SAM Art: A human-scale Torso

Toshiko Takaezu was one of America’s most successful artists using ceramics for sculptural ends. In her career, spanning the late-1940s until the 2010s, she moved beyond the functional pots and bowls traditionally thrown by ceramicists to explore forms, surfaces, and colors on purely aesthetic terms.

SAM’s collection includes thirteen works spanning Takaezu’s long career, including this large, standing sculpture. Strangely familiar to a viewer’s eye, Torso more closely reflects the proportions and scale of the human form than a jar, and is a significant example of Takaezu’s later achievements in clay.

 

Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris closes this Sunday, 13 January. However, Elles: SAM – Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists remains on view until 17 February. SAMart will continue to explore the work of women artists in SAM’s collection until Elles: SAM closes next month.

Torso, 2000, Toshiko Takaezu (American, 1922–2011), ceramic, 57 1/2 x 19 x 19 in., Gift of the artist, 2009.13, © Toshiko Takaezu. Not currently on view.

SAM Art: One last traditional basketmaker

Considered a wealth item, and often given as a gift to friends or relatives, finely woven baskets like this are rarely associated with a known weaver. This basket, however, comes from the hand of Susan Wawatkin Bedal, the last traditional basket maker of the Sauk-Suiattle tribe from the Darrington, Washington area.

Susan Bedal possessed an intimate knowledge of the gathering and preparation of natural materials from the prairie and forests of the North Cascades, which she crafted into masterful works. Visual balance is achieved through the attention given to the placement and disposition of the designs on the field of the baskets. The accent designs have descriptive names that refer to the natural features of the artist’s world, such as butterfly (inverted triangles), clouds (staggered rows of alternating colors), and snake or trail (ladder step design). Such designs are owned by individuals and families and passed down through the generations.

Due to the holidays, SAMart will be on vacation for the next two weeks. Happy holidays, and a wonderful new year, to all of SAMart’s readers.

Yius (coiled basket), 1900-1940, Susan Wawatkin Bedal (Sauk, 1865-1947), cedar bark, cedar root, alder bark, beargrass, huckleberry, 14 x 14 x 10 in., Gift of Jean Bedal Fish and Edith Bedal, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.106, © Susan Wawatkin Bedal, Photo: Paul Macapia. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: An overlooked Chinese artist

Named for a 17th-century Chinese poem, this painting comes from the “Song of Lake Yuan” series. The poem is a lamentation for the good times the author and his peers experienced before the upheaval of regime change. Echoing 17th-century woodblock illustrations of epic novels, painter Lu Wujiu illustrates the poem’s 26 verses with vivid imagery that dramatizes the sentiment portrayed in each verse.

The daughter of a prominent Chinese figure painter, Lu Wujiu was drawn to abstract painting in her own career. She studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the late 1950s, where she began to define her style of synthesis between West and East. Her mentor there praised her ability “to see the analogies between traditional Chinese attitudes and the vigour of contemporary western abstract expressionism.”

Lu Wujiu’s work is currently on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum as part of Elles: SAM—Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists.

 

Elles-related lecture tomorrow:

Victoria Haven: Portable Monuments
Members Art History Lecture Series: Curator’s Choice in conversation with Catharina Manchanda
Wednesday, December 12, 7–8:30 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, SAM downtown

Artist Victoria Haven and Catharina Manchanda, the Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, will discuss ideas relating to the works presented in Haven’s installation in the exhibition Elles: SAM—Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists. Haven utilizes ephemeral objects of personal significance to map her experience and memory to a larger artistic and cultural history that remains grounded in the Pacific Northwest.

The Song of Lake Yuan (one page), 1993-2005, Lu Wujiu (Chinese, lives and works in U.S., born 1918), ink on paper, 23 5/8 x 38 9/16 in., Gift of Wu-Chiu Lu and Shih-Du Sun, 2012.7.2.1, © Lu Wujiu. Currently on view in Where Have They Been? Two Overlooked Chinese Female Artists, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park.

SAM Art: Abstract and American

The multiplicity of things which lie in no man’s land just beyond the realm of appearances enchants me.

-Charmion von Wiegand, 1947

Charmion von Wiegand was among a dedicated band of U.S. supporters of the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.  Mondrian spent his final four years (1940-1944)  in New York City, and von Wiegand became one of his closest friends.  Von Wiegand’s career as a painter followed Mondrian’s arrival in New York in 1940, and she exhibited frequently from 1942 onward.  Her best works, dating from the mid- to late-1940s, merges the structure of geometry with a ceaseless flow of organic shapes. Von Wiegand regularly exhibited with the American Abstract Artists group, which formed the core of support for U.S. abstract art before the emergence of the abstract expressionists.

