What Is Possible: Emerging Arts Leader Intern Lena Ishel Rodriguez Reflects

The first time I came to the Seattle Art Museum was in 2020. I was just starting my Master’s program at the University of Washington and I was missing home more than ever before. The first time I walked through Cosmic Beings in Mesoamerican and Andean Art, I was looking for home. That searching is what guided me to apply for the Emerging Arts Leader Internship—I wanted to help to create a bit of home for myself and other Latin Americans when they visit the Seattle Art Museum. 

From the very start of my internship, I knew I wanted to bring contemporary art and music into the space to reinvigorate the gallery. Ancient art often feels far away from contemporary life, particularly for those from a diverse community that has lived through several colonizations, displacements, and major transformations.

One of the biggest questions I had in starting this internship was scale—how much could I reasonably do over two months? Having worked in museums and non-profits now for over 7 years I know how important this question is. I had and continue to have a lot of ideas for the space, but I am very conscious of being one person that can only do so much. The initial part of my internship was spent getting to know the Seattle Art Museum and dreaming up what can be done, what has been done, and what is possible.

Eventually, and with a lot of help from my supervisors Pam McClusky, Barbara Brotherton, and Ramzy Lakos, we scaled my project to focus on one artwork in Cosmic Beings in Mesoamerican and Andean Art. I chose a Mayan work, Relief Panels (Door Reveals) (ca. AD 550-950), because it is positioned at the center of the exhibition. Originally being a lintel (a horizontal support in a doorway), it would have been one of the first artworks someone would have seen when entering a palace or temple. Around this one work, I developed a smartphone tour, a verbal description, an in-gallery presentation, a new wall label, and educational resources for the piece. It was important to me to create and explore a variety of different ways for visitors and staff and to connect with the work and show how ancient artworks can be activated.

An important part of developing this interpretive content for Relief Panels (Door Reveals) was consulting with other experts. Mary Miller, Meghan Rubenstein, and Virginia Miller were invaluable in the help and enthusiasm they provided. For the smartphone tour’s music, I brought in Juan Francisco Cristobal, my friend, former colleague, and Q’anjob’al Maya UCLA Ethnomusicology doctoral candidate. I also selected two paintings from the Arte Maya Tz’utuhil collection, available online as part of the Latin American Cultural Center’s Maya Spirituality: Indigenous Paintings 1957–2020 exhibition.

Another key part of my research was conducting an expansive review of work in the Northern Maya area during the Late Classic Period in topics varying from architecture to ethnobotany. There were a lot of moving parts in this project and learning how to balance everything was an interesting challenge that I would not have been able to do without the support of SAM staff. 

The opportunity to engage with an artwork that is a part of my heritage has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my internship. Hope, pride, identity, memory, and healing are just a few words that come up for me; they are integral ideas that underlie everything I created. I hope that I made my community and family proud, and that the content I developed for Relief Panels (Door Reveals) can serve as a bridge to inspire all of SAM’s visitors. I hope everyone visits Cosmic Beings and spends time with its art, engages with the smartphone tour, and considers how the art connects to the thriving Latin American community today.

– Lena Ishel Rodriguez, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Alberto Giacometti: Walking Man I & Tall Woman IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: L. Fried.

Noticed: Down The Rabbit Hole

Welcome to Noticed, in which we spot connections among, within, and without the walls of the museum.

The last few years in Seattle, it’s been the talk of gardeners, naturalists, parkgoers, and urban dog walkers alike: What’s up with all these rabbits everywhere?

That question was also the headline of a recent feature in the Seattle Times’ Pacific NW Magazine, in which reporter Brendan Kiley investigated the seeming population boom across Western Washington of the Sylvilagus floridanus, or Eastern cottontail rabbit. His journey brought him to the domain of one very special rabbit: King Bunny.

That’s the name given by SAM staff to a particularly large, healthy, and seemingly prolific rabbit who resides in the Olympic Sculpture Park with his many friends and offspring. Kiley spoke with SAM’s Facilities and Landscapes Manager, Bobby McCullough, about King Bunny and Co.’s frolics around the nine-acre sculpture park, where they chomp on grass and clover, attempt to avoid predators and excited leashed dogs, and, we hope, enjoy the monumental sculptures that fill their home. King Bunny can be tough to spot, so don’t miss SAM’s latest installment of “Botany with Bobby,” our TikTok series exploring the sculpture park, in which Bobby tracks his friend down for all of us to see. McCullough also shared his perspective on what to do—if anything—about their increased presence.

“The park’s S. floridanus population has spiked in the past three or so years, McCullough says, and bunny-noticers have divergent attitudes. Some feel protective, calling for a gardener to ‘Do something!’ if they find a rabbit half-chewed by a raptor. Others regard the critters as a problem, suggesting McCullough set out traps and poison bait. ‘As long as I’m working here, that won’t happen,’ he says. ‘I get more joy from seeing them sunning themselves on the grass than frustration at chewed-down fern fronds.’”

McCullough’s live-and-let-live approach to the rabbits must have had an effect, because once we started seeing bunnies around the sculpture park, we noticed that they were simply…everywhere. Back indoors at the Seattle Art Museum, local artist Anthony White celebrates his Betty Bowen Award win with his solo exhibition, Limited Liability. The artist is known for his densely packed compositions that he painstakingly “paints” with PLA (a melted biodegradable plastic, primarily used for 3D printing). Crammed with recognizable products, name-brand logos, and digital logos, they pull you down the rabbit hole of our increasingly intertwined analog and digital lives. They’re also a few literal rabbits dotting these Y2K-nostalgia landscapes: a self-portrait of the artist in the all-too-familiar pose of gazing at a smartphone screen in bed includes a number of bunnies hopping around his aura like phantoms; up above is a ransom-note scrawl saying, “SILLY RABBIT, YOUR IPHONE STORAGE IS FULL.” And the smallest painting in the exhibition hangs above them all at the entrance like an idol: An Energizer Bunny seen behind a cracked cell phone screen, questioning the relentless pursuits of capitalism.

Of course, bunnies aren’t always harbingers of doom. Kiley’s story also notes the diverse cultural meanings of rabbits: “Old stories characterize the rabbit as arrogant (Greece), cowardly (Tibet), a great warrior (China), tricky (lots of places) and prototypical prey (lots of other places).” He notes their association with fertility in early Christian Europe and their appearance as a resilient “catch-me-if-you-can” figure in Puget Sound stories of Snoqualmie, Puyallup, Muckleshoot and other traditions. SAM’s global collection is a veritable rabbit hunt; one work on view right now at the Seattle Asian Art Museum is a beloved late 19th-century Japanese netsuke of an ivory hare (we know, it’s technically a different species, just go with it) with real amber eyes. Barely an inch all around, it’s a noticeably smaller presence than King Bunny, and it’s not as difficult to spot as it’s protected in a glass case, but in its tiny form and glittering eyes it makes a charming and surprisingly powerful impact. We think it’s wise to keep a close eye… just in case.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Images: Installation view of HYPNOSIS (detail) as part of Anthony White: Limited Liability at the Seattle Art Museum, 2022, Photo: Alborz Kamalizad. Netsuke modeled as a hare with amber eyes, Japanese, late 19th century, ivory, amber, 1 1/16 x 7/8 x 1 1/8 in., Duncan MacTavish Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.438, Photo: Elizabeth Mann.

In the Studio with Anthony White

Hiding within the busy city streets of Pioneer Square sits an intimate artist’s studio unlike any other. In this small, square room, SAM 2021 Betty Bowen Award winner Anthony White creates mesmerizing paintings crammed with products, name brand logos, and digital icons that assess our increasingly intertwined analog and digital lives.

“It’s my happy place,” says White. “It’s nice to have a space that’s reserved only for creating art.”

White spends most of his days in this space. It’s quiet and personal, with an ever-rotating array of his creations adorning the walls. It’s here that many of his completed artworks sit before they’re delivered to their next—or final—destinations. In the back corner sits a small desk, a focused space where White first sketches his paintings. Pink, brown, blue, green, purple, yellow, and more, endless rolls of polylactic acid—White’s medium of choice and the same material used in the 3D printing process—occupy the other corner, adding a pop of color to the room. A black leather couch hides next to the door, a place for guests to sit, talk, model.

“I don’t have many guests,” says White. “It’s only when I’m collaborating with someone or asking a friend to model that someone else is in here with me. Otherwise, it’s just me and my art.”

Where White spends the most of his time, however, is in the center of the room. With an unfinished canvas sitting on a sawhorse, it’s here that White paints. With his headphones in, White will work anywhere from eight to 10 hours a day. Circling the canvas, he is precise and careful with each line of polylactic acid he paints.

From his studio to museum walls, experience Anthony White’s breathtaking artwork on view in Anthony White: Limited Liability at SAM’s downtown location through January 29, 2023. Meet the artist and hear from him in SAM’s galleries on Thursday, September 15 at 6:30 pm as we celebrate the opening of White’s first solo exhibition at SAM. There’ll be a public reception in the Susan Brotman Forum with a bar and music by Seattle’s own DJ Housepartysea. Reserve your tickets to this free event—space is filling up fast!

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: L. Fried.

