Burke Museum – Seattle

The final installment of the 7M7D project takes a look at the Burke Museum, which can be found on the UW campus. While the collection was established in the 1880s by students of the Territorial University of Washington, the museum gained its name and final home in 1962 after a bequest in honor of Thomas Burke by his wife Caroline.

As a natural history, the Burke explores the history of Washington State from the perspective of the landscape, biology, and ethnographic material. Things like ichthyology, paleontology, mammalogy, botany, and archeology are just a few areas covered by this richly diverse museum.

In the permanent galleries, visitors can explore the “Life and Times of Washington State”. I started seemingly at the end of this gallery and worked my way backward in time. The benefit of this type of exhibit design is that it doesn’t much matter with the end you start with. My journey began with a discussion of evolution and biodiversity. The biodiversity displays were thorough in their scientific discussion while maintaining a fun and engaging appearance. Complex scientific concepts are notoriously difficult to tackle in a museum setting, but the Burke handles it with apparent ease. The use of interactive displays and QR codes help engage visitors in the material.

Biodiversity Display

Another area of history this museum handles well is the cohabitation of early humans and animals. I believe that too often early humans are displayed out of context with their natural surroundings. The placement and discussion of Clovis points, as well as other worked stone, alongside fossils of mammoths maintains the proximity in space and time that these entities existed.

dinosaurs – Burke Museum -Seattle

It isn’t a natural history museum without dinosaurs. These are the flashy showstoppers of the museum industry. The Burke uses dynamic posing and beautiful backdrops to bring their fossils to life. Visitors are encouraged to interact with these fossils by comparing their footprint to dinosaurs and measuring their height against a leg bone. The Triceratops skull drew my attention as an example of how to discuss the actual scarcity of fossilized dinosaurs. The areas of reconstruction are intentionally obvious, while unobtrusive, and the original fossilized material is far less than complete. I always appreciate when museums focus on being clear about what they have and where the research has filled in the gaps. It is vital for the demystification of the sciences for the public.

In the stairwell, there is a selection of prints from the collection of Dr. Simon Ottenberg. These photographs of Coast Salish native art are beautiful and feature these pieces in natural settings. I was pleased to see the museum being aware of its space and utilizing the stairwell to showcase pieces that wouldn’t necessarily fit in other galleries.

Downstairs is the “Pacific Voices” gallery, which looks at the ethnic and cultural diversity of Washington and the Pacific. The cases in this gallery look at specific elements of culture, rather than try to encapsulate a group in such a small space. Things like language, marriage, art, and religious celebrations are just a few such topics. Most are accompanied by pronunciation and contextual guides for better appreciation of the material. There is a wonderful diversity of people represented and the vignettes make great use of color and texture to define their space.

The end of my 7M7D project coincided with the opening of the “Imagine That: Surprising Stories and Amazing Objects from the Burke Museum” exhibit. This exhibit poses a vast array of questions pertaining to the role of museums in our society and how they function. Questions like who owns these objects, why do we keep objects, and where do they come from? Many of these questions are ones museum professionals continually have to address in their work.

A quote on display here is of particular note “Museums are like icebergs: there is always far more going on beyond what you can see at the surface” Neil McGregor, Director at the British Museum. This concept of the mysterious museum is precisely what the Burke is addressing in their exhibit. They clearly illustrate they work they do and why it matters. That is something truly ambitious.


The Renton History Museum – Seattle

Renton History Museum is another small local spot covered this week. It resides in the Art Deco former fire station, built in 1942. Raised near Renton, I have early memories of visiting this museum with school. It has changed quite a lot since then.

Their temporary exhibit is a project involving students at Renton High. Students were tasked with researching historic Renton families and comparing their experiences to that of their own family. It is a surprisingly large exhibit with a wide variety of responses. Not only is this a great example of outreach with the community, but it helps illustrate the modern diversity of Renton.

Cases along the wall of the main gallery feature the Duwamish, Coal Mining, Pacific Car and Foundry, and Denny-Renton Clay and Coal. Each of these utilizes really great panel text and images to contextualize the material. I particularly appreciated the object labels, which included the RHM item numbers. This allows interested visitors to better access further information on the objects and related items. In the Coal Mining display, there is also a photo slide show with music softly playing. The music drifts throughout the gallery, which adds a bit of ambiance to the space.

