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For the summer, I offer a quick tour of a few of the special exhibitions in our region. I have not yet seen many of these myself, but I will give you a short description to whet your appetite and remind you of some destinations while you are travelling around for other reasons.
Perhaps the most unexpected exhibition is “Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration” at the Schack Art Center in Everett (until September 5, 2016.) Chuck Close has been a world-renowned artist since the early 1970s, when he first showed nine-foot-high portraits in black and white. Close was born in Everett, Washington, and this exhibition marks the first time his works have been shown there. It has been travelling the world since 2003, constantly updated with new work. The Schack Art Center version spans from 1972 –2014. Although the exhibition appears to be a series of portraits, actually, the focus of Close’s art is process, experimentation and collaboration. The portraits, all of celebrity friends in the art world, form the starting point for a dizzying array of techniques. Dive into his first mezzotint, Keith, 1972, at the beginning of the exhibition. Right next to it are details of the mouth, and other fragments, which demonstrate how rich the detail is in each part of the print. Included in the exhibition are wood cuts, silkscreens, lithographs, a few paintings, and dazzling tapestries, as well as test charts, woodblocks, pulp paper samples, linoleum, paper samples, and a brass “shim” used to create a paper pulp print. But be sure to go to the back of the last wall upstairs to see the Woodbury prints, a luscious black and white process that predates photography.
Now for our quick tour of other exhibitions. First, go to the Frye Art Museum’s “Young Blood,” because it closes on June 19. It features art by two brothers both nationally known, both raised in Seattle. Noah Davis, painter, and Kahlil Joseph, filmmaker. The exhibition is also homage to Noah Davis, who died in 2015, so it is tinged with that sadness but Davis had a groundbreaking career as both an artist and a pioneer in creating alternative spaces in Los Angeles. Jen Graves of the Stranger claims “I Haven’t Seen an Art Show This Good in Seattle in a Long Time.” Go and decide for yourself. On June 18, from 2–3 pm, there will be a gallery talk by curator, Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes.
Before July 4, see “Martha Rosler, Below the Surface” at the Seattle Art Museum. Two collage/photographic series by the globally renowned Rosler brilliantly collage consumerism and our brutal wars. The first series dates to the Vietnam War, the second to the Iraq war forty years later. The cold fact is that we are still consuming at home and destroying abroad. No one says it better than Rosler.
The summer show at the Seattle Art Museum will be a good partner to the Chuck Close exhibition: “Graphic Masters: Durer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, and, the unexpected, R. Crumb. You may not have heard of Crumb, best known for his role in underground comics, but you will see that he holds his own against these old masters with his amazing illustrations from the book of Genesis.
If you like books as art and/or classical mythology, go to the University of Washington Special Collections, in the basement of Allen Library South for “Just One Look” (until July 29). Thirty-two new artist books inspired by classical stories such as Medea, Scheherazade, or Cupid and Psyche. About one third of the exhibition is in the lobby and easily accessible, including one of my favorite artists, Carletta Carrington Wilson. Her encaustic/mixed media book is based on the story of Thisbe. Two thirds of the exhibition is inside the Special Collections, so you need to pay attention to their hours. (10 to 4:45, closed on weekends).
At the Northwest African American Museum, the renowned curator Deborah Willis created the exhibition “Posing Beauty in African American Culture” (until September 4). Well-known photographers, over the last century and up to the present, expand our understanding of “how we see ourselves and are seen by others.” Willis has been curating astute photography exhibitions for decades.
The Wing Luke Museum presents, as always, unique exhibitions. “Khmer Americans: Naga Sheds Its Skin” reveals new perspectives on Cambodia “so much more than the Killing Fields.” “Tatau/Tattoo, Embodying Resistance” explores political aspects of tattoos in the Philippines and Pacific Islands in the context of opposing colonialism. “Do You Know Bruce: Breaking Barriers”, (part II of a three part series) provides perspective on the ways Bruce Lee countered racism as a film star/martial artist. The major exhibition in the George Tsutakawa gallery upstairs “Everything has Been Material for Scissors to Shape,” pairs the work of three contemporary Asian Pacific American artists with objects in the Museum collection and archives in order to “highlight identity, appropriation and labor.”
At the Tacoma Art Museum see “Edvard Munch and the Sea” (until July 17), an appropriate Northwest topic with brooding Norwegian overtones, and “(Re) presenting Native Americans” (to October 30), a selection of depictions of Native American from the last century, an intriguing partner to “Posing Beauty.” If you are eager to see what artists in our region are doing today, visit “Northwest Art Now” until Sept 4. This rebranded Northwest Biennial includes 24 artists from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho who create installation, video, audio, paintings and sculptures, something for everyone.
On to Portland! Inside the Portland Art Museum, the Center for Contemporary Native Art, features “Dene bāhī Naabaahii”, two contemporary native artists Demian DinéYazhi’ (Diné) and Kali Spitzer (Kaska Dena/Jewish). They offer us “a transdisciplinary and multimedia space that reaffirms their dedication to cultural revitalization through language and social engagement—a contemporary and radical act of survivance” (referring to nourishing Native culture beyond simple survival). This exhibition closes on August 28, but CCNA will have another contemporary Native art show opening in the fall. Also not to be missed at the Portland Art Museum: “Native Fashion Now” (until September 4) from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, a pioneering small museum near Boston. The Native “maverick” fashion designers span 50 years with almost 100 works.
