Calder Smartphone Tour: Yellow Stalk With Stone

“Since the beginning of my work in abstract art, and even though it was not obvious at that time, I felt that there was no better model for me to work from than the Universe. Spheres of different sizes, densities, colors and volumes, floating in space, surrounded by vivid clouds and tides, currents of air, viscosities and fragrances—in their utmost variety and disparity.”

– Alexander Calder

Yellow Stalk with Stone is a prime example of Calder’s experimental approach to sculpture, embracing both the transcendent and the ordinary. During the artist’s lifetime, the artwork was exhibited globally with notable stops at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museu de Arte Moderna in Brazil, and the Museo de Bellas Artes in Venezuela.

Despite its global adventures, the standing mobile highlights the important role of found objects in Calder’s oeuvre. Its titular stone—found by the artist on a walking meditation around his property in Roxbury, Connecticut—invites a dialogue between found, manipulated, and artificial materials in art.

Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection closes Sunday, August 4 at SAM! Don’t miss your chance to see over 45 of the iconic American artist’s renowned works (including Yellow Stalk with Stone) and explore the exhibition’s free smartphone tour from the museum’s galleries. Plus, you can listen to all 16 stops of the tour on your own time via our SoundCloud.

Yellow Stalk with Stone, 1953

NARRATOR: Calder was a truly international artist. During his lifetime, this work was exhibited multiple times, including in Brazil, New York, and Venezuela. But the stone referred to in the title came from close to home; he picked it up near his studio in Roxbury, Connecticut. 

The stone creates a dialogue with the man-made elements of the sculpture. Sandy Rower:

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: Calder’s process of creation and composition was very intuitive. It was in the moment. It was in the spirit of the moment. It wasn’t something that was planned. He didn’t make diagrammatic plans for creating his sculptures.

NARRATOR: It’s a way of working that resonates with artist Kennedy Yanko.  

KENNEDY YANKO: He’s clearly thinking in a way where he needs to explore something, where he needs to understand something in his own way, to his own hand. Maybe he was in the studio, and he just had the stone and just went and placed it on there or he had been thinking about it for a while and then placed it on there, and that moment, that decision is what transforms the piece into what you wanted it to be.

NARRATOR: Found objects have an important role in Calder’s work. José Diaz.

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: I really hope that visitors will walk through this exhibition and see Calder through an ecological lens. He was certainly resourceful—you’ll notice that there’s works that incorporate wood, rocks, bits of material, or discarded objects—but also the fact that Calder could make art from the most ordinary materials and make something so complex, yet so beautiful.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Little Yellow Panel

Although it was never publicly exhibited in his lifetime, Little Yellow Panel exemplifies Alexander Calder’s desire to create “paintings in motion.” This exotic wall sculpture’s origin can actually be traced to a significant moment in Calder’s development that inspired him to experiment with movement: his visit to the studio of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian in October 1930.

The artist recalled being impressed not by Mondrian’s paintings but by the environmental space of his studio: “Light came in from the left and from the right, and on the solid wall between the windows there were experimental stunts with colored rectangles of cardboard tacked on. Even the victrola, which had been some muddy color, was painted red. I suggested to Mondrian that perhaps it would be fun to make these rectangles oscillate. And he, with a very serious countenance, said: ‘No, it is not necessary, my painting is already very fast.’” 

In the wake of his visit, Calder began to work in the abstract. Beginning the following year, he explored the frontal formality of painting in three dimensions but with actual motion—elements in oscillation—usually by way of simple motors. Eventually, he experimented more freely with the possibilities of movement, suspending elements to be activated by air within wood frames or in front of panels made of painted plywood. Little Yellow Panel showcases how Calder ingeniously blurred the lines between painting and sculpture to reflect a choreography of nonobjective imagery.

Supplement your visit to Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection at SAM and learn more about Little Yellow Panel by tuning in to the exhibition’s free smartphone tour. Access it now on our SoundCloud or by scanning the QR code next to select works on view when exploring the museum’s galleries.

Little Yellow Panel, ca. 1936

NARRATOR: Little Yellow Panel is part of a series of works from the mid-1930s that explored the concept of ‘paintings in motion.’ The work blurs the lines between painting and sculpture: viewed from the front, its various elements appear to be positioned against a defined yellow background. But these elements can be moved around—so the composition changes. Artist Kennedy Yanko:

KENNEDY YANKO: What I like about it is that it’s perfect. It’s a perfect piece. Where the colors show up: they’re placed perfectly with just the right amount of randomness. It’s ironic. It’s calling upon all these different things. It captures, you know, an entrance into a more minimal thought of color and form. And it also holds his curiosity. And this really feels kind of like a pivotal moment of clarity.

NARRATOR: This was an intense period of innovation for Calder. In 1930, he visited the Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian. Calder was excited by the way the older artist had arranged his studio: Mondrian had pinned rectangles of colored cardboard to the walls, as he experimented with different compositions. For Calder, the whole space became an installation.

Following this visit, he made his first wholly abstract compositions. It was also at this time that he invented the kinetic sculptures we know as mobiles. It was his friend the French artist Marcel Duchamp who suggested the term. Sandy Rower:

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: He suggested it because in French the word mobile: it refers not only to motion, but it also means your motivation or your motive—Calder’s motivation, Calder’s motions, Calder’s motives. It was like that. It was a pun.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Memory Map Smartphone Tour: Warrior for the 21st Century

In Warrior for the 21st Century (1999), a figural sculpture periodically dances to the sound of a rattle while an unidentified voice counts to 10 in the Salish language. To create this work, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith collaborated with her son and fellow artist Neal Ambrose-Smith. The sculpture is constructed by objects including an electronic motor, metal chains, steel, deck of cards, fry bread, aspirin, cassette tapes, echinacea, and more. All of these elements, Ambrose-Smith notes, are objects “every warrior needs.”

The artists created this sculpture to reflect serious issues affecting contemporary Native Americans, and armed their warrior with items for facing the challenges of the new millennium. Included are red ochre and sage for ceremonies, as well as the Indian AIDS Hotline telephone number (an important resource given the growing rates of HIV and AIDS in Indigenous communities in the late 1990s, when this work was made). The warrior also carries a copy of the 1855 Treaty of Hellgate, which established the reservation lands of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, where Smith was born and returns to often. The treaty serves as a reminder of past struggles with the federal government and the limitations of working within a colonial legal structure to protect land, water, and resources.

Learn more about Warrior for the 21st Century from Ambrose-Smith by tuning in to the free smartphone tour of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map at SAM. Produced by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the tour can be accessed online via our SoundCloud or by scanning the QR codes positioned next to select works on view in the exhibition. Memory Map closes in less than one month at SAM. Don’t miss out: reserve your tickets to see it at SAM before it’s too late.

Warrior for the 21st Century, 1999

NARRATOR: In 1999, Smith was commissioned to make a work that could be packed into a small box–a time capsule. Working on the project with her son, Neal Ambrose-Smith, she set out to make the work take up as much space as possible when it was removed from its container. 

NEAL AMBROSE-SMITH: And so this, the idea was born of maybe a figure and then it could dance or move. And it could be animatronic. 

NARRATOR: Neal Ambrose-Smith. 

NEAL AMBROSE-SMITH: So we got these guys down the street to make a motor for us to mount this thing on. And then we decided to use chains instead of ropes to hold it together because they make sound and they collapse. 

And it was a lot of fun because Jaune went into this super creative mode of like, oh, we’re going to do some sound. It needs sound. And so we went to this guy’s recording studio and we brought coffee cans full of coffee beans and, you know, to make a rattle sound. And then we got somebody up on the reservation to do a recording from Sophie May, she’s one of our Salish speakers, counting one to ten for “Ten Little Indians.”

The figure itself is a combination of all the things that you might need as a warrior for the 21st century. And when I say warrior, it doesn’t necessarily mean male or female.

So the stomach is frybread and then a T-shirt from the reservation. It says Salish Kootenai on it and it’s red, which is good. And then at each of the joints, we put these little clear boxes like jewelry boxes or something to stuff things in. So there’s sage and there’s some tobacco and the feet are cassettes, you know with like powwow songs. And then there’s a snag bag connected to one of the hands, you know which are gloves. And a snag bag, for those who aren’t in the know is—at a powwow, sometimes you go in there for a snag, which is to get a date. And so a snag bag has lubricants, maybe a condom. Things for safe practice of snagging.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Warrior for the 21st Century, 1999, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Neal Ambrose-Smith, electrical motor, metal box and mechanical timer, metal chains, steel, hardware, acrylic sheets, photograph, Salish Kootenai College T-shirt, deck of cards, copy of Hellgate Treaty, fry bread, beaded cuffs, cotton gloves, aspirin, bottle of echinacea, plastic sewn with sinew (with Salish Kootenai Health Department Reservation Snag Bag, condoms, sage, red ochre), cassette tapes (Black Lodge “The Peoples Dance” and Star Basket Jr.’s “Get Up and Dance! Pow-Wow Songs Recorded Live”), wooden crate, CD player, sound, dimensions variable, Collection of the artist; courtesy Garth Greenan Gallery, New York, © Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith.

Memory Map Smartphone Tour: Indian Madonna Enthroned

As visitors enter the galleries of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map, they’re greeted by the life-size sculpture of a seated woman with an American flag draped over her lap. She is Indian Madonna Enthroned (1974).

