Object of the Week: Iroke Ifa and The Seated IV

Two feminine beacons of African futurism are now on view in Seattle. One is in the Seattle Art Museum and another arrived this spring on the University of Washington campus. Both encourage taking a moment to reflect on one’s destiny, and consider ways of approaching the future with new insights.

When chaos and disorder overtake your confidence in Yoruba culture, it is time to consult a babalawo, or “father of secrets.” The woman in the museum would appear to assist him. She kneels, just as Yoruba belief specifies that each person kneels to choose a destiny before being born. She wears only waist beads and holds a fan, showing modesty and respect. Her head extends into a long cone which is where one’s destiny is stored. The babalawo uses this divination tapper to call upon Orunmila, a deity who knows more about the hidden possibilities in your life that you are not aware of. 

This is just a short summary of a highly evolved Ifa divination system, a living oracle that, in 2008, was inscribed by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage of humanity. A video issued by UNESCO provides a brief overview with a visit to Nigeria and offers a chance to see the tapper in use.

Moving outdoors, a newly installed woman presides over a campus soon to be activated by students in their quest for new destinies. She sits, embodying calm, while her body is covered with slithering tendrils. Her face merges with a shining disc, evoking a means of connecting with unidentified essences that hover in the air, stirring questions about what lies ahead. The Seated IV (2019) is part of a group of four entitled The NewOnes, will free us, by Wangechi Mutu, a Kenyan-born artist. Her explanation about why and how these visionary women came to be is encapsulated the below video.

– Pam McClusky, SAM Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Iroke Ifa (Divination Tapper), 20th century, Yoruba, Nigerian, Ivory, 15 1/2 x 1 3/4 x 7 5/16 in., Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection, 68.26. The Seated IV, 2019, Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, born 1972), Bronze, 80 1/2 x 33 3/8 x 36 3/4 in., University of Washington, Plaza of the Hans Rosling Center for Population Health, Gift of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Muse/News: Jacob’s Story, New Models, and a Will to Equity

SAM News

The Seattle Art Museum is open, with limited capacity and timed tickets released online every Thursday. Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger reviews Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, now on view at SAM.

“America’s persistence as a country and a project was not foretold. Rather, it was violently taken and sketched out, marked by slavery, genocide, war, and immense struggle experienced by those seeking their own freedom and those looking to impose their will on others. It’s a point hammered out in the rest of the series.”

KING’s Evening Magazine toured the exhibition, interviewing SAM curator Theresa Papanikolas. Thrillist recommends the show, and Artdaily also shares the news

The University of Washington’s Daily on the “revolution and inclusion” on view in the exhibition; they also shared details of a Lawrence seminar this spring. And they reported on the museum’s recent gift of Lang Collection artworks.

And with this nice weather, don’t forget to visit the Olympic Sculpture Park; The Expedition includes it on this list of “best sculpture gardens for families.”

Local News

First Hill’s Museum of Museums will finally open, reports Capitol Hill Seattle Blog. 

And the Wing Luke Museum reopened recently; Sean Harding for South Seattle Emerald checked in on how things are going. 

Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel dives deep with a survey of local arts and culture organizations and how they’re faring, one year into the pandemic; she finds dramatic losses and tentative hope for new models. 

“The arts and culture industry has relied on old models and underpaid, overworked people for decades. Those models weren’t cutting it even pre-pandemic, says LANGSTON’s [Tim] Lennon. ‘The old ways were not that great for a lot of small organizations, artists and culture workers, especially those from BIPOC communities,’ he wrote.”

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic’s Sarah Rose Sharp shares the news that United States Artists (USA) president and CEO Deana Haggag will be stepping down for a position at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

PBS NewHour interviews Peabody Essex Museum curator Lydia Gordon about the two recovered panels of the Struggle series, both of which are now on view at SAM.

Tessa Soloman of ARTnews on how executive roles in equity and belonging are on the rise at museums; she interviews Rosa Rodriguez-Williams at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Craig Bigelow at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and others. The article references SAM’s appointment of Priya Frank to Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in August 2020. 

“Not all of this work requires funding—it’s about changes in procedure and process,” [Bigelow] said. “Too often there’s a default to slowing the work or stopping the work because there’s a perceived lack of funding. But this isn’t entirely about funding—it’s about will.”

