“I’ve never had the opportunity to walk through an American collection and see Native women and youth presented in the way I hope to do with this new work.”
– Wendy Red Star
Now on view at SAM is American Art: The Stories We Carry, a dramatic reinstallation of the museum’s American art galleries that explores a more expansive look at the American experience. It’s the result of an extensive collaboration among SAM curators, staff, artists, community advisors. In this video, Apsáalooke artist Wendy Red Star describes her experience collaborating with SAM and offers insights into her process as she was in the midst of creating a commissioned artwork for the project. She also describes the significance of including Native women’s voices when redefining American art.
Red Star’s striking artwork, Áakiiwilaxpaake (People Of The Earth) (2022), is now the first thing visitors see when they approach the American art galleries. The lightbox installation is a compelling hybrid of iconic American art genres: the portrait and the landscape. To create this large-scale work, Red Star invited Seattle photographer Holli Margell to create portraits of local Native women and children in a session held at the museum. Red Star then set these cutout portraits within her vision of the Seattle skyline, including Japanese artist Yoshida Hiroshi’s (1876–1950) woodblock print of Tahoma (also known as Mount Rainier) from SAM’s collection. By recalling the history of the region’s original inhabitants, Red Star celebrates the vibrant present and future of Natives in their home territories as well as urban Natives.
This isn’t the first time the museum has collaborated with Red Star. In 2016, she was the winner of SAM’s Betty Bowen Award, an annual award for Northwest artists that includes a solo show at SAM. The museum also acquired for its collection four prints from her photographic Four Seasons series, which was on view in the 2019 installation YOU ARE ON INDIGENOUS LAND: places/displaces.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations
As I write this, the first wave of visitors have finally experienced American Art: The Stories We Carry. This major reinstallation of our American art galleries has been two years (at least!) in the making and is the product of the work of a mighty team of collaborators, funded by generous grants from the Mellon Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
The multiple crises of recent years, together with the museum’s commitment to equity, inclusion, and diversity have made it essential that we question and dismantle the biases and myths that have historically driven—whether intentionally or not—our understanding and presentation of American art at the museum. As a curator of American art with a degree in European art history and a career in museums from Houston to Honolulu, I know well that the art of the United States does not begin and end with the oceans that define its coastal borders. Indeed, American art is as multilayered as America itself. More a collective of regions than a homogenous whole, the geopolitical expanse now known as North America is home to numerous clearly identifiable, yet often intersecting, communities, each of which is mirrored in equally layered artistic traditions and cultural practices.
To reflect and respond to the many-sidedness of American art, when embarking on this project we knew we needed to set aside art historical chronology and instead consider constellations of artworks from many different time periods and traditions. We immersed ourselves in the museum’s storage vaults, unearthing works that had not been exhibited in years—or, in some cases, ever—and contemplating the counterpoints they offered to the better known, classically canonical examples ordinarily on view in the museum’s American art galleries. These works speak volumes about the history of art at SAM and in this region, and they shed light on the communities that have been historically excluded in traditional narratives of American art.
My use of the word “we” is intentional: Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art, has been with me on this project every step of the way as a powerful ally in determining what American art can and should be at SAM. Over her 20 years at the museum, she has always been aware that Native American art is American art. Together, Barbara and I sought points of intersection between these two branches of the museum’s collection and for the first time envisioned a space in which they would intersect. Our work has been bolstered by a host of individuals—three artists, four interns, 11 advisors, and just about every museum department—all of whom brought knowledge that not only greatly enriched the project, but also established a collaborative model that will continue to shape exhibition planning at SAM.
All of us are delighted to share The Stories We Carry with you! In our new galleries, you will see old favorites alongside new and unexpected surprises that show how ideas persist across time and space and how history resonates in the present. And you will find curatorial interpretation (labels and wall texts) together with video clips from artists and experts—“living labels”—whose wisdom and perspective adds nuance to the objects on view. I’m also thrilled by the in-depth exhibition website, which brings you into the process with a project timeline, quotes, photos, and inspiring videos featuring our collaborators sharing their perspectives.