With long braids, a thicket of beaded necklaces, a wool shawl, pheasant feathers, and beaded moccasins, she is a representation of the contemporary Native experience, encompassing all of its tender beliefs and violent histories. Embedded in her chest, where her heart should be, is corn. Just behind her, a hide piece is marked “Property of BIA,” signifying the colonial governmental agency established to control Indigenous people and which is now a part of the Department of the Interior. Meanwhile, in her feathered hands, the Madonna demonstrates a sign of resistance by holding activist Vine Deloria Jr.’s God is Red, a 1972 study of Native spiritual practices.

Indian Madonna Enthroned is the subject of the third stop on the free smartphone tour of Memory Map. Produced by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the recording features Smith’s son and fellow artist Neal Ambrose-Smith—who helped restore the sculpture after many years spent in storage—discussing the significance of this work and the American flag draped along its lap. Tune in now to learn more about this Madonna!

Memory Map is now on view at SAM! Throughout the run of the exhibition, we’ll be sharing insight from the exhibition’s free smartphone tour to provide additional information about many of the works on view that can’t be found in the galleries. To access all 19 stops on the tour, scan the QR code next to select artworks on view or browse our SoundCloud on your own time.

Indian Madonna Enthroned, 1974

NARRATOR: Take a moment to look at the materials Smith used in this early sculpture, which she called Indian Madonna Enthroned. She has corn at her heart, and pheasant wings for hands. She holds a book by the Standing Rock Sioux writer Vine Deloria, which contrasts Christianity to Native religions, with their focus on the interconnectedness of all living things. While these elements suggest the figure’s connection to nature, other aspects of the work point to the ways she’s constrained by colonial forces.

Her face is literally framed. If you walk around to the back of the sculpture, you’ll see that her child also appears in a frame. Look closely at the hide behind the figure’s head on the frame of the chair, and you’ll see that Smith has stenciled on the words “Property of the BIA”—or Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

Smith often collaborates with her son, the artist Neal Ambrose-Smith, who restored parts of this sculpture after many years in storage. He’s talked about the flag on the Madonna’s lap, and its symbolic complexities for Native Americans.

NEAL AMBROSE-SMITH: Many people have different identities regarding flag and flag etiquette and things that are connected to that, like war, for instance, which traditionally is the most documented way of documenting history. When we talk about history, it’s always like every 200 years because there’s a war connected to it or something. In Native identity, we talk about history through the land, and so it goes back 10,000 years, it goes back 40,000 years. We talk about the glaciers, we talk about the winds and the trees and how we’re connected to all that, and so I think for me, that aspect of that flag really brings a lot of those things together.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Case of Small Mobiles

It is often assumed that Alexander Calder began experimenting with scale by making small, intimate sculptures before eventually scaling up to monumental commissions, such as The Eagle (1970), on view at the Olympic Sculpture Park. This assumption, however, is incorrect.

Calder’s understanding of scale began in his childhood when he observed his father managing sculpture projects (including the enlargement of monuments from models) for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Throughout his career, Calder worked in all sizes and scales, with a non-linear progression that was daring and fluid. Some of his small-scale works were made as maquettes for colossal objects. Others, including this collection of standing mobiles, were of a different breed, with many being constructed as gifts for family and friends.

In the sixth stop on the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz compares the artistry between Calder’s monumental and miniature sculptures. Tune in to this recording and many more via our SoundCloud or by scanning the QR codes next to select works in the exhibition’s galleries.

Haven’t visited Calder: In Motion yet? Check out visitsam.org/tickets to plan your next visit to SAM and get an up-close look at the intricate details of Alexander Calder’s tiniest sculptures.

Case of Small Mobiles: Untitled (1952), Black, White, Yellow and Brass on Red (1959), Untitled (1947), Two White Dots (1973)

NARRATOR: We often associate Calder with monumental sculpture. But he also worked on a small, delicate scale throughout his career. This case displays a grouping of some of Calder’s small-scale works. Calder was known for making works like these as gifts. José Diaz:

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: There’s a famous story of Calder making small works encased in a cigar box for his wife, and so his wife, Louisa, can travel with these. She can display them as she saw fit. She can curate them within her own setting. But it’s also the small works’ complexity.

So, if you look at this case, you’ll notice that the small mobiles are just as detailed. You’ll notice that they’re balanced. You’ll notice that the use of metal is done with such delicacy that it has just as much attention as Calder would focus on for his larger-scaled works. You also can get a sense of the colors. The palettes are very similar to Calder’s larger scaled works. You’ll notice shapes that are similar to other large-scale works. But it’s often because Calder is working within an aesthetic that can really work within scale. And Calder was very conscious when he played with scale because it allowed him to also explore the way that these stabiles and mobiles could function in a setting, regardless of how big they are.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

A Monumental Gift Goes On View: Inside Calder: In Motion at SAM

“How can art be realized? Out of volumes, motion, spaces bounded by the great space, the universe.”

– Alexander Calder

This November, SAM begins a long-term commitment to Alexander Calder, the American artist celebrated for revolutionizing sculpture with his renowned mobiles and stabiles. Earlier this year, SAM announced the incredible gift of more than 45 seminal Calder artworks by longtime supporters Jon and Kim Shirley. Their magnificent collection—one of the most important private holdings of Calder’s art—is the result of 35 years of thoughtful collecting. 

Now on view at SAM, Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection thematically highlights pieces from every decade of Calder’s career, dating from the 1920s to the 1970s. The exhibition also includes examples of Calder’s works on paper and an oil painting, among other media, representing the expansiveness of his oeuvre. Sections devoted to his artistic experimentation, natural forces and dynamics, and the artist’s lasting contribution to modern art are also featured.

“As truly serious art must follow the greater laws, and not only appearances, I try to put all the elements in motion in my mobile sculptures. It is a matter of harmonizing these movements, thus arriving at a new possibility of beauty.”

– Alexander Calder

To accentuate the artist’s exploration of height, scale, and movement, the exhibition is installed in the museum’s double-height galleries—a unique space for large-scale works with several overlooks from the floor above. The exhibition design captures a sense of movement, with an S-shaped, curved wall that wraps around the iconic 22-foot-tall sculpture Red Curly Tail (1970) and divides the galleries into a series of vignettes illuminating the exhibition’s themes and highlighting the lyricism of Calder’s creations.

Elsewhere on view are the oil painting The Yellow Disc (1958), a medium that Calder engaged with throughout his career but is not nearly as well known as his sculpture; Untitled (Métaboles) (1969), a mobile the artist created as part of a stage set for a ballet; and Fish (1942). The latter, a significant work from a rare series of mobiles created during and after World War II when metal was scarce, is made of wire framing and found materials.

The central gallery traces Calder’s career, highlighting his achievements across the miniature and the monumental. The expansive Toile d’araignée (1965), an airy, monochromatic mobile hovers over several artworks, including the masterful standing mobile Bougainvillier (1947).

“That others grasp what I have in mind seems unessential, at least as long as they have something else in theirs.”

– Alexander Calder

The final gallery considers the artist’s legacy, with works that demonstrate Calder’s accomplishments throughout his most productive decades and his impact on the evolution of modern art. It includes Untitled (1936), Little Yellow Panel (ca. 1936), Jonah and the Whale (ca. 1940), Untitled (ca. 1942), Constellation with Red Knife (1943), Yellow Stalk with Stone (1953), and Squarish (1970). This gallery also serves as a bridge into the museum’s modern and contemporary galleries.

The Shirley family’s generous gift will also inspire public programs exploring Calder’s artistic practice. Events are planned for both the Seattle Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park and will include talks, tours, performances, art-making workshops, and a family-friendly festival—stay tuned for more details!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

This article first appeared in the October 2023 through January 2024 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Image: Bougainvillier, 1947, Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, sheet metal, rod, wire, lead, and paint, 78 x 82 x 54 in., Promised gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Nicholas Shirley.

Muse/News: Calder Gifts, April Theater, and Ancient Fabrics

SAM News

Last week, SAM had exciting news to announce: Thanks to the generosity of Jon and Kim Shirley, one of the most important private collections of Alexander Calder’s artworks will make its way to SAM!

The gift of the Shirley Family Calder Collection includes 48 of the iconic American sculptor’s works and is supported by a $10 million endowment and an annual financial commitment to support Calder-related exhibitions and research. Maximilíano Durón of ARTnews and Margo Vansynghel of The Seattle Times broke the news on Tuesday morning, including a front page appearance. The Art Newspaper, Geekwire, Artdaily, and local TV and radio were all among those who joined the chorus. 

Stay tuned for November, when the inaugural exhibition of all 48 works goes on view! Until then: there’s so much to see at SAM, including Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth, on view through May 29.

For Seattle Magazine, Sean Meyers explored “100 Years Of Seattle Modernism” in architecture and design, including Jim Ellis Freeway Park, the William B. Tracy House, and, of course, the Olympic Sculpture Park designed by Weiss/Manfredi in 2007.

Local News

Via the City’s Art Beat Blog: Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture is in the midst of a national search for its next director. Read up about what they’re looking for in this critical role and share your thoughts via the community survey link at the end.

Crosscut’s Nimra Ahmad invites you to “meet 3 young PNW writers”—Azura Tyabji, Sah Pham, and Matthew Valentine—in honor of National Poetry Month.

The Seattle Times’ Jerald Pierce has you covered with “6 theater productions to add to your April calendar.”

