bird-its fierce capacity to survive.”

-Frederick S. Wight, Director of the Art Gallery, University of California at Los Angeles, on meeting Morris Graves, 1963

Morris Graves created this work early in his career, in the same year that he won first prize at the Seattle Art Museum’s Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists. A very private person, the self-portrait was an unusual subject for Graves. However, in 1932 Graves joined a small group of artists that met periodically for painting sessions. The group members would each create a work in response to a shared theme, such as “still life.” Guy Anderson, another member of this group, remembers Graves painting this work as his response to the theme of “self-portrait.”

Self-portrait, 1933, Morris Graves (American, born Fox Valley, Oregon, 1910; died Loleta, California, 2001), oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 19 3/4 in., Gift of Florence Weinstein in memory of Max Weinstein, 85.268, © Morris Graves Foundation, Photo: Paul Macapia. Currently on view in the American Modernism galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: More than just a Spanish family

Flush with international power and resources from its holdings in Europe, the Americas and Asia, the royal court of Spain was the greatest art collector in the country. Before the seventeenth century, Spanish patrons mostly commissioned art from Italian and Flemish artists; but in the 1600s Spanish artists came into their own. Velázquez, Murillo, Ribera, and Zurbarán created a formidable reputation for earthy naturalism, whether the subject was religious or drawn from daily life.

In this painting, what appears to be an ordinary Spanish family of the seventeenth century is, in fact, Jesus with his parents, the Virgin Mary and Joseph. Religious painters of this time strove to make stories from the Bible real and compelling for their contemporary audiences. Zurbarán, one of Spain’s most distinctive painters, addresses events that followed the birth of Jesus Christ as described in the Gospel of Matthew: Jesus’ father Joseph was warned in a dream that the jealous King Herod was threatening his infant son’s life. Joseph immediately packed up the family and they fled to safety in Egypt. The frontal orientation invites veneration from worshippers who would have been the original audience for this painting.

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, ca. 1638-40, Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664), oil on canvas, 59 1/16 x 62 5/8 in., Partial and promised gift of Barney A. Ebsworth Collection, 2011.36, Photo: Courtesy of Agnew’s Gallery, London. Currently on view in European Masters: The Treasures of Seattle, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Elles: SAM is ending, but women artists are still here

Near the center of Australia, out of a station named Utopia, a group of women have painted their way to fame. They are among the leading names in Australian Aboriginal art and many attribute their fluid use of acrylics to years of experience with painting bodies for ceremonies. One of the younger artists is Abie Loy, who began painting at the age of 22, and was mentored by the older generations. Each Utopia woman has developed her own style, but all rely on consistency and repetitive structure. Awelye is composed of rectangles that embody a multitude of minor variations. Loaded brushstrokes define the frameworks, while tiny white dots offset a black background. The artist credits ceremony as a source for inspiration, but one outsider’s reading of the accumulated surface is to see it as a vast array of windows onto another world.

While this is the final week to see Elles: SAM, many works by women artists remain on view at SAM within our permanent collection and special exhibition galleries. Paintings like Awelye can be seen at SAM as a result of a longtime and continuing commitment to great artists, regardless of whether they are men or women

Awelye “Women’s Ceremony”, 2006, Abie Loy Kamerre (Australian Aboriginal, Anmatyerr people, Utopia, Central Desert, Northern Territory, born 1972), acrylic on linen, 40 3/16 x 59 13/16 in., Gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan in honor of Mimi Gardner Gates, 2009.19, © Abie Loy Kamerre. Currently on view in the Contemporary and Australian Art gallery, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: An inherited history

Honoring her Salish heritage, Musqueam artist Susan Point carved red and yellow cedar to create a sculpture that expresses her cultural ancestry and a devotional attitude towards nature. Red cedar has always been considered the “tree of life” for First Peoples, which is the title the artist has also given this work. Valued by the Salish peoples, every part of the cedar tree is utilized to create houses, storage bins, clothing, canoes, mats, baskets, masks, paint brushes, and floats for nets, among other uses. Here, Point carves eight faces connected by root-like forms or waterways that reference a family tree and the importance of inherited histories that unite the Salish people.

