Object of the Week: Fountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservation Stories: The Lamentation over the Dead Christ

SAM’s intricate and stunning sculpture of The Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Massimiliano Soldani Benzi is currently on view in Body Language, but wouldn’t be if it weren’t for a years-long project that restored the piece to its former sheen. To make this possible, our conservators worked with a team at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, the original home of the sculpture. See images from the process and find out more about the conservation process from our conservators before you see this sculpture in person.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ before conservation.

Massimiliano Soldani Benzi’s bronze sculpture The Lamentation over the Dead Christ (SAM 61.178) was cast in 1714 and acquired by SAM in 1961 as part of the Samuel Kress Collection. SAM’s Head of Conservation, Nicholas Dorman, led a multi-year fundraising campaign to study and treat the sculpture. Completed in December 2018, the project encompassed three broad goals: analysis of the surface and cleaning, replacing the lost crown, and constructing a new period-appropriate base.

The sculpture was loaned to the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence in 2017, where it was featured in Making Beauty: The Ginori Porcelain Manufactory and Its Progeny of Statues. The exhibition discussed the relationship between Soldani and the Ginori Porcelain studio: after his death, Soldani’s heirs sold some of his wax models and molds to Mr. Carlo Ginori, who reproduced them in porcelain at his Florentine workshop. The bronze Lamentation over the Dead Christ was displayed next to its porcelain cousin for the first time, both having been cast from the same approximately 56 molds.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ during conservation

The Bargello exhibition was an opportunity to study and document the various layers of degraded, non-original surface coatings—a mixture of black-brown pigmented wax and oils—with Florentine conservator and metals specialist, Ludovica Nicolai. Nicolai has worked on a great number of Soldani’s works in the Bargello collection. In collaboration with Nicolai and SAM’s conservation department, scientific analysis of the coatings was executed by a team of scientists from Adarte, Pisa University and Florence University, in order to inform the cleaning approach. Over four months, solvent gels were used to soften the hardened coatings, followed by cleaning with dental tools and the flexible tips of porcupine quills to gently remove the non-original layers from the surface. 

Meanwhile, the missing crown of thorns was re-cast by the Florentine foundry Ciglia e Carrai. Two sources informed the crown’s recreation: a 1970–1990s image of the sculpture located in the Fondazione Zeri archives (housed in Bologna), and the original wax model of the sculpture located in the Palazzo Pitti collection.  

Lamentation over the Dead Christ after conservation

At the conclusion of the treatment, a stylistically appropriate wooden base was constructed—whose form echoes the porcelain version in the Bargello exhibition. This replaces the modern stone mount on which it has been previously displayed.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ conserved on pedestal

This project was a truly international collaboration. As well as the experts mentioned above, we are particularly grateful to Dr. Paola D’Agostino and Dr. Dimitrios Zikos and their colleagues at the Bargello for their abiding support and for being so generous with their knowledge. To conserve a sculpture like this in its original place of creation is a significant funding challenge, and we wish to thank the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The Museo Nazionale del Bargello, SAM’s Plestcheeff Fund for Decorative Arts, an anonymous foundation and an anonymous individual donor. Thanks to their support, we can present and share the story of this magnificent Florentine baroque sculpture.

– Geneva Griswold, SAM Associate Conservator & Nicholas Dorman, Chief Conservator

Images: Installation view Body Language, Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman. Before conservation photo: Ludovica Nicolai. Installation view Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2017, photo: Arrigo Coppitz. During installation and details photo: Ludovica Nicolai. Fondazione Federico Zeri Archive  | no. 149804Silver gelatin print, ca. 1970–1989 During treatment in the Bargello Museum galleries, photo: Geneva Griswold. After conservation photo: Ludovica Nicolai. Installed on pedestal photo: Arrigo Coppitz. The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, ca. 1714, Massimiliano Soldani, Bronze, 34 x 32 3/4 x 22 1/2 in. Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.178.

SAM Connects to the Hear & Now

We believe art is for everyone and right now everyone can experience a new kinetic sound sculpture installed at SAM’s 1st and Union entrance. Playing music, projecting poetry, and covered in the text, drawings, and collage by artists with lived experiences of homeless, Hear & Now is a collaboration between internationally celebrated artist, composer, and musician Trimpin and Path with Art students presented for you to view for free!

Built from an antique hand-pulled wagon originally built by Trimpin’s father in Germany, the work is activated by pressing the play button situated next to the object. Each tap triggers a different musical composition or poem created in collaboration with teaching artists. Hear & Now is free and accessible to all and will be on view through July 15. Visit the entire museum for free on Thursday, June 6, and catch the Hear & Now Performances and Artist Talkback taking place 6–8:30 pm featuring pop-up performances by the student artists, a movement piece directed by Rachel Brumer and Monique Holt accompanied by the musical compositions played by the sculpture, and a chance to hear from Trimpin.

Get primed for Thursday evening with this interview with Trimpin and a Path with Art student artist.

SAM: How did you start working with Path with Art?

Trimpin: Five years ago, I was Composer in Residence with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The last year of the three-year residency involves a public-outreach workshop. I decided to work with a group of Path with Art student artists. I was first introduced to Path with Art at a performance at the Hugo House; I was impressed with the artistic caliber of all the performing artists.

Tyler Marcil: Jennifer Lobsenz, the Program Director at the time, asked me to participate in this project in the summer of 2017. We worked with Christina Orbe for six weeks and Yonnas Getahun for two weeks over the course of eight workshops at Trimpin’s studio.

During these workshops, we created found poetry – I had never done anything quite like that before. I took a story that I had already written called, “The Woman on the Sidewalk,” and pulled words from that story to create new poems for the sculpture. A year later, I was invited to record work for Path with Art at Jack Straw Cultural Center.

What is the significance of the wagon wheel as a foundation for the sculpture? How does it relate to experiences of homelessness?

Trimpin: When I was beginning to conceptualize the interdisciplinary workshop, mobility and transition was a major consideration. Aware that most homeless people are in continual transition, the wagon-wheel was a starting platform to build up the story, not just metaphorically, but literally as a sound object which is mobile. It is similar to the way the wagon was used in my family to haul a variety of items around, and I still remember watching my father when he was building the wagon from scratch.

How did the artists collaborate on the creation of the final sculpture?

Tyler: The first group to meet was our group—the poets. The visual artists then took the found poems we created, turning these magnificent words into different pieces of art. Then the musicians came and made compositions inspired by the language and the artwork.

Hear & Now allowed many people to contribute their skills to this larger project. The people who were involved all have different ways of expressing themselves. Through this project, their voices are heard, and they are able to speak from their soul through their medium. Without this opportunity, they might feel silenced—without a voice, or without their voices being heard.   

Can you share a moment of discovery or breakthrough in the process that left an impression on you? Why did that moment stand out to you?

Trimpin: Artists in general are not collaborating with other artists very often. A part of the workshop was to teach each student that we don’t have to compete with each other; and we actually can work together and contribute each individual’s expertise to make the project successful. This process was very important to me and the project would not exist without the great commitment and interaction of each individual student.

Tyler: I don’t like hearing my own voice. When we were recording our stories at Jack Straw I could feel my heart racing because it’s a voice that my mother created by teaching us to speak a certain way. I could hear the –eds and the –ings. Those were important in my household growing up.

When I was forced that day to listen to my voice I cried inside because I realized—my voice is beautiful. And had I known that it was beautiful, I would have listened all along. And now when I ask people, what is it about my stories or poetry that you like? They tell me, it’s your voice.

What do you hope the sculpture can inspire in a viewer?

Trimpin: My hope is that the viewer can hear and see that a group of Path with Art student artists—adults—who have lived the experience of homelessness, addiction or other trauma, have earned the ability, knowledge, and imagination to collaborate, design, write, and compose and to achieve a project at this high artistic level.

Tyler: I hope that Hear & Now will bring awareness of people who have lived experience of homelessness. That the person living that experience could be you. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be prejudiced, or disown others as though they don’t exist.

And I think by having a sculpture that shares these wonderful voices, not only are you hearing their voices, but your hearing that they’re a person. The voice you hear is coming from them, from their humanity.

How does the upcoming performance connect to the sculpture?

Trimpin: For the upcoming performance, the students are performing live, interacting with the instrumentation of the wagon with their own voice or instrument.

Tyler: It ties together these themes of voicelessness and visibility for those experiencing homelessness. It connects to the sculpture because it’s using American Sign Language to present stories for those who cannot hear or speak, and ties in this concept communicating in different ways—with our voices, but also with our hands. This whole project is about lifting up those who have so often been silenced, and widening our circles of empathy and understanding, and the performance brings together both people with lived experience, and those without while exploring these themes.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Images: Installation view Hear & Now at Seattle Art Museum, 2019, photos: Natali Wiseman.
Path with Art would like to extend a special thank you to Seattle Department of Neighborhoods for making this project possible.