Abstraction, 1945, Charmion von Wiegand (American, 1898-1983), tempera on board, 19 3/4 x 15 in., Gift of Zoe Dusanne, 60.54, © Charmion von Wiegand. Currently on view in Elles: SAM – Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists, Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Maasai Women Artists

A wedding is the moment for defining feminine beauty in many cultures. Among Maasai women, a bride is given all the ornaments she needs to begin her new life. The art in this case was created by Maasai women from the Merrueshi community of the Kaputiei section of Kenya. Their intent was to demonstrate how a bride’s costume is a personalized collection of beadwork, stories and wishes for the future. Each is composed of cowhide, glass beads, wire and plastic dividers.

One aspect of Maasai aesthetics is immediately evident. Colors-and their order of placement-are carefully controlled, both due to their meaning and to the need for balance in the interaction of opposites. Certain colors are designated as strong or weak and must not be placed side by side. Nothing is meant to be continuous or unbroken, because mixture is a fact of life and needs to be recognized in the patterns.

Over necklace (Ololuaa), Naramat ene Mure (Maasai, Merrueshi community, Kaputiei section, Kenya), leather, glass beads, aluminum dangles, 16 x 6 3/4 x 1/8 in., General Acquisition Fund, 2000.12.11. Currently on view in the African Art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Giving thanks

The Seattle Art Museum gives thanks for the hundreds of women artists whose work we collect and display, including the many talented artists currently included in Elles: Pompidou and Elles: SAM.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

The Seattle Art Museum is closed on Thursday, 22 November, in observance of the Thanksgiving Day holiday. We are open on Friday, 23 November, our normal hours (10:00am – 9:00pm).

Circumvolution, ca. 1943, Helmi Juvonen (American, 1903-1985), tempera on canvas, 24 x 36 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 43.32. Not currently on view.

SAM art: Two opposing worlds

Dichotomies and oppositions course through the work of Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat, including her two-channel video installation Tooba. This video, currently on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, is shown on two facing screens. The lyrical imagery on each side unfolds at the pace of poetry, despite the fact that there are no words. The film shows a walled garden, the silent hordes that descend upon it, and a woman within it, swallowed by a tree.

Neshat’s work straddles two worlds, and she acknowledges “constantly negotiating between two cultures that are not just different from one another but in complete conflict.” Born in Iran in 1957, the artist moved to the United States to attend university in the late 1970s. When the Iranian Revolution broke out, she remained in the US. Shirin Neshat is perhaps the world’s best-known contemporary Middle Eastern artist, despite the fact that she has lived and worked in the US for decades. Her lived experience between these two cultures gave rise to her “idea of opposites,” the structure upon which her body of work is built.

Tooba (still), 2002, Shirin Neshat (American, born Iran, 1957), 35mm film on DVD and Betacam tapes, running time 12 minutes, Given in honor of Lisa Corrin by Susan and Jeffrey Brotman, Jane and David Davis, Barney A. Ebsworth, Judy and Jeff Greenstein, Lyn and Jerry Grinstein, Richard and Betty Hedreen, Janet Ketcham, Kerry and Linda Killinger Foundation, James and Christina Lockwood, Michael McCafferty, Christine and Assen Nicolov, Faye and Herman Sarkowsky, Jon and Mary Shirley, Rebecca and Alexander Stewart, Bagley and Virginia Wright, Barbara and Charles Wright, Ann P. Wyckoff, 2005.141, Photo: Larry Barns, © Shirin Neshat. Currently on view in conjunction with Elles: SAM – Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park, until 2 December 2012.

SAM Art: Minimal, or maybe not…

A glimpse at Ellen Gallagher’s paintings can be misleading: Grids of small circles on lined paper create the illusion of Minimalism. Step closer to examine those small circles, however, and hundreds of gleaming eyes and occasional rows of mouths are staring at the viewer. Ellen Gallagher, who has African-American and Irish parents, has loaded the calm surface with reminders of the derogatory huge rolling eyes and exaggerated thick lips seen on white actors performing in blackface as part of American minstrel shows a century ago. The artist uses lined pages from children’s composition books, suggesting the fine line between innocent doodling and harmful caricatures.

Host, 1996, Ellen Gallagher (American, born 1965), oil and graphite on paper mounted to canvas, 69 1/8 x 49 7/8 in., Gift of Richard and Elizabeth Hedreen and the Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, 97.6, © Ellen Gallagher. Currently on view in Elles: SAM – Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists, Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: A Cunningham way of looking at the world

Imogen Cunningham is an artist who is revered for radically altering the traditional still life. Like fellow artists Georgia O’Keeffe, Margaret Bourke-White, Ella McBride, and Lola Alvarez Bravo, Cunningham conceived of and portrayed objects in ways that defied conventional picture making. These artists brought plants and constructions alike up close, reducing them to abstract shapes and patterns. Having liberated the portrayal of things from the mundane act of description, they asserted the role of the artist in selecting forms for visual impact, in altering the viewer’s perception, and transforming familiar objects into mysterious works of art.