The Stories We Carry has definitely been a rich and rewarding journey. We invite you to now make it your story.
– Theresa Papanikolas, SAM Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art
This week, SAM will enthusiastically reopen its American art galleries, revealing new perspectives on our collection, commissioned work from celebrated Northwest artists, and paintings restored by our conservation team. But the purpose of this update is much more significant than simply presenting a new array of must-see art.
This project, funded primarily by the Mellon Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art, has been an energizing, collaborative, and thoughtful exploration of what American art is today. To execute this examination, we assembled a paid advisory circle of 11 community leaders and artists to provide valuable feedback as we reinterpret our collection to meet the present moment and acknowledge the evolving definition of American art.
“With inclusivity as one of our values, we felt the urgency to take the collection and hold it accountable to that mission,” says Theresa Papanikolas, SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art.
The new galleries, titled American Art: The Stories We Carry, will present the collection thematically and across time periods and feature works by nationally renowned local and national artists long overdue for closer examination within the American context. This includes moving objects from SAM’s Native American art collection into the American art galleries—previously dominated by the work of white artists—for the first time.
“We acknowledge that we must change all aspects of our practice as an institution of privilege and one that cares for the belongings of others,” says Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art.
Also on view will be newly commissioned works by Native artists Wendy Red Star (Apsáalooke) and Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Unangax̂), a themed gallery curated by Seattle artist Inye Wokoma, and a dedicated gallery for rotating series of temporary installations exploring fresh perspectives on American art. The first of these installations will feature 15 prints from Jacob Lawrence’s series The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture.
Visit American Art: The Stories We Carry at SAM’s downtown location beginning October 20 and experience a more thorough representation of the past, present, and future of American art.
– Kat Bryant Flaherty, SAM Director of Marketing & Communications
This article first appeared in the July through September 2022 article of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks.
One sunny Saturday in June, the Seattle Art Museum’s Chase Open Studio, which has been mostly closed for the past two years due to COVID-19 safety precautions, sprung to life. Convivial sounds echoed in the hall, people greeted each other exuberantly, the marble staircase produced perfect clacking noises as tiny, shiny shoes jumped down them, and photographer Holli Margell made gentle coos to get the attention of little models and their family members.
The scene was a photoshoot celebrating Seattle-area tribal communities and urban Indian communities. More than 70 mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, grandmas, and children came from near and far to sit for a portrait. The models dressed in a variety of clothing from traditional regalia to a t-shirt and jeans. Some posed alone while others gathered in multi-generational groups of as many as 10.
These stunning portraits of Native women and youth will be integrated by Apsáalooke artist Wendy Red Star into a commissioned artwork for American Art: The Stories We Carry, SAM’s updated American art collection opening on October 20. The reinstallation expands the vision of how art depicts the American experience, with Wendy Red Star’s artwork serving as a welcome to visitors at the entrance of the American art galleries.
“At the core of Wendy Red Star’s artistic process is engagement and community,” says Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art. “She foregrounds the voices of others as a means of revealing the complexity of Native identity.”
This shoot, and the examination of the definition of American art, are examples of SAM’s equity goals in action. SAM relies on its collection, exhibitions, and artists to reflect its institutional values of fostering equity and inclusion throughout the museum and its local community.
“At Wendy’s photoshoot, the Seattle Art Museum came alive with people sharing their stories—where they come from, who their ancestors were, special things about what their families are involved with,” says Brotherton. “It felt like a moment of connecting and healing after the long, challenging time of the pandemic.”
– Kat Bryant Flaherty, SAM Director of Marketing & Communications
This article first appeared in the October 2022 through January 2023 article of SAM Magazine. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks.
Every year, SAM and the Betty Bowen Committee give the Betty Bowen Award, a juried award that comes with an unrestricted cash award of $15,000 and a solo exhibition at SAM. The award was founded in 1977 to continue the legacy of local arts advocate and supporter Betty Bowen and honors a Northwest artist (from Washington, Oregon, or Idaho) for their original, exceptional, and compelling work. In addition, two Special Recognition Awards in the amount of $2,500 and three Special Commendation Awards in the amount of $1,250 will be awarded by the Betty Bowen Committee.