Pop-Art Video: I Put a Spell on You, Jeffrey Gibson

How many Everlast punching bags has Jeffrey Gibson turned into hanging sculptures? What number did Nina Simone’s “I Put a Spell on You” reach on the Billboard chart? What do these two things have to do with each other? Visit Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer and find out before it closes May 12!

Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer is a major museum exhibition presenting a significant selection of this contemporary artist’s exuberant artwork created since 2011. Gibson’s complex work reflects varied influences, including fashion and design, abstract painting, queer identity, popular music, and the materials and aesthetics of Native American cultures. The more than 65 works on view include beaded punching bags, figures and wall hangings, abstract geometric paintings on rawhide and canvas, performance video, and a new multimedia installation.

Pop-Art Video: Like A Hammer

How old was artist Jeffrey Gibson when he started going to the club? How do Peter, Paul, and Mary influence Gibson’s work? What did Nietzsche have to say about hammers? Find out in this video of info nuggets about Gibson’s sculpture, Like A Hammer, on view at SAM in the special exhibition of the same name!

Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer is a major museum exhibition presenting a significant selection of this contemporary artist’s exuberant artwork created since 2011. Gibson’s complex work reflects varied influences, including fashion and design, abstract painting, queer identity, popular music, and the materials and aesthetics of Native American cultures. The more than 65 works on view include beaded punching bags, figures and wall hangings, abstract geometric paintings on rawhide and canvas, performance video, and a new multimedia installation.

See more of Gibson’s club kids on view through May 12!

Object of the Week: Thicket

In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will—throughout the month of February—highlight works by celebrated Black artists in the SAM Collection.

I never did Minimalist art. I never did, but I got real close. . . . I looked at it, tasted it, and I spat it out.

– Martin Puryear, 1978

Known for his highly crafted, abstract sculptures, Martin Puryear since the 1970s has created three-dimensional works that defy easy interpretation and categorization, at once evoking Modernist sculptures by Noguchi, Arp, and Brancusi, while calling to mind African sculptural traditions and Scandinavian design.

A former painter, Puryear’s hand-crafted sculptures offer a highly original response to the Minimalism of the 1960s. And while he indeed embraces Minimalism’s penchant for reductive sculptural forms, his material and fabrication choices evince a commitment to elevating craft and its complement: the handmade. Using materials such as wood, stone, tar, bronze, and wire, Puryear’s greatest collaborator—the natural world—is made clear.

From a young age Puryear was fascinated by how things are made, and would often construct his own objects from wood—whether it be a guitar or a canoe. Decades later, while volunteering with the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, Puryear observed and absorbed local artistic traditions like woodworking, pottery, and weaving. Together, these experiences—coupled with his time at the Swedish Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm, where he studied furniture design—helped shape Puryear’s practice and interest in mobilizing design, sculpture, and craft in the service of examining identity, culture, and history.

The work pictured here, Thicket, is inspired by the shape and volume of a small rock Puryear found while on a trip to the Alaskan wilderness in 1980. Interwoven basswood and cypress give the piece a complex, tangled appearance. Both orderly and chaotic, the crisscrossed beams, struts, and posts are informed by the low Arctic vegetation that houses and protects the snowshoe hare—a rare breed endemic to the region.

In the words of the artist:

I want to make objects that somehow have their own history and their own reason for being and their own sense of themselves. I’m not concerned just with the object’s formal meaning, although it should be an intelligible artifact, a thing of one’s own culture and time. It’s equally crucial that there exist in the work a recognition of the maker, of who I am.[1]

Puryear’s sculptures manage to transcend time and space—blending together artistic traditions from around the world. Further, he is still one of the most important and influential artists working today, a fact confirmed by the recent announcement that he will represent the United States at the 58th Venice Biennale in the spring.

 – Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate

[1] John Ederfield, Martin Puryear (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2007), 173.
Image: Thicket, 1990, Martin Puryear, basswood and cypress, 67 x 62 x 17 in., Gift of Agnes Gund, 90.32 © Martin Puryear (1990)

Object of the Week:Study for Nude for Balzac F.

For those familiar with the French writer Honoré de Balzac, and the iconic monument produced by Auguste Rodin in his honor, it might be hard to reconcile this study in SAM’s collection as a related work. Indeed, the bronze sculpture, headless and unclothed, leaning backward as if a Greek god seems—at first glance—to be a far cry from the finished piece, in which Balzac dons a monk’s habit with long, disheveled hair.

Rodin was commissioned to execute a monument of the late Balzac in 1891, much to the chagrin of certain members of the Société des Gens de Lettres (who may or may not have been informed by Emile Zola of the meeting to select the artist for the monument).[1] Still, Rodin took the appointment in stride, writing that, “I have always been interested in this great literary figure, and have often studied him, not only in his works but in his native province.”[2] As a method actor assumes a role in its entirety, so too did Rodin embark on an intense study of all Balzacian iconography and literature before he began his work. According to French journalist and art critic Gustave Geffroy, “Rodin had read and reread not only all the works of Balzac, but also all that has been written about Balzac.”[3]

The subject occupied Rodin’s time for several years, and he produced study after study—nearing fifty in total. Around 1895, he grew dissatisfied with his direction, feeling the sculptures were either too derivative of other portraits or were too realistic. In fact, this study, created circa 1896, “marks an important stage in the development of Rodin’s thoughts about the monument. All ideas of verisimilitude have evidently been abandoned in favor of the creation of a figure that symbolizes the nature of Balzac’s genius.”[4]

By August of 1896, the final accouterments for the piece would be decided, as chronicled by a French journalist:

One or two months ago, M. Rodin finished a maquette which gives him the satisfaction he searched for so untiringly. Balzac will be represented standing, in a strong, simple posture, his legs slightly apart, his arms crossed. He will be dressed in a sort of long robe without a belt, which will fall down to his feet.[5]

By developing the Balzac’s body and head separately but simultaneously, Rodin prioritized the idea of Balzac over achieving a physical likeness. Indeed, Balzac’s creative vitality, power, and energy are conveyed in both the study as well as the finished piece. Lucky for us, the study is currently on view in France: Inside and Out in the European galleries on the Fourth Floor.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Study of Nude for Balzac F., ca. 1896, Auguste Rodin, bronze with black patina, 36 x 15 x 12 1/4 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard C. Hedreen in memory of Anthony Callison and the Modern Art Purchase Fund, 89.181.
[1] John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of August Rodin (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976), 428.
[2] Excerpt from a letter dates July 3, 1891, quoted in L’Echo de Paris, Paris, August 29, 1896.
[3] “L’Imaginaire,” Le Figaro, Paris, August 29, 1893, 1.
[4] Tancock, 440.
[5] Le Temps, Paris, August 19, 1896.

Object of the week: Box with the Sound of Its Own Making

Honoring the life and legacy of Robert Morris, who passed away last Wednesday, this week’s Object of the Week highlights his iconic 1961 piece, Box with the Sound of Its Own Making.

A founder of Minimalism, Morris’s 1966 series of essays Notes on Sculpture cemented his reputation as a pioneering sculptor as well as a critical thinker. Among his many contributions to contemporary art of the 1960s and 70s (and beyond) was the prioritization of the relationship between viewer, artwork, and environment. Such hallmarks of Minimalism as repetition, scale, and an absence of expressive content were key elements in many of his works, forcing viewers to consider the spatial arrangement and scale of the sculptures themselves. In the words of New York Times art writer Ken Johnson, “Because the [minimalist] sculptures lacked the complex internal relationships of traditional composition, the viewer would focus on the object’s relationship to the architecture of the room and its effect on his or her perceptual experience of space, light and shape.”[1]

Rebelling against the notion of an artwork as something precious or finely crafted, Morris often worked with simple, everyday materials like plywood, felt, and mirrors. Throughout his decades-long career, Morris worked in a wide array of modes that explored the experiential nature of art and sculptural possibilities of space, ranging from labyrinths and performance to earthworks and environments with sound systems.