Cunningham’s style changed throughout her career—her early pictorialist work developed into a mature, modernist aesthetic. Inspired by surrealism, she enjoyed manipulating images both in the camera and the darkroom. The world was a feast for her eyes, and Cunningham captured this vision with curiosity and enduring vitality that continues to resonate today.

Mendocino Motif, 1965, Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976), gelatin silver print, 11 1/2 x 9 1/2 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.66, © (1965), 2009 Imogen Cunningham Trust. Currently on view in the Modern American art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown, as part of Elles: SAM.

SAM Art: Modern Masters

Three of SAM’s modern and contemporary art galleries are currently dedicated to an installation titled Modern Masters, a look at the work of American heavyweights Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler. All three developed their work in the context and aftermath of Abstract Expressionism. Celebratory and ironic, “modern masters,” a popular label for the male painters of that generation, bestows this much-deserved designation upon these visionary women artists in recognition of their hard-fought accomplishments in what was a thoroughly male-defined domain.

Drawn from SAM’s own collection, as well as local private collections, Modern Masters surveys the bold, abstract, gestural production of Joan Mitchell (pictured above); the collage-inflected mid-career paintings of Lee Krasner; and the luminously stained canvases of Helen Frankenthaler. While not a retrospective, this installation provides visitors to SAM a fresh glimpse at the rigor and range of mid-century abstraction.

Installation view of “Modern Masters,” part of “Elles: SAM—Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists,” Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown, on view through 17 February 2013.

SAM Art: Tiger Lily

While Elles has focused our attention on female artists, works by women have been on view in SAM’s galleries all along, sometimes in unexpected places. Tiger Lily is just one example.

According to Patti Warashina, Tiger Lily’s genesis was rooted in memories of her grandmother. “’At the time it was an interest in religious objects used in society.  I used the format of the alter to emphasize personal moments which I had been thinking about,” said the artist in 1992.

Shaping humble clay into transcendent forms fit for the divine is a tradition as old as ceramics themselves. Drawing inspiration from the ancient vernacular of forms and techniques, contemporary artists work with clay to create sculpture that, to our eyes, is simultaneously deeply familiar and startlingly fresh. Central to all of the ancient cultures represented in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic art galleries, altars and shrines find their contemporary reflection in Tiger Lily. At the height of the Feminist Movement in the 1970s, Warashina created altars such as this, offerings of feminine archetypes and stereotypes for consideration.

Tiger Lily, 1976, Patti Warashina (American, born 1940), low-fire ceramic with acrylic, 24 x 15 7/8 x 13 1/4 in., Gift of the artist, 89.78, © Patti Warashina. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Victoria Haven

Seattle-based artist Victoria Haven creates work that furthers the discussion of how the language of abstraction can express personal experience. Recently, she has delved into her memories of the Pacific Northwest and her connection to it. In Northwest Field Recording – WA (12” B side), Haven created a drawing in a format that corresponds to the size and shape of a vinyl record – the pattern of the words suggests the circular grooves on an LP. In addition to a reference to music, Haven described the form of this drawing (one of a pair) as being reminiscent of the rings on a tree indicating a life span.

Although steeped in a minimalist sensibility, found objects of a certain kind—ephemera, like a mixed tape or the black double diamond found on trail maps—are starting points for Haven’s most recent body of work, Victoria Haven: Proposed Land Use Action,  which is now installed as part of Elles: SAM—Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists.

Northwest Field Recording – WA (12″/B side), 2010, Victoria Haven (American, born 1964), ink on paper, 18 1/2 x 18 in., Gift of Rebecca and Alexander Stewart and an anonymous donor, 2011.9.1, Photo: Richard Nicol, © Victoria Haven. Not currently on view. Victoria Haven: Proposed Land Use Action, an exhibition of new work by the artist, is on view until February 2013, Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art 50+: The World’s Fair + SAM, final installment

One week from now, women take over SAM, as the city of Seattle celebrates women artists. The exhibitions Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris and Elles: SAM—Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists debut to the public on 11 October, but this is only the most recent expression of the museum’s—and city’s—commitment to women artists.

 

In 1962, in the Fine Arts Pavilion of the World’s Fair, women were nearly invisible. In Masterpieces of Art, Art Since 1950: American and Art Since 1950: International, of the 199 European and American artists represented, only seven were women. The story was entirely different in Northwest Art Today – Adventures in Art. In this show of regional artists, ten out of 86 artists were women. One of these women was Kathleen Gemberling Adkison (Kathleen Gemberling in 1962).

A Spokane artist with wide-ranging interests, Gemberling Adkison was emblematic of the Northwest arts scene in the early 1960s. Known for her dreamy snippets of landscape, as if seen through our famous mist of rain, she was originally a student of Mark Tobey’s. Living in an area more accepting of women artists was a boon for Gemberling Adkison’s career. She, and her female peers, did not have to struggle in obscurity like many women artists in New York and other cities—in Seattle, women were fully accepted participants in the arts scene.