Because of her high stature and the demand for her work, Susan Point rarely executes large labor-intensive carvings any longer and has turned to work other media. This piece, created specifically for the museum, is a large-scale carved and painted panel that retains the ethos of ancient Coast Salish forms yet, in the hands of this accomplished artist those forms and the content they carry are vibrantly contemporary. Susan has emerged as one of the most successful and sought-after Northwest Coast Native artists and she has been credited with single-handedly reviving the unique Salish style that has lain dormant for nearly 100 years. She is among only a handful of Native female artists working in the media of woodcarving.

The First People, 2008, Susan Point (Canadian, Musqueam, born 1951), red and yellow cedar, 144 x 89 in., Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2008.31, © Susan Point, photo: Susan Cole. Currently on view in the Native American Art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Objects of desire

The collecting impulse of museum directors, curators, and private collectors—an insatiable desire—are referenced and investigated in Gloria Bornstein’s installation Concupiscence. Created in 2002, for a solo exhibition at SAM, the title of the work expresses strong, sexual desire. In this case, Bornstein used for inspiration the stories and collections of SAM founding director Dr. Richard Fuller, and African art collector Katherine White. Bornstein used various source materials, specifically old taxonomy books from which she gathered images in order to create cast-porcelain objects of sexual organs of various organisms, including earthworms, barnacles, and flatworms. She then placed these anthropomorphic forms in a custom-made case in order to comment on traditional methods of museum display, and in so doing, she tamed and neutralized the physical and sexual presence of the objects.

Gloria Bornstein was born in New York in 1937. She has degrees in art and education, and in psychology. She lives and works in Seattle.

Concupiscence, 2002, Gloria Bornstein (American, born 1937), cast porcelain, paper, wood, plexiglas vitrine and ink-on-paper, Gift of the artist, 2007.108, © Gloria Bornstein. Not currently on view.

SAM Art: A Surreal seat

A contemporary Surrealist, Louise Bourgeois’ career stretched from the 1940s until 2010. Her lifelong fascination with myth, ritual, and totemic figures had its roots in French Surrealism, which reached a high point between the World Wars. In these Eye Benches, furniture takes the form of giant, observant eyes. Visitors encounter the disembodied eyes, which seem to follow their every movement around the Olympic Sculpture Park’s lower plaza, discovering that the enigmatic sculptural objects play a functional role: providing comfortable outdoor seating.

Louise Bourgeois was born in 1911 in Paris. She entered university in 1932, intending to study mathematics, but turned to art the next year. She studied in art schools as well as apprenticing in artists’ studios in Montparnasse and Montmartre. She emigrated to New York in 1938, where she continued her studies, eventually having her first solo exhibition in 1945. She lived and worked in New York until her death in 2010.

Eye Benches II, 1996-97, Louise Bourgeois (American, born French, 1911-2010), black Zimbabwe granite, 48 x 76 15/16 x 46 1/2 in. each, Gift of the artist, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.114.1-2, © Louise Bourgeois, photo: Paul Macapia. Currently on view in the Olympic Sculpture Park.

SAM Art: Stitched, painted, and in-your-face

Egyptian artist Ghada Amer is best known for works like Black Series: Couleurs Noires, where embroidered female nudes emerge seductively from zones of applied and dripping paint. Not readily apparent at first glance, her canvases draw inspiration from photography: The female forms in her work are drawn from pornography, traced onto an abstractly painted canvas, and then embroidered. She leaves the embroidery threads uncut, securing them to the canvas with gel; these trailing threads add an additional sense of “painterliness” to the image.

Amer’s work is inherently confrontational—not just in displaying to the viewer perhaps disturbing imagery, but playing with the dichotomies of pornography vs. art, abstraction vs. figure, and photography vs. painting.

This painting is installed as part of Elles: SAM – Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists, which remains on view through 17 February.

The first Members Art History Lecture of 2013 will take place tomorrow (Wednesday), 16 January, at 7:00pm in the Plestcheeff Auditorium, first floor, SAM downtown.

Barbara Brotherton, Curator of Native American Art, will discuss Together Again: Nuxalk Faces of the Sky with her colleague Jennifer Kramer, Curator of Pacific Northwest Art, Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia.

Black Series: Couleurs Noires, 2000, Ghada Amer (Egyptian, works in America, born 1963), acrylic, embroidery, and gel medium on canvas, 68 x 70 in., Gift of the ContemporaryArtProject, Seattle, 2002.5, © Ghada Amer. Currently on view in Elles: SAM – Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists, Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown, through 17 February.
SAMBlog