Recent winners include Anthony White (2021; his work is now on view at SAM), Dawn Cerny (2020), and Lynne Siefert (2019); the 2016 winner, Wendy Red Star, will have a new commission debut on October 20, 2022 as part of SAM’s exhibition, American Art: The Stories We Carry. The connections between SAM and these exceptional artists from our region continue over the years.
Today, we are announcing the six finalists of the 2022 award who were selected from a pool of 532 applicants. Stay tuned for the announcement of the winner on November 1!
Klara Glosova – Seattle, WA
Made during the pandemic, Glosova’s recent body of work—one example is featured above—comprises introspective paintings that reflect a sense of loneliness, isolation, and a turn inward. Focusing on members of her family who had to cope with the loss of loved ones, her portraits capture a collective sadness, anxiety, and feeling of disconnect. Windows, mirrors, and screens of various kinds demarcate the threshold between the domestic interior and the world at large, while the architectural interiors stand in for the inner lives of those portrayed.
Sam Hamilton – Portland, OR
Hamilton’s current project, Te Moana Meridian, is an experimental opera that doubles as a genuine proposal to the general assembly of the United Nations: to relocate the Prime Meridian from its current location outside Greenwich, England, to its antipodean coordinates in the South Pacific Ocean. The work is conceived as a five-channel video installation with singers performing the proposed text in English and Māori. If realized, the changes proposed by this work would replace the vestiges of colonial supremacy that marked the United Kingdom as the universal center of time and space, with a new measure for global equity.
Tim Hutchings – Beaverton, OR
In Hutchings work, play and poetry are actualized through systems of gameplay. Hutchings creates intricate and imaginative games and exercises that exist at the intersection of visual art and game-centric dynamism, often disguised as something else entirely, such as a book or a journal. The resulting installations command engagement and interaction, prompting the viewer-turned-participant to reflect on collective memory, loss, and shared emotional experiences.
Elizabeth Malaska – Portland, OR
Malaska’s psychologically probing paintings explore and rupture the traditional gender hierarchies in Western art. In her revisionist undertaking, she cites visual elements from depictions of women in past and more recent painting, assembling them in new ways. In doing so, Malaska activates these histories and implied patriarchal hierarchies, to question their validity and propose more complex and potent feminine subjects.
Rafael Soldi – Seattle, WA
Soldi uncovers the ways in which aspects of identity, particularly queerness and masculinity, interact with normative sociopolitical structures and adolescent rituals, particularly in Latin American societies. Soldi’s most recent work, CARGAMONTÓN, is a series of photogravures depicting the adolescent roughhousing that is at once violent and homoerotic, reflecting on his own experiences as a youth growing up in Peru.
Ric’kisha Taylor – Seattle, WA
Taylor’s rich assemblage works draw on music videos, history, performance, fashion, and news articles as well as adult magazines. Rich and seductive in color, pattern, and materials, with a particular interest in textiles, her work draws the viewer close. Her subjects vogue and vamp, but grotesque distortions disrupt their easy consumption. The resulting collage works expose and challenge the sexualized stereotypes of Black bodies in popular culture and the media.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations
“…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.”
“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.”
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.”
“‘Chronology is something that is imposed onto history,’ said Theresa Papanikolas, curator of American art at the Seattle Art Museum. ‘It gets to be a little deterministic.’ Papanikolas said that viewers can expect a very different kind of gallery experience. She is particularly excited for Red Star’s installation, which is still being completed but will ‘conjure ideas of portraiture, landscape, and Seattle’ while also ‘literally bringing Indigenous voices into the gallery.’”
Gemma Alexander for the Seattle Times on “Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer,” playwright Cheryl L. West’s one-woman show now playing at Seattle Rep.