And Finally

Oscar nominations have been announced; get going on your watch list!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Installation view of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle at Seattle Art Museum, 2021, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Tour Public Art with Jinny Wright

While you can’t visit City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped a New Seattle currently, you can still experience the artful legacy left behind by Jinny Wright. Discover outdoor art in Seattle with this tour of public art acquired or commissioned by The Virginia Wright Fund. The fund was created for Jinny by her father Prentice Bloedel in 1969. Jinny stated, “Commissioning works of art for public spaces was unheard of in the late ’60s.”

Follow along to see the outdoor art that shaped a new Seattle through the initiative of Jinny Wright.

Broken Obelisk, Barnett Newman, (1963-67)
University of Washington

The representation of the obelisk as broken and inverted is intended as protest and critique of power and colonial ambition. It’s as resonant today as it was in the midst of the Vietnam War when the artist created the work.

Iliad, Alexander Liberman, 1984
Seattle Center

See this piece from all angles by walking both around and through the portal of this bright red constellation of circular forms.

Moses, Tony Smith, 1975
Seattle Center

Originally commissioned as a plywood maquette in the 1960s by the Contemporary Art Council—another brainchild of Jinny Wright—the welded steel piece, coated in black paint was realized with the help of the Wright Fund.

Wandering Rocks, Tony Smith, 2016
Olympic Sculpture Park

Make sure to walk around this five-part installation for a sense of how the artist plays with volume and perspective and geometric forms.

Bunyon’s Chess, 1965 & Schubert’s Sonata, 1992, Mark di Suvero,
Olympic Sculpture Park

Jinny Wright greatly admired Mark di Suvero. Bunyon’s Chess was Jinny’s first private commission made for her garden in the 1960s, while Schubert’s Sonata was commissioned by Jinny and the museum to be installed at the edge of Puget Sound.

Adjacent, Against, Upon, 1976, Michael Heizer
Myrtle Edwards Park

This art by Michael Heizer combines cast concrete forms and granite slabs quarried in the Cascade Mountains.

Curve, Ellsworth Kelly, 1981 & Split, Roxy Paine, 2003
Olympic Sculpture Park

Head to the PACCAR Pavilion and you’ll spot two more works from Jinny’s personal collection. Ellsworth Kelly’s Curve is installed on the entrance wall to the Pavilion and Roxy Pain’s stainless steel tree Split can be seen in the meadow below.

Hammering Man, Jonathon Borofsky, 1992
Seattle Art Museum

Conclude at SAM’s downtown location where the Hammering Man hammers 24/7, only resting once a year on Labor Day. This piece was commissioned for In Public: Seattle 1991 and supported by the Wright Fund.

Extend your tour to Western Washington University in Bellingham for a campus sculpture tour—Jinny’s Wright Fund brought spectacular commissions by artists such as Nancy Holt, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, and Mark di Suvero to campus for all to enjoy.

Images: Hammering Man (detail), 1992, Jonathan Borofsky, Seattle Art Museum 1% for Art funds, Museum Development Authority, Virginia Wright Fund, and Seattle City Light 1% for Art funds, photo: Natali Wiseman. Mark di Suvero, painted and unpainted steel, height: 22 ft., Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, The Virginia Wright Fund, and Bagley Wright, 95.81, © Mark di Suvero. Adjacent, Against, Upon, 1976, Michael Heizer, National Endowment for the Arts, Contemporary Art Council of the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Arts Commission, Seattle City Light 1% for Art funds, photo: Spike Mafford. Curve XXIV, 1981, Ellsworth Kelly, American, born 1923, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2016.17.2, © Ellsworth Kelly. Split, 2003, Roxy Paine, American, born 1966, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, © Roxy Paine.

Exceptional & Ordinary / Tsutakawa & Mingei

The Japanese art gallery at SAM’s downtown location was recently reinstalled with a focus on the Mingei movement in Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020, on view through Novemeber 8, 2020. Initiated in the 1920s by the Japanese collector and connoisseur Yanagi Soetsu (1889–1961), Mingei elevated functional, everyday crafts to art objects. Since its foundation, Mingei’s broad applications range from mid-century decorative arts to contemporary designs, ceramics, textiles, sculptures, and prints, examples of which are hanging in our gallery. Prominently featured, are works by the late Seattle-based artist George Tsutakawa on loan from the George Tsutakwa Art Legacy. The Tsutakawa family share below about George’s inspiration and how his furniture fits in the installation at SAM!

