Entries tagged with “SAM”.


In the last month I’ve managed to see a number of fantastic art exhibitions, several in San Francisco and in the last few weeks two in Seattle.  This is the first of several posts covering these shows that I’ll post over the next couple of days.  While chronologically not the first show I will cover this post will be about Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949-78 at the Seattle Art Museum. I’d been looking forward to this show for a while thanks to some early advertising from SAM who rarely seem to have shows within my interest (20th and 21st century art for the most part with plenty of exceptions).  It promised to have quite a bit of my favorite artists as well as a artists I was unfamiliar with.  The show opened while I was away on my bicycle tour but I caught it the first weekend after my return.  The show turned out to be even more impressive then I had figured, extended well beyond SAMs holdings in getting a number of impressive loans and introducing me to several new artists that I was quite taken with.

The theme of the exhibit is Painting Under Attack which the exhibit organizer, Micheal Darling describes thus:

“For the artists in the show, painting had become a trap, and they devised numerous ways to escape the conventions and break the traditions that had been passed down to them over hundreds of years. This phenomenon occurred in all parts of the world, and the exhibition documents why artists felt compelled to shoot, rip, tear, burn, erase, nail, unzip and deconstruct painting in order to usher in a new way of thinking.”

This sort of exhibit is always interesting  in that it takes an idea and then searches for evidence to support it.  This of course can range from highly speculative in the case of artists who would speak rarely of their motivations, intents and processes to pretty direct from those artists whose published manifestos are an embodiment of your theory.  I’d say in general I accept his basic thesis but barring some of the specific manifesto writings I’d say most of it comes from the struggle that every great artist makes to find their own voice.  Working in the shadow of the western canon and the arising dominance of the New York School it doesn’t seem too much of a shock that conventions had to be pretty subverted in order to overcome them.  The aftermath of WWII with its unprecedented horrors certainly seems to be a catalyst for at least some of the first stages of this phenomenon and it is interesting that the artists that Darling begins with were both from countries (Italy and Japan) defeated in that war.

Shimamoto Shozo Work(holes), 1950

Shimamoto Shozo Work (holes), 1950

Shimamoto Shozo(Japan) whose Work (holes), 1950, is pictured above, along with Lucio Fontana (Italy) nearly simultaneously began tearing into their canvases a gesture that seemed to arise directly from the defeat and devastation of their countries.  I’d been at least passingly familiar with Fontana, but Shimamoto Shozo was new to me and it was the above work that really captivated me in the first room. A large painting its barren surface adorned with almost Twombly like scribblings seems to be more decayed than attacked.  This one seems to capture a sense of defeat and despair but also feels germane to the present day, a timeless work that applies beyond its immediate circumstances. The Fontana works with their increasingly elegant cuts seem much more of their time and place and dwindle as time goes by. The first room seemed to serve as an extract of Darlings thesis, covering more time and more themes. Along with the starting points of the Fontana and Shimamoto’s it included the Johns target that is the advertising image for the show which being an  iconic Johns was great to see in person. As one moved through the first three rooms there were several other works by Johns, around a half dozen in total.  As there is currently a show focusing exclusively on the use of the light bulb in Johns work going on at the Henry right now (more on that in another post) it is a good time to be a Johns fan in Seattle.

Robert Rauschenberg  Erased de Kooning, 1953

Robert Rauschenberg Erased de Kooning, 1953

The rooms were somewhat thematic after the introductory room, focusing first on destruction whose primary attraction to me was Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning (pictured above).  I’ve long been a Rauschenberg fan and this of course was an important milestone in his career.  Being able to see it in person, how faint the remaining de Kooing is, the rather abused nature of the paper to be able to examine it as close as one wants was a heady experience. Other pieces in this room included another Johns (Untitled (Cut, Tear, Scrap, Erase.)) , two Yoko One piece’s one you could walk on (Painting to Be Stepped On), another you could hammer a nail into (Painting to Hammer a Nail). This later work had become a sort of patron bulletin board in that most patrons hammered in a piece of a paper they had written, or drawn on or was some sort of found object.  This event was rather celebrated amongst the local Seattle are art wags but for me it was a lot more indicative of the contemporary art.  While there is plenty of great contemporary art there really is an overabundance of that which is “art, because that is what artists do”. So much of this has little going for it: no ideas, no technique, no style, no engage. While an individual piece can survive without one or more of those, it has to have something.  Modern art critics have to engage with contemporary art and you often find them having to champion these artifacts of self-absorption, which I think is the case here. Yoko probably would find it a larf though.