Alberto Giacometti: Man with a Windbreaker

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

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

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

Man with a Windbreaker, 1953

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

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

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

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

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

Muse/News: Knockout at SAM, Arreguín’s Blends, and Oppenheim’s Transformations

SAM News

“In Seattle, it’s almost normal,” declares the New York Times headline on this story by David Laskin that takes the temperature of the city’s cultural scene. The Seattle Asian Art Museum and its journey to reopening (and reopening, again) kicks off the story, with reflections from curator FOONG Ping, whose exhibition Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artists on the Classical Forms is now on view.

In short, Seattle is back, but not all the way…But the city’s defining cultural institutions remain healthy, new restaurants and coffee places are popping up all over town, and the communities ringing the center are more vibrant than ever.”

“It’s a knockout show, with bold, tech-enhanced, multimedia works playing off traditional images and themes. And it’s also a fitting symbol of Seattle in the aftermath of the pandemic.”

Mark your calendar for September 23, says the Stranger, and we agree, because it’s the return of Legendary Children, the beautifully epic night celebrating the area’s house and ball community.

On Seattle Met’s regularly updated list of “things to do in Seattle”: Indigenous Matrix: Northwest Women Printmakers, curated by Kari Karsten and now on view at SAM.

Lonely Planet writes up “the 8 best museums in Seattle for a rainy day”; all three SAM locations get a mention, even the outdoor space of the Olympic Sculpture Park. You know what they say: no such things as bad weather, only bad clothing!

Local News

We were thrilled to bring programming like Summer at SAM and SAM Remix back to the Olympic Sculpture Park this year. Via Citystream, here’s a look at the return of another important community event, the Seafair Powwow at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center.

Qina Liu for the Seattle Times on the opening of Loving Books, a Black-owned bookstore in the Central District, which curator Kristina Clark long envisioned as a “safe place where Black children could be Black children — where Black children could fully belong.”

Chloé Dye Sherpe for Art Access on Alfredo Arreguín’s solo show that’s now on view at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner. SAM recently acquired its first work by the artist; it will go on view as part of American Art: The Stories We Carry in October. 

“Arreguín’s unique combination of complex, geometric patterns with portraiture and landscape elements blend to create for the viewer either a spiritual moment or opportunity for introspection.”

Inter/National News

Via Artnet: Get “ArtDrunk” with collector and influencer Gary Yeh as he takes in Frieze Seoul.

Eve M. Kahn for the New York Times on new design books on topics ranging from Olmsted trees, 1980s Miami architecture, and African textiles. 

Via Lauren Moya Ford for Hyperallergic: “It’s Time to Look at Meret Oppenheim Beyond the Teacup.”

“Oppenheim’s inventive, shape-shifting works are difficult to classify. Unexpected combinations of materials, like fungus, buttons, and dried pasta with wood, stone, and clay, speak to her sense of imagination and experimentation. Nature and transformation are at the core of many pieces, but her message to viewers is ultimately open ended.”

And Finally

Shane Hawkins on the drums.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Alberto Giacometti: The Cage

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

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

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

The Cage, First Version, 1949–50

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

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

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

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

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

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist James Ellingboe

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

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

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

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

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

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Exhibition Manager

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Muse/News: Layers Beyond, Art Popsicles, and Butter Heads

SAM News

“5 great reasons to see Seattle Asian Art Museum’s new exhibition”: Here’s Gemma Alexander for the Seattle Times on Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artists on the Classical Forms.

“The immersive, multimedia exhibition is small—a casual viewer could survey the handful of pieces in minutes—but it’s one that rewards a more thoughtful approach, revealing new layers and details the longer you look. Each artist relates classical forms with timely themes, addressing topics from street protest to quarantine.”

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel appeared on Kim Malcolm’s weekly KUOW spot for arts picks, highlighting Anthony White: Limited Liability, which is now on view at SAM.

“I love that there’s so many symbols in it, so many things that you can decode. You can kind of keep coming back to the work. I kind of compare it to being like a digital era archaeologist.”

Thrillist on the “Coolest Museums in Seattle,” including the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and a ton of our favorite partner organizations. 

Lonely Planet’s “8 best beaches in Washington State” includes the pocket beach at the Olympic Sculpture Park, noting that “at low tide, you (and the kids) can explore tidepools brimming with marine life, from sea stars to chitons, all within view of the Space Needle.”

SAM Remix: The clouds didn’t keep you beautiful people away! We were thrilled to bring back the late-night art experience to the Olympic Sculpture Park last Friday–and thrilled for the shoutouts from The Stranger, The Ticket (new site alert!), Seattle Met, and Seattle Times.  

Local News

“Here’s what it’s like to walk around Lake Washington in a single day”: A recommendation for a Very Long Walk by Paul Constant for the Seattle Times. 

Patheresa Wells for South Seattle Emerald on YOLTEOTL Press, an Indigenous printmaking and traditional arts studio that will open in Ballard in early September.

“Where Art Tastes Like Himalayan Blackberries and Lemon Balm”: Jas Keimig of the Stranger on the outdoor art-tech show AUGMENT Seattle and the standout AR piece by Nina Vichayapai (whose work was also part of SAM Remix last Friday!). 

“What’s delightful about the piece is that even though the garden of PNW plants is virtual, it still grounds me in reality. Vichayapai’s personal rendition of Seattle’s summer made me think about the foliage and smells and textures I associate with the season.”

Inter/National News

Via Elaine Velie for Hyperallergic: “The Fascinating Things People Leave Behind in Library Books.”

“Why Is It So Hard to Find ‘Ethical’ Cardboard?” Janelle Zara for Artnet on the monopoly in art-world shipping. 

Christina Morales of the New York Times invites you to meet Gerry Kulzer, the new butter sculptor at the Minnesota State Fair.

“Mr. Kulzer, an art teacher at Eden Valley-Watkins High School who specializes in sculpture, spent two years shadowing Ms. Christensen in order to learn the intricacies of working with cold butter, which is harder to manipulate than the soft-water-based clay he’s accustomed to…Teaching is the second-best job in the world, he said. ‘The first is carving butter heads.’”

And Finally

Washington State’s “60 most timeless inventions.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: Take Flight, Frontline Favs, and Benin Awakening

SAM News

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis spies a flock of bird-related art happenings around the city, including the “bird’s-eye view” that Alexander Calder’s The Eagle will have of SAM Remix at the Olympic Sculpture Park this Friday. Get your ticket now for this unmissable late-night art party featuring performances, tours, and interactive experiences!

Somehow there are also a number—we might even say a “colony”—of bat-related events in Seattle right now? Kari Hanson for ParentMap has the info on them all, including the tour led by Woodland Park Zoo’s Bat Program at SAM Remix.

TripAdvisor’s got “15 fun and unique things to do in Seattle,” including a visit to Volunteer Park to see the conservatory and the renovated Seattle Asian Art Museum. Our suggestion? Make a day of it with the contemporary Chinese art of Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artists on the Classical Forms and then walk the park to spot the Henry Art Gallery’s offsite sculpture installation by Chloë Bass.

Local News

Crosscut video producer Sarah Hall takes you inside the studio of Cactus & Clay Ceramics in Poulsbo, Washington.

Seattle Met’s Ann Karneus spotlights Vee Hua’s new short film, Reckless Spirits, which you can check out during the Northwest Film Forum’s upcoming Local Sightings Film Festival.

“A Frye Art Museum security guard takes us on a tour of his favorite pieces”: The Seattle Times launches a new series called “Art Through Their Eyes.”

“There’s no such thing as spending too much time in a museum. But as much time as you spend walking between artworks, pausing to absorb the work or read the accompanying text, you’ll never see a museum’s art quite the way those who regularly work around it do.”

Inter/National News

Ugonnaora Owoh for ARTnews on “8 Queer Artists Capturing Love and Intimacy, and Challenging Oppression.”

Via Artforum: “Michael Heizer’s The City To Open Following Half-Century Wait.”

Elian Peltier for The New York Times reports on the impact of artworks being restituted to Benin, noting that “more than 200,000 people have come to a free exhibition of the artworks in the presidential palace.”

“The artistic awakening of our population was switched off from the end of the 19th century to 2022,” [sculptor Euloge Ahanhanzo Glèlè] said. “We are now waking up.”

And Finally

Did you know that SAM is on TikTok? 

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Jen Au.

Object of the Week: Kali

This week’s SAM Object of the Week was written by University of Washington student Ji In following a presentation given by SAM Assistant Curator of South Asian Art Natalia Di Pietrantonio to the class “Gender and the Hindu Goddess” in the spring of 2022. This essay has been edited from its original form by SAM staff for brevity but the overall content remains the same.

Painted in 1986 by Baua Devi, Kali, as the title explains, is a portrait of the Hindu goddess Kālī. Most recently on view in Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, this artifact is a medium sized painting made on paper with ink and color. This essay will explore the format and iconography of the painting that illustrates the goddess’s benevolent yet captivating assertion of power by focusing on the gaze depicted in the portrait. Stylistically, the painting belongs to Maithili art. Historical background on the art style, including a brief biography of Baua Devi, will help explain the significance of Maithili art which has given female artists renewed identities and empowerment adding special elements of power to this painting.