Box with the Sound of Its Own Making is an exemplary work in this regard. The piece is, cheekily, exactly what the title suggests: a seemingly ordinary box with a soundtrack of its own construction—three and a half hours of sawing, sanding, and hammering. Morris deftly does away with the mystery of artistic creation, pulling back the curtain to reveal a document of the physical labor necessary to create the work itself. What might otherwise be interpreted as precious, mute, and opaque is, in fact, a dynamic, narrative sculpture that highlights duration, process, and provisionality. See this piece at SAM, on view in Big Picture: Art after 1945.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

[1] Ken Johnson, ‘Robert Morris, 87, Dies; Founding Minimalist Sculptor With Manifold Passions,” The New York Times, November 29, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/29/obituaries/robert-morris-dead.html.
Image: Box with the Sound of Its Own Making, 1961, Robert Morris, wood, internal speaker, wooden cube: 9 3/4 x 9 3/4 x 9 3/4 in., overall: 46 x 9 3/4 x 9 3/4in.; TRT 3.5 hours, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 82.190 © Estate of Robert Morris

Object of the Week: Royal Incubator

Widely regarded as one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century, David Smith once described his early sculptures of the 1940s and 50s, like Royal Incubator, as “drawings in space.” Smith, a welder, often used wrought and soldered metals such as steel, bronze, and silver, arranged in a highly visual and pictorial arrangement. As explained by art historian Richard J. Williams, “[these sculptures] were really only legible as three-dimensional pictures, albeit abstract ones.”[1]

Smith’s early work prioritized the act of viewing from a fixed perspective, and while experiencing his pieces in space—and in the round—is important, Royal Incubator’s legibility as a single plane, much like the Cubist paintings of Picasso, is tantamount. In addition to finding influence in Cubism, the dream-like imagery in such early works evidences the heavy influence Surrealism had on Smith. However, thanks to its location installed in Big Picture: Art after 1945, now on view in SAM’s Modern and Contemporary Galleries, Royal Incubator’s association with Abstract Expressionism is also made clear. In many ways, it can be seen as a three-dimensional equivalent to the active, monumental, and gestural paintings by Pollock, Krasner, and Gorky nearby.

Born and raised in Indiana, Smith first worked as a welder and riveter at the Studebaker automobile plant in South Bend. Later, during World War II, Smith worked for the American Locomotive Company, working to fabricate trains and M7 destroyer tanks. These experiences proved formative, advancing his welding skills and relationship with metalwork. Smith’s early works bring together the real, often in the form of found metal scraps, with the imagined, resulting in a unique and at times deeply autobiographical visual style. For example, in Royal Incubator, metal spigots become birds of flight in a dream-like composition that defies clear interpretation.

Delta Air Lines, the Official Airline of the Seattle Art Museum, is a generous sponsor of Big Picture. Their support makes it possible to share this incredible post-war collection with our community.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

[1] Richard J. Williams, After Modern Sculpture: Art in the United States and Europe, 1965-70 (Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2000), 23.
Image: Royal Incubator, 1949, David Smith, steel, bronze and silver, 37 x 38 3/8 x 9 7/8 in., Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2016.17.5 © Estate of David Smith

Object of the Week: Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture

Though this 1957 photograph is by Imogen Cunningham, its subject is Bay Area artist Ruth Asawa (1926–2013). For decades Asawa has been little known beyond the West Coast, and is all too belatedly finding herself rewritten into the history of American art. Rather than concentrate on photographer Cunningham, this post focuses on Asawa, her diaphanous wire sculptures, and her complex identity as a Japanese-American woman artist.

Cunningham’s photograph is a quiet yet evocative image: Asawa sits with her face occluded by the semi-transparent curvature of one of her hanging wire sculptures. She’s surrounded by her four children, ranging from toddler to six years old. Each, including Asawa, is engaged in and absorbed by his or her own activity: reading, playing, observing, drinking, and making. The iconic photograph has often been read in gendered terms, focusing on Asawa’s demonstrated domesticity, femininity, and passivity. Like too many women artists, Asawa has been positioned primarily as a wife and mother—identities that override her identity as an artist, which can and should include these other identities. As curator Helen Molesworth discusses in her recent paper delivered last month at the Smithsonian, “Ruth Asawa: ‘San Francisco Housewife and Mother’,” this image has additional import, positioning art making as a social activity, and Asawa, therefore, as a citizen above all else.

As a child, Asawa would draw and make art while in a World War II internment camp with her Japanese parents. She was not an outside or self-taught artist though, for she attended Black Mountain College and studied for three years and two summers (1946–49) with Josef Albers, Merce Cunningham, and Buckminster Fuller, among others. For Asawa, “Black Mountain gave you the right to do anything you wanted to do. And then you put a label on it afterwards. I think that’s the nice thing about what Black Mountain did for its students. It was like they gave you permission to do anything you wanted to do. And then if it didn’t fit they’d make a category for you. But I think Black Mountain helped make something with weaving and with printmaking, and it gave people the freedom to make something of each category.”¹

Black Mountain was a transformative place and time for Asawa, creatively as well as socially: incorporated into Black Mountain’s utopian environment was an attitude that expanded what art can do for society. Therefore, to be an artist is to be a citizen—engaging actively in the world and making choices alongside others.² Though Cunningham’s photograph captures Asawa in her home, surrounded by her four (of six) children, central to the visual narrative is her artwork, which is inextricable from her role as an artist, wife, mother, and citizen.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture, 1957, Imogen Cunningham, Gelatin silver print, 10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in. (26.4 x 26.4 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.43
¹Ruth Asawa, “Oral history interview with Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier, 2002 June 21-July 5,” interview by Mark Johnson and Paul Karlstrom, Archives of American Art, https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-ruth-asawa-and-albert-lanier-12222#transcript.
²Helen Molesworth, “Ruth Asawa: ‘San Francisco Housewife and Mother’,” filmed September 12, 2018 at Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., video, 1:07:05, https://americanart.si.edu/videos/clarice-smith-distinguished-lecture-series-scholar-helen-molesworth-154476.

New Cedar for Bunyon’s Chess

A brilliant conservator[1] once noted that “art conservation is a fight against entropy.” This is especially visible for works sited outside which require conservators, artists, and stakeholders to carefully consider what is essential for an outdoor sculpture to continue to exist for future generations. When the carved cedar elements of Mark di Suvero’s sculpture Bunyon’s Chess were no longer structurally stable, di Suvero and his studio worked closely with the Seattle Art Museum to explore the artwork and discover solutions.

Bunyon’s Chess was created by Mark di Suvero in 1965 for Virginia and Bagley Wright’s residence in Seattle. The family’s documentation of the creative process provides wonderful insight into the artwork.

In 2006 the Wrights promised the work to the Seattle Art Museum and it was moved to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The cedar elements had begun to show degradation in their original site but this accelerated at the park partially due to the exposed location and partially due to the natural deterioration of cedar. As cedar ages in an outdoor setting a number of events occur: the natural biocide slowly migrates out with water, the wood absorbs water at an increasing rate as it deteriorates, fungal deterioration is common, as well as insect and wildlife damage. The logs of Bunyon’s Chess were treated annually with a fungicide to slow the fungal deterioration but without major visual interventions such as end caps or moving the sculpture to an interior location, deterioration continued at a fairly rapid pace.

In 2009 an in-depth condition assessment was performed which determined that the deterioration, particularly on the interior had progressed to a state where the logs were in danger of falling. In 2010, the logs were consolidated, the large losses filled and the exterior coated to prolong the life. During this period research and conversations with di Suvero regarding the replacement were begun as this treatment could not prolong the life of the cedar indefinitely. Di Suvero determined that new logs could be carved to replace the original cedar, as it is the visual integrity of the work that is important.

After much research, new cedar of the similar dimensions and tight ring growth was sourced for carving. Seattle artist Brian Beck peeled the logs in preparation for carving.

Kent Johnson and Daniel Roberts from di Suvero’s studio traveled to Seattle and carved the new logs using the original cedar elements as a guide.

Beck worked with Johnson and Roberts to create the same join between the two logs. Much of the original hardware such as the 36” bronze bolts and galvanized steel eyehooks were presevered and reused on the newly carved elements.

If you look carefully, at the top of the sculpture you will note a slight bend in the top tube. Di Suvero wanted this natural bend to remain but believed this opportunity should be used to reinforce the structure.

Fabrication Specialties Ltd. worked with the di Suvero studio to create an interior support which was welded in place.

The logs were strung with new stainless steel cabling and were carefully measured and marked to the lengths of the original cables to assist with the rigging. Larry Tate, Andrew Malcolm, Tracy Taft, Ignacio Lopez, and Travis Leonard of Fabrication Specialties placed the new logs within the original steel frame working closely with images and a model of the original. The di Suvero studio generously participated in video calls throughout the day.


Special thank you to: Mark di Suvero and Studio, Virginia Wright, Fabrication Specialties Ltd, Equinox Studios, Alta Forest Products, Brian Beck, Christian French, and Catharina Manchanda for helping preserve this public artwork free for everyone to enjoy at the Olympic Sculpture Park year round.

– Liz Brown, SAM Objects Conservator

Photos courtesy of Virginia Wright and Liz Brown.
[1] Lauren Chang

Object of the Week: Engineering Drawing for Montlake Landfill Proposal

With President Carter’s announcement that the nation must mobilize its vast coal resources to solve the energy crisis, we are entering an era of potentially irreconcilable conflict between the pressures of energy and the pressures of environmental concern.