“…you’ll have a chance to take a trip down the yellow brick road, make an appointment with a demon barber or perhaps watch as a group of actors tries to tackle Shakespeare without knowing which character they’ll play until the night of the performance. You’ll also be able to see carefully crafted conversations centered on a collegiate debate, mixed-race relationships and the legendary August Wilson’s life.”

Inter/National News

Via Artforum: RIP to photographer Kwame Brathwaite, who died last week at the age of 85. In his work, he popularized the phrase and idea of “Black is beautiful.”

Also announced in ARTnews last week: the 171 scholars and artists who will receive 2023 Guggenheim Fellowships

Via Artnet’s Min Chen: A piece of fabric discovered in a peat bog 40 years ago has finally been analyzed and revealed to be the “world’s oldest piece of tartan,” dating back to the 16th century. (Fun fact: a fragment of Peruvian ikat on view at SAM dates back to the 9th century!)

“‘The Glen Affric tartan is clearly a piece of national and historical significance. It is likely to date to the reign of James V, Mary Queen of Scots, or James VI/I,’ said John McLeish, chair of the Scottish Tartans Authority. ‘There is no other known surviving piece of tartan from this period of this age.’”

And Finally

Marian Anderson sings at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Jon and Kim Shirley with Mountains (1:5 intermediate maquette, 1976). © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo courtesy Jon and Kim Shirley.

A Cherished Gift: 48 Artworks by Alexander Calder Are Coming to SAM

Today, we have a major announcement: Thanks to the generosity of Jon and Kim Shirley, one of the most important private collections of Alexander Calder’s artworks will make its way to SAM. The gift of the Shirley Family Calder Collection includes 48 of the artist’s works and is supported by a $10 million endowment and an annual financial commitment to support Calder-related exhibitions and research.

“Calder is an artist whose work is seemingly ubiquitous,” said Amada Cruz, Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO of the Seattle Art Museum. “In truth, we’ve lost sight of the enormous artistic innovations that he was responsible for—from pioneering wire sculpture to inventing the mobile—and the tremendous impact he has had on artists of the 20th and 21st century. The extraordinary generosity of Jon and Kim Shirley allows us to explore the many facets of this creative genius.”

The Shirleys’ gift will be the centerpiece of an ongoing series of annual exhibitions and programs. Beginning this November, SAM will present an inaugural exhibition featuring all 48 works from the collection, offering an extensive look into the artist’s work, practice, and life. Following this inaugural show, a group exhibition planned for 2024 will emphasize his impact and legacy in global contemporary art.

“I first fell in love with Calder as a young man, creating a passion that has only grown with time,” said Jon Shirley. “From the moment I bought my first work 35 years ago, I treasured the experience of living with Calder and from that point built my collection very intentionally. I visited the seminal Calder exhibition at the National Gallery in 1998 and soon thereafter decided to build a truly museum-worthy collection of his work. Kim and I are so happy to have found a permanent home for our collection at the Seattle Art Museum.”

Learn more about this generous gift from the Shirley family in The Seattle Times and ARTnews.

Images: Red Curly Tail, 1970, Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, painted steel and stainless steel, 192 x 275 x 144 in., Promised gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Nicholas Shirley. Bougainvillier, 1947, Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, sheet metal, rod, wire, lead, and paint, 78 1/2 x 86 in., Promised gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Nicholas Shirley.

Alberto Giacometti: Walking Man I & Tall Woman IV

In 1958, Alberto Giacometti was invited to compete for a public artwork for the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. Envisioning three outdoor sculptures including a Large Head, a Tall Woman, and a Walking Man, Giacometti set out to make them in plaster. After a year of several attempts—three versions of Walking Man, four of Tall Woman, and two of Large Head—Giacometti abandoned the commission due to his dissatisfaction with the results.

Discussing the abandoned project, Giacometti was quoted as saying, “I can see they are a failure, or rather, not fully achieved—they are all wide off the mark in a big way.” Despite the artist’s self-assessment, the sculptures were soon celebrated as some of his most iconic works.

In SAM’s ongoing exhibition, Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, Giacometti’s initial vision for the plaza is recreated with Walking Man I, Tall Woman IV, and the addition of Dog (Le Chien) (1951). In this audio recording, SAM Educator Yaoyao Liu guides visitors through a close-looking exercise of the two towering artworks Giacometti envisioned for the Chase Manhattan Plaza. Listen to all seven stops of the smartphone tour when you visit Toward the Ultimate Figure at SAM’s downtown location through October 9.

Walking Man I (1960) & Tall Woman IV (1960)

NARRATOR: Commissioned together in 1958, Walking Man I and Tall Woman IV were intended as outdoor sculptures for New York City’s Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza. Though the sculptures were never delivered, this initial context can help us think about how they relate to one another. Here’s SAM Educator Yaoyao Liu to guide you in a close looking exercise.

YAOYAO LIU: In the gallery, take time to move slowly around each sculpture, taking in details such as color, texture, and form. Then move back and view the two sculptures as a pair. What did you notice looking up close at each one, then seeing both at the same time? Where do you see connections between these two sculptures? And where do you see differences?

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: L. Fried.

Alberto Giacometti: Man with a Windbreaker

In Alberto Giacometti’s never-ending pursuit of a new vision of the human form, the artist often turned to nature for inspiration. Many of his early artworks—most notably in his paintings and sketches—focused on the dynamic landscapes of his upbringing in Stampa, Switzerland. This motif remained as his career progressed, yet his exploration with nature and man’s relationship to it was explored in new ways.

With its tiny head perched on an oversized mound, of which only the figure’s arms can be identified, Man with a Windbreaker (1953) is one of Giacometti’s sculptures which best demonstrates his evolving relationship to nature. While he experimented with scale, texture, and perspective in nearly all of his artworks during this artistic period, this sculpture stands out for its evocation of a geological concretion, with some scholars going so far as to call it a stalagmite.

In this audio recording, SAM Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama discusses Man with a Windbreaker, comparing the rough texture of the mound to a “rocky mountainside.” Tune in to this, and seven other audio recordings which accompany artworks on view in Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, when you visit the exhibition at SAM’s downtown location through October 9.

Man with a Windbreaker, 1953

NARRATOR: Giacometti’s experimentations with scale and texture come to the fore in Man with a Windbreaker. Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama:

ERIKA KATAYAMA: At this point in his career, Giacometti is constantly manipulating perspective and scale as a means for him to capture his vision of the human figure. Notice the dramatic contrast of proportion in this sculpture. The tiny head sits atop a large, almost mountainous body. The rough texture of his clothes reminds me of a rocky mountainside. As a viewer, this gives us the illusion that the body of the man is close to us, looming large, whereas the tiny head is far away.

VOICE OF GIACOMETTI: For me, any deformation is entirely involuntary. I simply try to recreate what I see. My struggle is to grasp and possess an appearance that constantly escapes me. I try to express what I see, but unfortunately I never manage to make something that truly resembles it.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Man with a Windbreaker, 1953, Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, 1901–1966, bronze, 50 × 28.6 × 22.5 cm, Fondation Giacometti, © Succession Alberto Giacometti / ADAGP, Paris, 2022.

Alberto Giacometti: The Cage

In both his paintings and sculptures, Alberto Giacometti used the architectural device of a cage to surround and outline specific constraints for his artistic vision. While Giacometti used a physical frame to demarcate the borders of his paintings, in his sculptures, the artist built physical cages in which to constrain his artworks. First utilized in Cage (1930–31) and Suspended Ball (1930–31), Giacometti returned to the idea of the enclosure as a framing device nearly twenty years later as he began to think more deeply about the self-referential interior of the sculpture compared to its surroundings.

The Cage, First Version is reminiscent of a display case. The upper portion presents a figure and a bast as if laid out in a vitrine. The standing figure is not proportional to the considerably larger head, thus disrupting a reading of these figures within a conventional perspectival space. Placed at the outer edge, the standing figure holds on to the armature that marks the perimeter, looking out beyond. The cage, just as the figures themselves, are composed of the same nubby bronze texture that Giacometti is often recognized for.

Listen to the audio recording above to hear SAM Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama discuss Giacometti’s continuous use of cages, frames, and proportionality throughout his artistic career. All eight audio recordings—produced by the Seattle Art Museum as part of the free smartphone tour of Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure—can be found by scanning the QR codes accompanying selected artworks on view in the exhibition through October 9.

The Cage, First Version, 1949–50

NARRATOR: Giacometti uses cages and frames as a way to further explore the relationship between the viewer and the object, the sculpture and its surroundings. Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama:

ERIKA KATAYAMA: The cage functions both symbolically and psychologically in this work, forming a space which encloses the subjects within. And as a viewer, we see the standing figure and the oversized head, which are not in correct proportion to each other, yet they both exist within the bounds of the cage—and so we have to consider them in relation to one another.

NARRATOR: How does the cage shape how you view this piece? Try imagining it without the cage, what changes?

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: The Cage, First Version, 1949–50, Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, 1901–1966, bronze, 90.5 × 36.5 × 34 cm, Fondation Giacometti, © Succession Alberto Giacometti / ADAGP, Paris, 2022.

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist James Ellingboe

In the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, artist James Ellingboe has built a beautiful artist studio in his garage. The studio is filled with a wide array of machines and tools, custom-built to create sculptures inspired by math, science, and the natural world from a variety of materials. 

