An Honest Approach to Art: Inye Wokoma on Reimagining SAM’s American Art Galleries

“Historically, when we say the word ‘American,’ it typically denotes white people. But the actual story of what has happened on this continent over the past half millennium is so much more complex.”

– Inye Wokoma

When deciding what artworks to include in their reinstallation of SAM’s American art galleries, SAM curator Theresa Papanikolas and co-curator Barbara Brotherton weren’t interested in including conventionally beautiful or visually engaging artworks that are typically thought of as examples of American art. Instead, they thoroughly examined every American-made artwork in SAM’s collection and its relationship to the history and evolution of the United States. To ensure the two-year project incorporated as many viewpoints as possible, the curators invited visual artist and Wa Na Wari co-founder Inye Wokoma to guest curate a gallery that captures his personal interpretation of what American art is.

In the interview above—filmed before the renovation of the galleries—Inye discusses the need to reverse society’s existing exclusionary interpretation of American art, being invited to curate a gallery at SAM, and the inspiration he found in some of the galleries’ original artworks.

Visit Inye’s gallery on view now in American Art: The Stories We Carry at SAM’s downtown location and reconsider your own definition of American art.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Chloe Collyer.

Muse/News: Examining Water, City Blocks, and Taurus Artists

SAM News

The annual Museums section of the New York Times landed yesterday, with stories from the field and exhibition round-ups. Ted Loos included SAM’s current exhibition, Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water, on their list of exhibitions on view this spring and summer across the country. Also mentioned: the major Alberto Giacometti exhibition now on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art and headed to SAM this summer!

“[The works] range from comforting, more familiar depictions from the 19th century—like an Albert Bierstadt beach painting and a Hiroshige woodblock print of a whirlpool—to challenging contemporary works that examine water as an endangered or desecrated resource.”

Alison Sutcliffe of Tinybeans has a list of “10 Fantastic Activities to Make Your Mother’s Day Special,” including taking the mom and mom-figure in your life to a museum! At SAM, you can gift a visit (or membership!) and grab brunch at MARKET. As always, entry for kids 14 and under is free.

It’s May! Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with this list from Tinybeans of 19 Asian American-owned businesses and organizations to support, including the Seattle Asian Art Museum (and our friends at The Wing Luke!). 

And finally, never stop learning: Jing Culture & Commerce interviews Jason Porter, SAM’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement, and his co-writer Mary Kay Cunningham about their new book, Museum Education for Today’s Audiences

“‘We see museum educators on the frontlines addressing urgent social issues, acknowledging historical inequalities in museums, innovating for accessibility, and leveraging partnerships with communities to maintain their relevance in a changing world,’ say Cunningham and Porter of the work currently being done.”

Local News

A five-minute listen: Kim Malcolm of KUOW interviewing Amanda Ong of the South Seattle Emerald on spring arts events to look forward to.

The Stranger’s Jas Keimig reports the announcement from Cornish College of the Arts, who has named this year’s Neddy Award winners, Myron Curry and Priscilla Dobler Dzul.

Don’t miss the Seattle Times’ new special project, “This City Block,” which takes the “powerful corner” of 23rd and Union as its first subject. Wrap-around coverage from their team includes stories on Arté Noir, Wa Na Wari, Communion, and so much more.

“What can we learn from This City Block? ‘The lesson of 23rd and Union is that there’s a way,’ [K. Wyking] Garrett said.”

Inter/National News

The New York Times and other outlets report that “Ukraine says Russia looted ancient gold artifacts from a museum,” just one heist among the many examples of damage and destruction to cultural sites.

Via Artforum: “A Diego Rivera mural that was in danger of being sold to help fund the shrunken endowment of its owner, the beleaguered San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), will instead be restored, thanks to a $200,000 grant issued for the purpose by the Mellon Foundation.”

Artnet talks to Bri Luna, AKA Hoodwitch, about “How to Critique the Art of a Taurus Without Getting in a Brawl.” (SAM has an unnervingly high number among our ranks!)

“Tauruses have a love of texture and color and just a fine eye for detail and luxury. Those are things that bleed into our aesthetic as artists.”

And Finally

A worthy Twitter thread: “MY BACKYARD’S BIGGEST NIGHT.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Chloe Collyer.

Muse/News: Bold and Bodied, Aging with Art, and Guard-Curators

SAM News

Kai Curry interviews SAM curator Natalia Di Pietrantonio about Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time, now on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

“It focuses particularly on modern contemporary artists that are activist artists that are emboldened and trying to change norms within society,” Di Pietrantonio explained. “I decided upon the theme based on current events, and what I thought Seattle audiences would be drawn to during this particular time.”