– John D. Spellman, Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture, 1979

We find ourselves in a critical and precarious moment: our impact on the environment has caused irreparable harm. With this in mind, it is incredible to look back nearly forty years ago, when the King County Arts Commission brought together a roster of internationally recognized artists to re-imagine post-industrial sites in King County, such as gravel pits, surface mines, and abandoned airstrips. The 1979 initiative and its attendant symposium—Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture—was a progressive city-backed project meant to envision earthworks as a tool for environmental recovery.

Among the group of accomplished artists—which included Robert Morris, Dennis Oppenheim, Mary Miss, and Herbert Bayer—was Beverly Pepper, who worked with the University of Washington to develop her proposal for Montlake Landfill, part of the University of Washington’s East Campus. [1] Measuring approximately 80 acres, the landfill site proposal contained two main elements: the first, rendered in the lower right-hand corner of the plan, a 100-foot circle of white-capped posts that would, over time, reveal changes in land levels and be a resource for University of Washington students; the second, an intervention into the landscape that would reveal (through a glass wall) decades of waste disposed at the site, as well as a layer of gravel to again indicate the earth’s movement over time.[2]

While it is not the responsibility of artists to respond to political, social, or cultural events, it is often the case that artists are in the unique and privileged position to call attention to contemporary issues, respond to our increasingly complex world, and, most importantly, effect change. Though Pepper’s Montlake Landfill proposal never came to fruition (Robert Morris and Herbert Bayer’s plans were selected by the jury panel), it remains a radical gesture that will hopefully serve to inspire future artists, environmentalists, and civic leaders alike.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Images: Engineering Drawing for MontLake Landfill Proposal, 1979, Beverly Pepper, Collage of graphite on vellum, 30 1/4 x 54 3/4 in., King County Office of Cultural Resources, 98.3.47, Beverly Pepper. Cover of Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture catalogue, 1979.
[1] The Montlake Landfill operated as a burn dump and, eventually, as landfill between the years 1926 and 1966. In 1971, the landfill was closed, and covered with two feet of clean soil. According to a report published by the University of Washington’s Environmental Health & Safety Department, “Municipal solid waste, primarily consisting of residential wastes, was disposed in the landfill. Some limited amounts of industrial waste that could be considered hazardous were also disposed at this location.” As for the location: “Although the exact limits of the Montlake Landfill are not definitively known, available documentation suggests that the landfill is generally bounded by Montlake Boulevard NE to the west; NE 45th Street to the north; Laurel Village and the Douglas Research Conservatory to the east; and Canal Road, the Intramural Activities Building, and Union Bay to the south.” For the entire report, please see: https://www.ehs.washington.edu/system/files/resources/montlake.pdf
[2] For more on the projects included in Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture, please see: https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/records-licensing/archives/exhibits/earthworks_brief.aspx.

Object of the Week: Untitled (2 Pieces)

For my first Object of the Week post as SAM’s new Collections Coordinator, I have chosen to highlight Untitled (2 Pieces) (1978) by American sculptor Richard Nonas. With a personal interest in modern and contemporary art, I have always found Nonas to be an under-recognized figure with an elusive body of work. But what is Object of the Week for, if not to engage deeper with art even if we feel challenged or uncomfortable in the process? We should never expect art to be straightforward—an important fact that challenges us to ask questions in order to better understand and appreciate an object’s history, meaning, and making—no matter how difficult or elusive it may be.

In Untitled (2 pieces) two steel brick-like forms, each measuring 6 x 2 x 22 inches, rest one on top of the other. Despite the weight of their physical makeup, there is a certain lightness to the stacked arrangement—a tenderness if you will. The patina on the steel surfaces further softens the cold, industrial material, adding a sense of age to these familiar yet enigmatic objects.

For decades, Nonas has created sculptural installations defined by their minimal aesthetic, intimate scale, geometric forms, and use of everyday materials such as wood, granite, and steel. Unlike his Minimalist contemporaries Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Robert Morris, Nonas was distinctly interested in the emotional and spiritual qualities of artwork, rather than the removal of such expressions (a hallmark of Minimalism). For Nonas, the physical presence of his sculptures is just as important as the relationship—and emotional interaction—between object and viewer.

Prior to entering the art world in the 1970s, Nonas was an anthropologist. For ten years he conducted field work in northern Ontario, the Yukon Territory, Mexico, and Arizona.1 Speaking about his time in Mexico, the artist recalled “the extraordinary way those people conceived and perceived the world spatially, the ways they situated themselves contextually were unlike anything I knew in my own culture.”2 Nonas translated his observations and experiences as an anthropologist into an artistic practice aimed at challenging our notions of place and time.

His sculptural installations treat space as a medium, and transcend the cultural and historical associations we might bring to them. Just as the field of anthropology demands that we ask critical questions about cultures, objects, and the people who make them, Nonas’s sculptures, too, force us to search for meaning within the works and ourselves:

And making sculpture? I start with memories of how places feel. The ache of that desert, those woods, that room opening out. Places I’ve been, places I’ve seen and felt. And felt always with some component of unease, apprehension, disquiet, fear even, discomfort certainly. Memories of places that seem always slightly confusing, slightly ambiguous. Places whose meaning slips away, but not too far away.3

The world and spaces we occupy are constantly in flux, and Nonas seeks to embrace this contingent and ever-shifting aspect of our lived experience through his sculpture. Holding no singular interpretation or prescribed meaning, his pared down objects readily accept our all-too-human responses of uncertainty and doubt.

In addition to examining one of two Nonas sculptures in our collection, my hope is that Untitled (2 Pieces) might also act as an introduction and larger framework for future Object of the Week posts: By looking closely at SAM’s collection and asking questions what can we learn about an object, artist, people, or culture? And what can we learn by opening ourselves up to a particular work?

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Untitled (2 pieces), 1978, Richard Nonas, steel, 6 x 2 x 22 in. and 6 x 2 x 20in., The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States, a joint initiative of the Trustees of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection and the National Gallery of Art, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute for Museum and Library Services, 2008.29.21
1 Susan Cross, Richard Nonas: The Man in the Empty Space (North Adams, MA: MASS MoCA, 2016), 4.
2 Alex Bacon, “In Conversation: Richard Nonas with Alex Bacon,” Brooklyn Rail, March 4, 2013, http://brooklynrail.org/2013/03/art/richard-nonas-with-alex-bacon.
3 Cross, Richard Nonas: The Man in the Empty Space, 4.

Object of the Week: Amulet with mummified monkey

Each of us carries with us a lens, or lenses, through which we view the world, and that lens colors and shapes our perception of, and response to, all the sights, sounds, and smells we encounter. It’s no different when we’re viewing art. Each of us brings to the experience of viewing art our own sets of questions. Art historians produce scholarship that discusses a certain object, maker, or concept—but the questions they ask in the process reveal as much about the perspective of the scholar as they do about the object or artist under discussion. Likewise, it’s fascinating to tour through the galleries and eavesdrop on the unfiltered musings of museumgoers to the variety of art we have on display at SAM. Those comments say something about the art and the speaker.

One object that’s commented on less frequently than I’d wish is this diminutive wood Amulet with mummified monkey—a piece that acts, for me, as an ever-present reminder of Dr. Fuller and his collecting principles, so neatly reflected in this ancient, tiny figurative sculpture. Dr. Fuller, who held a Ph.D. in geology and maintained scholarly pursuits in that field throughout his tenure leading SAM (1933–1973), collected many small, old, and odd things. Disinterested in value, he instead sought out rarity. His guiding question was: Does it have a unique character—an “essential factor”? That question drove him to acquire items like this mystifying Amulet, about which little was known when Dr. Fuller purchased it from J. Khawam & Cie, Cairo, for $240 in 1955.

It had few facts to recommend it, but it was a curious piece that provoked questions for Dr. Fuller and would do the same for others. Shortly after acquiring the Amulet, Dr. Fuller received this letter from William K. Simpson, a research associate at the American Research Center in Cairo:

Simpson’s desire to research and publish the Amulet with mummified monkey encouraged Dr. Fuller to seek out expert opinions from fields that were tangentially related to the piece, aiming to solve some of the quandaries it presented. Outside experts brought to the Amulet their own questions. Professor Bror L. Grondal of the College of Forestry at the University of Washington examined the piece in 1956 to determine what kind of wood composes it:

Meanwhile, Robert T. Hatt, a mammalogist at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Michigan, had been researching ancient and contemporary animals of the Near East. In his letter of June 25, 1956, Hatt shared with Dr. Fuller his thoughts and questions regarding what species of monkey (or ape) might be represented in the Amulet:

Each of us brings to the experience of viewing art our own sets of questions—but to make our contribution, we have to actually ask them. Your curiosity could spark mine or someone else’s, and whether or not we ever arrived at fixed answers, the summation of our questions reveals infinitely more than one viewpoint ever could.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Amulet with mummified monkey, ca. 2920-2649 B.C., Egyptian, Early Dynastic period, wood, 3 3/16 x 11/16 x 7/8 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 55.136, Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Standing figure (Nkondi)

SAM’s Congolese Standing figure (Nkondi) meets and enraptures visitors in our African art galleries. Beads, feathers, and knots of string secured to the wooden figure with countless iron nails lend him a startling and uncomfortable presence. Why has he been on the receiving end of this aggressive, symbolic gesture of driving nails?