Ellingboe has always built things, initially starting with found materials. He learned to weld during high school and created his first metal sculpture in 2004. He now commonly works with mild steel, stainless steel, bronze, and wood, and just recently began creating artworks with clay. He is constantly seeking new ways to manipulate materials in order to give form to his ideas. 

Ellingboe’s sculptures explore botanical and scientific themes, often relating to cellular structures and cellular organisms. Examples of this can be seen in the sculptures in his Diatom series. The rounded sculptures in this series are a geometric manipulation of an abstracted form inspired by single-celled organisms called diatoms. The large-scale sculptures from this series are unique, while the smaller-scale sculptures are created in a limited edition of five works and sold at SAM Gallery. 

Another series of artworks, titled Fractals, is created from the repetition and manipulation of a simple shape to describe the space inspired by molecular geometries. An artwork from this series, Emergence, is inspired by perennial plants breaking dormancy. The green leaves of the plant are formed by repeated triangles, reaching upwards. He creates artworks like Emergence as a unique monumental sculpture at seventeen feet tall, as well as a limited edition of five smaller sculptures standing at eight and a half inches tall. Another artwork from this series, Nebula, is inspired by nebulous cloud formations in space. Blue triangles are repeated to echo the giant clouds of dust and gas. The large-scale sculpture is fifty-two inches tall, while the limited edition smaller-scale works stand small at thirteen inches tall.

Added in January 2022, James Ellingboe is one of the most recent additions to SAM Gallery’s artist roster. His large-scale and small-scale sculptures will be featured at SAM Gallery this October alongside artworks by Harold Hollingsworth. See his artwork on view at SAM Gallery in the coming months or browse his SAM artist page to get a sneak peek at what’s to come.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Exhibition Manager

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Alberto Giacometti: Tall Thin Head

“When viewed from different vantage points, Tall Thin Head seems to be two distinct heads. From the front the head is narrow; the effect is like looking straight on at a knife edge. From the side, the profile is full-bodied and dramatically silhouetted, completely contradicting the frontal view.”

– Valerie Fletcher

Alberto Giacometti used a variety of artistic devices to disrupt the viewers’ interpretation of space. His 1954 portrait bust Tall Thin Head—or Grand tête mince—was just one of a series of busts made by the artist in the 1950s which played with scale, perspective, and texture. From the front, the sculpture looks flat and vague, but when viewed from the side, however, a detailed portrait emerges revealing the angular features of a male figure.

The sculpture, modeled after his brother, Diego Giacometti, falls into a familiar trend seen across Giacometti’s artistic career. Since the beginning of his artistic life, Giacometti preferred to work with those closes to him as models, especially Diego and his wife Annette. Sitting for him required long hours of concentration, and both his brother and wife also assisted with various aspects of managing his studio and career. For the artist, working with consistent models allowed him to better pursue his vision, unveiling the stranger beneath the familiar.

This audio recording marks the third stop in SAM’s free smartphone tour which accompanies Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure. Listen now to experience a close-looking art activity led by SAM educator and teaching artist Lauren Kent and tune in to all eight stops in the tour when you visit the exhibition at SAM’s downtown location through October 9.

Tall Thin Head, 1954

NARRATOR: Perspective can change everything in a sculpture, and that rings true especially for Giacometti’s later work. Here’s SAM educator Lauren Kent to guide you in a close looking activity for Tall Thin Head.

LAUREN KENT: As you approach Tall Thin Head, position yourself so that you are in front of the sculpture, looking at the face straight on. What do you see? What do you think about what you see? What do you wonder? Does this sculpture express an emotion or remind you of anything?

Slowly move about a foot in one direction around the sculpture, then stop. What do you notice now? What do you see that you didn’t before? What has changed?

Move another foot in a circle around the sculpture and stop once more. What do you notice here? What do you see now that you didn’t before? What has changed?

Continue moving in a full circle around the head. Observe how it expands and contracts. Observe all of the different ways that it looks and feels at each angle. You can keep an eye on Tall Thin Head as you walk through the rest of this gallery.

 Lily Hansen, Marketing Content Creator


1 Alberto Giacometti: 1901-1966, Valerie Fletcher, p.180.

Image: Tall Thin Head, 1954, Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, 1901–1966, bronze, 64.5 × 38.1 × 24.4 cm, Fondation Giacometti, © Succession Alberto Giacometti / ADAGP, Paris, 2022 ALL IMAGES: © Succession Alberto Giacometti / ADAGP, Paris, 2022.

Object of the Week: Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III

As the wind picks up at the Olympic Sculpture Park, American artist George Rickey’s Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III (1973) uses the natural elements to transform from a still sculpture to a mesmerizing experiment in movement, allowing us to consider how that movement can in turn create its own forms. 

Rickey’s kinetic sculptures come from an amalgamation of life experiences and technical skills. He was born on June 6, 1907 in South Bend, Indiana; his father was an engineer, setting the stage for the technical foundation that would become a pertinent aspect of his future work. Rickey went on to temporarily reject engineering to study history and eventually art, becoming a history teacher and painter. During and after World War II, he was majorly influenced by the work of Alexander Calder, Naum Gabo, and David Smith among others. 

During the 1970s, Rickey began using flat planes in his kinetic sculptures, burnishing the stainless steel planes in order to create luminosity. He rejected motorized mechanics; instead the planes are able to create motion through the combination of weight, design, and ball bearings inside of the bearing housing. The laws of physics and the unpredictability of the natural world are his tools of choice.

Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III is inspected and treated annually by SAM’s conservation department to ensure that Rickey’s vision remains in motion at the sculpture park. In 2022, the sculpture was cleaned, examined for stability, spot treated to maintain an even and uncorroded exterior, and the access panels were opened up to inspect the stability of the rods and bearings. The sculptures at the Olympic Sculpture Park, including Rickey’s, require constant care to withstand weather, constant movement, and exposure to the Puget Sound’s salty water. 

As a part of my Emerging Arts Leader Internship in conservation, I am working alongside SAM conservators to examine, record, and treat a number of SAM collection works, focusing specifically on the outdoor sculptures in the Olympic Sculpture Park. It is very special to have the opportunity to work directly with sculptures that I have spent years studying or admiring. I’m glad to have contributed directly to the preservation and future enjoyment of modern and contemporary public art.

– Rosa Sittig-Bell, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern


1 George Rickey Foundation, “Glossary of Technical Terms,” https://www.georgerickey.org/art/glossary-of-terms

2 Hayden Herrera, “George Rickey,” in George Rickey in South Bend (South Bend: The Snite Museum of Art University of Notre Dame, 1985) 11–17.

3 Vero Beach Museum of Art, George Rickey Kinetic Sculpture: A Retrospective (Vero Beach: The University of Washington Press, 2007).

Image: Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III, 1973, George Rickey, stainless steel, 97 x 68 x 68 in. Gift of Martin Z. Margulies, 2007.263 © Estate of George Rickey/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Object of the Week: Circle Blue

By the time De Wain Valentine moved to Los Angeles in 1965, the artist was already working with plastics. He had been introduced to them by his junior high shop teacher after the then-recent military declassification of the material following World War II and had been working with them on a small-scale ever since. Now in California, Valentine began sharing his experiences while working as a part-time faculty member at UCLA.

Having spent most of his life until that point in Colorado, Valentine has explained how the move influenced his art: “In Colorado, you don’t notice the sky so much because it’s crystal clear: always blue and always so beautiful.” In fact, the Latin name for the Colorado state flower is coerulea, which translates to “sky blue.” But as Valentine continued in a 2011 interview with the Getty Conservation Institute, “you can’t see [the sky in Colorado], so you always forget about it. But the sky in LA is very different: You can really see that—the smog and the fog.”1

For folks from the California coast, the “fog” is really the marine layer, a coastal air mass, usually occurring in the morning, which creates overcast skies that “burn off” around noon. The smog, however, especially in 1960s Los Angeles, was not only something you really could see, but threatened its own weather in the region. A front-page news report in the Los Angeles Times from October 1964 notes that “[s]weltering temperatures helped produce another blanket of smog over the Los Angeles basin Tuesday and touched off lightning storms which started at least three fires in the mountains.” In the next column over, a weather brief states “Light to moderate smog today.”2

Valentine is quoted saying that his extensive series of large-scale polyester resin sculptures are “all about the sea and the sky” and that being in Los Angeles allowed him to see “a new avenue to make sculpture that was completely atmospheric or like a chunk of the ocean cut out.”3 The translucent circles, columns, curved slabs, and sometimes UFO-shaped disks, come in a wide array of colors, from warm rose and orange to more New Age-y lavenders and turquoise, and many are several feet tall or wide. For example, his massive Gray Column (1975–76), made with black pigment that grows transparent and smoky as it tapers at the top, is an impressive 12 feet, like a slab carved from a smog-filled sky. 

Circle Blue, with its cerulean gradient, however, is the work that most clearly evokes the ocean and sky, and, with its round shape, the planet. Like the other tall translucent sculptures, Circle Blue is made from a proprietary blend of polyester resin. Working with the manufacturer Hastings Plastics in Santa Monica, California, Valentine produced Valentine MasKast Resin in 1966 that, unlike previous polyester resins, could be used to create large, thick objects cast in a single-pour rather than in thin layers, without cracking or overheating. 