And save the dates: Curiocity shares that SAM has announced its lineup of 2022 exhibition openings, including an exhibition on sculptor Alberto Giacometti this summer and a dual exhibition on Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems this fall.

Local News

In her recent ArtSEA letter, Crosscut’s Brangien Davis charts the “seamless pass of the worry baton from COVID to Cold War” in the Blades of Change project by Northwest artist Jill Drllevich.

From Seattle Met’s Malia Alexander: “Wa Na Wari Has a Vision for the Central District’s Black Future.”

Grace Gorenflo of the Seattle Times on 10 years of “creative aging” programs at the Frye Art Museum “that allow individuals living with dementia to foster friendships and community through art.”

“Randy Rowland participated in multiple Creative Aging classes with his wife, Kay Grant Powers, before her death in 2019…‘My wife declined for a long time, and I hadn’t seen her operate at that level for a while. And then all of a sudden, there she was, kind of waxing poetic and talking about the painting that we’re looking at,’ he said.”

Inter/National News

Artnet has been sharing news out of Ukraine and impacts of the war on its cultural people and places, including an opinion piece from Olesia Ostrovska-Liuta, the director general of Kyiv’s Mystetskyi Arsenal National Art and Culture Museum Complex, who wrote about what’s going on there and how others can help.

Frieze has a video exploring the work of Woody De Othello, in which he explores “the emotion of everyday objects.” A sculpture by this rising art world star was recently acquired by SAM for its collection.

From NPR: “Meet the security guards moonlighting as curators at the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

“Chief Curator Asma Naeem, one of the people who came up with the idea of security/curators, says they pick up lots of insights, and pass them along to visitors. Naeem remembers her early days of museum-going. ‘For me, walking into a museum for the first time was something very intimidating.’ Guards helped. ‘I felt like I could go up to one of the guards and hear their observations and comments, and just ease into being a visitor.’”

And Finally

The People of Third and Pine.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: Stories to Tell, Ceramic Guardians, and Louvre Super-Fans

SAM News

Museum Shows With Stories to Tell”: Ted Loos for the New York Times’ special Museums section, highlighting summer exhibitions around the country including Monet at Étretat at SAM, opening July 1.

USA Today readers have named the “10 best sculpture parks in the US”; SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park comes in at number 8! Go outside and see some art.

Intertwined weaves Black beauty into the cityscape,” writes the Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig about the new public art installation by Intisar Abioto and Hank Willis Thomas. The nine street banners scattered throughout the Central District were brought to Seattle by Wa Na Wari in partnership with SAM.

Local News

Misha Berson for Crosscut on the Campfire Festival, an outdoor theatre fest happening now through June 5; its organizers the Williams Project say “we have to help people figure out how to commune again.”

Melinda Bargreen for the Seattle Times on the first live audience at Benaroya Hall in 14 months; watch the clip from the Seattle Symphony’s performance of a Beethoven piano concerto.

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig visits the studio of Saya Moriyasu as she prepares for her upcoming show of ceramics at J. Rinehart Gallery.

“She shows me a sculpture with the head of a noble-looking seal—but the head is on top of a human body with a giant ass. Where the buttcheeks should be are two lighter colored circles, as if the creature had shaved just its rear end. It’s a beautifully made, oddly whimsical object that seems to wink at you: Don’t take anything too seriously.

Inter/National News

Francesa Aton of Art in America on “five new Black-run art spaces to watch.”

Maya Salam of the New York Times on several projects to preserve the plywood sheets that became art last summer, including Leesa Kelly’s “Memorialize the Movement” in the Twin Cities, which has now collected over 800 boards. 

Artnet interviews “super-fans” who were first in line to visit the Louvre when it finally reopened on May 19.

“We’re made of flesh, after all, and we need experiences. And it’s an experience to see objects in all their three-dimensionality … It’s touching to see these objects that have persisted through time.”

And Finally

“An Interactive Guide To Ambiguous Grammar.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: The Cliffs at Étretat, 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 25 5/8 × 32 in., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1995.528, image courtesy Clark Institute.