Her painting included in Northwest Art Today was a departure from her early work, and this increase in attention prompted her to an equal increase in ambition. Like Seattle itself, Kathleen Gemberling Adkison used the World’s Fair to process new styles, artists and philosophies.

Gemberling Adkison visited the Fair regularly, relishing her first in-person exposure to work by Hans Hofmann, Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Francis, and others. Her work from 1962 onward was visibly informed by the aesthetics, process and visual language of abstract expressionism— the exposure provided by the World’s Fair laid a path to a new style for this artist, who was liberated from her earlier, literal interpretations of nature. Her mature, abstract canvases (such as Verdant Winter) provide layers of reference, from moss and granite, to Hofmann and Frankenthaler.

The World’s Fair left the city of Seattle, its artists and its arts institutions forever changed. It heralded a new era in the arts and culture of this city. The Seattle Art Museum is proud to have taken part in the Fair, and is pleased to have used SAMart this past month to present a look back (and forward).

Verdant Winter, 1969, Kathleen Gemberling Adkison (American, 1920 – 2010), oil on canvas, 46 1/16 x 40 3/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 69.74, © Kathleen Adkison. Currently viewable online: www.seattleartmuseum.org/emuseum.

SAM Art 50+: The World’s Fair + SAM, part IV

The “Century 21” World’s Fair introduced a host of innovations to the city of Seattle, not least of which was the avant-garde of artistic practice. Art Since 1950 – American and International, a pair of the exhibitions highlighted in the Fine Arts Pavilion, introduced the newest of the new to Seattle.

Avant-garde, forward-thinking, and—in particular—abstract art had long fought an uphill battle in Seattle. Public reaction to Mark Tobey’s Modal Tide, when it won the purchase prize of the 1940 Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists, was immediate and outraged. Much had changed over the ensuing two decades, but Art Since 1950 was still able to shock the general public.

The exhibition included such provocative artists as Alberto Burri, Hans Hofmann, Robert Rauschenberg, as well as the brash face of New York abstraction, Willem de Kooning. Visionary Seattle arts patron Virginia Wright wryly noted in 2006, that the World’s Fair “was the first time Seattle saw a de Kooning.” The surface a stormy sea, with peaks and streaks of color building into the form of a woman, the painting lent by the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City was certainly Seattle’s introduction to the artist’s classic “Woman” series. It was not until 1965 that SAM acquired its first de Kooning, a gift of contemporary collector Anne Gerber; in 1976, the museum received its own “Woman,” a gift of Virginia Wright and her husband Bagley. 

SAM Art 50+: The World’s Fair + SAM, part III

Science and technology were the stated focus of the Seattle World’s Fair as a whole, while a subtler, though equally compelling, argument was made for the celebration and understanding of Asian art and culture within the Fine Arts Pavilion. The Art of the Ancient East was one of the Pavilion’s six exhibitions, and it introduced visitors to some of the greatest masterpieces of Asian art. This focused exhibition shone a spotlight on Asian art and artisans, proving this artistic heritage equally as brilliant and varied as Europe’s.

These masterpieces traveled across continents and seas, from one millennium to another. And yet, to arrive at the World’s Fair grounds, they traversed just over one mile: This exhibition was one of two installations at the Fine Arts Pavilion drawn entirely from the Seattle Art Museum’s holdings. The show included representative works from a dozen nations, including (in this photo) Pakistan and India.

What were considered masterpieces 50 years ago remain so today. Last year’s exhibition Luminous: The Art of Asia included nearly every work from Art of the Ancient East. Luminous, however, reflected the changes in the world over the past 50 years. Chief among the differences was the museum’s collaboration with artist Do Ho Suh, who not only guided the interpretation of the SAM Asian collection, but produced a brand-new work of his own in response. This imagining of the “life” of objects is an element that could not—and would not—have been considered 50 years ago.

The Art of the Ancient East, installation view, Fine Arts Pavilion, Seattle World’s Fair, 1962. Photo: © Seattle Art Museum.

SAM Art 50+: The World’s Fair + SAM, part II

SAMart continues with the second installment of “50+: The World’s Fair + SAM.”

While the “Masterpieces of Art” exhibition took a wide view of the world’s artistic heritage, World’s Fair art director (and SAM’s Board vice president) Norman Davis insisted that there be a focus on artists of this region as well. A group exhibition of living Northwest artists was included in the Art Pavilion’s offerings, as well as a single exhibition dedicated to one artist: Northwest luminary Mark Tobey.

An artist with international recognition, Tobey’s work provided an immersion into the artistic heritage and influences of the Northwest. His paintings created a visual glossary: The muted browns and greens of the Northwest landscape; the active gestures reminiscent of Asian calligraphy; fugues of hooded figures, populated a city hunched against the fabled Seattle rain.