George Tsutakawa began to build bronze fountain sculptures in 1961 with the installation of his first fountain at the Seattle Public Library. He eventually created 75 fountain sculptures in the United States, Canada, and Japan. The fountains reflect his intense interest in the cyclical flow of water from the heavens to earth, creating rivers and oceans that nourish life. His basis of humanity in the Shinto religion indicated reverence for life in all forms made by nature, such as trees and rocks. 

Tsutakawa’s professional art career spanned 60 years. He was a professor of art at the University of Washington for 37 years. In his personal statement from The Pacific Northwest Artists and Japan in 1982, he expressed that sometime in the 1960s his travels and studies of traditional Japanese arts allowed him to reaffirm his “conviction in the Oriental view of nature school which sees Man as one part of nature, a part that must live in harmony with the rest of nature.” 

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Thus Tsutakawa’s furniture from the 1940s and 1950s reveals this conviction to nature within his art and serves as the starting point for his later artistic forms. Although he was a modernist, even in his furniture forms, his work relates to the Japanese Mingei movement, which is largely based on traditional and folk art.

Tsutakawa’s early furniture is functional and evokes a connection to nature through fluid organic shapes and materials. 

The Tsutakawa family is currently reorganizing the artist’s collection with the hope of preserving his work and making it more open to the public as well. You can visit SAM to see Tsutakawa’s artwork in Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020, on view through November 8, 2020.

– Mayumi Tsutakawa & Chyenne Andrews

Images: Installation view Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020, Seattle Art Museum 2019, photos: Nina Dubinsky. Kizamu Tsutakawa 

Object of the Week: Fountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAM Gallery Artists on Seattle: Christopher Kroehler

Having lived here all of my adult life, Seattle has played a huge role in shaping me and helping me find my voice as an artist.

I first moved to Seattle so I could study painting at the University of Washington. I lived in a downtown loft space on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Virginia sharing the building with musicians, sculptors, filmmakers, writers, photographers, and painters. I took classes from influential professors like Jacob Lawrence, Michael Spafford, and Curt Labitzke who helped guide me as a young artist.

Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours sketching in cafes around the U-district and in restaurants and bars throughout the city. I was drawn to the vibrant neighborhoods of Fremont and Capital Hill which fed my creativity and I found calm walking the beaches along the sound and nearby parks.

My paintings are a reflection of the people and places I have grown to know and love. I implement images from a variety of sources including sketches and photos I have taken around town over the years. I paint on vintage windows salvaged from local buildings being transformed. As I repair glazing or touch up the wood frames, I think about the history and stories behind the window and what was seen through the glass. I like the depth that this adds to each of my paintings.

Next time you’re downtown, stop by SAM and enjoy some time with my cast of characters on display at TASTE through August 6.

– Christopher Kroehler, SAM Gallery Artist

Image: They Were There for Deb, Christopher Kroehler, 30 x 30 in., oil on plexiglas.

What Do You Disclose? An Interview with Denzil Hurley

Seattle-based artist and University of Washington professor Denzil Hurley’s glyph paintings are aptly titled. A glyph is a symbol. One that typically conveys an agreed upon or shared meaning. These can be the unique marks of the written word, a graphic element, or an inscription. More broadly, a glyph can be a shape or color that we understand to have an agreed upon purpose separate from language, such as a circle with a slash through it for “no,” or red for “stop.” In Hurley’s work, shape and color are paramount.  Well known for his monochrome paintings and impact on the world of abstract painting, a selection of these glyph paintings currently hang at SAM in Denzil Hurley: Disclosures, on view through November 5.

In Disclosures these paintings become sculptural by being mounted on repurposed sticks and poles. As objects, the glyph paintings become reminiscent of signs and harken back to Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 painting, Black Square which was intimately tied to social and political discussions at the cusp of the October Revolution in Russia. Deceptively simple, there’s a density to Hurley’s black canvases in his layering of the paint and in his use of materials. Spend some time in Disclosures the next time you come by SAM and consider what you derive from a redacted painting involving the form of signs and the framing of the wall. What does your understanding say about our socially constructed meanings of these symbols?