After polyester resin’s initial use in the military and aerospace arenas, the cheap, sturdy, and durable material was quickly adopted by the automotive and maritime industries, but also used for small common objects like buttons and bowling ball cores. Polyester resin has a highly complex chemical structure that requires “curing” to transform the liquid resin to a solid. This part of the production process is probably the most toxic, as the most common agent used for curing is styrene, which the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services has listed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”4 Polyester resin is also a plastic, and therefore made from fossil fuels. 

Despite the material’s industrial applications, Valentine never really outsourced the production of his sculptures to a fabricator, a common practice for artists using industrial materials, including his peers in the Light and Space movement and in other Minimal Art groups. Pictures of him and his studio assistants clad in PPE (personal protective equipment) show the very hands-on process taken: weeks of sanding and buffing with hand-held machines usually found in an auto-body shop. Citing health concerns, Valentine later turned to using glass for some of his sculptures, but mainly so he could install his works outside: UV light and the potential for surface scratches could destroy the polyester resin sculptures.5 What the material afforded him, however, was a way to examine not just the surface of sculpture, but the (light and) space in between. “[T]he interior of the sculpture is so essential.”6

Reflecting on Circle Blue’s origins in 1960s and 70s Southern California’s smog, sea spray, and glittering oceans against today’s heightened climate crisis, the piece becomes not just an imaginative chunk of the sky, but also a transparent, precious, and conflicting sample of our world. It is both beautiful and a little toxic, strong but also fragile. At almost six feet in diameter, we can see ourselves in its surface, but we also see in and beyond it. Now on view in Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water at SAM, Circle Blue—in addition to many other works on display—prompts questions about our relationship to the planet: How might we preserve a chunk of the sea or sky today? How might we look beyond today and imagine our blue planet in the future? 

– Mia C. Ferm, Project Manager, SAM Historic Media Collection

1 Tom Learner, Rachel Rivenc and Emma Richardson, “From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column” (Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute, 2011), 7.

2 “Heat, Smog, Lighting and Fires Pile Up Southland Weather Woes,” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA), Oct 7, 1964.

3 Tom Learner, Rachel Rivenc and Emma Richardson, “From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column” (Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute, 2011), 7.

4 National Toxicology Program, “Report on Carcinogens, Fifteenth Edition” (report, Research Triangle Park, NC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 2021).

5 Dorothy Newmark and Dewain Valentine, “An Interview with Dewain Valentine, Sculptor of Plastic,” Leonardo 4, no. 4 (1971). 

6 Tom Learner, Rachel Rivenc and Emma Richardson, “From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column” (Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute, 2011), 12.

Image: Natali Wiseman.

Our Blue Planet: Five Quick Questions with Claude Zervas

Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water documents the stories and histories of water in our world. Pulling exclusively from local loans and works in SAM’s permanent collection, the expansive exhibition features paintings, sculptures, textiles, and multimedia works by over 70 artists from around the world. Over the next 10 weeks, we’ll be talking with some of the contemporary artists involved with the exhibition about their artwork and the importance of water in their lives.

Born in 1963, Claude Zervas is best known for his light and video installations focusing on the topography and topology of the Pacific Northwest. In the 1980s, Claude attended Western Washington University to pursue a degree in geology and moved to Paris, France following his graduation. Although he spent many years working as a software engineer, Claude eventually decided to return to Washington and fully commit to his art practice and art production. Discover the story behind Claude’s 2005 sculpture, Nooksack, now on view in Our Blue Planet at SAM below.

1. What is your name and where are you currently based?

My name is Claude Zervas and I am based just outside of Bellingham, Washington.

2. What is the title of your artwork and how does it fit in with the themes explored in Our Blue Planet?

The title of my work is Nooksack. It’s a part of SAM’s permanent collection and has previously been on view in a couple of exhibitions at the museum. When piecing Our Blue Planet together, I think the curators thought to include my work because of its connection to one of our local waters. After deciding to include my work, I worked a bit with SAM’s conservation team to give the sculpture new life. We had to replace all of the lamps which proved difficult because the tiny little fluorescent bulbs I used are now, more or less, obsolete technology. Back in the day, they were used in scanners and back light for video displays but they’re not used so much anymore and are getting harder to find. But, I really like the delicate and thin light that they put out—nothing else really puts out that kind of light.

3. What thoughts, ideas, and/or perspectives do you want visitors to take away from your artwork in Our Blue Planet?

Nooksack stems from this really personal relationship to the Nooksack River that I had as a kid growing up near the water. And for some reason, as an adult, I still feel a kinship to it. I’m not totally sure why, but it’s a beautiful river. And this piece is an ode to the river based on my memory of it and acts as a sort of ‘thank you’ to it. In seeing my work, I want visitors to consider the bodies of water which exist around us and thank them for all that they do for us.

4. What other artworks in the exhibition stood out to you?

All of the works in this exhibition are incredible, but what really stood out to me was a quote I saw on the floor of the exhibition by Abby Yates. I don’t know why her words so deeply affected me, but they did. Just to see a voice representing the Nooksack people and the river I care about so much was a beautiful experience.

5. How do art and activism intersect? Why do you think it’s important for museums like SAM to curate exhibitions around environmental and societal issues such as water?

I’m not much of an activist but I think we can all agree on the importance of water on Earth. It’s hard to overstate considering we’re 90% water and without it we’d all be dead. It’s essential for us to continuously investigate and discuss the role it plays in our lives. Overall, I’m just pleased SAM thought it important to publicly acknowledge and highlight the various ways water impacts all of our lives—and I’m honored they decided to include my work in the exhibition.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Images: L. Fried & Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Me and Pops

 An artist whose work defies easy definition, Aaron Fowler’s “memoiristic, maximalist bricolage” sculptures are comprised of carefully sourced found materials and second-hand objects that have the “feel of human in them.”1 Taking compositional cues from American history painting, religious iconography, and family lore, Fowler’s work includes both imagined narratives and real stories from his own experiences as well as those of his friends and family.

Me and Pops—included in the artist’s 2020 solo exhibition at SAM, titled Aaron Fowler: Into Existence—depicts the artist in the foreground, ironing used clothing that will later be incorporated into a sculpture. He works alongside his father, a relationship that he hoped to continue building. The background includes references to other works (then in-progress) that were also included in his SAM exhibition—a nod to moments in the past as well as hopes for the future—while the canopy structure overhead refers to a shared dream with his father to build a home on their own land. Fowler describes his mirrored self-portrait as a means by which others can see themselves within the personal dreams he is relaying, lending them a more universal message: “I’m having these experiences to share with others…So whether it’s good, bad or ugly—I feel these experiences I’m having are not just for myself.”

A sense of optimism, ambition, and aspiration underscore Fowler’s practice. Me and Pops, like so many of his works, depicts a poignant subject and action that the artist wished to manifest, borrowing from the words of encouragement spoken by his grandmother: “you need to speak it into existence.”

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate


1 Press Release, “Aaron Fowler: Exceedingly and Abundantly Blessed,” François Ghebaly, http://ghebaly.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2018Fowler_PR.pdf.

Image: Me and Pops, 2019, Aaron Fowler, Mixed media, 97 × 74 × 6 1/2 in., General Acquisition Fund, 2020.25, ©️ Artist or Artist’s Estate.

Checking in on Environmental Restoration Efforts at the Olympic Sculpture Park

Salmon, sea lions, seals, rabbits, hummingbirds, eagles, and Cooper’s hawks—SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park is a refuge for Seattle’s wildlife. Today is World Wildlife Conservation Day, a holiday intended to spread awareness about the natural world and its habitants, and we’re offering an update on ongoing habitat restoration projects taking place at the park.

In 1910, the park’s site was developed as a fuel storage and transfer facility byUnion Oil of California (UNOCOAL). By the time the museum purchased the property in collaboration with the Trust for Public Land in 1999, the soil and ground water had been severely contaminated by petroleum products. In acquiring the land, SAM resolved to return the site to a functioning ecosystem, while simultaneously creating a safe space for public recreation and the display of outdoor sculptures.

As SAM trustee, collector, and arts philanthropist Martha Wyckoff previously explained to SAM, “Community can include everyone in Seattle and anyone who comes to visit. As we developed the project, we realized it also included the salmon, and the plants, and the future, by making sure there’s more green, natural settings in the downtown core for all to enjoy. Where else has a major city art museum created salmon habitat in partnership with a national nonprofit land conservation group?”

After an exhaustive international search featuring 52 applicants, Weiss/Manfredi Architects of New York was selected to design the park. The designers developed a 2,200-foot Z-shaped configuration to create four distinct landscapes that reflect the native ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest. This innovative design allowed for the implementation of several environmental restoration projects, including brownfield redevelopment, the creation of a salmon habitat restoration, and the capture and use of rainwater on-site.

Construction at the Olympic Sculpture Park © Seattle Art Museum.

On land, designers introduced a three-foot-thick layer of engineered soil that dramatically reduces runoff and allows rainfall to percolate and drain out to Elliott Bay. The planting of dense tree canopies, under-story vegetation, and ground covers also contribute to the retention of rainfall above the soil’s surface. By restoring the original topography of the land, the designers were able to reintroduce microclimates that allow for greater diversity in the plant and animal life which occupies the park.

Meanwhile, on the shoreline, designers focused on the creation of a nearshore habitat which serves as a refuge and foraging ground for juvenile Chinook salmon that migrate through the Green and Duwamish Rivers. They also opted to relocate rip-rap rocks from the shoreline to develop a pocket beach which created a shallow subtidal habitat bench suitable for the planting of native vegetation.