The show presented in a gallery of the Fine Arts Pavilion was small in scale (comprising only 23 works), but it provided a global platform for this artistic giant of the mid-20th century. Welcoming visitors to the gallery was a wall text, proclaiming Tobey “Seattle’s foremost artist and… one of the most important names in the international art world.” This was late in the artist’s successful career, when he had moved his primary residence to Switzerland. Still, Tobey’s connection to Seattle ran deep, and it was his association with this city that was celebrated at the Fair. The works displayed were, themselves, local: The entire installation was drawn from the Seattle Art Museum’s holdings.

Fifty years later, Tobey’s works remain central within the museum’s collections. The museum’s Tobey holdings span the breadth of his entire, illustrious career. All works are available for browsing and study, on the museum’s website. The next time Tobey paintings or drawings will be on view in SAM’s galleries will be after the Elles exhibitions close, in 2013.

Mark Tobey, installation view, Fine Arts Pavilion, Seattle World’s Fair, 1962. Photo: © Seattle Art Museum.

SAM Art 50+: The World’s Fair + SAM

This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Seattle’s World’s Fair. As part of the ongoing commemorations, through the month of September SAM looks back at arts at the Fair, as well as the legacy of those projects.

1,350,000 people visited the Fine Arts Pavilion at the Seattle World’s Fair, where six wide-ranging exhibitions held visitors’ attention for hours. Of these exhibitions, “Masterpieces of Art” was the most ambitious—Time magazine deemed it “well worth an hour off from the geewhizzery of space and the girlie shows of the Gayway.” Selected by the directors of North American museums, this show still betrayed a perspective unique to Seattle. In addition to works by Rembrandt, Copley, Monet, Eakins, and Picasso, several Asian masterpieces were also included. Among the latter was SAM’s submission: An ancient Japanese tomb figure.

The catalogue for “Masterpieces of Art” called this sculpture, “a simplified, almost abstract interpretation of a helmeted and armored warrior,” one who once guarded a tomb in Japan’s Gunma prefecture. This monumentally scaled terra cotta was concrete recognition that a “Masterpiece” could, indeed, hail from a region other than Europe or America. This willingness to acknowledge the artistic achievements of non-European-extracted cultures extended geographically as far as Asia, and philosophically as far as the native cultures of North America.

In 2012, our conception of the world has expanded even further. In addition to all of the geographies represented at the Fine Arts Pavilion of the Fair, this year SAM has shown art from Polynesia, Brazil, Australia, and Central Asia in dedicated exhibitions; as well as permanent collection objects hailing from Africa, the Middle East, and Central America. The world has grown over the past 50 years, and now more than ever before it has come to Seattle.

Haniwa warrior figure (detail), 6th-7th century, Japanese, Kofun period (3rd-7th century C.E.), ceramic with polychrome, 53 ¼ x 16 ½ x 10 ¾ in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 62.44. Currently viewable online.

SAM Art: Time to wave goodbye to the Mountain Devil Lizard

Pointillism is taken to new levels by Kathleen Petyarr who paints with meticulous care using a satay stick. Her wavy X across the middle of the painting marks the path of the Mountain Devil Lizard. What is recorded here is the lizard’s idiosyncratic habit of meandering, swerving around obstacles, never following a straight path. The dots that appear in dense clusters simultaneously convey the spotted pattern of the lizard’s skin, the seeds or small ants she eats, and the sandstorms she passes through. Like many of the paintings in Ancestral Modern, this work maps multiple levels of existence.

Called “a show that truly does take you into another world,” by the Seattle Times’ Michael Upchurch, Ancestral Modern presents more than 100 works of breathtaking beauty, eye-popping visual complexity, and dizzyingly deep meaning. This exhibition runs through this Sunday, 2 September.

SAM Art: Who presides at places of change? This man.

This is a gentleman who tempts fate. He likes to preside at places of transition, where he can push people to recognize the need to change directions. He carries a sword to cut through difficulties and a flywhisk to invoke his authority to make things happen. Esu is prepared to bring the insights of the gods to bear on earthly dilemmas, such as changing jobs and moving on.

After 37 years, Michael McCafferty retired from his work at the Seattle Art Museum on April 20, 2012. He was the lead designer for galleries in the downtown Seattle Art Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Park, and the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and oversaw the installation of several hundred exhibitions. He was offered the following praise salute on his last day:

Master of the delicate dance

Required to give art the chance

To fly through the air and land at our feet

May Esu guide your fate in all that you meet.

Standing Figure of Esu, early 20th century, Nigerian Oyo State, Yoruba, wood, iron, 19 1/2 x 6 1/2 x 6 1/4 in., General Acquisition Fund in honor of Michael McCafferty, 2012.11. Currently on view in the African art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Voice of the supernatural

With just a few instruments—whistles, horns, rattles, clappers, box drums and hand drums—coastal peoples effectively conjured up the sounds of the supernatural realm. Rattles and clappers display the widest array of shapes, yet often depict images of birds—creatures imbued with unique abilities to move between the realms of the earth, water and sky.