Of course, there is much more to see! Go and Explore! But don’t miss the Friday Films in Volunteer Park on July 15, 22 and 29 that partner with the exhibition “Mood Indigo.” Music will start at 8:15pm and the film at 9pm. And then of course we have our free Shakespeare in the Park. I will leave you to find those on your own.
“Dreamy blues/mood indigo.”
~Duke Ellington, 1931
Breathe deeply as you enter the first gallery of “Mood Indigo, Textiles from Around the World,” then look carefully at the dried plants hanging on the walls. Now, enter a high enclosure of fabric dyed in many shades of blue and experience a constantly changing soundscape that evokes the sounds of color and the color of sound. The collaborative contemporary installation Mobile Section, 2015, by textile artist Rowland Ricketts and sound artist Norbert Herber provides a perfect introduction to this highly original exhibition. It gives us the material qualities of the immaterial, color, created only by the refraction of light.
The first exhibition of textiles at the Seattle Art Museum since 1980, “Mood Indigo” features almost 100 different textiles and garments, many of them never before exhibited. While Pamela McClusky, Seattle Art Museum’s wonderful curator of Art of Africa and Oceania took the lead in the theme of the exhibition, she collaborated with the curators of Native American Art, Chinese Art, and Japanese Art, as well as, importantly, Nicholas Dorman, Conservator, and Paul Martinez, Installer, who solved the incredible challenges of installing flat textiles in a dynamic way.
Together they excavated the collections with an eye for indigo blue, a radical project. Indigo does not actually exist in the world. It must be produced from a molecule in one of about 20 plants (of which there are 600 varieties). Rowland Ricketts explained the process in detail. When the plants reach waist high, they are harvested, dried, stomped on, mixed with water, left 100 days in compost, turned, sliced, watered and bagged. The resulting paste ferments in a vat with wood ash, lime and wheat bran (everyone around the world has a different formula, often a family secret). During the oxidation/ reduction process as it is stirred daily, the color appears, like magic. Vats themselves apparently have attributes and respond to the person stirring it. The color comes alive in different ways according your own mood!
Focusing on indigo textiles erases borders of geography and categories. Textiles here emerge from the margins established by European academic traditions that privileged painting and sculpture, and from the depths of storage at the Seattle Art Museum.
The indigo textiles in this exhibition encompass all classes of society and all parts of our life. They cover us when we sleep and work, they ornament us for special events, they define rituals and ceremonies, they wrap us when we die. Indigo blue clothing signifies status and royalty, but it also covers the backs of peasants, prisoners (in the 1940s), and “blue collar” workers. The textiles contain secrets and symbols. The indigo blue suggests many emotions, sad, reflexive, humble or joyful.
The exhibition ranges from ancient African fragments to a towering Basinjom (spirit) mask and gown, from an imperial Chinese robe to a Japanese fireman’s outfit. It includes a Guatemalan cape, a Peruvian feather quilt, a contemporary American textile created from denim jeans, a Tlingit basket, a Javanese head shawl, a Laotian shawl and a Korean Bojagis. Japanese kimonos fill an entire gallery like fluttering butterflies.
Colonial powers traded indigo in massive amounts, particularly from Bengal. Three huge Belgian tapestries made during the height of this trade anchor one gallery, each representing a different continent, Asia, America and Africa. The allegorical royal figures seated at the center of the tapestries are dressed in blue fabrics, and they are surrounded by a wealth of symbols. Meticulously restored, the tapestries have never before been displayed by the Museum (they were a 1962 gift from the Hearst Foundation). Fascinating as they are to view, I felt that they recapitulated the oppressions of colonialism as they towered over clusters of tapestries from each continent. The egalitarianism of the exhibition was disrupted by their scale and their academic imagery; the three royal figures were all women draped in fabric that exposed their breasts.
The Belgian tapestries magnify the global scope of the exhibition, but the real joy of “Mood Indigo” is the range of cultures that it encompasses and the many different directions that focusing on Indigo blue can take us. Curator Pamela McClusky even pointed out that in May we will have a blue moon (when there are two moons in one month).
“The deeper blue becomes the more urgently it summons man toward the infinite, the more it arouses in him a longing for purity, and, ultimately, for the supersensual.”
While you are at the Asian Art Museum, visit the exhibition of photography and painting based on the Buddhist art in the thousands of caves of Dunhuang, a World Heritage site in Western China. Now in a desolate desert landscape, it formerly lay at the crossroads of several civilizations on the “Silk Road.” The exhibition intersperses historical photographs from the 1940s by James and Lucy Lo, and replicas that they commissioned in the 1950s of some of the ancient paintings. It provides an insight into an important phase of Buddhist art that lasted from the fourth century to the fourteenth century. Some of these painters may have travelled from Ajanta in India, where you see similar caves with early carvings of giant Buddhas and stories of the life of Buddha painted on walls and ceilings.
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