Since opening to the public in 2007, these environmental restoration projects have only continued to flourish. As SAM‘s Facilities and Landscape Manager Bobby McCullough explained, at this point, it’s all about maintaining the work first implemented while the park was being designed.

“Our efforts these days are mainly focused on watching the park grow and letting it do what it was meant to do,” he said.

The shoreline of the Olympic Sculpture Park. Image: Joe Finn.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t more progress to be made in returning the park and others across Seattle to their original environmental conditions, however. For the last year, Bobby has participated in a taskforce formed by Seattle Parks and Recreation aimed at creating and grooming more pollinator corridors throughout the city.

“The City of Seattle is really leading the charge right now in rethinking the landscapes of Seattle’s parks,” he said. “We’re often walking the waterfront, attending meetings, and coming up with new ideas about how we can increase the number of pollinator species that inhabit our parks.”

For 14 years, the Olympic Sculpture Park has served as a haven for art- and wildlife-enthusiasts alike. In addition to hosting thousands of visitors each day, the park often sees researchers from the University of Washington studying the growth of juvenile salmon and other organisms near the shoreline, as well as members of the Seattle Audubon Society observing its natural wildlife populations.

“The growth in wildlife that we’ve seen in the last few years around here has been really fantastic,” Bobby said. “Looking forward, I think these numbers are only going to grow.”

 Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Joe Finn.

Object of the Week: Torso Fruit

Among some of the newly installed works in Seattle Art Museum’s third floor galleries is this 1960 plaster sculpture by French artist Jean Arp (1886-1966), titled Torso Fruit.

As a sculptor, painter, and poet, Arp’s life and career defy easy categorization and span multiple art movements, putting many current-day résumés to shame. Born Hans (Jean) Peter Wilhelm Arp in Strasbourg, Germany (now France), Arp—of French Alsatian and German descent—pursued art as a young adult, eventually traveling from his native Strasbourg to Weimar, Germany; Paris, France; and Munich, Switzerland, where in 1912 he came into contact with Wassily Kandinsky, briefly exhibiting with the Der Blaue Reiter group. Returning to Paris in 1914, his cohort grew to include Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso, to name a few. At the onset of World War I, Swiss neutrality drew Arp to Zürich, where he met his future wife and collaborator, Sophia Taueber, and, together with Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, and others, became a founding member of the radical and multi-disciplinary Dada movement. Dada led Arp to Surrealism and, later, Abstraction-Création—and this just brings us to the 1930s!

Though a later work, Torso Fruit is a wonderful example of Arp’s biomorphic style that began in the early 1930s. Biomorphism, as compared with other modes of abstraction and Surrealism, was considered by some artists to be a more intuitive and, therefore, truer reflection of the subconscious. With organic shapes that connect to the natural world, biomorphism was a formal strategy through which Arp could introduce chance and spontaneity into his practice (holdovers from Dada and Surrealism). In the words of Arp, “I only have to move my hands . . . The forms that then take shape offer access to mysteries and reveal to us the profound sources of life.”1

Arp produced sculptures in a variety of mediums ranging from bronze to marble, but plaster was often a first edition due to its malleability and susceptibility to touch and, ultimately, chance. As the title suggests, Torso Fruit blurs the distinctions between the form of the human body and other forms of the natural world. Even without the title, however, its sensuous, rounded contours suggest a fecund or growing form—a metamorphic process that Arp felt a duty, as an artist, to emulate and honor.

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate

1 Christie’s, “Playful, ambiguous, sensuous — the alluring art of Jean Arp,” https://www.christies.com/features/Jean-Arp-Collecting-Guide-10372-1.aspx.

Torso Fruit, 1960, Jean Arp, plaster with paint, 30 x 14 x 12 in., gift of Mme. Jean Arp, 77.1 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

Object of the Week: Pool with Splash

Having grown up in Los Angeles, there is something uniquely comforting about the scene of a sun-drenched swimming pool. David Hockney, of course, is one artist whose pools come immediately mind: his bright, seductive paintings of the 1960s and 70s are highly evocative images of life and culture in Southern California, and have rendered his name nearly synonymous with the subject matter. 

David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, 1967

For Hockney, “In the swimming pool pictures, I had become interested in the more general problem of painting the water, finding a way to do it. It is an interesting formal problem; it is a formal problem to represent water, to describe water, because it can be anything. It can be any color and it has no set visual description.”[1]

If Hockney’s iconic pools are, broadly speaking, defined by their spatial flatness, color relationships, and reduction of form through painting, Robert Arneson’s sculptural Pool with Splash is a perfect counterpoint. His exploration of the pool and its contents takes shape through ceramics: each ripple and refraction of light is represented as an immutable piece⁠—fitted together like a puzzle⁠—with blue and green glazes. And much like Hockney’s A Bigger Splash, Arneson’s Pool is punctuated with a foamy burst, invoking the presence of a swimmer.

Along with his contemporaries Peter Voulkos, Bruce Conner, Viola Frey, Jay DeFeo, and others, Arneson is considered part of the “Funk Art” movement⁠—a loose affiliation of artists originally included in the 1967 exhibition curated by Peter Selz, Funk, at the University Art Museum at the University of California, Berkeley.

Arneson’s irreverent work and playful sense of humor, along with an interest in everyday objects and personal narrative, are just some of the movement’s characteristics⁠ (a reaction to the non-objectivity of abstract expressionism that dominated the 1950s). Arneson’s commitment to ceramics is also notable, and part of a larger effort to elevate the medium which, at the time, was considered merely decorative or utilitarian, and pejoratively relegated to a realm of “craft.” Measuring nearly 12 feet wide at its largest point, Pool with Splash is hardly utilitarian and its use as decoration is up for debate. Here, Arneson wryly upends the once-strict divisions separating “fine art” and “craft,” all the while making clear his mastery of ceramics. Now, if only we could swim in it!

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate


[1] Matthew Sperling, “The Pull of Hockney’s Pool Paintings,” in Apollo Magazine, February 2017, www.apollo-magazine.com/david-hockney-pool-paintings.
Images: Pool with Splash, 1977, Robert Arneson, ceramic with glaze, 18 1/2 x 145 x 116 in., Gift of Manuel Neri, 82.156. A Bigger Splash, 1967, David Hockney, acrylic on canvas, 95 1/5 x 96 in., Tate Modern, London

A Meditative State: Tour Echo

Bring your ear buds the next time you visit the Olympic Sculpture Park and take a free audio tour through some of the monumental artworks at the park! This week on the blog, we are featuring the fifth stop on the tour, Jaume Plensa’s Echo.

Echo is a 46-foot-tall sculpture installed on the shoreline, made from resin and steel, and coated in marble dust. Rising from the center of the park with eyes closed, its stunning surface is luminous in daytime and at night. Jaume Plensa is a Catalan artist who lives and works in Barcelona. He has come to great prominence in the last decade with his monumental figurative outdoor sculptures. Reminiscent of memorial sculpture, Plensa has created seated figures and heads in introspective, meditative states.

The Olympic Sculpture Park features works from SAM’s collection, sculpture commissioned specifically for the park, loans, and changing installations. The artistic program reflects a range of approaches to sculpture, past and present, and is designed to respond to evolving ideas about sculpture in the future.

Image: Echo, 2011, Jaume Plensa, Spanish, Born 1955, Polyester resin, marble dust, steel framework, Height: 45 ft. 11 in., footprint at base: 10 ft. 8 in. x 7 ft. 1 in., gross weight: 13,118 lb, Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2013.22, © Jaume Plensa, photo: Benjamin Benschneider.

The Changing Sky: Tour Seattle Cloud Cover

Follow an audio tour of the Olympic Sculpture Park the next time you find yourself strolling along Seattle’s waterfront. Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art offers four stops along the Z-Path that runs through the park. This week we are featuring Seattle Cloud Cover, by Teresita Fernández. This artwork connects the upper park area to the stunning waterfront. Her work incorporates images of the changing sky discovered in nature and art, and offers a beautiful view of downtown and the park.

The Olympic Sculpture Park evolved out of a mutual commitment between SAM and the Trust for Public Land to preserve downtown Seattle’s last undeveloped waterfront property. The Seattle Art Museum resolved to return the site as much as possible to a functioning ecosystem, while providing a unique setting for outdoor sculpture and public recreation. This was no small task given a century of change amidst the state’s largest urban environment. The design for the park grew out of a desire to embrace the city’s energy and to creat​e collaboration between art, landscape, architecture, and infrastructure. It also afforded a wide range of environmental restoration processes, including brownfield redevelopment, salmon habitat restoration, native plantings, and sustainable design strategies. The Olympic Sculpture Park is open all year and always free!

Image: Seattle Cloud Cover (detail), design approved 2004; fabrication completed 2006, Teresita Fernández, laminated glass with photographic design interlayer, approx. 9 ft. 6 in. x 200 ft. x 6 ft. 3 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.140, © Teresita Fernández, photo: Paul Macapia.

Kinetic Sculpture Inspired by Mark di Suvero

Create your own kinetic sculpture! Tune in to an art activity demonstration lead by teaching artist Romson Regarde Bustillo that takes cues from Mark di Suvero’s “Schubert Sonata” at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Follow along and think about how music impacts you as you get creative from your home.

The sculpture “Schubert Sonata”is a piece of moving art, which is also called kinetic art. The top part of the sculpture moves in the wind, while the tall pole holds the sculpture up and keeps it in the same place. Di Suvero has been interested in exploring movement in sculpture and has a strong interest in music. The title of this artwork refers to a piece of music written to be played on a piano. The artist formed curves, lines, and shapes out of metal while thinking of this music.