Rattles and clappers accompany a host of secular and sacred songs. Rattles are used by ritualists and shamans to call forth supernatural beings whose presence is desired. They are also rhythmically shaken by attendants to subdue the power that has overcome those undergoing initiation into secret societies. The Tlingit word for rattle, sheishoox, imitates the swooshing sound when shaken.

 Swan rattle, 19th century, Tlingit or Tsimshian, wood and paint, 5 5/16 x 10 3/4 x 3 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 59.104. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Farmers markets

The countless local farmers markets we host in Seattle are part of a long tradition—and one that is surprisingly well-plumbed by artists.

In this painting (known as a “world landscape”) a bustling market day is set within a vast scene that extends for miles into the distance. The sun breaking through the clouds provides an opportunity for painter Paul Bril to create alternating zones of light and dark that supply an attractive visual rhythm. A permanent settler in Italy from the age of twenty, Bril nevertheless remained a loyal heir to the Antwerp landscape tradition established in the sixteenth century.

Market Scene in Imaginary Landscape, 1600, Paul Bril (Flemish, 1554-1626), oil on canvas, 10 3/4 x 14 3/4 in., Gift of Seattle Art Museum Guild, 54.49. Currently on view in the European Art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Herbert Vogel, in memoriam

Over the course of four decades, Dorothy and Herbert Vogel built a collection of American and international contemporary art, often creating lasting relationships with the artists. They did this on salaries of a librarian (Dorothy) and a postal worker (Herbert, who passed away this Sunday, 22 July, 2012)

Their extraordinary collection was committed to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and in 2008, in partnership with the National Gallery, the Vogels donated a portion of this collection—2500 works—to one museum in each of the fifty states. The Seattle Art Museum was selected by the Vogels to represent Washington state, and is now home to works by such internationally recognized artists as Tony Smith, Robert Mangold, Sol LeWitt, and Richard Tuttle.

Yellow Bird, 1971, Tony Smith (American, 1912-1980), heavy-weight paper, adhesive, paint, 6 1/4 x 9 x 3 3/4in., 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, 2008.29.33, Photo: Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, © Tony Smith Estate. Currently on view in the Modern and Contemporary Art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Bahram Gur, and one of his seven pavilions

In this scene, King Bahram Gur has won the hand of seven beautiful princesses from seven distinct lands. They each entertain the great king on successive days, ensconced in different pavilions, dressed in different colors, all with different lessons for the king. Depicted here, after spending a day with each of his other six consorts, Bahram Gur visits Diroste, the daughter of a Persian king and mistress of the White Pavilion on Friday, the final day of the week. Teaching the king perhaps his most important lessons, Diroste tells of the attraction of passion, and the redemption of virtue.

The 12th-century poet Nizami is famous for setting down in writing the great folk histories of Persia. This scene is drawn from the Haft Paykar (“Seven Beauties”), one of the sections of Nizami’s Khamsa (“Quintet”). The Haft Paykar records the rise to power of the Sasanian king Bahram Gur, while also serving as a fable of love and morality.

Bahram Gur in the White Pavilion (detail), mid-16th century, Persian (modern Iran), Safavid period (1501–1722), opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper, 9 3/16 x 5 7/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 47.16, Photo: Marta Pinto-Llorca. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: A Box, some sounds, and a lecture

A member of New York’s avant-garde in the early 1960s, Robert Morris famously experimented with the perceptual and intellectual issues that fueled Minimalism and Conceptual art.  He rebelled against the notion of the artwork as a precious, handcrafted original object, arguing that art could also be the embodiment of the idea from which it was conceived.  Box with the Sound of Its Own Making was a landmark work: A small cube assembled from walnut boards, containing a recording that allows viewers to hear the piece being constructed.  The viewer looks at a completed product and hears the process of its making. 

 

Jonathan Monk has been active on the international contemporary art scene since the early 1990s. His recent practice has primarily focused on reinterpreting the avant-garde of the 1960s. Often taking iconic works of Conceptual, Minimal, and Pop art as his starting points, his work makes playful commentary on the ideas that defined a previous generation while simultaneously attempting to pin down the values of our own. The Sound of Music makes a direct connection with one of the most celebrated works within the Seattle Art Museum’s collection, Robert Morris’ seminal Box with the Sound of its Own Making.

One innocent-looking box and how it changed the course of art—Robert Morris: Box with the Sound of Its Own Makingwith Catharina Manchanda
Members Art History Lecture Series: New Perspectives
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
7–9 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, first floor, SAM downtown

The Sound of Music ( A record with the sound of its own making*), 2007, Jonathan Monk (English, born 1969), record, silkscreen print on paper, and black and white photograph, each element: 12 x 12 in., Gift of Virginia and Bagley Wright, 2008.8. © Jonathan Monk. Not currently on view.

SAM Art: An American image

There are innumerable ways to be “American,” and artist Abe Blashko explored many of those routes in his Social Realist drawings.