Format

The format of the painting—ink and color on paper—and its technical features, bring out the intensity of Kālī’s gaze focused straight at the viewer, lending an aspect of assertiveness. The painting depicts the face of the goddess colored in vibrant and saturated colors. The range of colors Devi uses is limited to a palette of white, black, and dark blue, filling most of the painting to depict the goddess’s skin. Meanwhile, the colors pink, red, and yellow are used as accent colors to bring out certain features like the outline of the goddess’s eyes and lips.Kālī’s features are made up of mostly thick and bold lines, except for the bindi/tikkā on her forehead, suggesting her third eye, elaborated with fine lines of black ink. The overall simplicity of this painting with bold strokes and a limited range of color, allows the viewer to easily focus on the essential aspect of strength in Kālī’s glare that Baua Devi portrays.

Iconography

The iconography depicts the goddess lacking the typical visual features of Kālī and mainly focuses on the eyes and her benevolent assertion of power. Some elements of Kālī’s typical characteristics are portrayed in this painting, such as her deep black and blue skin, as well as her three eyes. However, the painting lacks a lot of other features associated with the goddess. Kālī is recognizable as a fearsome and destructive female deity, often visualized holding a sword and a severed head, wearing a garland of skulls and a skirt of arms, and with her tongue protruding and dripping blood.1 Baua Devi’s painting lacks these features and focuses only on the goddess’s face with no hint of ferocity. Her typical menacing appearance is replaced with a smile aimed toward the viewer. Normally, a scary portrayal of Kālī’s distinguishable characteristics is important as Kālī’s is known to lead people to liberation, moksa, allowing people to face their fear and the uncertainties of life, while enabling them to be conscious overcome realities.1 At the same time, Kālī still had benevolent elements with iconography of her right hand in a mudra hand gesture that grants boons and assures her people to not fear.1 Such shows how it is only the physical appearance of Kālī that might be unsettling, because Kālī is compassionate to those who worship her and grants them something beyond what this physical world can offer. And possibly, Baua Devi wanted to focus more on such a benign, yet still powerful aspect of the goddess.

Stylistic Composition of Mithila Art

As mentioned previously, the main stylistic composition of this painting is that this artwork is done in Maithili/Madhubani style. Not only the fact that this painting is done by Baua Devi, who is a renowned Maithili artist, there are detectable elements of the Maithili style painting such as bordering of the painting, and usage of bright natural pigmented colors. The artwork has a painted frame that borders around Kālī’s depicted face in a pink and yellow zigzag pattern. Such framing pattern is typical in a lot of Baua Devi’s work and that of many other Maithili artist. The bright colors of the painting can also be a clue to distinguish the work to be Maithili art, which appears to be done intentionally to maintain the original style of this art. In an interview with The Better India, a digital media platform covering popular news, Baua Devi emphasizes the importance of maintaining authenticity by keeping the traditional style of using twigs, fingers, and natural pigments of colors like black from charcoal, yellow from turmeric, white from rice, blue from indigo, and saffron from marigold.

History of Mithila Art

The history of Mithila art and its various associated artists—like Baua Devi—comes from an ancient cultural region of India, located in the Northeastern part of Bihar, made up of small rural villages.2 This art form originated from their wall art depicting images of various Indian epics of many deities in people’s personal homes. Such paintings were done by a particular practice known as Bhitti chitra where Maithili women painted on the walls and floors of their mud homes.3 It also served a common social purpose which is to summon gods to bless newly married couples with love and fertility.4 In the same interview with The Better India, Baua Devi also said, “According to the custom, all the women in the village gather during a wedding or a special occasion to draw complex geometric and linear patterns on the walls of the house. The art would usually be scenes from mythology and nature as symbols of love and prosperity.”2 This art was originally very personal, kept only as a regional cultural practice, and wasn’t known to a much greater public. Carolyn Brown Heinz, a professor of Anthropology at California State University Chico, noted on such seclusion of the art until a fateful event of earthquake in 1934 that hit the area and exposed many of the wall paintings to be seen by several people, including William Archer who was a young British official visiting the area to assess the damage.4 Archer was amazed at images of the vibrant colors of goddesses with various features of the deities like water lilies, snakes, and the sun in natural pigments painted in the interior of the houses. Sometime after, a drought in 1966 prompted an urgent need to improve the economy in the area. Chair of All-India Handicraft Board, Pupul Jayakar who was aware of beautiful images of Mithila’s wall art, sent an artist, Bhaskar Kulkarni to Madhubani (city in the Mithila region) to look for female artists of the Mithila to produce paintings on a paper, that could easily be sold. Baua Devi was one of many female artists who were recruited. Heinz highlights how such movement of the art from wall to paper as medium brought many changes to the region and its people. First, it fulfilled its main goal by bringing significant economic relief, especially in the impoverished area of Bihar. Mithila art also became known to a much wider public like tourists and foreigners, bringing a cultural awareness of Madhubani, a region previously rarely visited, which brought a significant change to the artists. Most of the well-known Maithili artists were women. These female artists, who used to make no profits from their art works, now became the main source of income to support their families. Being in a fairly patriarchal society, such an art movement empowered these women by allowing them to gain greater respect and support, and to contribute greatly to not just their families, but to the greater region of the location with its economic and cultural growth.

History of Baua Devi

Baua Devi was also one of the female artists who became successful after contributing to the transfer of Maithili art on paper. She was born in Jitwapur village in Bihar and was taught Maithili art as the usual tradition by her mother when she was 13.2 Her talent was discovered by Kulkarni, the artist sent to recruit Maithili artists, when she was 19 after her infant’s death and was suffering from a physically abusive husband. Kulkarni influenced her art to change from typical Maithili art form to a place where she can be expressive of her thoughts. He advised her to freely paint out of her imagination.3 Such teaching might explain the unconventional portrayal of this painting of Kali. However, his advice to the Mathila artists might have also influenced the deterrence of traditional aspects of Maithili art. Heinz also noted how one negative impact from the movement to paper was that the art might have lost its religious meanings in order to better cater towards foreigners who have no interest in knowing its significance.4 This raises concern about the authenticity of Maithili style art and that it only focuses on the elaborated and visually appealing aspect of the artwork to attract the public’s interest. However, Baua Devi’s artworks testify to how the artist still appreciates and maintains the traditional aspects of the art by continuing to portray Hindu deities and conserving traditional art technique methods like using natural dyes in her art work, while not being limited to add her personal identity through abstract elements as well. She is now an incredibly successful Maithili artist who is recognized all across the world. Devi has won many awards such as the National Award in 1984 and Padma Shri in 2017, and her work is sold in various countries across the globe like the United States, Spain, France, and Japan.5 With such success, this new form of Maithili art has given Devi a new identity and freedom in various aspects. She found the freedom to express her thoughts through her paintings, and to no longer be subjected to patriarchal bondage. Devi often discusses how she can’t choose her favorite painting because she views Madhubani painting as her identity and says, “All my paintings are amalgamations of customs, history, and love.”2 Her statement shows how she believes the Maithili paintings have given her a new identity that has connected her with history.

Conclusion

The artwork Kali made in ink and color on paper depicting the frontal profile of goddess Kālī lacks typical iconographic features to instead focus on the goddess’s intense gaze and benevolent yet dominant assertion of power. The Maithili style of painting, and Baua Devi’s own personal story together embodies the theme of female assertion of power. Kālī being the goddess with power of time, lives as the goddess to many from the ancient times of Vedic era to contemporary period among Maithili artists including Baua Devi.

– Ji In, University of Washington Student


1 Foulston, Lynn, and Stuart Abbott. Hindu goddesses: beliefs and practices. Sussex Academic, 2009. “Behind Painted Walls: The Story of Baua Devi & Mithila Painting.” Sarmaya, March 26, 2019.

2 “Painting Is My Everything: Art from India’s Mithila Region – Exhibitions – Asian Art Museum.” Asian Art Museum, May 4, 2020. https://exhibitions.asianart.org/exhibitions/painting-is-my-everything-art-from-indias-mit hila-region/.

3 Rinder, Lawrence. Baua Devi and the Art of Mithila. University of California Berkeley Art Museum, 1997. https://bampfa.org/program/baua-devi-and-art-mithila-matrix-175.

4 Heinz, Carolyn Brown. 2006. “Documenting the Image in Mithila Art.” Visual Anthropology Review 22 (2). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd: 5–33. doi:10.1525/var.2006.22.2.5.

5 “Behind Painted Walls: The Story of Baua Devi & Mithila Painting.” Sarmaya, March 26, 2019. https://sarmaya.in/spotlight/behind-painted-walls-the-story-of-baua-devi-mithila-painting/.

Image: Kali, Baua Devi, 1986, Indian, born 1942, Ink and color on paper, Private collection, T2021.23.10.

Alberto Giacometti: Tall Thin Head

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

– Valerie Fletcher

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

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

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

Tall Thin Head, 1954

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

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

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

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

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

 Lily Hansen, Marketing Content Creator


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

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

Muse/News: Anthony’s Brain, Farmworker Families, and Restitution Poetics

SAM News

“A dizzying tapestry of our digital world”: Margo Vansynghel wrote about Anthony White: Limited Liability, the artist’s solo show at SAM as part of his 2021 Betty Bowen Award win. ICYMI: Head to SAM’s Instagram to experience Anthony’s “brain on art” as he took over our Instagram stories last week!

The Seattle Times arts team helpfully gathered all the “ways to stretch your entertainment dollars in the Seattle area” with free or discounted tickets and events. They mention the free days at SAM’s three locations—Seattle Art Museum (First Thursday!), Seattle Asian Art Museum (Last Fridays!), and the Olympic Sculpture Park (365 days a year!)—as well as other hot tips for free or discounted admission. Now, go ART!