Across the country, in exhibitions at great museums like the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, San Francisco’s de Young Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Nkondi has confronted viewers with his own appearance—and with wrong assumptions about his purpose.

Standing figure (Nkondi), Congolese

Not only has he been exhibited extensively, the Nkondi has an interesting provenance. He was collected by Merton Simpson (1928-2013), one of the most significant dealers of African and tribal art in the second half of the 20th century. Interestingly, Simpson first opened his gallery—Merton D. Simpson Gallery—in the early 1950s in order to support what he considered his primary work: painting. An artist for life, Simpson served in the Air Force and was asked to paint General Dwight D. Eisenhower, which he did, earning $100 for his effort. Simpson became part of the New York Abstract Expressionist school, crossing paths with artists like Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell, who would critique Simpson’s paintings in the frame shop where Simpson worked. Later he joined the politically focused Spiral Group of artists, which also counted Romare Bearden among its members.1

No slight to Simpson’s visual art, his accomplishments as a dealer of traditional African art surpassed what he did in painting. When Simpson passed away in 2013, a New York Times obituary reflected on his incomparable taste and expertise, his success and renown as an art dealer, and the significance of his doing so as an African American. Heinrich C. Schweizer, then head of the African and Oceanic art department at Sotheby’s, remarks that “Over the course of the ’60s and ’70s Simpson became the most important dealer in the US in this field . . . Worldwide, you could say he was one of the two or three leading dealers, and certainly a powerhouse in the US, and this was especially remarkable for an African-American, who began doing this in the time of segregation.” The same article quotes an equally admiring Lowery Stokes Sims, the highly respected retired Curator Emerita at the Museum of Arts and Design: “When I worked at the Met I would go to the gallery and see some of the most incredible African art I’d ever seen in my life. It was really showstopping. And occasionally he’d show his own work . . . For an African-American who came up in the art world in the 1970s, he was truly one of those unsung pioneers, crucial in establishing our place in the art world.”2

Standing figure (Nkondi), Congolese

SAM’s Nkondi was purchased from Simpson in 1968 by another exceptional collector of African art, Katherine White, whose transformational 1981 gift—of which the Nkondi was part—forms the core of the museum’s African collection.

Since the Nkondi has arrived at SAM, the museum has been telling his true story and deconstructing “fetish” myths about him. Congolese advisor Fu Kiau Bunseki has offered critical insights on the Nkondi’s role as a sign of authority, and as a hearer and keeper of agreements. Check out the SAM website for rich insights on the thoughtful symbolism that informs each element of this memorable figure.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections  Coordinator

Oral history interview with Merton D. Simpson, 1968 November, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Bruce Weber, “Merton D. Simpson, Painter, Collector and Dealer in African Art, Dies at 84,” New York Times, March 14, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/arts/design/merton-d-simpson-artist-and-gallery-owner-dies-at-84.html
Image: Standing figure (Nkondi), Congolese, wood, iron, fiber, beads, string, glass, feathers, chalk, 31 11/16 x 13 3/8 x 8 11/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.836, Photos: Natali Wiseman.

Be A Part of Something Big: Volunteer for Middle Fork

Artist John Grade is looking for volunteers to help sculpt the 60-foot addition to his sculpture, Middle Fork, which will be installed in SAM’s Brotman Forum in January. SAM employees have been helping out in Grade’s studio over the last few months and we all agree, you should consider volunteering as well.

middlefork-studio-2

John Grade’s studio is large and located at the fringes of Seattle. It’s easy to understand why he would require a space as large as an airplane hangar if you’ve experienced his artwork. Grade creates organic shapes from the natural world at life size and impresses viewers with the grand scale of everyday objects such as, in the case of Middle Fork, trees.

Expect a warm welcome from Grade’s crew of studio assistants, though you may have to venture pretty far into the space before you’re noticed over the sound of the electric sanders. In an open room with several workstations scattered towards the back, you’ll notice sections of the original 40-foot long Middle Fork sculpture bubble wrapped and arranged unceremoniously around the room.

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More than a view behind-the-scenes, this is an experience you can inhale—quite literally if you’re not wearing your dust mask. Particles of the artistic process will coat your clothes, so dress for sawdust and be prepared to focus in on the details for a few hours. “It’s fun to be part of something big by doing something small,” said Natali Wiseman, senior designer at SAM. And small is right—the four-hour minimum volunteer shift flies by and you’ll be impressed by the section of the sculpture that you’ve created—how much, or how little you’ve gotten done, depending on your outlook.

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“Volunteering for Middle Fork is a great opportunity to get an insider’s look into John’s creative process,” says David Rue, public programs coordinator. “It’s refreshing to see how many helping hands are responsible for such a beautifully large-scale project, and it feels great to integrate community building with hands-on art making.” When John Grade began Middle Fork in 2014 it was being constructed at Mad Art in South Lake Union. The store-front gallery space was open to the public and passerbys were welcome to lend a hand in laying a couple, or a couple hundred, blocks of the sculpture.

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Far from the inaccessible side of the art world, Middle Fork has been touched and built by toddlers, teenagers, and Amazon employees alike. Megan Peterson, assistant registrar for exhibitions describes the process as “an honor. I appreciate how open John is to allowing each person the freedom to put their unique stamp on the work they do.” Don’t worry about being too precise or technically skilled. The sculpture is sturdy and, like nature, difficult to mess up. Each inches-long cedar piece you place is only one part of what will eventually be a 100-foot long whole, hanging at SAM.

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“It’ll be a particularly special feeling once Middle Fork is installed knowing that my hands helped contribute to its existence,” Rue added. If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Lauren at John Grade’s studio: volunteer@johngrade.com.

—Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Photos: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: High Level of Cat

CatDrumArtist PaletteThinking FaceFace Without Mouth

(When words fail, emoji. Inspired by the artist’s playful incorporation of visual puns into his work, I decided to unpack the layered concepts of High Level of Cat by David Hammons, now on view in Big Picture: Art After 1945, solely in emojis. We welcome your translations in the comments!)

ManNew York CityArtist PaletteSpeakerHaircutPaperclipThrowing away litter

CatSaxophoneDrum

CatSkull & CrossbonesCoffinWeary Cat Face

Confounded Face

Post OfficeArtist PaletteMuted SpeakerElderly Man

Hand Pointing Up

Artist PaletteRight Left ArrowMusic NotesTrumpetSaxophoneGuitar

Artist PaletteRight Left ArrowEarEyesNoseTongue

Confused Face

Artist PaletteMan With TurbanMan with Gua Pi MaoGirlElderly WomanRainbow

Artist PaletteFlag for United StatesFlag for TurkeyFlag for FranceFlag for JamaicaFlag for Cameroon

Face with Tears of Joy

Artist PaletteNo EntryMoney BagDollarsWealthy

Smiling FaceClapping Hands

Pile of PooArtist Palette

Angry Face

ManClapping Hands

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGE: High Level of Cat, 1999, David Hammons (American, b. 1943), wood, taxidermied cat and mixed media, 96 x 24 x 24 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2009.50, © David Hammons, Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Kehinde Wiley’s Galvanizing Impact

“The history of painting by and large has pictured very few black and brown people, and in particular very few black men. My interest is in countering that absence.”

Kehinde Wiley

Experiencing a meteoric rise on the art scene, Los Angeles native Kehinde Wiley has assumed his place as an influential contemporary American artist. Graduating from the influential Yale School of Art, Wiley received his MFA from the program in 2001. The artist went from the Ivy League to a leading art program—residency at The Studio Museum in Harlem. It was there that a lot of things came together for Wiley in the context of the show he was working on: he found inspiration in the assertive and self-empowered young men of the neighborhood. This kicked off the artist’s serious work in portraiture on modes of representation and the black body.

Installation view of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic

“It’s almost like he’s looking back into history to envision a new present and a new future,” said Catharina Manchanda, Seattle Art Museum’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art. Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic is a 14-year retrospective of the artist’s work that features 60 works, including his signature portraits of African American men reworked in the grand portraiture traditions of Western culture, as well as sculptures, videos, and stained glass windows.

Installation view of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic

The Brooklyn Art Museum organized the exhibition, which is traveling to a number of cities around the country, experiencing a rousing reception. “He’s received a great amount of attention in part because the work is so captivating, but perhaps what adds special urgency to the work are the political discussions Americans have been having over the course of the last year regarding the lives of black men and women in this country,” Manchanda said. “There is so much possibility in this moment. It’s my hope that this exhibition will engage viewers in an important conversation, as well as create a galvanizing experience that will last long after they leave the galleries.”