The Great Depression, fascism in Europe, America’s entry into world war—the dark forces that changed the western world forever in the decade from 1930 to 1940—upended America’s art establishment as artists channeled moral outrage into a new sense of social purpose. Social Realism is a term traditionally applied to the work of these artist activists who chose to express themselves in a style that forcefully conveyed human suffering and moral character. But realism is an inadequate description, for these artists filtered reality through the imagination and even modeled their satirical statements on the most expressive art of the past. Their subjects might be the common man and woman, but their portrayals are sophisticated and startling exaggerations, personifications of the forces of good and evil within all of us as individuals and as a society.

Street Corner, 1939, Abe Blashko (American, 1920–2011), lithographic crayon on cream-colored heavy weight wove paper, 19 7/8 x 13 1/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 40.63, © Abe Blashko. Currently on view in the American Art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Egyptian Art Friday

SAM is honored to welcome Dr. Sarah L. Ketchley, Visiting Scholar in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Washington. Dr. Ketchley is also currently undertaking research on SAM’s collection of Egyptian art. This is the first of several blog posts she will be writing.

Memorial Day Weekend heralded the much-anticipated return to Seattle of selected treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun in an exhibition running through January 2013. SAM hosted the exhibit when it visited Seattle in 1962 and again in 1978; this year Tutankhamun: The Golden King and The Great Pharaohs will be on display at the Pacific Science Center in time to celebrate Seattle Center’s 50th anniversary.  Although the famous golden funerary mask no longer leaves Egypt, this year’s touring exhibit features a number of iconic artifacts from Tut’s tomb, as well as a wide range of artwork from all periods of Egypt’s ancient history.  What many exhibit visitors may not realize is that SAM downtown has a collection of Egyptian artwork permanently on display. In keeping with the “Tutmania” sweeping the city, over the next few months SAMart will showcase a selection of ancient Egyptian art.

This first piece comes originally from the tomb of Montuemhet (TT34), which is situated on the West Bank of the Nile opposite ancient Thebes (modern Luxor) in an area known as the Asasif.   Montuemhet was the most influential administrator in this region during the period ca. 680 – 648 BC (straddling the reign of Taharqa at the end of the Kushite Twenty-fifth Dynasty, the sack of Thebes by the Assyrians and the reign of Psammetichus I of the Saite Twenty-sixth Dynasty). While a number of statues portraying him are preserved, his tomb is without doubt his most impressive legacy.  The practice of constructing large individual tombs with complex schemes of decoration underwent a remarkable revival at Thebes during this period, some four hundred years after its virtual abandonment. Montuemhet’s tomb is one of the largest built during this time; its mud brick pylons remain a distinctive landmark on the Asasif plateau even today. The extensive substructure includes two sunken courts, one with a series of ten chapels leading off of it, and a large number of underground rock-cut rooms, almost all of which have carved decoration and texts.

The SAM Montuemhet relief is a fine example of sunk carving on a limestone block.  The tomb owner sits with one of his three wives, Shepenmut (also seen as “Shepetenmut”), the remains of three columns of hieroglyphs above their heads. There are traces of original paint and vertical chisel marks on the piece (the latter was common in tomb decoration from this period in Thebes). The tomb owner’s shoulder-length wig has long curls hanging in vertical rows, and he wears a plain collar and a sash with a knotted fastener on his left shoulder. Traces of paint on his chest in the form of small rosettes indicate that he originally wore the priestly leopard skin. His near arm would have been held over his lap, his far arm held outwards towards an offering table (now lost). The wife wears a dress with knotted straps leaving her breast exposed, a small plain collar and a long striated wig.

Stylistically, this fragment recalls relief work from the Old Kingdom, some two thousand years earlier.  The deliberate harking back to a period in the distant past perceived of as ‘classical’ is one of the characteristic and distinctive features of tomb art from the Saite Period; and can perhaps be explained by a desire to reinforce Egyptian patriotic sentiment after a period of foreign occupation.  That the Saite artist added a few new stylistic twists of his own makes this artwork quite unique and compelling.

Relief of Montuemhet and his wife Shepenmut, ca. 665 B.C., Egyptian, Luxor, tomb 34, pigment on limestone, 13 9/16 x 10 7/16 in., Bequest of Archibald Stewart and Emma Collins Downey, 53.80. Currently on view in the Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic Art galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Members lecture Wednesday

The daughter of a prominent Chinese figure painter, Lu Wujiu instead chose to work in the United States, and to focus her practice on abstraction-based visual language. Lu has been praised for her ability, “to see the analogies between traditional Chinese attitudes and the vigour of contemporary western abstract expressionism” (Professor Reverend Harrie Vanderstappen, University of Chicago).