Though the exhibition was no longer on view when Savita Krishnamoorthy’s International Examiner review of Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time was published, it’s still very much worth a read. And you can still see Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s neon installation Kali (I’m a Mess) in the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s park lobby. 

“We are witnessing an aspirational South Asianfuturism, dreaming of a world without war and human suffering.”

Local News

Capitol Hill Seattle Blog on Soft Services, a site-specific installation of inscribed stones by Brooklyn artist Chloë Bass that has taken up residence throughout Volunteer Park. 

Check out KNKX’s new series, Aux Cord Privileges, which puts “musicians from the Puget Sound area in charge of the stereo.” The first two editions feature vocalist Shaina Shepherd and rapper Da Qween.

The Seattle Times’ Jayce Carral on a new exhibition featuring photos and memories from the region’s farmworker families. All The Sacrifices You’ve Made / Todos los Sacrificios Que Has Hecho is on view at Tacoma’s Washington State Historical Society until October 16.

“‘You felt a sense of community in the fields because it was people talking your language, people hearing the kind of music you hear at home, people eating the foods you eat,’ [Exhibition subject Luz] Iniguez said. ‘It really felt like a community of people that were just working hard trying to make the most of a situation that was hard.’”

Inter/National News

“The highest aesthetic and technical achievement in fashion”: That’s a Met Costume Institute curator on Issey Miyake’s designs; the groundbreaking Japanese designer has died at age 84. You can see three examples of his work right now at SAM in Folding Into Shape: Japanese Design and Crafts.

Via Sarah Rose Sharpe of Hyperallergic: “Best Museum Bathrooms in the US, Ranked.”

Arthur Lubow for the New York Times on a five-screen film installation by Isaac Julien now on view at the Barnes Foundation that “looks at the place of African art in the Barnes and other Western museums.”

“‘I’m calling this the poetics of restitution, which is something I’m trying to explore in the work,’ Julien said in a telephone interview from London. ‘The debates that we’re having today that seem contemporaneous were happening 50 years ago, if not before. I think that’s really interesting.’”

And Finally

Art But Make It Sports.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Chloe Collyer.

Object of the Week: The Creation of Eve

At the dawn of world history God gives life to the first humans under a luminous pastel sky. This small panel, painted around 1510 by Renaissance artist Bartolomeo di Paolo, known as Fra Bartolomeo, is titled The Creation of Eve and is currently on view in SAM’s European art galleries. While the religious content of this picture, based on the book of Genesis, would have been immediately recognizable to its prevalently Christian audience in 16th century Italy, the way Fra Bartolomeo chose to visualize this biblical story sheds light on Renaissance ideas around the role of women and the arts in early-modern western society that can still inspire us today. 

At the center, Eve rises from the side of a sleeping Adam, reaching for support as she prepares to take her first step into the world. Her right hand is met by the Creator’s, who lifts and blesses her—his fluttering cloak and the motion of his feet indicating forward movement. His commanding presence contrast with her crouched pose and unstable balance, highlighting her suspended state of becoming. Scholars have termed this way of depicting Eve’s creation “emergence iconography” to stress the image’s departure from the Genesis text, where the first woman is said to have been modeled by God from a rib taken from Adam. The challenges to a naturalistic and efficient representation posed by that plot led artists to evolve this solution, which was interpreted most famously by Michelangelo in the Sistine ceiling just a few years before Fra Bartolomeo painted this picture.

In addition to emphasizing the corporeality of Eve’s body, softly modeled to accentuate the underlying structure of bones and muscles and imbued with the illusion of gravity, Fra Bartolomeo’s composition offers a visual translation of the first woman’s role as a companion and an equal to Adam that early Christian theologians had formulated in their interpretation of scriptures. They reflected on the fact that in Hebrew (the original language of Genesis) the term tsela used in the creation passage meant both “rib” and “side,” focusing on the latter translation to argue for the equality of man and woman, whose union they intended as the basic unit of human society. 

This idea materializes in Fra Bartolomeo’s Creation of Eve, unique among Renaissance depictions of this popular subject matter for combining the creation episode with a group portrait of the first family (Adam, Eve, and their children Cain and Abel are featured in the middle ground) and a cityscape in the distance to signify the modern accomplishments of their descendants. Sixteenth-century Florence—where this picture was likely painted—was a city-state whose strong tradition of independent self-governance and artistic excellence were a point of civic pride for artists and patrons alike. 

Here, the omission of the episode of The Fall that traditionally followed the creation of Eve in most Genesis cycles also suggests our artist’s intent to celebrate humanity’s achievements rather than emphasize the consequences of the first sin. In this respect, God’s physical hold on Eve’s hand may evoke the Renaissance trope of the artist as a divinely inspired creator, further exalting the intellectual potential of the visual arts.

While this picture offers a limited representation of humanity that reflects the ableist, heteronormative canons of its time, it also speaks to present-day concerns around bodily autonomy by reminding us of a time when Renaissance humanism affirmed confidence in the human potential to achieve greatness through free will, and in the dignity and beauty of the human body.

– Gloria de Liberali, SAM Guest Contributor & Art History Ph.D

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Alberto Giacometti: The Mountain Road

Although Alberto Giacometti may be most remembered for his delicate yet commanding bronze sculptures and busts, his artistic career began with vibrant watercolor paintings and drawings that capture the mountainous landscape of Giacometti’s home in Stampa, Switzerland. Scenes from the village and dramatic views of the surrounding mountains are depicted in his early paintings which draw inspiration from his father, Giovanni Giacometti, a celebrated post-impressionist painter.

In The Mountain Road (ca. 1919), a thin, lavender road marks the entry point to a large, mountainous landscape. On the left, dark green trees line the road, while on the right, a telephone lines follow the road. Colors of blue, pink, red, and yellow complete the painting, depicting a segment of the Swiss Alps on a summer day. Placed beside one another, watercolor paintings such as The Mountain Road offer a striking departure from the gothic sculptures which defined his later career and illustrate Giacometti’s development as a postwar era artist.

In this audio recording, Erika Katayama, SAM Associate Director of Interpretation, discusses Giacometti’s early artistic inspirations in Switzerland and the influence of his famous father in his artistic development. Tune in to all eight recordings as part of the free smartphone tour of Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location through October 9.

Photo: L. Fried.

The Mountain Road, ca 1919

ALBERTO GIACOMETTI: “I could spend every day looking at the same garden, the same trees, and the same backdrop.”

NARRATOR: Alberto Giacometti was talking about the views of his small town of Stampa, Switzerland, where he grew up surrounded by towering mountains and trees. It was there that he began his journey as an artist. Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama:

ERIKA KATAYAMA: So Giacometti came from a family of artists, and his early works like this watercolor landscape, are reminiscent of the style of his father Giovanni, who was a post-impressionist painter. Alberto loved his hometown of Stampa Switzerland, and although he moved to Paris in the 1920s, he came back to visit throughout his life, drawing inspiration from the alpine landscape and channeling it into the shapes and textures of his sculptures.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: The Mountain Road, ca. 1919, Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, 1901–1966, watercolor and pencil on paper, 22 × 29 cm, Fondation Giacometti, © Succession Alberto Giacometti / ADAGP, Paris, 2022.

Muse/News: Studio Time, Singing Stories, and Russell’s Legacy

SAM News

Following up on their review of the “captivating” Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, the Seattle Times makes a very cool connection to the exhibition’s focus on Giacometti’s studio space by going behind-the-scenes into the creative spaces of five local artists, all of whom have connections to SAM: Marita Dingus, Romson Bustillo, Barbara Earl Thomas, Aramis O. Hamer, and Jake Prendez. Thanks to Jerald Pierce for the peek into their practices!

Just opened at the Seattle Asian Art Museum: Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artists on the Classical Forms. Capitol Hill Seattle Blog’s Alex Garland captured photos at the press preview of the dynamic exhibition and KNKX’s Grace Madigan reported on its connection to a University of Washington class taught by the exhibition curator, Foong Ping. 

“What’s up with all these rabbits everywhere?” asks Brendan Kiley for the Seattle Times’ Pacific NW Magazine. For the story, he met up with Bobby McCullough, Facilities and Landscape Manager at the Olympic Sculpture Park, to go in search of King Bunny, a resident bunny who may be responsible for a good number of the 500+ rabbits who make the sculpture park their home. P.S. Check out our video series Botany with Bobby for more stories from the park.

Dhyana Levey for Tinybeans with “The Ultimate Guide to Seattle’s Free (& Cheap) Museum Days,” including the downtown museum and the Asian Art Museum, both of which welcome children 14 and under for free—all the time!—and the Olympic Sculpture Park, which is just plain free to everyone. 

Local News

“Nick Garrison, a theatrical force in Seattle and beyond, dies at 47”: For the Seattle Times, David Schmader writes a fitting tribute for a beloved star gone too soon.

The Stranger’s Charles Mudede wrote a visual arts story! Everyone gather round! Here’s his take on the Romare Bearden exhibition now on view at the Frye Art Museum. 

Crosscut’s Black Arts Legacies project, which launched in June, is still delivering. Here, project editor Jasmine Mahmoud writes about singer Ernestine Anderson, who had a voice like “honey at dusk.”