Jasper Johns Canvas, 1956

Jasper Johns Canvas, 1956

The following room focused on works that questioned the whole artifice of a painting and its frame handing in galleries, mainly by focusing on the backs of paintings. There was a Lichtenstein of the back of a canvas done in his inimitable style, a picture of the back of a Warhol, a neon lit frame and most compellingly I thought the above Johns.  That small picture doesn’t capture the layers of gray ladled onto the back of this painting, obscuring everything but its dimensionality. In contrast to this black hole of grey is Richard Jackson’s SAM, wall painting, which looks as if the most vibrant pop art was created on canvases which where then pressed against the wall and moved around like a five year old finger painting. The canvases were then allowed to dry against the wall their final destination cemented where he placed them, their dusty yellow backs and stretchers contrasting with the bring colors strewn on the wall.  SAM has put out a video of the making of this intriguing and captivating piece which I’ll inline below.


There was a full room installation viewable from this room and the edge of another room, which was of newspapers and paint on the floor, which honestly did little for me. Then there was quite a few video works, most of which I was too burnt out to spend the time with. This is the first exhibit at SAM that I feel the need to return to, having been supersaturated by about half way through.  Two more pieces in the concluding room though, cleared my eyes and demanded a contemplation. One was the first of Rauschenberg’s combines a small little Untitled piece from 1954 that was more painting then sculpture which also included a squeezed out paint tube as part of it. The room this was in featured many paint tubes: run over by trains, in a series squeezed onto plastic and so on.  In the final room there was the most compelling Andy Warhol I’ve ever seen: Oxidation Painting 1978. This piece was twelve panels, each probably around 6″x6″ square that had been coated with a copper paint. Warhol and other Factory members then urinated on it, which led to the paint oxidizing in these intricate patterns. Conceived as the end of  the attack on painting (we have photorealism to look forward to in the next decade) I personally found the aesthetics of this piece to be far more interesting then the juvenilia. As someone who enjoys rust, decay and the futility of man’s creations against time this piece captured much of that essence. Below is an example of one of these, but not the one on view at SAM (I wasn’t able to find an image)

Andy Warhol Oxidation Painting, 1978

Andy Warhol Oxidation Painting, 1978

This was an impressive show with lots of great works and lots of pieces I was unfamiliar with, even from artists I knew fairly well. There is also a fantastic catalog, whose essays I’m still working through, but is well worth picking up for the images alone. I can’t seem to find a SAM online store, so perhaps in person is the only way to get it, which would be a pity (update 09.02.09:  you can now get the catalog at Amazon). The show also includes an audio tour, which I for one rarely indulge in, wanting to form my own opinions. However they did get Laurie Anderson to narrate it, which I have to admit is pretty cool. I’m going to try to visit this one again before it closes and perhaps I’ll see what Laurie has to say.  A preview of the audio tour can be heard here.  Anyway if in town, or coming to visit in the next few weeks, this show runs through September 7th and is must see in my opinion.

Alexander Calder, Eagle (1971)
Alexander Calder, Eagle (1971)

Last weekend partly in order to escape the heat and partly because it was well overdue I took a trip to the Seattle Art Museum and after it closed I headed out to the new sculpture park.  It was a good afternoon and I enjoyed myself thoroughly.  SAM is a decent art museum though they only have a smattering of the modern art that I particularly enjoy.  A very nice Ruaschenberg that I was happy to see especially taking in account his recent passing. The current exhibition is “Inspiring Impressionism” – once again milking the last movement in art that seemed to have really grabbed Americans. That’s a post in itself but I find it interesting that American’s acceptance of abstraction goes that far and no further.