Muse/News: Seattle-Centric SAM, Spooky Art, and “I voted” Stickers

SAM News

“Seattle, Go See Some Art This November.” Well said, Seattle Met! In this round-up of shows to see this fall, Stefan Milne recommends SAM’s two “Seattle-centric” shows. City of Tomorrow celebrates the legacy of collector Jinny Wright and is now on view, and The Geography of Innocence, Barbara Earl Thomas’s solo exhibition, opens in November. 

Speaking of Barbara Earl Thomas: the artist was featured in the New York Times’ special arts section about her new work created for the SAM show; the article also discusses a major show for Bisa Butler, who along with Thomas is represented by Claire Oliver Gallery in New York. 

Local News

The Seattle Times’ Megan Burbank reviews Wa Na Wari’s new exhibition, Story Porch, which features installations by Virginia-based artist and historical strategist Free Egunfemi Bangura.

For her weekly editor’s letter, Crosscut’s Brangien Davis leans into Halloween, highlighting some spooky art to experience.

“Start peeking into your elderly neighbors’ living rooms—who knows what you might find.” The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig reflects on the recent exciting discovery of a missing Jacob Lawrence panel. Part of the artist’s Struggle series, the panel will be on view next spring at SAM

“I particularly love the mess of hands and feet on both sides of the work; the rebel farmers’ messy hair and their big, blocky hands; the bright red blood against the scene’s muted tones. Like with a lot of Lawrence’s work, you benefit from a long, good look.”

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic on why New York Magazine commissioned 48 artists to design “I voted” stickers, including Amy Sherald, David Hammons, Barbara Kruger, Hank Willis Thomas, and more.

The New York Times has recommendations for staycations in six American cities; a walk in SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park is included in the tips for Seattle.

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone reports on the ongoing controversy around the Baltimore Museum of Arts’ planned sale of artworks from its collection; last week, the museum pulled the works from auction just hours prior to the sale and after the Association of Art Museum Directors offered clarification on their guidelines.

“‘I recognize that many of our institutions have long-term needs—or ambitious goals—that could be supported, in part, by taking advantage of these resolutions to sell art,’ [AAMD board of trustees president Brent Benjamin] wrote. ‘But however serious those long-term needs or meritorious those goals, the current position of AAMD is that the funds for those must not come from the sale of deaccessioned art.’”

And Finally

The most sacred right

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped a New Seattle at the Seattle Art Museum. Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: Curator Journeys, Black Imagination, and A Cry for Action

SAM News

Last week, Stay Home with SAM visited the town of Étretat with Monet and SAM curator Chiyo Ishikawa and made poetry inspired by a Ming dynasty calligraphy painting.

Local News

Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reports on a long-planned redevelopment now steadily moving ahead in the wake of the protests: The Fire Station 6 property at 23rd Ave and Yesler is slated to become the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation, a project led by Africatown. King County Equity Now Coalition on Monday called for specific next steps.

The Seattle Times has started a new series, The Future of Policing, “an examination of what that future could look like and the hurdles ahead.” Here, Nina Shapiro talks to community leaders and their views on the reimagining of public safety.

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis reflects on “how ‘what ifs’ become realities” in her weekly editor’s letter, exploring acts of collective imagination happening now, as well as those by Black artists and cultural workers long in the works such as Wa Na Wari, Africatown, Natasha Marin, and more.

Inter/National News

“A cry for action from the inside out and the outside in”: The director of the Oakland Museum of Art, Lori Fogarty, writes an opinion piece for Artnet, laying out their ongoing equity efforts—social impact evaluations, board representation benchmarks, paid internships, and community collaborations—as well as “how much further [they] have to go.”

Billy Anania for Hyperallergic points you to a viewable archive of the Los Angeles Free Press (1964–1978), which covered police violence and racial inequality with always-compelling design.

Museums across the country are collecting artifacts from the recent protests as they’re happening, reports Artnet’s Sarah Cascone, ensuring this historical moment can be further taught and explored.

“The artifact actually stands as a metaphor,” Aaron Bryant, curator of photography and visual culture and contemporary collecting at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. In many ways, it becomes a portal by which we can connect our visitors with the story we are trying to tell.”

And Finally

No end in sight.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Fishing Boats at Étretat, 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 in. Partial and promised gift of an anonymous donor, 92.88.

Muse/News: SAM award news, the Space Needle is a she, and Dr. Seuss at the museum

SAM News

Last week, SAM announced the finalists for this year’s Betty Bowen Award: Andrea Joyce Heimer, Anthony Hudson, Adair Rutledge, Lynne Siefert, and Anthony White.

The solo exhibition of the 2018 winner, Natalie Ball, was reviewed in Art & Object.