This series is inspired by a 26-verse poem written in the mid-17th century, wherein the poet reflects on life’s meaning during the dynastic change from Ming to Qing. The poem begins with the beauty of Lake Yuan (in modern day Zhejiang province in southeastern China), in spring, as the poet passed by a mansion where he stayed with a friend ten years before. This mansion now belonged to someone else, just as the Manchus now had control over China, allowing the poet to lament the sufferings in this world which were beyond one’s control.

Echoing 17th-century woodblock illustrations of epic novels, these 26 images are by turns semi-representational, emotional, and referential. As such, the paintings focus on providing a pictorial homage to the deep sentiments of the poem, rather than treating it as an historical narrative.

 

Members Art History Lecture Series: Josh Yiu
June 20, 2012
7–9 pm
Plestcheeff Auditorium, first floor, SAM downtown

Josh Yiu, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art, speaks on SAM’s Chinese art collection, including this recent acquisition.

The Song of Lake Yuan (detail), 1993-2005, Lu Wujiu (Chinese, lives and works in U.S.), ink on paper, 23 1/4 x 25 3/16 in., Gift of Wu-Chiu Lu and Shih-Du Sun, 2012.7.2.9, © Lu Wujiu. Not currently on view.

SAMblog: A father’s story

This canvas depicts a vision of two giant snakes whose muscular bodies circle around a site known as Pukarra. The snakes are a father and son who are facing an epic struggle. To this day, people approach the rockhole at Pukarra with great care to make sure these two powerful snakes are settled. Fires and smoke, along with respectful observances, are required before accessing the water held there.

The artists, seventeen senior men from the Spinifex community of Western Australia, collaborated on this commissioned painting. Together they depicted rockholes, soaks, natural dams, sandhills, and the dense stories that connect them.

Wati Kutjara (Two Men Story), 2003, Spinifex Men’s Collaborative (Ned Grant, born 1942; Kali Davis, dates unknown; Ian Rictor, born ca. 1962; Lawrence Pennington, dates unknown; Frank Davis, dates unknown; Fred Grant, born 1941; Gerome Anderson, 1940–2011; Wilbur Brooks, dates unknown; Simon Hogan, born 1930; Mark Anderson, born 1933; Roy Underwood, born 1937; Walter Hansen, dates unknown; Loren Pennington, dates unknown; Cyril Brown, dates unknown; Alan Jamieson, dates unknown; Lennard Walker, born 1949; Byron Brooks, born 1955), Australian Aboriginal, Pitjantjatjara people, Tjuntjuntjara, Southwestern Deserts, Western Australia, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 82 11/16 x 74 13/16 in., Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum. Currently on view in Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: A new exhibition, a new way of seeing the world

An exuberant visual language has sprung out of Aboriginal artists across the continent of Australia. While this language occasionally looks extremely modern, it depicts unexpected subjects. Epics that involve shape shifting ancestors and short stories devoted to the flora and fauna of their country are given visual form. A sudden abundance of art production since the 1970s has been described as a renaissance of the world’s oldest living culture.

Six women sat together to paint this vision of their country, shaped by Luurnpa (the Kingfisher) who created features of the landscape.  Luurnpa is regarded as the keeper of the law and his influence spreads far from these women’s homes in Balgo. In this painting, Luurnpa creates with significant creeks, which meander around the edges. He puts his beak into the ground to create waterholes (seen as circles). People (U-shapes) walk to gather food (footprints) and are especially pleased when they find a rich vein of potatoes (elongated brown ovals).

Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection opens on Thursday, 31 May (with a preview for SAM members on Wednesday, 30 May, 11:00am-6:00pm).

Wirrimanu (Balgo), 1999, Balgo Women (Tjemma Freda Napanangka, ca. 1930–2004; Margaret Anjulle, born 1946; Patricia Lee Napangarti, born 1960; Mati Mudgidell, ca. 1935–2002; Lucy Yukenbarri, 1934–2003; Eubena Nampitjin, born ca. 1920), Australian Aboriginal, Kukatja, Wangkajunga, and Warlpiri peoples, Balgo (Wirrimanu), Kimberley/Western Desert, Western Australia, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 47 5/8 x 116 1/8 in., Promised gift of Margaret Levi and Robert Kaplan. On view in Ancestral Modern, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown, starting Thursday, 31 May.

SAM Art: An angry – or singing – healer

This Tlingit figure has the protruding diamond-shaped mouth associated with an angry or a singing spirit. The mask-like head held by the figure—carved from a separate piece of wood—takes the form of an animal. The knees, hands, lips, nostrils, and a line around the ankles and neck have been painted red, and the eyes, eyebrows, and feet have been painted black.

Small carved figures such as this one which represent shamans or shamans’ spirit helpers, and were part of the work of healing people. The animal head clasped before the figure’s chest may represent the shaman’s personal spirit power. Despite their diminutive size, figures such as this helped destroy the evil spirits which caused illness.

Shaman figure, ca. 1880, Tlingit, yellow cedar and paint, 12 1/4 x 3 x 3 1/4 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 83.235. Currently on view in the Native American art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.
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