The Olympic Sculpture Park is about a mile north of SAM downtown and is terraced park that descends three levels to the waterfront.  It crosses two roads via overpasses that are themselves used as art or places to show them.  On a hot sunny day like the day I went there was plenty of people and I was amused to see them use the sculptures themselves as opportunities for shade.  The park itself is not packed with the sculptures, there is clearly space for plenty of new works. Additionally at least two of the pieces were temporary installations that are slated to be replaced by other things.

Seattle Cloud Cover
Teresita Fernández Seattle Cloud Cover (2004/2006)

At the eastern entrance to the park is a large pavilion, which was closed by the time I arrived, but it apparently has an installation inside (which looked unimpressive through the windows) and a cafe and work rooms or some such.  I moved passed that pretty fast and though there were sculptures right there one’s eye is drawn right toward the Calder, which is definitely their centerpiece.

Eagle
Alexander Calder, Eagle (1971)

Though one’s Wakeeye is drawn to the Calder you do walk past a number of pieces before you get to it.  Below a set of grassy steps from the pavilion is a giant rusted steel sculpture by Richard Serra called Wake.  Theses huge sculpture that you can walk around like this I always think as indicative of a certain style of sculpture that gained prominence through companies becoming huge in the twentieth century and wanting things on their vast properties. Wake is from 2004 and was probably commissioned for the park, so perhaps this categorization is a bit unfair.  This one though I thought provided some nice opportunities for photography that involves planes framing things and one such a sunny day I got a lot of enjoyment from that.

Richard Serra's Wake
Richard Serra, Wake (200)

This little paths that wander through the park are filled with local plants all nicely labeled with little placards.  The park really is incredibly well done and while I found only the Calder to be a great piece of art nothing struck me as horrible or not worth displaying. The most recent stuff all seemed a little vacuous, but was often interesting and well done. Just west of Wake, nestled among the paths was this chrome piece which I think is pretty demonstrative of this.  I love how it fits in with its surroundings by reflecting them but otherwise, its a bit meh.

Beverly Pepper Perre's Ventaglio III (1967)
Beverly Pepper, Perre’s Ventaglio III (1967)

As I mentioned above the park is in three sections each bisected by roads. The first of these cuts had a sculpture of a giant typewriter eraser down by the road.   The littlTypewriter Erasere plaque associated with it had this quote from one of the sculptors,  Claes Oldenberg on it:  “I make my art out of everyday experiences, which I find as perplexing and extraordinary as can be. We don’t copy the objects we use, we try to transform them and we hope they go on transforming as you look at them. The idea of endless public dialogue, visual dialogue, is very important to us.” I don’t know, that really just seems too much to me.  The concept of focusing on the everyday, it just doesn’t spark endless dialogue to me. In fact its point just seems to be nothing beyond what they say. Clearly that’s enough for them.

Eagle (section)

Alexander Calder, Eagle (section) (1971)


At this point I took a little walk down an encircling path so that I came up around the Calder from the other size. The Calder is fantastic, I’ve long been a fan of his mobiles and it was great to see a giant stabile here in Seattle. What I like so much about Calder is the way that his sculptures use negative space and shadow. The form of this sculpture carves out wonderful little spaces that so appeal to my eye.  I took a lot of photos of this effect, heightened by the deep blue sky. After this you cross another bridge and you find yourself in the third section which requires you to descend to the waterfront.

At the bottom is the waterfront park which is mostly a bicycle path and boardwalk. But Schubert Sonatathere are a few more sculptures down here including the one controversial one.  A major doner insisted that a sculpture of a naked man be created with his funds and so it was done.  Of course some prudes took exception to this, but really talk about a tempest in a teapot. The sculpture is of a naked man and boy each inside their own fountain.  The water shoots up and around them at different heights.  I nice use of the fountain and the sculptures seemed well enough done. Figurative sculpture is about the last thing I’m interested in, but I think combined with the fountain it’s a nice enough piece.