“Ernestine was jazz and blues personified — she musically participated in both worlds,” daughter [Shelley] Young says of her mother’s musical impact. “Singing the blues involves storytelling,” she continues, “and she loved telling a story.”

Inter/National News

Speaking of studio visits: it’s a recurring series at Artnet.

Beat the heat with this listicle: “ARTnews’ 10 Best Art Books for Summer Reading.”

The world lost several important artist-activists last week: actors Mary Alice and Nichelle Nichols and N.B.A. legend Bill Russell. Explore Russell’s legacy in several articles from the New York Times, including this one on his pioneering activism.

“[Former Seattle SuperSonic Spencer] Haywood said in an interview on Sunday that he and Russell would often dine at a Seattle restaurant called 13 Coins after road trips, and Russell would regale him with stories about the civil rights movement.”

And Finally

Michelangelo Matos on the sources of Beyoncé’s “Renaissance.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Alberto Giacometti working on the plaster of the Walking Man, 1959, Photo: Ernst Scheidegger, Archives, Fondation Giacometti, © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ProLiterris, Zurich.

Muse/News: Captivating at SAM, Art vs. Tech, and Poignant Flags

SAM News

“Why you should see Seattle Art Museum’s new Giacometti show”: Gayle Clemans for the Seattle Times on the “captivating” Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, now on view at SAM.

“…Giacometti’s subject matter was actually the matter of subjectivity: How each one of us, as an individual, relates to the world around us and acts within it. For decades, Giacometti focused on rendering the human body in order to reveal—or discover—something about the human condition, very often his own.”

Robert Rutherford, Manager of Public Engagement, was interviewed on KING5 morning TV about Summer at SAM at the Olympic Sculpture Park. And our neighbors at South Sound Magazine also recommend the free, family-friendly series.

Hey, have you explored Visit Seattle’s most recent Official Visitors Guide? You can “flip” through (or request an actual physical copy) of this fantastic resource for both visitors and locals. SAM happenings across our three locations are well represented. 

Local News

That’s a wrap! This past weekend saw the return of the Seattle Art Fair. SAM director Amada Cruz is quoted in this Cultured preview and Crosscut’s Brangien Davis and Margo Vansynghel reported on the “sights and sounds” of the first day. Jas Keimig of The Stranger and Gayle Clemans for the Seattle Times both reported on the fair’s satellite event, Forest for the Trees. 

The Seattle Times’ Erik Lacitis on “the turbulent, poignant legacy of Peter Bevis”; the sculptor most associated with his doomed quest to save the Kalakala ferry has died at the age of 69.

In addition to the whirlwind tour of the Seattle Art Fair and winning a Rabkin Foundation Award, Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel also reported on the controversy surrounding a curatorial proposal put forward—and later taken back—by the Museum of Museums for a show featuring art solely by employees of Amazon or Microsoft. 

“The call for art and its cancellation have spawned so many responses and comments elsewhere on the social media app—both in support of and against—that it can be dizzying to track. The comments reveal the pain of a struggling art community, as well as deep fissures in how artists and art advocates think the sector should engage with criticism, tech and philanthropy.”

Inter/National News

“Turned the mundane into the monumental”: Pop artist Claes Oldenburg has died at the age of 93. SAM is proud to have many of his works in the collection

Tiffany Midge for the New Yorker on the “Indigenous gaze” of Apsáalooke artist Wendy Red Star. SAM will soon debut a new work by the artist in October as part of its reinstalled American art galleries, American Art: The Stories We Carry

Tlingit and Unangax̂ artist Nicholas Galanin is also creating a new work for American Art: The Stories We Carry that will debut in 2023 at SAM; here’s his recent New York gallery show reviewed by the New York Times

“‘I would stand up for that flag,’ an artist commented on a social media post featuring a photo of Nicholas Galanin’s ‘White Flag’ (2022), a sculpture with a polar bear rug mounted on a rough wooden staff. At a time when flags representing nations and political causes feel particularly fraught, ‘White Flag,’ in Galanin’s exhibition ‘It Flows Through’ at Peter Blum, feels poignant.”

And Finally

From the farm to the Tonight Show.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Chloe Collyer.

Emerging from the Matrix: Kari Karsten on Curating for SAM

Indigenous Matrix: Northwest Women Printmakers, now on view through December 11 in SAM’s third floor galleries, was a year-long journey, the culmination of my thesis project for the University of Washington Museology masters program. Overseen by Barbara Brotherton, Curator of Native American Art at SAM, and Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse, Curator of Northwest Native Art at the Burke Museum, the curation process involved many hours of reflecting on and researching how Indigenous women artists are represented within museums. Western museological practices have on the whole lacked recognition of the importance of women within Indigenous communities, but women have always been a driving force of their creative practices and creations.

I came to this topic because I am Seneca, an Indigenous Nation located in Western New York. Growing up, I was immersed in the creative expressions of my people and was taught the importance of artistic freedoms and legacies. It was not until I graduated high school that I started putting together the pieces of how our artworks carry our stories and culture, aiding in the revitalization and celebration of who we are. Coming into the museological field, my goal is to highlight and promote Indigenous culture through the arts. With great thanks, that is what I was able to accomplish working with SAM over the past year to curate this exhibition. 

For the exhibition, I selected works by Pitseolak Ashoona, Francis Dick, Myra Kukiiyuat, Jesse Oonark, Susan Point, and Angotigolu Teevee. Our women have continued to drive many aspects of life for Indigenous communities across the world, yet only in recent years have we seen museums and galleries approach working with a feminized view of Native arts. The purpose of this exhibition is to create a learning environment conducive to promoting woman-centered Indigenous narratives and to educate the public on histories and cultures that they may have yet to encounter. Bringing contemporary Indigenous art into an institutional setting helps reframe harmful historical narratives and highlights Native women’s current lived experiences through research that is informed by traditional knowledge and community revitalization efforts.

With this exhibition, I hope to impact the future of Indigenous peoples who work and exhibit within museums and more specifically, art institutions. This work breaks down some of the barriers that many Native peoples face when working with art institutions. As the first exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum to be curated by an Indigenous female-identifying student, Indigenous Matrix is a small—but significant—step in creating more institutional accessibility for emerging museum professionals and Indigenous curators.

– Kari Karsten, SAM Emerging Museum Professional Curatorial Intern

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

Juneteenth: A History Prevailed

Historically, Americans have celebrated July 4—the day in 1776 when the 13 colonies liberated themselves from the rule of Great Britain—as its national independence day. Many people living inside the borders of this country during that time, however, were not free. 

Juneteenth—celebrated every year on June 19—is a national holiday celebrating the day Black Americans were granted their  freedom and status as human citizens in the United States. A common misconception exists that slaves were freed with the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 or at the end of the Civil War on April 9, 1865, but the reality is southern states rejected Union laws and kept their slaves in the dark about their freedom in the hopes that they could still win the war. Some states, such as Delaware and Kentucky, remained in a state of rebellion and continued to allow slavery. As one of the most remote southern states with a low Union presence, Texas served as a refuge for slave owners—a place to hide enslaved Africans from in hopes of keeping what they considered to be their “property.” Texas saw an influx of over three times as many slaves after the proclamation was issued. It wasn’t until Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived on the island of Galveston, Texas on the morning of June 19, 1865 and read the following words that many enslaved Africans found out about their freedom: 

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

From these words, Juneteenth was born.

Still, this day in history did not end the practice of slavery entirely. Thousands of accounts from Black Americans document their continued enslavement beyond Juneteenth—some not freed until as late as the 1960s, forced into labor and isolated from the advocacy being done through the Civil Rights Movement. Despite how complex this history may be, the freemen of Texas migrated throughout the United States, going North in an effort to unite their families ripped apart by the slave trade, carrying with them the importance of June 19, 1865.

From Local Celebration to National Holiday

Juneteenth is the longest running African American holiday. While celebrated by the Black community since the first holiday on June 19, 1866 and through the Reconstruction Era, Jim Crow, and beyond, this holiday was not adopted by White Americans who have historically refused to acknowledge or fund this celebration. Many history textbooks did not educate students on Juneteenth and many Black Americans living in northern states did not grow up celebrating it. Juneteenth’s history prevailed through sheer will and a fight for representation. Black activists have been fighting for Juneteenth to become a paid federal holiday for decades. It was only on July 17, 2021 that US President Joe Biden finally signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, declaring Juneteenth an official federal holiday. 

Black Americans have historically used Juneteenth as a day to reflect and mourn for what their ancestors lost as well as to celebrate how far they’ve come and how much they’ve prospered despite the persistence of racism. There is no right way to celebrate Juneteenth, but many black families get together, throw a barbeque, and eat red foods like a red velvet cake and strawberries alongside soul food staples. The red foods are eaten as a representation of the blood and sacrifices inflicted as a result of slavery.

While the declaration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is a step forward in recognizing the resilience of Black Americans, there is more work to be done. The systemic challenges brought on by slavery continue to persist, including the racial wealth gap, disproportionate rates of incarceration, persistent health disparities, and police brutality. The United States still has a very long way to go in  providing true equity to everyone living within its borders. 

Commemorating Juneteenth as an Ally

How do you respectfully commemorate Juneteenth? As a white American or non-Black ally, Juneteenth is a day to confront this country’s horrific past and critically analyze the space you occupy. Repercussions of the slave trade still exist to this day, but there steps everyone can take to promote a more equitable society. 