“I believe stories come along to show you something. This one encouraged me on my courage journey. Who would have known that it would happen during a time when we were all really looking for hope, when we were looking for that sort of resilience of spirit?” asks West. “She was such an inspiring woman. So the show asks the question, ‘What can we do at this point?’”
“American culture often talks of queerness in terms of visibility, ‘in the closet’ or ‘out.’ In these photos, Miller looks in on a more literal enclosure. He told me his way of dealing with this imposed invisibility is having people ‘come as they want to be seen.’”
“For me, it’s very important that the ancestors that are presented in the exhibition are really thought of as people. And relatable people…And really humanizing them, because Native people have been dehumanized so much or made into this mythical part of the West that doesn’t exist. My hope is that there’s a human connection that the kids can make and relate to.”
Indian Summer, a bucolic scene is
obviously staged. There is a printed mountain backdrop, a cut-out cardboard
deer, fake plants, and Western-themed props strewn across a manicured bed of
Astroturf. The Native artist Wendy Red Star sits poised amid the artificial
flora and fauna. She wears traditional Apsáalooke (Crow) regalia and stares
stoically into the distance.
from the larger photographic series Four
Seasons, which includes Fall, Winter,
and Spring. When I first viewed Indian Summer, I was reminded of bright,
color-saturated storefronts with eerie mannequins and design sets—frozen behind
walls of glass. In Four Seasons, Red
Star plays on the commercialism of Native identity and satirically recalls the
dioramas of Native people exhibited at natural history museums.
Star was raised
on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, and received the Seattle Art
Museum’s Betty Bowen Award in 2016. Through reclamatory, unsettling, and
playfully witty art that is also collaborative and intergenerational, Red Star
dismantles the narratives of Natives by white photographers, archives, and
media: depictions that remove Native agency and preserve stereotypes of Natives
as stoic, passive, and distant.
In an interview with SAM, Red Star reflected on her role as an artist and cultural archivist: “Native voices have historically been silenced, unable to explain or even place our own narrative within the larger society. As a Native person I have witnessed the lack of inclusion for Native artists in particular in the contemporary art world, many of whom struggle for inclusion in important exhibitions.”
“Also troubling is a prevailing but antiquated expectation of what Native art should be, whether from the 19th century or the 21st. This leaves many Native artists feeling segregated into categories of “traditional” work and without a place in the contemporary art world. I consider my practice and the act of annotating, revealing, and erasure a reclamation of my own history and identity. The act is so much more than a rejection of the colonial gaze, it is a deliberate act to take authority and rewrite histories in humanist way.”
week, fireworks, barbecues, patriotic fanfare, and heavy traffic usher in
another 4th of July holiday. Prior to yesterday’s processions at the White
House, Trump had tweeted “It will be the show of a lifetime!” ensuring more
tanks and military planes. In the wake of continued injustices toward
immigrants in this country, it remains precisely that: a show. Ongoing
histories of racism, genocide, nativism, and imperialism get to masquerade as
nationalism under a venerating sheen of red-white-and-blue. On the cultural
archive of Native experience and presence, Wendy Red Star removes and probes
these veneers of unaccountable histories—dismantling and rewriting false
colonial narratives to engage Native voices past, present, and future.
If “legacy cultural organizations” want to grow their audiences, they need to adapt and transform to meet their needs. “If arts organizations can leverage that new understanding in a way authentic to them and on-mission and without abandoning their core purpose,” she says, “all audiences benefit.”
We talked with Wendy Red Star, the 2016 Betty Bowen Award winner, to discuss her art and ideas of cultural archiving, inclusion, expectations, and engaging communities through a creative process. Raised on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, Wendy Red Star works cross-generationally, looking in particular at matrilineal relationships within Crow culture and ceremony. She has critically examined historical portraits of Crow leaders by white photographers and taken apart stereotypical representations of Native American women in a variety of popular culture contexts. Her work centers on photography but sculpture, video, fiber arts, and performance are also important to her practice.