SAM: The works at SAM came out of visits to Barbados. Can you tell us about these trips? I’m thinking specifically about how they informed the material concerns of your work.

Denzil Hurley: The idea of repurposing materials arose out of observations I made over many years, and several trips there. The paintings in the exhibition were selected from a larger body of work that began around 2006–07. Each piece was thought of, and developed individually out of my interests in modular forms and structures involving squares and rectangles.

Do you see these paintings as a whole? If I think about the public protests being referenced through the work, and the “power in numbers” philosophy behind taking to the streets, do you feel that viewers can derive a larger meaning by seeing the group than by seeing a single work in the series?

I exhibited related pieces from this larger body of work in the Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum in 2009, and a Francine Seders Gallery group exhibition in 2012. I welcome the curatorial decision at SAM to select, and present the work in a particular way. It certainly serves to open up the room and bring certain referencing to the fore.

You talk about density in your paintings. In your monochrome paintings how do you use a single color to create layered meaning?

My working process and painting ideas involve color, layering, stacking, erasure and concerns with surfaces that allow individual differences to be developed and realized in each piece.

In a work such as the piece framing the empty wall, does density continue to play a part in the work?

Within the context of one piece relating to another and involving the wall, the floor, and bringing together painting ideas, sculptural form, and installation practice, it allows for conjunctions between differences.

Images: Installation views of “Denzil Hurley: Disclosures” at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photos: Mark Woods.

Object of the Week: Head of a Woman

Our mission statement here—“SAM connects art to life”—truly guides much of our work and many of the decisions our leadership team makes. We see art as a response to life and as something that should be accessible to everyone in their different journeys. Believing our art is relevant, we want to show people how it’s relevant. It’s why we have a blog series where we talk about our collection objects!

In the museum space, we also connect art to art. When SAM expanded in 2007, the curators made a point of bringing their permanent collection displays together in thoughtful ways. We published a book at the time, called Bridging Cultures, which outlined the curators’ thinking. If art connects to life, and if all of us who share life are interconnected, then all art is somehow linked too. Finding those points of connection can be difficult. I love wandering our permanent collection galleries because these connections across people and across time become clearer and more meaningful to me.

Mexican American artist Emilio Amero was born in Ixtlahuaca in 1901. He trained at the Fine Arts School of San Carlos, and in 1924, he worked as an assistant to Diego Rivera on a mural project at the Ministry of Education Building in Mexico City. In 1955 Amero finally realized his own mural, not in his native Mexico, but in Norman, Oklahoma, where he had taken up a teaching post at the university about a decade earlier. He worked in a wide range of materials over his career, but his work in lithography was particularly significant. So, why are three Amero paintings, including this striking Head of a Woman, hanging in our gallery of Pacific Northwest Modernism, alongside works by Mark Tobey and Guy Anderson?

From 1941-1947, Amero brought his talents to Seattle. Invited to teach at the University of Washington on a Walker-Ames Fellowship, Amero established a reputation as a skilled artist and teacher. A 1942 advertisement for a print shop Amero ran quotes Walter F. Isaacs, then director of the School of Art at the University of Washington, who calls him “one of the most able and versatile art teachers in this country.” In 1943 Amero moved to the faculty at Cornish School of the Arts. For the school’s 30th year, opening of September that year, he served as director and instructor of painting, drawing, commercial and graphic arts—joined on the faculty, as he is today in our galleries, by Guy Anderson, who taught children’s art. Not to brag on us, but we have an important collection of Amero paintings that is a monument to his time here.

Amero Ad in Seattle Times

Like other notable artists working in Seattle at the time, many of whom grew up in the Pacific Northwest, Amero was geographically far from the forms of Modernism developing in New York. His vision was essentially different because it was rooted in Mexico. There, Modernism developed after the Social Revolution of 1910, as artists like Amero and Rivera shrugged off what had become an oppressive European influence, looking instead to ancient indigenous Mexican art. The heritage of Amero’s native Mexico inspired his form of Modernism much like the land and peoples of the Pacific Northwest inspired Tobey and Anderson.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Head of a Woman, 1947, Emilio Amero (Born Ixtlahuaca, Mexico, 1901; died Norman, Oklahoma, 1976), tempera on panel, 18 1/4 x 15 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 47.134, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Caption for ad: Seattle Daily Times, August 9, 1942, p. 30.
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