Installation view of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic

Wiley does not copy traditional portraiture styles from the 18th and 19th centuries, but rather creates mashups where he’s drawing from many sources, like a jazz artist improvising or a hip hop artist mixing pieces of songs together using different ideas and references. The same process—mining elements and then combining them from various sources—fuels Wiley’s work: classic portraiture styles and floral wallpaper designs from the 19th century, among others, serve as inspiration. Altered in color as much as detailing, these compositions frame and elevate his contemporary subjects.

Also on view in the exhibition is the full length film, An Economy of Grace, which documents Wiley as he steps out of his comfort zone to create a series of classical portraits of African-American women for the first time. The exhibition includes works from this project and highlights Wiley’s collaboration with fashion designer Riccardo Tisci at the couture firm Givenchy to design gowns inspired by 19th- and 20th century paintings.

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Don’t miss this exhibition— which closes very soon on May 8! We also invite you to hear from scholar and independent curator Tumelo Mosaka, who will be at Seattle Art Museum on Thursday, April 14, to explore topics related to the exhibition and Wiley’s unapologetic ability to address the historical absence of the black figure by creating portraits of his own desire.

Images: Photo: Stephanie Fink. Installation views of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at Seattle Art Museum, Photos: Elizabeth Crook, © Seattle Art Museum.

Object of the Week: Head from a statue of Pharaoh Thutmosis III

There are two terms you simply must hang onto in the event that you’re watching Jeopardy and “Art of Ancient Egypt” comes up as a column and pharaonic sculptures features in one of the answers: uraeaus and nemes. The nemes is the distinctive, striped headcloth donned by our Egyptian king here and probably best worn by King Tut himself—whose tomb treasures, coincidentally, featured in one of the most important exhibitions in SAM’s history: the 1978 Treasures of Tutankhamun. My personal all-time favorite photo from the SAM archives features our own Chris Manojlovic, Director of Exhibition Design, enraptured by Tut’s mask. The other term, uraeus, refers to the coiled cobra above the figure’s forehead, which was both a symbolic presence, signifying that its wearer was royalty, and a protective force, whose breath and venom would keep harm from coming to the king.

An installation photo from the 1978 exhibition "Tut"

This cool Egyptian head lives amid our ancient art collection on the 4th floor downtown. S/he has had a long and interesting journey. The Egyptian artist(s) who crafted it worked with simple saws and drills made of copper to carve out the head and a complete, life-size body that was once attached to it. When they had established the form, they created a smooth surface by using stone scrapers over the hard basalt. A lively first life for the statue might have included performance in rituals and standing guard in a festival or funerary temple.

Dating ancient material like this piece is very tricky and relies mostly on judgments of style. SAM’s sculpture has a date of mid-15th century B.C., in 18th Dynasty Egypt (about 1543 B.C.-1292 B.C.), but in the first years after it entered the museum’s collection, expert opinions placed it in the much later Ptolemaic period (305 B.C.-30 B.C.). Because ancient Egyptian art idealized individuals—aiming to show them as gods—even the subject is a matter of debate. We think it depicts Thutmosis III, but it’s possible that instead the face represents Queen Hatshepsut, the woman who totally stole his thunder, usurped his throne, and pushed him to the background for her more than 20 years of rule.

Our Head from a statue of Pharaoh Thutmosis III was cultivated from a 1937 excavation at the Temple of Armant in Egypt. Sir Robert Mond, pioneering chemist, collector, and archaeologist, financed the excavation, and notable archaeologist Oliver H. Myers directed the project. The basalt head was a highlight from their findings. Multiple restorations have the figure looking as good as s/he does now. Sections of the nose, cheek, uraeus, the upper lobe of the left ear, the upper and lower lobes of the right ear, and a segment of the headdress have been restored. One restoration, later reversed, is documented in the photo below, where simulations of the chin and right jaw are affixed to the original.

A historic photo of the Egyptian head documents a restoration to the chin and right jaw, now removed

For some time in 2002-2003, this striking sculpture joined Andy Warhol screenprints of Mick Jagger and Muhammad Ali, as well as Nigerian carved wood figures, for the SAM exhibition Hero/Antihero. Mounted at the same time as a show devoted to George Washington, Hero/Antihero explored the idea of the hero and the effect heroes have had on art and belief throughout history. The Egyptian pharaohs, each worshiped like or as God, offer a fascinating example of people venerating other people.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Head from a statue of Pharaoh Thutmosis III, mid-15th century B.C., Egyptian, basalt, 11 1/2 x 14 x 11 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 52.70. Installation photo from the 1978 exhibition “Tut”, Photo: Paul Macapia, Seattle Art Museum. A historic photo of the Egyptian head documents a restoration to the chin and right jaw, now removed, Photo: Seattle Art Museum

Object of the Week: Airstream Turkey

Our global culture is pretty good at making visual associations. As kids, many of us grew up pointing to the sky, calling out animals and faces suggested by the eccentric outlines of the clouds. Now, we play the meme game: How funny is Ryan Gosling if we cut him out of a movie role and paste him into all these different come-on scenarios? How well does a scrunched-up, pouty kid face express all your life’s frustrations? So funny! So well! And for me, it’s hilarious how quickly and creatively we make these connections. If a movie star or a top athlete makes a crazy face one night, there’s a trending meme of her or him the next morning.

In art, too, visual associations go a long way. They can be poignant, suggesting parallels across time and across cultures, causing us to re-think our views about the world. They can be as silly as a Ryan Gosling meme, putting a sign or symbol or person into a new context and pointing out just how important context is for how we understand these things.

Patti Warashina’s Airstream Turkey was born out of a similar, this-looks-like-that approach to digesting the huge diversity of images we experience every day, bringing together the forms of a trailer, a turkey, a bread loaf, and a chafing dish lid. Warashina applied low-fire glaze and low-fire luster to the ceramic piece, giving it the shiny metallic quality of a vintage trailer. Wings and feathers morph into streamlined horizontal details; reductive legs jut into the air like maneuverable levers. Airstream Turkey pranks us visually and playfully, thoughtfully keeping the eye engaged.

With her idea of a turkey vehicle, Warashina seems to have been onto something. Just such an avian Airstream makes a notable appearance in Tom Robbins’ 1990 postmodern novel Skinny Legs and All, in which the First Veil opens:

“It was a bright, defrosted, pussy-willow day at the onset of spring, and the newlyweds were driving cross-country in a large roast turkey.

The Turkey lay upon its back, as roast turkeys will; submissive, agreeable, volunteering its breast to the carving blade, its roly-poly legs cocked in a stiff but jaunty position, as if it might summon the gumption to spring forward onto its feet, but, of course, it had no feet, which made the suggestion seem both empty and ridiculous, and only added to the turkey’s aura of goofy vulnerability.

Despite its feetlessness, however, its pathetic podalic privation, this roast turkey—or jumbo facsimile thereof—was moving down the highway at sixty-five miles an hour…”

Today, let’s do some associations around the word “Thanksgiving”: gratefulness—smiles—family—love—warm food—mashed potatoes and gravy.

Happy (postmodern) Thanksgiving from SAM!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGE: Airstream Turkey, ca. 1969, Patti Warashina, American, 1940- , earthenware with low-fire glaze and low-fire luster, 9 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Anne and Sidney Gerber, 94.86, © Patti Warashina.

Object of the Week: Amor Caritas

One of the many wonderful qualities of visual art is its ability to lead people forward in response to tragedy. Amor Caritas, a bronze relief sculpture at SAM by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), was meant to serve just that purpose.

Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland, and immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was just seven months old. He lived through the divisive years in America leading up to the Civil War and the catastrophic war at a formative time in his life. While his experience of the Civil War left a lasting mark on his art, its effects didn’t surface in the way one might expect.

Amor Caritas detail

Saint-Gaudens contributed to the American Renaissance, a broad movement that flourished in the decades following the Civil War that inspired not just art and architecture, but also politics and finance. The visual artists of the American Renaissance looked to the iconic examples of ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration, aiming to express an equally grand vision for America and its culture. The foundation of their art was a firm belief that art could inspire healing and progress.

In the figure of Amor Caritas—a composition that Saint-Gaudens returned to multiple times and that earned him international recognition—the artist felt that he had achieved a perfect female form, and that was essential to his purpose. Feminine beauty here personifies our human capacity for amor (love) and caritas (charity). Physical beauty provides a visual form for these lofty, encouraging sentiments.

Amor Caritas detail

I find it very telling that in a private letter, Saint-Gaudens wondered about titling the sculpture “Peace on Earth” or “to know is to forgive.” For the artist, each of these themes was equally present in the idealized human form. As today marks fourteen years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, we can appreciate the artist’s positive response to a tragedy of his day, and the call this sculpture gives for us, as people, to move forward in a spirit of love, togetherness, and forgiveness.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Amor Caritas, modeled 1898, cast probably 1898, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, bronze, lost wax cast, bronze: 39 7/8 x 4 1/2 in., frame: 52 x 32 x 6 3/8 in., Gift of Ann and Tom Barwick, the General Acquisition Endowment, the Gates Foundation Endowment, the Utley Endowment, the American Art Endowment, and the 19th Century Paintings Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.4.