Learn more about this artist’s compelling work which will be featured in an installation at the Seattle Art Museum beginning November 10. And don’t miss an opportunity to celebrate the winner of the Betty Bowen Award during the ceremony on the 10th, beginning at 5:30 pm, honoring Wendy Red Star as well as Dawn Cerny and Mark Mitchell who both received special recognition this year. The ceremony and reception following the artists’ remarks are free and open to the public.
Seattle Art Museum: You’ve described yourself as a cultural archivist in the past, can you describe how your work fills this role?
Wendy Red Star: My practice is collaborative and research-based. I am in pursuit of an on-going excavation of historical Native American imagery and material culture. I like to bring these “artifacts” to life in a contemporary visual arts context. Through an art practice that is driven largely by process, I want to unpack the fraught relationship and history of Native images, portraits, self-representation, and do so with wit, humor, and subtle satire in order to have levity in my art without sacrificing integrity.
SAM: You’ve literally annotated a series of images of Crow chiefs. Do you consider your larger body of work to be an annotation? How are your cultural annotations in conversation with the erasure or removal aspects your other work?
WRS: Native voices have historically been silenced, unable to explain or even place our own narrative within the larger society. As a Native person I have witnessed the lack of inclusion for Native artists in particular in the contemporary art world, many of whom struggle for inclusion in important exhibitions. Also troubling is a prevailing but antiquated expectation of what Native art should be, whether from the 19th century or the 21st. This leaves many Native artists feeling segregated into categories of “traditional” work and without a place in the contemporary art world. I consider my practice and the act of annotating, revealing, and erasure a reclamation of my own history and identity. The act is so much more than a rejection of the colonial gaze, it is a deliberate act to take authority and rewrite histories in humanist way.
SAM: How do you see your work in conversation with SAM’s collection, if at all?
WRS: My recent work has had at its center an intensive engagement with my own Crow community and I am seeking to expand that focus into the broader contemporary art world to explore how other artists are grappling with narrative and performative aspects of their work, and how to continue exploring ways of creating greater accessibility and a sense of openness. I am inspired by the work of conceptual artist Fred Wilson who SAM has worked with and the ways in which I could further reappropriate and reimagine the photographic possibilities inherent in portraiture, staging and candid images, institutional critique, and curating museum objects in broader historical and contemporary contexts. SAM is an institution that is open to this process and I find that very exciting and necessary.
SAM: Tell us a bit about your process—how does the fabrication aspect of your creative process add dimension to the final product?
WRS: The actual making of my work happens fairly quick. The majority of my time is spent engaging in research and processing ideas while out walking with my dog in the woods. Once I have settled on an idea the execution happens in many different forms but is almost always image driven witha focus on richness of color and cultural content.
SAM: How does clothing design fit into your practice? Are you intrigued by your work being up at the same time as Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style?
WRS: My grandmother, Amy Bright Wings, made sure I participated in Crow cultural traditions. She provided me with a traditional elk tooth dress, a shawl, beaded belt, and moccasins—all objects that I have since integrated into my artwork. I soaked up as much of my grandmother’s knowledge as I could by watching her continually making. Although she never actually showed me directly how to make traditional Crow regalia, I learned through the process of immersion. Traditional Native regalia has signifiers that state the honors and virtues of the owner and maker of each individual garment. Every piece of traditional clothing is made with intention and striking beauty virtues that I use to help guide me in all aspects of my art making. I am a self taught seamstress learning the basics about nine years ago when my daughter was born. I have a deep admiration for the construction of garments, fine tailoring, and the sculptural aspect of making clothing. I am looking forward to viewing Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style and seeing the elegant construction and display of clothing. I suspect it will provide me with many ideas.
ABOUT THE BETTY BOWEN AWARD
Betty Bowen (1918–1977) was a Washington native and enthusiastic supporter of Northwest artists. Her friends established the annual Betty Bowen Award as a celebration of her life and to honor and continue her efforts to provide financial support to the artists of the region. Since 1977, SAM has hosted the yearly grant application process by which the selection committee chooses one artist from the Northwest to receive an unrestricted cash award, eligible to visual artists living and working in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The award comes with an unrestricted cash award of $15,000.