When you visit the Olympic Sculpture Park on the weekends, be sure to swing by the South Terrace to pick up a Park Pack, a tote bag which includes an activity to learn about kinetic art at the Olympic Sculpture Park. These Park Packs include sketching supplies and a family-focused activity lesson focused on movement, also inspired by “Schubert Sonata.” While you’re at the park, get inspired and start sketching. Park Packs are set out on Saturdays and Sundays and are available on a first come, first served basis. Free and open to the public.

The Contemporary American Struggle with Derrick Adams

Hear Derrick Adams discuss his artworks included in SAM’s exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle. The exhibition reunites Lawrence’s revolutionary 30-panel series Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) for the first time since 1958 and features contemporary art, all of which work together to question the stories we’ve been told by amplifying narratives that have been systematically overlooked from America’s history.

Derrick Adams’s (b. 1970) multidisciplinary practice probes the influence of popular culture on self-image, and the relationship between man and monument. Adams is deeply immersed in questions of how African American experiences intersect with art history, American iconography, and consumerism. He describes his two works in The American StruggleSaints March and Jacob’s Ladder—as a way to “contribute to conversations that expand on histories that are both Black American and American overall.” Saints March is a video considering the original American dance form of tap and contemporary street tap performance, while Jacob’s Ladder brings Lawrence’s personal archives into the gallery through a sculptural installation that lends optimism to the concept of struggle.

Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series interprets the democratic debates that defined early America and echoed into the civil rights movements during which he was painting the series. Works by contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas engage themes of democracy, justice, truth, and the politics of inclusion to show that the struggle for expansive representation in America continues.

Object of the Week: Bundle

Don’t imitate me;

it’s as boring

as the two halves of a melon.

– Basho, translated by Robert Hass

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Indeed, Tanaka Yu’s ceramic sculptures convincingly appear as vessels wrapped in knotted furoshiki (wrapping cloth). And still, even after we are made aware of the work’s materiality, it is difficult to see the object as anything other than a textile whose woven structure conceals an object underneath. Here, imitation serves another purpose.

For Yu, who studied oil painting before working in ceramics, this effect of concealment allows her to invoke that which is hidden, prompting her viewers to consider the sculpture’s purpose, and ideas of functionality versus non-functionality. Within the context of Japan’s centuries-long history and tradition of ceramics, too – firmly rooted in the functionality of the object –Yu’s conceptual sculptures turn utility on its head. 

However, for all its conceptual rigor, Yu’s Bundle series evidences a mastery of clay as well. Though the pieces appear to be slab-built, they are in fact coil-built. The artist, using Shigaraki-blended clay, deftly transforms the earthen material, exploiting its inherent and renowned plasticity, into a lightweight cloth. The distinctive yellow color, whose pigment is applied in thin layers by brush, further accents the newfound drapes and folds of the sculpture. The choice of color also refers to the type of yellow cloth often used to wrap a ceramic vessel within its storage box.

Yu’s Bundle, recently acquired by SAM, is a seductive work, and one that benefits from close looking, consideration, and reflection. The artist shows us that imitation, in this case, is far from boring, and can raise important questions about the use-value of objects and the functions they serve. 

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate

1Shigaraki is considered one of the “Six Ancient Kilns” in Japan. The clay found in the Shigaraki area is rich in iron and feldspar, among other compounds, that informs its unique texture and color once fired.

Images: Bundle, 2019, Tanaka Yu, Matte-glazed stoneware, 24 3/8 x 16 1/2 x 16 1/2 in., Gift of Gordon Brodfuehrer in honor of the Monsen family, 2020.21.3 ©️ Artist or Artist’s Estate Image courtesy of Joan B Mirviss LTD, photo: Kani Hazuki.

Object of the Week: Reduction

The most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan devastated the Tohoku (Northeast) region on March 11, 2011. The 9.0-magnitude temblor triggered a tsunami over 100-feet high, which in turn caused a meltdown at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Within just a few hours, several towns in the region were wiped off the map. It was horrifying.

The magnitude of the triple disaster was beyond measure, not only in terms of its physical devastation, but its psychological impact on Japanese people. Fears about radiation contamination are still present, even today. Many Japanese artists responded to the catastrophe in their own creative ways, but Kondo Takahiro (born 1958), a ceramic artist, was so shocked that he was unable to work for a while. He was compelled to think deeply about human survival and our relationship with nature.

Months later, Takahiro started making his Reduction series. Modelled on his own body, the sculptural figure sits in a meditative posture, as if in contemplation. According to the artist’s own commentary, the figure is pondering what the essence of the world is. He titled the series Reduction with a suggestion that devastating events like the 3.11 disaster could diminish the Japanese people. The glittery silver drops created by his patented “silver-mist” glaze can also be understood as a reference to the radioactivity in Fukushima. Between 2012 and 2017, Takahiro created 21 life-size ceramic sculptures for the Reduction series. Even though all 21 pieces were molded in the same shape, each figure has varied glazes, affording each its own unique look. The work in SAM’s collection is covered with a gray-green glaze, with a dripping bluish glaze throughout the surface—together, the combination recalls an ancient bronze vessel aged with patina.

Reduction is a timely work in response to disconcerting contemporary events, but the piece is also timeless, speaking eloquently to human conditions and our relationship with nature. It is currently displayed atop the restored 1933 fountain located in the heart of SAM’s Asian Art Museum: the Garden Court. Takahiro’s signature “silver-mist” glaze drips down the body like falling water, echoing the trickling water in the fountain. Natural light filters through the Garden Court ceiling, altering the sculpture’s color and appearance every instant. The setting resonates well with Reduction’s intention of examining our relationship with nature, as well as with the artist’s concept of ceramic art being a unity of water, fire, and earth.

As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 3.11 triple disaster, our battle against an unprecedented pandemic—one year after its outbreak—is not over. In such times of crisis, Reduction is a poignant reminder how fragile our world is, and how human beings have made it so.

Xiaojin Wu, Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation Curator of Japanese and Korean Art

Images: Reduction, 2015, Takahiro Kondo, porcelain with blue underglaze and “silver mist” overglaze, 33 7/16 × 25 9/16 × 17 11/16 in., Robert M. Shields Fund for Asian Ceramics, 2019.5 © Takahiro Kondo. Installation view Asian Art Museum, 2020, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Wonder with Mann und Maus

I am concerned with the point where you start to wonder about the existence of things.

– Katharina Fritsch

The artist Katharina Fritsch creates sculptures of familiar objects but adjusts them through changes in scale and color. Looming over a sleeping man, the rat in Mann and Maus inspires many interpretations. Although the delicate figure is seemingly crushed under the giant rodent, the man appears to slumber soundly. In the 1980s and ‘90s a generation of German artists emerged who were deeply distrustful of dominant social and historic narratives and broke from the art movements that preceded them. Fritsch wields her dark strand of irony as a tool for critical commentary. Fritsch says this about her work: “The results are often jarring and may remind you of a dream or perhaps a nightmare.” 

Take some time to let your wonder wander as you listen to storyteller Jéhan Òsanyìn’s response to Mann and Maus above.

Now take a listen to Sylvia Fisher, SAM docent and former docent for The Wright Space, discuss her view on Jinny connecting audiences with art, both as a collector and a docent herself. Jinny collected contemporary works of her time that are often simultaneously complex and broadly appealing. Created in 1991–92, German artist Katharina Fritsch’s Mann und Maus combines the emotional response of animals with the psychological impact of larger-than-life scale, making it a popular artwork for audiences of all ages. In the photo above, her grandchildren admire the sculpture at The Wright Space.

The Wright Exhibition Space was a noncommercial gallery designed purely for the enjoyment of art that opened on Dexter Avenue in 1999. Jinny curated different thematic exhibitions and invited friends, family, and curators to organize shows, drawing on the holdings of their growing collection. Free to the public, it became a gathering space and a favorite place to mingle and discuss art.

We’re celebrating Jinny’s collection in City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped A New Seattle. The works in our galleries are a transformative gift for SAM and a foundation on which we will build. As we consider the pressing issues of our time, the museum envisions the city of our tomorrow with new collection priorities and artists that represent and reflect our broader community. Unfortunately, City of Tomorrow has to close before the museum will be able to open due to the recently updated WA State official public health restrictions on indoor gathering. We’re sad we won’t be able to share this stunning exhibition with you, but thanks to Jinny’s incredible generosity and legacy, visitors to SAM can see artworks like Mann und Maus on view as part of our collection. 

Credits: Mann und Maus, 1991-92, Katharina Fritsch. Polyester resin and paint, 90 1/2 x 51 1/2 x 94 1/2 in., Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.118. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Jinny’s grandchildren with Katharina Fritsch’s Mann und Maus, photo courtesy of Jan Day. Audio produced by Ambassador Stories, 2020 © Seattle Art Museum.

Object of the Week: Dancewand for Sango

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pam McClusky, SAM Curator of African and Oceanic Art


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

Virtual Tour with Mary Wallace

SAM Docent, Mary Wallace is taking us to Seattle’s waterfront to wander the Olympic Sculpture Park and do some close looking at the monumental sculptures that call the park home. Mary Wallace is one of SAM’s talented and trusted docents. Docents volunteer a ton of their time learning about the art at SAM to lead tours for art lovers of all ages. While we can’t have in-person tours at the moment, we hope you will follow Mary’s tour on your phone the next time you visit the Olympic Sculpture Park.