Read below for a list of ways to get started:

Reflect on Institutional Racism: How are white people contributing to systemic racism and how do they want this country to evolve? This holiday is a great opportunity to think about racism and privilege. Allies can research the history of slavery and learn more about the origins and persistence of institutional racism. 

Learn About Black Culture and History: Study works by Black leaders, artists, poets, and activists. Juneteenth can be used as a time to challenge internalized white supremacy and have uncomfortable conversations with oneself and others. 

Support Your Neighbors: Show appreciation for the achievements of your fellow black citizens and support black businesses and organizations working to uplift black communities in America. 

Read a Book:

  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written By Himself by Olaudah Equiano
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X
  • Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 by W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South by Deborah Gray White
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? By Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo 
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Check out this list from the New York Public Library with books for kids to learn about and celebrate Juneteenth

Watch a Video:

Browse the Web:

Listen to a Podcast:

Visit a Relevant Museum Exhibition in Seattle:

Attend a Juneteenth Event:

Juneteenth at SAM

Juneteenth is a time for remembrance and healing. Americans can pay respects to the past and the enslaved Africans that built this country. Visit the Seattle Art Museum’s downtown location to see exhibitions and installations which reference this history. 

Photo: L. Fried.

Lauren Halsey (through July 17)

In her installation at SAM, 2021–2022 Betty Bowen Award winner Lauren Halsey shows artworks in which proud declarations of Black-owned businesses intermingle with images of Egyptian pyramids, the Sphinx, and pharaohs and queens, all drawn from a personal archive Halsey has developed through research and community interactions.

Photo: Nathaniel Willson.

Emblems of Encounter: Europe and Africa over 500 Years

Looking back 500 years, one can see the late 15th century as a major turning point in history. When Portuguese navigators first arrived on the shores of West Africa, the two continents of Europe and Africa began interacting in new ways. After a very brief period of mutual respect and commercial exchange, European traders quickly moved to exploit the region’s natural resources—including human labor—which became the basis for the massive slave trade that eventually affected twenty million Africans. The ten works of European and African art in this gallery, dating from the end of the 15th century to the end of the 20th, have been selected from SAM’s collection as examples of these interactions over time. 

Image: Nathaniel Willson.

Lessons from the Institute of Empathy

Three Empathics have moved into Seattle Art Museum and are a central feature to the latest installation imagined in our African art galleries. Now a part of SAM’s permanent collection, the Empathics have surrounded themselves with works from our African art collection as a way to help visitors awaken their own empathy.

A Path Forward

Hopefully, these resources can provide some guidance and insight as you celebrate Juneteenthand learn about the significance of this holiday to Black Americans. Black people have been fighting for centuries against white supremacy and oppression. However, true equity can only come when white people renounce their privilege against Black people and other people of color. All Americans must lend a hand to take action and spread knowledge to end the oppression that continues today. 

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

– Nelson Mandela

– Karly Norment Meneses, SAM Marketing Coordinator

Illustration: Karly Norment Meneses.

A New Era at SAM: Welcome, José Carlos Diaz!

“I’m a total optimist. I believe museums are places where people can find inspiration. I want SAM to inspire the next generation of curators and artists and patrons. This is something that museum curators are discussing — we’ve been discussing this for years, but it’s more urgent now.”

– José Carlos Diaz

Following a months-long international search, SAM is proud to announce José Carlos Diaz as its new Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art. Diaz comes to SAM from The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to oversee SAM’s eight brilliant curators in developing thoughtful exhibitions and maintaining the museum’s collections, publications, and libraries across SAM’s downtown location, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and the Olympic Sculpture Park. He succeeds Chiyo Ishikawa who retired in 2020 after 30 years at SAM.

In celebration of his new role, we spoke with Diaz about his background, hopes for SAM, and becoming a part of Seattle’s artistic community. Read below for the full interview and check out his interview in The Seattle Times to learn even more about what Diaz will bring to SAM when he starts on July 1.

SAM: Tell us about your new role. Why is it important at a museum?

José Carlos Diaz: In this role, I will be part of the senior leadership team and responsible for ensuring we develop a relevant and ambitious curatorial program across all three of our sites. I bring management, administrative, and fundraising experience and possess a track record of creating dynamic exhibitions and projects. This role also has a direct impact on what SAM audiences will see in SAM’s galleries. The exhibitions we’ll be designing going forward will be the result of the needs and wants of our visitors and will uphold SAM’s mission of connecting art to life.

SAM: What drew you to this position, and this position with SAM, in particular?

JCD: I actually have a background working in multi-site institutions! I previously worked at Tate Liverpool, which is part of the Tate Museums in the UK. I’m also coming directly from The Andy Warhol Museum, which is part of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. So, managing the curatorial team of a multi-site institution isn’t too foreign for me.

I think what drew me most to SAM was its vast collection which spans across period and place. In college, I studied art history and cultural history. So, to have access to a collection which combines historical and contemporary art is very exciting to me. When you visit any SAM location, you’re bound to encounter a combination of painting, sculpture, drawing, architecture, costume, and more. From a curation standpoint, the versatility SAM has to offer is thrilling.

Not only that, but the museum is in the artistic center of a great American city known for having a robust cultural landscape. I think it has the potential to be one of the top art cities in the country—almost even rivaling New York or London. Plus, Seattle is home to a strong Latinx population and LGBTQ community which I am looking forward to joining and representing. I’m really excited to bring more representation to these communities at SAM and highlight the work of artists from these communities.

SAM: You’re stepping into a leadership role from a curatorial one: what lessons and skills from curation will you bring? Also, will you still be curating?

JCD: As a curator, I form ideas and craft narratives using art. This process requires creative thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, research, and a direct connection to the mission of the institution—and these are all really important skills to me. These are skills that I will bring to this new role while building a unified and creative team of curators and exhibitions. Occasionally I would love to curate if there’s the opportunity or if a certain curator needed support because of the robust exhibition and programming schedule, but I’m mostly focused on looking ahead and rebuilding a strong museum as we continue to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SAM: Even though this will take some time to develop, what are some of your goals or ideas for this role, and overseeing a global collection and large team of curators across disciplines?

JCD: One of the top goals is understanding the internal climate at SAM and how to best contribute to its existing environment. At the same time, I want to consider what the city and its artistic community want from SAM, and how we can do better and be better. With a vast collection of artworks across three locations and the varied curatorial expertise of our team, I’d love to unify our offerings and collaborate to build awareness across the city that would allow SAM to explore a broad range of ideas and themes in its exhibitions. Perhaps some of our artworks could also travel to other cities for public art commissions, publications, and/or exhibitions.

SAM: An easy one: Why is art important?

JCD: Art, in my opinion, is a form of expression, but also a form of self-care, especially in these times. It’s as simple as that.

SAM: What role do museums serve in a city and for the communities they serve?

JCD: Museums are places to inspire and seek inspiration. They’re also social spaces which continuously evolve and improve. SAM shows historic works, but also global and local creativity through its incredible collections. It features limited-run exhibitions as well as ongoing installations, while continuously rotating its collection and introducing new narratives, often around current affairs and through multiple voices. So, using SAM as an example, I think museums in general seek civic excellence through varied representation.

SAM: Tell us more about you! Outside of art curation, what do you like to do with your time?

JCD: I’m originally from Miami, but my family is from Mexico so I’m Latin American. My husband is an oceanographer and we share a dog named Elvira, Mistress of Bark. I have a fraternal twin who’s a Latin Grammy Award-winning and Grammy-nominated children’s music artist named Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band. I love to travel and go to the beach. On my time off, you can often find me on a boat or somewhere by the water. It’s just my happy place.

– Interview conducted by Lily Hansen, Marketing Content Creator

Image: Alexis Gideon.

Object of the Week: Indian Warrior

Alexander Phimister Proctor was an American artist renowned for his bronze sculptures depicting the western frontier. Toward the end of 1896, he received the prestigious Rinehart Scholarship to practice in Paris on a three year contract. The scholarship committee commissioned Indian Warrior for the Rinehart Prix de Paris Collection. 

In the fall of 1895, Proctor traveled to Glacier National Park in Northwestern Montana and stayed at a Blackfeet reservation where he studied two Blackfeet men. He started the cast for Indian Warrior there, and later finished it in New York and Paris. The model for the figure was a man named Weasel Head, while the horse was owned by a mutual colleague named Dixon. A New York lawyer, Dixon allowed Proctor to borrow the horse for the piece.

Proctor brought the lessons he learned in Paris to his practice of American naturalism. In Paris, he absorbed the Beaux-Arts style which upheld classicism in sculpture. As for the naturalistic element, he was interested in depicting realistic scenes from the American West. In this piece, the figure sits calmly above a trotting horse in action. Where they are going is beyond what the viewer knows. Yet, the figure’s spear draws itself parallel to the nape of the horse in a way that honors the spiritual connection of the two main subjects. Personal interdependence lies in the body language of them both: proud and secure.

Proctor’s appreciation of Native American culture is a layer of protection provided to historically white Western artists. Proctor’s privilege lies in his freedom to determine Native Americans worthy enough to sculpt. The concept of the Noble Savage stems from this privilege and calls this artwork into question. Indian Warrior does not find a hold in contemporary Native American representation-nor does it attempt to. It functions as Proctor’s own interpretation of Natives existing within their culture and doesn’t leave room for further understanding.