The Hammering Man is the worker in all of us

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

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

Hamming Man Collapses in 1991, Photo by John Stamets

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

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

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

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

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

A Tick of the Clock: Dan Webb Carves Through the Summer

This summer, Seattle artist Dan Webb will set up shop at the Olympic Sculpture Park. In a small wooden shed, he will gradually turn a tree into a procession of carved sculptures. He will continue to carve until nothing is left but sawdust.

The ephemeral project pays tribute to the natural life cycle of the tree, which will come from the sculpture park—our chief gardener has selected one that needs to be thinned for the health of the grove. The tree’s seeds will be preserved and planted in the park.

We talked to Webb about his project—and what making art means to him.

Note: Selections from this interview appeared in the SAM magazine for June–September 2015. This is the full interview.

Dan Webb: Break It Down - Olympic Sculpture Park

SAM: This summer, you’ll be spending two months carving sculptures out of a tree but I hear that none of the works you make will be kept. What motivates you to do this? What’s your thinking behind this?

Dan Webb: I think it really talks about a certain ephemerality to most things that everything lives for a while. I mean, even if you look at the acropolis or something like that, it’s melting because of the rain and such. There are these things that we’re able to make but we’re not able to make anything that’s permanent. So maybe the conceit of sculpture is that you can hold on to a moment for a bit but a lot of my work really references the idea of time and the idea of a cycle, that you’re born and you live and you die and that just starts another beginning.

And I think wood is a great material to do that with. You know, it’s a material that was alive and is no longer. There’s a way that you can really talk about those kinds of systems, the falling apart and then coming out of the ashes and falling apart, that just seems really natural in wood. You don’t have to reach very far and it doesn’t seem mockish or melodramatic.

The work to me is on the one hand is quite light-hearted and fun and on the other hand is very much about entropy and death and stuff. I feel like that material spans that emotional distance really well. I do want all of that stuff kicking around in there somewhere.

SAM: Something that occurred to me while looking at this project and some of your other work is that you start with block of wood and you start carving. And with this project, you’re going to keep carving until—

Dan Webb: Exactly.

SAM: —you can’t keep carving anymore.

Dan Webb: Right.

dan-webb-break-it-down-mortise-1000px

SAM: This is unique to carving. That if you keep going, your medium will disappear. If a painter just kept layering on paint and paint and paint and engaging in the process, his material would get thicker. His canvas would eventually get thicker but yours will eventually disappear.

Dan Webb: Exactly. Yeah, it’s very much a reductive process—it’s something you think about. It’s something you notice as you carve, you know, that every time I take a little bit off, there’s very much a reference. It’s not a metaphor. It’s very much like a tick of the clock. There’s a little bit gone, you know, and that just percolates through the work.

It’s hard to keep it away so that’s really the beginning of it. I hope that doesn’t sound like a big fat bummer but it’s in there. But along that path of that life and all the stuff that I’m going to make, there’s all sorts of stuff that’s great.

You know, I’m really already planning on making a salad set for the table that I’m supposed to make in the park or making some kind of implements for people when they sit around their table and we have dinner in the park that will come from that tree [Dan is a featured artist for Party in the Park]. I want those things to really live a life and to be touched, to be in the hands of people and to go somewhere. That’s just one idea. There’s a few others too related to that.

Dan Webb: Break It Down - Olympic Sculpture Park

SAM: That’s one of the things I want to ask. How will you decide what to carve?

Dan Webb: There’s a lot of improvisation in what happens with a particular piece of wood and some of it is just—to me—sort of silly inside jokes.

I always think of the phrase “ripped limb from limb” because I make so many limbs out of the limbs of trees through what amounts to a whole lot of violence, really. That just seems so dumb and obvious, to carve a limb from a limb, but I can’t help myself.

It’s still great. Not really worrying about the starting point is more of my process. The idea that [Marcel] Duchamp had of chance—the standard stoppages and all that kind of stuff of making, building into his process the way that he does—he isn’t really sure what it’s going to be. I’m sympathetic to that way of working.

I think illustrating my deep thoughts on things as they are would be a whole lot less interesting than discovering things along the way and being sensitive to the serendipity of certain shapes, certain ways that the wood seems to be doing certain things. Just listening to that makes it more than I think I could plan for it to be.

Dan Webb: Break It Down - Olympic Sculpture Park

SAM: Is there a point in the carving where you either discover something and your path forward is set or because you get to a point where you’ve made enough decisions that you’re now limited—?

Dan Webb: There is a point at which it’s set. I’m starting to make things where I take a single block and I start cutting chunks out of the block and carving different things from them with a simple joint at the top, a dove-tail joint, and then sliding all those things together that I pull out of the block.

And I’ve found that it doesn’t take very long before there’s something going on with that initial piece that leads to the next piece and then I’m trying to really find that in the block. I’m trying to make sure that I can find that in there. So while there’s improv, there’s also me trying to exert my will on it. There’s a tension between the two.

SAM: We tend to think about the artist as a solitary, isolated figure. I read somewhere that you work in a studio in Georgetown with other artists so you aren’t necessarily that on a daily basis anyway. But now you’re bringing your studio to the park, which is this very public space.

What are your expectations? Why are you interested? Are there things here you’re excited about or worried about?

Dan Webb: Yeah, I know. Well, I think that really has to be part of the work. I am really interested in Robert Smithson’s work, Partially Buried Woodshed, that he made in the 70s. I got a chance to see it actually. It was a woodshed where a bunch of woodworkers were and he poured a whole bunch of dirt on it and left it and it rotted. His work was really about entropy and everything like that. But I was really interested in what happens to those woodworkers inside of that. I know he pulled them out before he poured dirt on it—but the whole idea of what happens to the people, and how do people fit into that work, and his thinking in some ways informs this piece.

I’m very much the woodworker there in the shack. The activity of it, the pretty slow quotidian boringness of it will be on display, as well as the conversations I’ll have and all the rest of it. I hope that’s very much a part of the work.

Dan Webb: Break It Down - Olympic Sculpture Park

SAM: What are five things you’ll bring with you? What do you need to work when you’re carrying your studio with you?

Dan Webb: Well, I’m going to have a rolling cart that I’ll have to roll into the shack from the pavilion and roll back at the end of the night because there’s—I’ll probably have fifty or sixty chisels with me and saws—a lot of stuff will be required to do this. So I’d be pretty stumped if I had to think of just five. A cup of coffee, my toolbox. What else? What else do I get? Is that two? Technically I’ve already listed more than a hundred because of the tools so I better stop. I’m cheating already.

SAM: I want to ask you about some of your influences and I have to be honest—I’m hoping you’ll talk a little bit about Robert Morris’s Box With a Sound of Its Own Making.

Dan Webb: Oh, yeah, which I just paid homage to ten minutes ago. I love it. I love talking about other people’s work. Well, it’s just a towering work of genius, first of all.

I think what it does for me as a maker of things—it really says that there’s this life lived by someone who made that thing. That new object was brought to this place by a person who thought things through, had all these problems to solve, and was having a hard day that day, and told a really hilarious joke at lunchtime to his friends.

So there’s that really clear, awesome humanity to it.

The other thing too that becomes maybe even more important than the piece—the physical artifact really takes a backseat (maybe) to the idea, to the circumstance, to the context. There’s a lot of things that go into it and the object becomes the artifact of that.

I think about that when I look at the Michelangelo “Slave” Series as well. It’s not that they’re finished or that’s even important. They’re sort of struggling to get out of this block environment. But you can just see his chisel. More than any other piece that Michelangelo made, you see these tourists just running by these things in Florence. Nobody looks at them. I was the only person.

You can see the chisel marks and you make the connection that there was this funny little shrunken dude who was making that stuff.

It seems to be pretty profound to me that there’s the things that you think and feel and hope for. And then there’s the artifact of that life—which is your work. Not forgetting that, not ever forgetting that, is really important.

SAM: That art is made by humans.

Dan Webb: Art is made by humans who are muddling through, and trying to make sense of it, and the issues are pretty much the same [then that they are now].

I think with a lot of other work, before I saw Box With a Sound of Its Own Making, it was harder for me to access some of that stuff. It seemed like this thing had just arrived—rather than feeling like there was a context for why that thing existed or there were conflicts and difficulties with them, which leads to it looking a certain way. You have to grapple with the thing.

Dan Webb: Break It Down - Olympic Sculpture Park

SAM: How do you define mastery?

Dan Webb: You know, that word is a real—whenever I hear that word, I think of Caine in Kung Fu or something like that, an impossible TV black belt in a Shaolin temple. I don’t know.