Father and Son
Louise Bourgeois Father and Son,  (2004/2006)

So that was my first trip to the Olympic Sculpture Park. I can definitely say it won’t be my last, I’ll certainly be keeping my eye on what new pieces and installations they’ll be putting here. For more photos and information of these and other sculptures check out my Olympic Sculpture Park flickr set.

Rothko at SAMAfter the lecture ended I had about 45 minutes before the performance. The museum cafe was packed, so I headed out for lunch.  I went to a local Japanese restaurant and had a decent lunch of Udon noodles and sushi.  I made it back to SAM about ten minutes before the performance to find a lengthy line at the admission counter.  Clearly I should have bought a ticket before I went for lunch but I didn’t even think that there’d be this sort of crowd. Turned out that most of them were there for the Gates of Paradise exhibit which I was informed had an hour wait.  No problem, as I was going to the contemporary gallery to see Feldman performed amongst twentieth century abstract expressionism.

Due to the line I ended up in the gallery about 1:35, five minutes after the published start time. They were already playing so I imagine they must have started within a few minutes of the published time and so I missed a couple of minutes.  They were setup in the middle of the gallery, amongst a couple of abstract metal sculptures.  There were a dozen or so chairs but most patrons were standing or sitting on the floor.  I found a spot where I could see the performers pretty well and staked out some floorspace. From where I sat I could see the above Rothko (or one very similar) just behind the piano. To my left was an early Pollock that I quite liked, it looked almost like a bluish gray piece of sandpaper, but with incredible details at closer view.  A stunning black and gray piece whose painter I forget was my view to the right.  Not bad surroundings for an afternoon of music.

People of course freely wandered in an out of the gallery, perhaps watching the performers for a perhaps moving right on. A low murmur from the gallery crowd was always present as were more dramatic interjections of random cell phone jingles, kids and scraps of conversation from those just outside the gallery.  Personally this didn’t bother me too much, I have come to accept all sounds and in some cases it was a nice juxtaposition. But I can understand the argument of wanted a more focused environment, especially as Feldman is so rarely performed in Seattle.  The hall below where the lectures were held would have been a great venue for this, with better acoustics and of course less external noises.  The more major downside for me was three and a half hours sitting on a wooden floor.

Morton Feldman Marathon performed by the Seattle Chamber Players
The Third Floor galleries, Seattle Art Museum

Bass Clarinet and Percussion (1981, ~15min)
This was the piece that was in progress when I entered the gallery and secured some floorspace.  Not one I’ve heard before and really a pretty interesting piece, in terms of instrumentation alone. Feldman always had a pretty adversarial relationship to percussion and when he used it, it was often completely against traditional percussion techniques. Always low volume, he used a lot of shimmering sounds and usually pitched percussion. This piece was all cymbals and gongs for the percussion instruments all played softly and in such a way that the fit right in with the repeated low tones of the bass clarinet.

Nature Pieces (1951, ~15min)
A guest performer with the Seattle Chamber Players was Ivan Sokolov on the piano. He had just played a diverse program in the Chapel the week before and here he played almost every piece.  A really nice player, I wouldn’t say he compares to my favorite Feldman interpreters but his playing was impeccable. Nature Pieces, as I mentioned in the lectures post, was receiving its first US performance on the restored score.  This piece jumped around and was quite different in each of its seven parts. Definitely in the vein of his other earlier pieces it lacks much of the features that people associate with Feldman. It even had a section where Ivan was pounding at the piano — easily the loudest section of the program.  This was another Feldman piece I hadn’t heard and it was again interesting and rewarding.

For Franz Kline (1962, ~15min)
This piece is scored for cello, violin, percussion, piano/celeste, French horn and solo soprano. Little sounds just sparkle out into the air in this piece. The percussion is exclusively chimes, which along with the wordless sing of the soprano gives this almost a sacred weight. The French horn adds an interesting texture to this piece, as per the other instruments its sounds are projected into the space, but its tonalities are quite different from the other instruments and add a richness to this piece. The strings are almost continuo like, add accompaniment though of course not ever present as continuo would be.  Another nice piece, again one I hadn’t heard before and I really enjoyed the different sonorities.