“Subverting tropes about Native American identity and art by repurposing familiar materials, Ball points out the absurdity of our assumptions.”

Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness is on regal display on the cover of this week’s Real Change; inside, don’t miss Lisa Edge’s review of the installation.

“Let’s have positive images of ourselves that are done with love,” said Muholi. “Let us consume this self-love because our forefathers, our foremothers that came before us never had the opportunity to speak for themselves.”

Local News

“The Space Needle is a she.” Crosscut’s Brangien Davis on a documentary exploring the hidden history of Seattle’s iconic landmark: its shape may have been inspired by a Black dancer named Syvilla Fort.

The City’s Art Beat Blog has a recap of the recent Creative Advantage Arts Partner Summer Institute, held at SAM; this year’s theme was “exploring the local.”

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig goes home to Wa Na Wari, reviewing the center’s newest show featuring work by several artists, including Nastassja Swift’s video of masked dancers.

“Swift’s video, no more than 10 minutes long, grapples with the concept of home, being home, having a home, feeling at home in one’s body and community. In that way, it fits well at Wa Na Wari. Where do we belong?

Inter/National News

Artforum reports that Werner Kramarsky passed away this week at the age of 93; a formidable collector, he donated 25 drawings to SAM over the years.

Artnet’s Ben Davis takes a look at Dia:Beacon’s new permanent gallery dedicated to Sam Gilliam and his signature “drape” paintings.

The New York Times’ Guy Trebay attends the 16th annual edition of the influential and popular International Folk Art Market, which explodes the art-world schism between fine art and craft.

“It comes out of nowhere, out of nothing,” he added. “There’s not a tradition for it. It’s just some guy saying, ‘I want to make this thing.”

And Finally

Double Dr. Seuss news: Oh, the museums you’ll go!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Snake” at Seattle Art Museum, 2019, photo: Natali Wiseman.

Muse/News: Unplugged Studios, a home for Black art, and Subway Dogs

SAM News

SAM’s upcoming major exhibition, Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement, makes Seattle Met’s list of “10 Seattle Events to Catch This June.”

Colossal features the human + animals ceramic vessels of Claire Partington, whose work also has set up shop in SAM’s beloved Porcelain Room.

Watch this Art21 short video featuring Zanele Muholi and their “unplugged” studio practice of self-portraits and portraiture; Muholi’s work comes to SAM on July 10.

Local News

Stefan Milne of Seattle Met on poet Jane Wong, whose James W. Ray Distinguished Artist-exhibition at the Frye—exploring food, silence, and ghosts–opens tomorrow.

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig goes up, up, up, to the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center to see The Factory’s latest show, work by 17 queer artists including Anthony White, Clyde Petersen, Markel Uriu, and more.

Lisa Edge of Real Change visits the Central District’s new Black arts space, Wa Na Wari, created by Jill Freidberg, Elisheba Johnson, Rachel Kessler, and Inye Wokoma. Also: the collective is curating the Summer at SAM kickoff.

“They always say ‘this is so great’ or ‘this is so wonderful,’” Johnson shared. “The first couple times it happened I said ‘you haven’t seen anything yet.’ They say ‘no, this is here.’ It’s just something about being able to walk into a space and know that it’s a cultural center for Black people that feels embodied as soon as you go through the entryway.”

Inter/National News

A Seattle man examined photographs he’d purchased 50 years ago at a Philadelphia secondhand store—only to discover they were by Weegee, the legendary crime photographer. Here’s other weird places art has been found.

Artnet’s Taylor Defoe continues to follow up on the recent incident at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, in which a group of students of color were harassed by staff and other visitors.

The New York Times’ Holland Cotter looks at several shows in the city held this Pride Month in honor of the half-century Stonewall anniversary.

“For many reasons, protest is a logical direction for art right now. There is still no federal law prohibiting discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q.+ people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (although some states and cities have enacted laws prohibiting it). Trans women continue to be victims of violence. The rate of new H.I.V./AIDS transmission among gay black men remains high. And the impulse within the gay mainstream to accommodate and assimilate is by now deeply ingrained. The time has come to hear Sylvia Rivera calling us out again.”

And Finally

As a person who has taken IKEA desks and Christmas trees on Seattle buses, I am here for this.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Saint George Slaying the Dragon, 1872; designed ca. 1862, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, British, 1828–1882, stained, painted, and leaded glass, 37 3/8 × 28 7/8 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Purchased, 1972M79, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts
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