Folding back these layers does not detract from Proctor’s artistic excellence. He was a master of his craft. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a fellow acclaimed American sculptor and friend to Proctor, knew this. Theodore Roosevelt, a continued supporter and avid commissioner of Proctor’s work, expected it. Yet, this piece is only poignant because of its subject matter. The way in which the horse and Weasel Head are both stopped in a moment in time. Admiration can fill the subsequent space. But admiration is nothing without reflection. And reflection is nothing without the impulse for more. To follow this piece to where they are going.

The responsibility of responding to Native American monuments lies with every person that views Indian Warrior. These snapshots of moments in time are a careful reminder of what it means to be valiant beyond the circumstance. Proctor’s technical excellence in Indian Warrior is made possible by who he is representing. This work is emotive and communicative because of the history it depicts. It is not Proctor’s touch that carries this work, but the themes that it reflects on Native Americans being represented by white mainstream artists. If there are accolades to be given to this work, its honor should be in the identity of Weasel Head, and the legacy of Native American heritage. Where is the horse taking Weasel Head? Or where is Weasel Head taking the horse? Beyond the space of the Seattle Art Museum, to the future in sight, for all to see.

– Moe’Neyah Holland, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Images: Chloe Collyer.

Muse/News: Life Pockets, Dance Artists, and Explosive Joy

SAM News

Seattle Met’s Allison Williams with a “Guide to Tide Pooling and Beach Combing around Seattle”; she includes the Olympic Sculpture Park’s pocket beach among the best places to observe sea life. 

Curiocity points readers to “11 awesome free or cheap date ideas in Seattle this summer,” including a visit to SAM using the Seattle Public Library’s Museum Pass. Hint: Here’s a long list of discounts or free days for visiting the Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Asian Art Museum. (The Olympic Sculpture Park is free to all, every day!)

Make that date a deep dive into Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water, SAM’s spring exhibition that closes May 30! Seattle Met includes it on their list of “things to do” this week

Local News

royal alley-barnes, interim director for the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, talks with KUOW’s Kim Malcolm about Hope Corps, a new program “to help put artists back to work.”

Converge Media shares the news that ARTE NOIR has named Jazmyn Scott its new executive director; the Black arts & culture space opens this summer in the Central District’s Midtown Square.

“Seattle was once a hub for contemporary dance. What happened?” Local journalist Marcie Sillman for Crosscut on the city’s long history of nurturing dance artists—and the challenges they’re facing right now.

“Even as pandemic restrictions ease and theaters and clubs start to re-open, choreographers like Graney, Gosti and many others are struggling to stay in Seattle. Graney charges that nobody at City Hall, or anywhere outside the dance community itself, seems concerned that artists are being priced out of the city. ‘There’s no one at the helm who has an interest in dance,’ Graney maintains. ‘People don’t care, they just don’t care.’”

Inter/National News

Emmanuel Balogun for Artnet: “6 Artists at the 2022 Venice Biennale Who Are Shifting the Way We Visualize the African Diaspora.”

ARTnews’ Angelica Villa on the record-setting sale of an Ernie Barnes painting, which sold at 80 times more than its estimate.

The New York Times’ Robin Pogrebin on Lauren Halsey’s new work now on view at David Kordansky Gallery. You can see her work at SAM through July 17!

“At a time when many Black artists are being recognized for figurative art, Halsey has been making large-scale sculptures and reliefs. And while her installations may allude to economic hardship, gentrification, or gang violence, they convey an explosive sense of joy.”

And Finally

Via the Seattle Times: “9 great hikes in WA for people with wheelchairs, canes, crutches or strollers.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Chloe Collyer.

Object of the Week: Oil Spill #5

One of the thrills of working on Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water was the chance to collaborate with my colleagues, Barbara Brotherton and Natalia Di Pietrantonio. Of the many outstanding photographs that emerged from a collection that Natalia was familiar with, Edward Burtynsky’s Oil Spill #5 is now on view with other efforts to document how our species is enacting the desecration of water.  Here is Burtynsky in his own words:

“When I first started photographing industry, it was out of a sense of awe at what we as a species were up to. Our achievements became a source of infinite possibilities. But time goes on, and that flush of wonder began to turn. The car that I drove cross-country began to represent not only freedom, but also something much more conflicted. I began to think about oil itself: as both the source of energy that makes everything possible, and as a source of dread, for its ongoing endangerment of our habitat.”

– Edward Burtynsky

This image is of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The colors of the red emergency vehicles, the orange flare of the well flame, and the arc of water sprays appear minuscule against the backdrop of a blackening sea. 

One of the agonies of curating is the need to reduce an artist’s corpus to a short paragraph, so I’d urge you to move on to hear from this artist to learn more about his process and intentions. Oil Spill #5 is part of a series he narrates in this video, Water—Where I Stand: A Behind the Scenes Look.

On April 12, 2022, Edward Burtynsky was awarded a SONY World Photography Award in London. In his acceptance speech, he spoke as the son of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, and deferred his contribution to honor others, saying, “Photography is about light conquering darkness. And as we speak, Ukrainian photographers are conquering an unimaginable form of darkness. I can think of no more outstanding contribution to photography than that.” More about Ukrainian photographers that he is supporting can be found on his website.

– Pam McClusky, SAM Oliver E. and Pamela F. Cobb Curator of African Art

Image: Chloe Collyer.

Muse/News: Poem to Water, Heartful Ukraine, and Woody’s Creations

SAM News

“Speak them out loud and they form a poem to water”: Art critic Susan Platt on the ten themes explored in Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water, now on view at SAM. And Seattle Met includes the exhibition on their list of things to do in Seattle right now.

“The exhibition…brings together different cultural expressions to demonstrate that water is our shared concern and necessary to our shared survival. In that way, the Indigenous voices are the most resonant in their respectful and deep understanding. But seeing their work and their voices placed among so many other cultures demonstrates the interconnectedness of everyone on the planet.”

Matthew Kangas for PREVIEW Magazine reviews Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time. “Teaches us about what we inherit”: Teen Tix writer Aamina Mughal also reviews the exhibition, now on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

“This idea of dynamic identity and reclamation are echoed throughout Embodied Change and are told through the lens of the human body, specifically the female form. One thing that I believe unites these works is the burden of inheritance. There are certain things that we inherit through our heritage without us making the choice to do so. What we do choose, however, is how we carry this inheritance.”

Curiocity has “12 romantic spring date ideas in and around Seattle” that (obvs) includes a stroll through the art-filled Olympic Sculpture Park—or SAM just a mile down the road, if it’s raining! 

Local News

“Only 262 films?” Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald interviews Seattle International Film Festival director Beth Barrett on what’s different at this year’s festival

The Stranger’s Jas Keimig on the launch of Seattle Restored, a series of pop-up storefront art installations from the City of Seattle. 

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel talks with artists Anastasia Babenko and Darya Husak about a solo show series featuring central and eastern European artists that took on even more relevance with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We want to show the more soulful and heartful way of Ukraine. That it’s not destruction, that it’s not a ruin, that it’s actually a very rich and deep history that gets passed on and carried on through generations.” 

Inter/National News

Via Artnet’s Katie White: “Mr. Darcy’s Puffy White Undershirt From That Unforgettable ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Lake Scene Goes on View at Jane Austen’s House.”

Angelica Villa for ARTnews on a dumpster-diving new gallery show in New York featuring the mostly forgotten artist Francis Hines.

“Extraordinary Monuments to the Mundane”: The New York Times’ T Magazine profiles sculptor Woody De Othello as he looks forward to his inclusion in the Whitney Biennial. As we’ve shared in the past, a sculpture by this rising art world star was recently acquired by SAM for its collection and will go on view later this year. 

“As if the result of a solo game of exquisite corpse, these composite creatures are oddly proportioned and at turns alluring and unsettling. Thus, Othello highlights the thrum of spirituality he finds in everyday environments.”

And Finally

A figure skater’s gold medal-worthy first pitch

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Circle Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Natali Wiseman.

Our Blue Planet: Five Quick Questions with Claude Zervas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Images: L. Fried & Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Sea Bear

At first glance, this might look like a typical trophy head found in a mountain lodge, but Sherry Markovitz has turned the conventional idea of a hunting trophy on its head in the creation of Sea Bear.

“I am after beauty, with an edge of uncertainty, vulnerability, and power,” she says of her artistic process. “I use animal metaphors to explore issues of intimacy, closeness, and separation.”1 Sea Bear’s tranquil and inquisitive stare is a powerful celebration of peace and gentleness, highlighting a species historically honored as a dynamic part of a balanced ecosystem.

As the subject matter of countless forms of creative expression, polar bears may have appeared in art as early as 17,000 years ago in the Paleolithic cave of Ekain in the Basque Country of Northern Spain. Below, two outlines resembling an adult and juvenile can be seen on the ceiling. Their elongated bodies look remarkably like polar bears. Perhaps they drifted south with pack ice off the coast of England during the icier years rounding out the Pleistocene.2 What we can be sure of is that they’ve been depicted in art and lore ever since.

Among the shared spiritual beliefs of the Inuit, polar bears are a living representation of resilience and determination, imbued with souls and regarded as brothers in a time when we did not take pre-eminence over other animals. Nanook, an almost man-like master of bears decided if hunters deserved success in their endeavors or punishment for violating taboos.3

This bear, crafted of wood, beads, shells, fabric, paint, and papier-mâché, is the culmination of intertwined memories and experiences the artist had with nature and her loved ones.