We’ll start first with a big shiny tree. It is called Split and it is a tree made of steel. The branches are made of 20 different sizes and the tree was designed by artist Roxy Paine on a computer. Look closely and notice lines, shapes, colors, and texture. Compare Split to the Garry Oak that’s planted next to it. Make a list of the similarities and differences between these two trees. What about the sculpture looks real? What looks unreal? Is this tree realistic or abstract? Think about a way to describe this shiny tree. If you touched it, how would Split feel? Can you smell it? Could you taste it? You can see it. Could you hear wind going through its branches? Would the branches move? Why do you think the artist made this tree? The artist, Roxy Paine, likes to make artificial versions of nature. He thinks it is interesting to control nature and this is his way of doing it. What are other ways that we control nature: building dams, burning forests, having wolves go back into forests. Would you like to have a tree like this in your yard? Why do you think it is called Split?  

Take a picture of this tree with your mind and pack up your senses. What were those senses again? Put it all in your memory bank. We are going down this hill and into that greenhouse where we will meet another tree. 

Welcome to Neukom Vivarium where a nurse log lives.

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful tall evergreen tree that was about 100 years old. One winter there was a lot of snow, and rain, and wind and the tree was blown back and forth for many days. Eventually it was blown down. It laid on the forest floor for about 10 years growing all sorts of things on it. One day, an artist named Mark Dion, saw it and decided that it must go to live in a museum. It lives inside this building now. But how does it live if it cannot get rain, sun, wind and soil? Look around and find the sprinklers, the green tinted glass and the fans. 

Once a year, a gardener brings dirt to put all around the tree. How is this tree like the one you just saw? How is it different? Is this tree alive or is it a dead? Is it an artificial tree like you just saw? If it is dead, how come things are growing out of it? What do you think is going on here? This is a nurse log and it is decomposing all the time. That is how things grow from it. What is decomposing and what makes it decompose? Since it is decomposing all of the time to support new growth, eventually this nurse log will disappear. Any stick that has growth of moss, lichen, or fungi is also a kind of nurse log. Is this art or is it nature? Do you wonder if this was a good idea to bring this tree out of the forest and put into a museum? Why do you say that?

Remember what Split looked like and what the nurse log looked like. Which one would you like to have in your back yard? Make room for this nurse log next to Split in your memory bank.  

Walk uphill through the Meadow. You’ll pass a big red sculpture on the right, called The Eagle as you head to the big sculpture at the end of the path on the left. Stop once or twice to look at it as you walk. How does it change as you get closer? What shapes, colors, textures, materials do you see? Is the piece realistic or abstract? What do you make of this? Why do you say that? What does it remind you of? Why would the artist make this? What would you call it? 

Its name is Bunyon’s Chess. What senses are you using to enjoy this? Sight for sure, and maybe the smell of the salty air that surrounds the art. The artist likes to use wood to remind you of forests and waters that keep them green and healthy. He also likes to use materials like steel and wood from buildings that have been torn down. The artist likes for his sculptures to move. When the wind is strong, what part of this sculpture do you think moves?  

Add Bunyon’s Chess to your memory bank and leave room for one more sculpture.    

Walk east and down the steps into the Valley. There is a large sculpture in front of you. Think about describing it: color, shapes, texture, materials. Is it realistic or abstract? Walk down the steps to the gravel. What senses will be used to look at this piece: sight, and maybe the smell of the trees and plants around it. We can’t touch, but what does your sight tell you about how the surface might feel? How is it like Bunyon’s Chess that you just left: both are made of steel. Richard Serra is the artist who made this piece and he calls it Wake. What are three definitions of the word, wake:  wake up, wake from a boat, a ceremony to honor a dead person. The artist made this piece in honor of a friend who died. 

There are five parts of Wake and the artist invites you to run and/or walk through them. Remember to look up to the sky as you do. When you get to the other end, share how you felt and what you thought going through it. Why did the artist make five parts instead of one? How would it feel going around just one part?  Did it look different when you got to the other end? Is Wake realistic or is it abstract art?

There are steps on the left. Go up those steps towards the building at the top.  Stop twice on your way up, turn around and look at Wake.  Does it look different? Why do you say that? Go to the railing at the top and look back at Wake. How does Wake look from the railing? Do you see anything different in the top of Wake

How are Bunyon’s Chess and Wake alike and how are they different? Which one would you like to have in your yard?  

Have a seat in the grass or in the red chairs outside of the PACCAR Pavilion. Sit and look at the views. Think about one thing you will remember from your tour today. Think about the reasons to remember them. Was it because of the story, or the way the sculptures were alike or different, or the shapes you saw, or the materials, or the way it made you feel? Take one sweeping view of the Olympic Sculpture Park as you leave and wave goodbye to all of the art you saw.  

– Mary Wallace, SAM Docent

Images: Split, 2003, Roxy Paine, polished stainless steel, 50 ft. (15.24 m.), Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2016.17.3 © Roxy Paine, photo: Stephanie Fink, Paul Macapia, Benjamin Benschneider.

Sculpture Park Summers Are For Conservation

Perched on a hillside overlooking the watery expanse of Elliott Bay, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a welcoming, art-filled green space. Free and open to the public year-round, the park plays host to visitors in every season. Because of its exposed, marine location, the sculptures that live at the park are subject to deterioration from both environmental and human causes. We take good care of the sculptures, cleaning and tending them year-round, but with Seattle’s rainy winters, summer is the window in which conservation maintenance and treatments can be carried out. Despite the pandemic, this summer was no exception as without maintenance, deterioration both structural and aesthetic quickly compromises the sculptures and installations. 

If you visited the sculpture park this summer, you probably noticed the massive white tent covering Alexander Calder’s The Eagle. The distinctive red paint coating Calder’s soaring, swooping sculpture had deteriorated and needed repainting. Thanks to a generous grant from Bank of America, The Eagle received new primers and a new coat of red paint. It looks amazing! Due to a multi-year collaboration between art conservators, the artist’s estates, coatings scientists, industrial paint manufacturers and industrial painters and advances in polymer technology, the new coating will be more durable than the previous one while still maintaining the color, saturation and low gloss finish of the original paint.

Echo by Jaume Plensa sits near the shoreline and can be seen from some of the ferries that cross Elliott Bay. Made from marble dust and polyester resin over a steel framework, Echo’s off-white exterior becomes discolored throughout the year. Not only distracting from the beauty of the sculpture, this soiling, for which we can partially thank the feathered friend pictured above, speeds the deterioration of the artwork. To protect Echo, SAM conservators cleaned her and applied a sacrificial coating. As the sculpture is over 45 feet tall, this was no small feat!

Offering visitors an opportunity to pause and shelter from the sun or rain, Seattle Cloud Cover by Teresita Fernández is a series of laminated glass panels encasing abstract, color-saturated photographs. Attached to the bridge over the railroad tracks that cross under the park, its glass panels needed cleaning. Using long-handled brushes, dirt, dust and other debris were carefully cleaned from the top and pedestrian-facing panels. Additionally, caulk used in the brackets holding the glass panels was scraped out and replaced. Caulk shrinks and swells with changes in humidity and deteriorates due to age and weather exposure.

Mark Di Suvero’s Schubert Sonata, a ribbon of twisting steel that rotates on a single, carefully balanced point, is sited near the Olympic Sculpture Park shoreline. With its proximity to Puget Sound, chlorides (naturally occurring salts present in the air near bodies of water) are a concern. These chlorides cause aggressive, rapid corrosion of uncoated steel and other metals such as bronze. To address this issue, while maintaining the raw steel aesthetic of the artist, a corrosion inhibiting protectant was applied. Invisible to the eye, this coating will extend the sculpture’s lifespan.

These projects are just a sampling of the conservation treatments completed over the last few months. Other conservation treatments included cleaning and coating bronze sculptures and addressing loses in painted surfaces to prevent corrosion. In addition to these projects, members of the SAM conservation team are regularly onsite at the park to make sure that each sculpture is looking its best. Before the rainy, short days of our northwest winter drive us all indoors, get yourself to the Olympic Sculpture Park to enjoy the stunning artwork and expansive views.

– Rachel Harris, Asian Art Conservation Center Associate

Images: The Eagle, 1971, Alexander Calder, painted steel, 465 x 390 x 390 in., Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2000.69 © Calder Foundation/Artist’s Rights Society, NY. Many thanks to Diamond Painting LLC for their work on the Eagle repainting project. Echo, 2011, Jaume Plensa, Spanish, Born 1955, Polyester resin, marble dust, steel framework, Height: 45 ft. 11 in., footprint at base: 10 ft. 8 in. x 7 ft. 1 in., gross weight: 13,118 lb, Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2013.22 © Jaume Plensa. Seattle Cloud Cover, Design Approved 2004; Fabrication Completed 2006, Teresita Fernández, American, Born 1968, Laminated glass with photographic design interlayer, approx. 9 ft. 6 in. x 200 ft. x 6 ft. 3 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.140 © Teresita Fernández. Schubert Sonata, 1992, Mark Di Suvero, American, Born 1933, Painted and unpainted steel, Height: 22 ft., Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, The Virginia Wright Fund, and Bagley Wright, 95.81. © Mark di Suvero.
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