I know that it’s easy to point to history and say well, Michelangelo was and Bernini was and Sam Maloof was. You could point to these people but I wonder if they would say that. I wonder if any of them—I bet they were champing to get to work so that they could get a little bit better that day, the day that they died.

I think at best what you can maybe access is total effort. I don’t know that a lot of people understand what total effort is. It’s not 99 percent. It’s 100 percent and when you’re absolutely, completely—then there’s nothing left.

And to do that over the course of a long period of time, in order to get to a place where something like mastery becomes part of the question or part of the discussion—I think that’s a pretty awesome, gratifying thing. But I don’t know anybody that’s even come close who would say, “Yeah. Yeah, mastery, that’s me. Look up mastery in a dictionary and my picture’s right there.” I think the goal posts keep moving further.

Dan Webb: Break It Down - Olympic Sculpture Park

SAM: I have this—well, it might be sort of a sillier question but I know in this book, Jenni Sorkin provides one of the essays and writes that there’s this “uncommon sensuousness” of wood.

Dan Webb: Oh, right.

SAM: And I think romance novels and romantic comedies often cast their male leads as oh, first architects.

Dan Webb: Oh, wow.

SAM: And then often carpenters.

Dan Webb: Wow, really? Man, I need more of this stuff.

SAM: So I’m wondering if you think there’s anything to this romanticizing of wood.

Dan Webb: Oh. Oh, okay. I was thinking romanticizing carpenters. I sure was a carpenter a lot and they’re a bunch of smelly, gassy dudes that just told terrible jokes so I don’t know that worked with the ladies but…

SAM: Maybe it’s tied to this larger phenomenon where our culture romanticizes working with our hands at this point.

Dan Webb: I think we’re very, very much in that mode of romanticizing working with our hands. Nobody really wants to do it and nobody knows very much about it. But my wife is a farmer, for example. And there’s all these farm blocks where kids from Brooklyn buy a sheep farm in New Hampshire. Then they start a blog about it and the husband is always a guy who was a part-time model for J. Crew and he looks great when he’s holding the sheep and you just wonder if they’re making money or whatever. They’re probably not, you know, and—

SAM: There’s a trust fund behind them.

Dan Webb: Yeah, so I think now, especially with our super-curated lives that we can do on social media, I think it takes on even more of the patina, this luster. We’ve made chefs into celebrities—the beautiful food that comes out and it just seems like magic—but at the end of the day, who really does want to do that stuff? You know, who really wants to castrate sheep and feed a hundred of them and shear a hundred of them? I mean, that’s a small herd.

It’s pretty romanticized, I would say, and I don’t want to be privy to that. To me, it’s a job, which is totally awesome. I’m super lucky and grateful that I get to work every day and do the thing that I get to do, but it’s really hard. It’s a really hard job for the most part. People will see when I’m in the park how romantic it really is.

That said, it’s not totally crazy to talk about the sensuality of wood. I could definitely go on for a long time about that. I agree with it on the one hand. On the other hand, the nuts and bolts of how to make something are pretty hard, one, and, two, it’s not a path for everyone. Let’s just say that.

Dan Webb: Break It Down - Olympic Sculpture Park

SAM: I have one question left about art and craft and their contentious recent history. Historically, they were tied closely together. How do you negotiate that?

Dan Webb: I still think we really fall prey to seeing things in a really binary way so if it’s art, it’s not craft; and if it’s craft, it’s not art; or if it’s a conceptual, then it’s not an object; or if it’s an object, it’s not conceptual. I’m a little disappointed at how binary even smart people can be about that stuff.

I think we’re at a point in history where an artist can do anything that they want to do and call it art. In fact, if anything’s art, then everything’s art and if everything’s art, then the word just lost all specificity. There’s no meaning to that word and it’s by design.

I think a lot of modernist artists and the post-modern artists, with a lot of effort and foresight, made that word meaningless, functionally meaningless. If you have knocked all those walls down that surrounded this idea of art, where are you?

I think when art gets subsumed by life and the bigger world rather than the art world—then it’s all just the world. And that’s not scary. And art didn’t go away. The idea of having to digest the experiences that’ll happen to us didn’t go away. It’s just that it starts to be more integrated into something bigger and I think it’s a really exciting time for that. Whatever you want to do, it’s all good.

For example, I think the move towards social practice is really interesting. But then you’re in a realm where essentially telling a story or interacting with people becomes your art. If you do that, then you have to understand that—the nurses at the children’s cancer ward, what’s their story? I mean, you’re elevating your story because it’s “art.” When what you’re actually doing is saying, let’s just realize that all stories are part of this conversation.

I think it’s binary to say that the social practice story must be art but that the other stories that are so prevalent in all of our lives are less so because they haven’t identified themselves as that.

If you really want to understand the repercussions of making the word meaningless, then you’re in a big environment with a lot of really incredible stuff. I talk about that with technology. There’re a lot of kids that are really interested in making art with technology. Technology’s got to be this new cool thing and great art will be made from it—but maybe great art already has been made from it. There’s a rover on Mars right now. The rover’s totally rad. If you’ve seen it—it’s so awesome. It’s a six-wheeled super-cool thing and they [the people that made it] become your colleagues. If you want to go down that path, they become your colleagues.

For me, my colleagues happen to be woodworkers and carvers. I really jettisoned the idea that I’m going to fetishize originality or I’m going to say something that no other person in history has ever thought of. That ship has sailed, luckily. I’d way rather feel like I was stepping into a conversation and I was part of something rather than reinventing the wheel and feeling proud of myself for doing that. I just think that’s a function of where we are.

Modernists made art and their brave, cool selves became their lives, but I think now we live a life and the result is our art. So it’s flipped. A lot of it is flipped and that’s a good place, exciting. It means that I get to have cool conversations about what I do with the lady that comes and reads my gas meter because she’s able to get a little bit of what I do and it’s not for art people. It’s not designed just for the super-smartypants that went to art school.

That’s just a facet of a lot of really incredible stuff that’s happened. Like T.S. Eliot said, you’ve got to read everything. Knowing about contemporary art really puts you in that category. You have to know a lot about visual information and some of that is cats flushing the toilet on YouTube, and there’s an equality to that. You know, there’s Marcel Duchamp on the one hand and cats flushing the toilet on the other and there’s all spectrum in between. I think a lot of us now are interested in putting all that together so—

SAM: All our pieces based on toilets?

Dan Webb: You could do it. I’m sure there’s somebody that is doing it.

SAM: Where we started, to where we are now.

Dan Webb: Yeah.

SAM: Well, thank you, Dan.

Dan Webb: Yeah.

SAM: We really appreciate your taking the time.

You can follow Webb’s progress this summer at the sculpture park. Learn more about the project on our website.
Photos: Matt Sellars

Meet Echo

Echo, Seattle Art Museum’s massive new addition to the Olympic Sculpture Park, is starting to take shape.

A spectacular and iconic addition to the park, the 46-foot-tall sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, will greet visitors as they wander the shoreline.

Echo has been given to the Seattle Art Museum from the collection of Barney A. Ebsworth. It was originally commissioned by the Madison Park Association in New York and installed at Madison Square Park in 2011 to great acclaim. It is made from resin, steel, and marble dust, and altogether weighs 13,118 pounds.

Echo was modeled on the nine-year-old daughter of the owner of restaurant near the artist’s studio in Barcelona. With computer modeling, Plensa elongated and abstracted the girl’s features. The sculpture’s title references the mountain nymph of Greek mythology of the same name.

As told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Echo offended the goddess Hera by keeping her engaged in conversation, and preventing her from spying on one of Zeus’s amours. To punish Echo, Hera deprived the nymph of speech, except for the ability to repeat the last words of another.

Plensa offers us Echo with her eyes closed, seemingly listening or in a state of meditation. Envisioning Echo looking out over Puget Sound in the direction of Mount Olympus (a further reference to Greek mythology that is already embedded in the landscape), Plensa also intends for the sculpture to serve as a gathering point for introspection and contemplation. In our increasingly networked culture where information is endlessly copied and repeated, it is a work that invites viewers to pause.

Drop by the park and check out the progress when you have a moment. It’s easy to spot Echo. Join her near the water and spend a few quiet moments next to her thoughtful presence at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Beauty Shot Fridays: Summertime Sun and Fun

In hopes of procuring more sun from the sky this week, we asked people to send us photos of their summertime fun in the sun. Photos did not have to be of Seattle or from this summer but could be of anything sun- and summer-related. I’ve selected a few of our brightest submissions from last week and written some of my thoughts on them… Read More

Spend Your Summer with SAM

People in Seattle make the most of the all-too-short summers and so does SAM! We’ve got a diverse array of art exhibitions, events and experiences at all three of our sites this summer. Whether you’re interested in Bollywood, baseball, yoga or landscape painting, we’ve got you covered.

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