“Emotionally, Sea Bear is circular, all the stuff on it is traceable to significant walks. Walks with my mother in Florida, walks in Port Townsend with Peter (during which time her son Jake was conceived), walks alone to find the ‘root’ pieces at Discovery Park. Walking on the beach is such a drifting and wonderful activity.”4

From a distance, Sea Bear offers up the impression of a familiar creature. Its intricate and subtle beadwork appears at first to be deceptively monochromatic. A step closer, however, reveals an otherworldly figure clad in the ocean’s bounty emerges. The beads are revealed to be six or seven shades of color, like gentle eddies of ermine pebbles undulating over sand. The eye is drawn towards the shadows cast by exhibition lighting on the bear’s outstretched neck and jaw, flowing into the sinuous curves of its pelagic collar.

“I see the ‘collar’ as directional—the wood shape and the bear shape working in tandem was the key (formally) on this one. I think the large pearls pulled the shape back to the bear. It’s funny, as I get further away from a piece, it is, in fact, the abstract concerns that remain the most visible to me.”5

Seattle is treasured for the water which surrounds it. From Lake Washington, fed by so many vital creeks and rivers, to the misty solitude of salt-scoured beaches along the Olympic Peninsula. Water inexorably affects our physical and cultural landscapes, it sustains and determines our way of life, and shapes our histories slowly over time like glaciers carving mountains.  Sea Bear is an opportunity to reconnect to this life-giving force, to step outside of our immediate reality and transport us to the shores of our minds choosing where we can know the peace of our own walk along the water’s edge.

See this work on view now in Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water at our downtown location through May 30.

– Danelle Jay, SAM Curatorial Division Coordinator

1 Sherry Markovitz, quoted in 50 Northwest Artists: A critical  Selection of Painters and Sculptors Working in the Pacific Northwest, ed. Bruce Geunther, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1983, pages 80–81.

2 Digitized interior of Ekain, courtesy of the Society of Sciences Aranzadi.

3 C.R. Harrington, The Evolution of Arctic Marine Mammals, ed. A. Berta, Ecological Applications, Volume 18, Issue sp2, 2008, pages S23–S40.

4 Sherry Markovitz, Channel 7 News, Linda Farris Gallery, Seattle, 1992.

5 Sherry Markovitz, letter to Vicki Halper, August 14, 1991.

Image: Sea Bear, 1990, Sherry Markovitz, wood, beads, shells, fabric, paint, papier mâché, 25 x 17 x 29 in., Gift of Terry Hunziker, 90.3, © Sherry Markovitz.

Muse/News: Water Reading, a Hotel Museum, and Border Perspectives

SAM News

Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water is now overflowing at SAM! Seattle Met includes the exhibition on their list of things to do in Seattle right now. Also, the wonderful librarians at Seattle Public Library created a reading list related to the themes of Our Blue Planet. Speaking of SPL: Curiocity shared that the Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Asian Art Museum are among the new partners for its Museum Pass program

Dan Allen for NBC Out has “13 LGBTQ art shows worth traveling for this spring,” including SAM’s solo exhibition for Knight | Lawrence Prize-winner Lauren Halsey

Seattle’s Child matches up 27 children’s books with local outings; SAM is recommended alongside My Museum by Joanne Liu as a way to introduce “the idea of how art shows up in our daily lives.”

Local News

The Stranger’s Jas Keimig visits Great Jones Gallery, the new Capitol Hill venture from Timothy Rysdyke and Leah St. Lawrence.

Robert Horton for Crosscut on documentarian Jean Walkinshaw, who “finally gets her due” with an online archive.

Sierra Starks for the Seattle Times reports that the Panama Hotel, already a historic landmark, may be on its way to becoming a museum. This story is a part of “A1 Revisited,” a new series that interrogates their past coverage of events; they begin with their 1942 coverage of the forced removal of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island.

“I think the hotel [as a museum] has the opportunity to somehow unveil or interpret the former Japantown area and the vibrancy that it used to have, leading all the way up to 1942,” [Karen] Yoshitomi said. “It provides the stage for all these other stories to be told.”

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone with “10 Essential New Books on Women Artists to Add to Your Bookshelf Now.”

The Art Newspaper is out with its annual report on attendance figures and trends for museums across the world.

The New York Times’ Siddhartha Mitter heads to the US-Mexico border to meet with the curators and artists of the forthcoming annual survey of American art, the Whitney Biennial. 

“To look at American art — and thus America — they sensed there was value in stepping just outside. The generative alchemy of a border town might offer clues for fresh thinking about other divisions: between racial or gender categories, the material and the spiritual worlds, the living and the dead.”

And Finally

Many things happened at the 2022 Oscars! Let’s…just look at the outfits.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: Watery Art, Seattle Film Revives, and Giacometti in Cleveland

SAM News

Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water is now overflowing at SAM! Crosscut’s Brangien Davis highlighted the exhibition in her weekly ARTsea letter, noting that the museum is “sounding a seasonal call for nature appreciation—with an underlying message of urgency.” 

Legendary arts journalist Marcie Sillman of the DoubleXposure podcast appeared on KUOW for their Friday segment on arts and culture, recommending Our Blue Planet. It’s a short listen and a treat to hear Marcie back on KUOW. 

“The exhibit has everything from ancient Asian etchings to 19th-century romantic paintings to brand new work and video installations.”

And ArtfixDaily, Curiocity, and Seattle Met all highlighted the exhibition, on view now through May 30.

Via Capitol Hill Seattle: The façade of the Seattle Asian Art Museum was lit up this past weekend, hosting Enlightenment, a light installation show held in a show of solidarity with Ukraine.

Local News

The Stranger’s Jas Keimig has an exit interview with Emily Zimmerman, as the director of the University of Washington’s Jacob Lawrence Gallery heads to the University of Pennsylvania’s Arthur Ross Gallery.

The Seattle Times’ Grace Gorenflo on the effort by Seattle artists to purchase Inscape Arts, the historic Chinatown-International District building that houses artist studios. 

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel on Washington State’s new film tax incentive and movie studio, and what they could mean for Seattle’s film production opportunities.

With new ways to attract movie and TV producers, will Washington’s film industry get its big break?

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Katie White with a very welcome look at butterflies in art history.

A long read from Noema Magazine: “Over a hundred miles southeast of Los Angeles, alongside the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach is a stretch of mud and sand wracked by hazardous dust storms, trash-filled lots and the smell of fetid algae. Its shores are also home to a burgeoning, surrealist art hub.”

Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer reviews Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, now on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art and headed to SAM this summer

“Working in the decades between Hiroshima and the American buildup in the Vietnam War, Giacometti portrayed an emaciated, uprooted, and pock-marked humanity living in a world on the brink — a precarious state of existence at least partially reprised by the biggest land war in Europe since Hitler.”

And Finally

Just 20 minutes of Denzel Washington being the best.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: L. Fried.

Muse/News: Date at SAM, New Leader at Wing Luke, and Cultural Data Rescue

SAM News

We love art, and we love love: Thrillist rounded up their picks for “where to go on a date this spring in Seattle,” including “spend a rainy afternoon at Seattle Art Museum” and “go on a self-guided tour of Olympic Sculpture Park.” 

Lauren Halsey’s solo show at SAM in which she “brings together the ancient and contemporary to celebrate Black culture” is a “top pick” in the Stranger

Rosa Sittg-Bell of The Daily at UW interviews SAM curator Natalia Di Pietrantonio about Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time, now on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

“I find the body an interesting repository for different changes,” Di Pietrantonio said. “Many artists are really thinking about … [the] emotion of the body and expanding the body as part of the landscape or rethinking the parameters of the body. I felt that the body and thinking about emotions was very important to connect to activism.”

And Seattle Met includes Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water on their list of “things to do in Seattle”; the special exhibition opens to the public this Friday at SAM.

Local News

The Seattle Times has you covered with “what you need to know about mask, vaccine rules at Seattle-area arts and music events.” SAM’s policies continue to align with public health guidelines.

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis commemorates the two-year anniversary of pandemic closures with a return to pandemic art walks, visiting a new ecological installation along the Duwamish River by Sarah Kavage.

Seattle Magazine shares the news that Joël Barraquiel Tan is the new executive director of Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience.

“To me, this opportunity comes in the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of API (Asian Pacific Islander) hate, you have January 6,” he says. “It is about ‘what are you going to do in this moment?’ The cultural capital, the social capital (of the Wing Luke) is the Batmobile. What is going to happen in the next year? It is going to take strong institutions like Wing to get through this.” 

Inter/National News

ARTnews reports: Opening this week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the latest site-specific installation commissioned annually for the museum’s rooftop; this year’s creation is by Lauren Halsey, whose work is also on view at SAM!

The New York Times’ Holland Cotter on Fictions of Emancipation: Carpeaux Recast, a new show at the Metropolitan Museum organized around a single marble sculpture.

Via Artnet’s Sarah Cascone: “Ukrainian arts organizations are striving to protect the nation’s cultural heritage—including the websites and digital archives of its museums and libraries.”

“The new initiative Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) has been working around the clock to back-up and preserve data and technology, all of which are threatened by the war.”

And Finally

Dial 1-800-PEP-TALK (actually, it’s 707-998-8410).

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Natali Wiseman.

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