Piano piece (to Philip Guston) (1963, ~5 min)
The shortest piece on the program at only about five minutes, it has much more the feel of Feldman’s longer piano pieces. That is it is short phrases allowed to decay before the next one comes in. Unlike the other piano pieces of this era, it doesn’t feel like a graph paper composition, it seems through composed like the later works. Rather melancholy it does make one wonder what aspect of Philip Guston that was for.

De Kooning (1963, 15min)
This piece scored for French horn, percussion, piano, violin didn’t seem too far off from For Franx Kline. The absence of the cello did make the string seem less like an accompaniment and singular dry tones from the violin came into the space. This piece (if I recall correctly) was the one where there was an actual drum played by the percussionist but it was super soft malletting on the drums. Again the horn was of the French variety which both stood out and yet complimented the other instrumentation. Another nice piece that this performance was my initial exposure to it.

Spring of Chosroes (1977, 15″)
A large amount of my favorite Feldman is his piano based works. The late solo piano is probably my favorite of all, but I love the pieces that add another instrument (or more) to the piano. This piece, again one I’d yet to hear, was for violin and piano and I have to say was really nice.  Almost like a sketch for the much longer For John Cage, the combination of Feldman’s attack free violin combined with the ethereal floating piano sounds is one of my favorite combinations. Getting to hear a number of these middle period Feldman pieces that I hadn’t heard before was an added bonus for this concert.

Crippled Symmetry (1983, ~1’15)
I have a recording of the California EAR Unit’s performance of this piece and so I knew that this was the one piece of longish duration that they’d be playing. Scored for flute, piano/celeste and percussion this piece, especially because of this instrumentation really places bright little twinkles of sound into the space.  The percussion is all mallet percussion; vibes, glockenspiel and chimes and the flute alternates between normal and bass flutes. When the pianist is playing celeste the sounds are all in this metallic, upper register and it is almost cold, like music from space. During this performance the music critics Alex Ross and Kyle Gann both stretched out on the floor right in front of me. As I so often play Feldman when I go to bed at night I find that an understandable impulse. Overall I found the experience if listening to a piece for well over an hour to be very rewarding. It really is a suspension of time, the sounds run in these long, slow patterns to long, too slow for one to fully grasp or even really understand except in flashes as one repeated phrase seems to evoke something you think you heard before. The piece ends with with this long repeated note from the percussionist and during this the flute and then piano ended. Finally there is a series of repeated phrases on the glockenspiel that ends the piece. Absolutely stunning and definitely the highlight of the performance.

During this piece the museum crowd seemed to thin out a lot and there was a lot less ambient noise then during the bulk of the proceeding pieces. At the end of this there was a lot of applause and people standing up perhaps in ovation perhaps just in dire need to stand up!

Palais de Mari (1986, 20min)
Ivan, after so much playing already, came back almost immediately for the final piece. But the crowd hadn’t settled down when he started playing and didn’t seem to notice for a while. But eventually they faded away and the sedate tones of this solo piano piece were allowed to fill the now much emptier space.  I am more familiar with this piece then any other on the program  due to my love of John Tilbury’s All Piano set.  While not as stunning a piece as the epic For Bunita Marcus and Triadic Memories, this is still a wonderful piece and Ivan did a very nice performance of it. Given how much he’d already played it was pretty amazing to me that he was able to still have the patience and presence to play this as it should, with each note allowed to die out before the next one comes in. A really nice way to conclude the afternoons performance and a piece I’m happy to have seen live.

The concert ending about 4:45pm and I figured I’d have a chance to check out the paintings in the gallery. They then announced the museum would be closing in fifteen minutes! I was rather bummed about this, but obviously nothing I could. I did a quite survey of the contemporary galleries and determined that I’d definitely need to return and give this some real time. There was paintings by Duchamp, Guston, de Kooining, a couple Rothkos, the aforementioned Pollock, a Rauschenberg, a Calder sculpture and four Cornell boxes along with intriguing unknown to me painters.  I’ll definitely be back.