Before completing my tour of the main gallery, I stepped through to the small side gallery. “Sustaining a City” looks at the social and economic use of food in Renton. As a city built by immigrants, there is a lot of variety to the food items and practices in this community. Each display features a lovely vignette with objects, photos, and varying textures and colors. It helps to give defined space to each subject without taking up too much floor space. And they refrained from using mannequins, which is a wonderful decision! Too often mannequins quickly look dated and quite frankly creepy. Honestly, the vignettes didn’t need ‘people’ to make them look lived in. The museum did a really great job on them.

Back in the main gallery, “Something Bigger, Something Better: They Feys Movie Theatre Empire” takes a look at the iconic theatres of Renton’s past. The impressive Roxy neon sign is turned on and lights up the space in splashes of blue and red. It seems a little lost in the flow of the gallery though. You move from industry on the right to home life on the left, with this little space on theatres. I wish there had been more about other recreational businesses in the area to contextualize it better.

The tiny house is wonderfully done. It tells the stories of Modesta Delaurentis, Sarah Tonkin, Edmund Duss, and George Custer. Objects from each of their lives adorn the space and help paint a diverse image of life in early Renton. While these individuals came from different places and life experiences, the house seems cohesive. It brings together varying stories in a great way. The museum chose to use few barriers, so it feels more homelike and less like a staged vignette and the details are fantastic.

The final case is “The Boeing Renton Story” and uses mostly text and photos to tell the story of the local icon. There is an interactive flight simulator in the display, which was a little awkward to climb into. The controls weren’t registering with the program, so it didn’t actually work when I tried it out. A little disappointing, but I like the effort made to involve the visitor in the display.

While this museum is small, it makes good use of its space. They get creative with dividing the gallery and using design to define parameters. What they do well, they do really well.

Log House Museum – Seattle

I had never heard of the Log House Museum before this week. It is a small neighborhood museum in West Seattle, just a short trip across the bridge.

Before visiting the museum I had certain expectations, very few of which turned out to be accurate. I was under the impression that an institution called the “Log House Museum” would be about log houses, or perhaps focus on that particular log house’s history, or at the very least be in a log house. This museum is in a log carriage house, so I suppose the third option applies. Aside from a plaque on the exterior of the building, there was actually no information about the carriage house or any other log houses. I was a little disappointed by this discovery.

The Log House itself is actually the carriage house of the Fir Lodge, one of the first year-round homes on Alki. The Southwest Seattle Historical Society purchased the carriage house in 1995 and the museum opened in 1997 following some intensive restoration. The gallery space occupies what was once the main room and kitchen of the old carriage house.

An enthusiastic and friendly welcome by the museum manager and director greeted me at the door. They immediately launched into stories about the neighborhood and upcoming events at the museum. A topic of particular note for the Log House Museum is the raising of their newly restored totem pole. Set to be raised in the next few months, this totem pole was the second to stand at the Admiral Way viewpoint. It stood at the viewpoint from 1966 to 2006 when it was removed due to severe wear and damage. The museum received the totem pole with the intent that it should be restored and displayed. They are very excited to be coming to the end of this long project and eager to have the totem pole in its final home outside the museum.

Guided Walking Tour

A walking tour was given which touched on a few local landmarks relevant to the museum. First stop was the Fir Lodge, the original homestead to which the carriage house belonged. For many years it was a restaurant, but in recent years it has sat vacant and is now listed for sale. Next was the Alki Landing Monument, which marks the point where the first white settlers came ashore in 1851. Finally, we stopped by the replica Statue of Liberty erected on Alki in the 1950s by the Boy Scouts of America’s “Strengthening the Arm of Liberty” project. This is actually a replica of the replica, as the original 50’s statue is in the museum storeroom after suffering severe vandalism.

Only after all this was I able to explore the gallery space. The current exhibit on display is “Telling Our Westside Stories: Work”. There is little explanatory text, either about the exhibit or about the individual objects. Cases covered topics like “What I Wanted To Be When I Grew Up” and “Teaching Jobs” and featured quotes from what I assume must be local West Seattlites. The genders, ages, and ultimate professions of these individuals were completely absent from the gallery. It was challenging to draw much meaningful information from so little information. That being said, the objects chosen for each case were interesting and seemed well cared for.

There are two video displays in this space, which is a little surprising considering the size. One touched on the history of the steel industry, especially the local steel mill. The other featured a collection of oral history stories collected by high school students from elderly members of the community. They were interesting if a bit segmented and without a ton of context. Again, the staff served to bridge the gap in understanding. Without them, the message would have been a bit lost.

The cases in the much smaller side gallery discuss the history of the ferry service to West Seattle. The story about the SS Dix was one I had never heard before and I found it fascinating. It sank in 1906 after a collision with the Jeannie, an Alaska Coast Company steamer, with a loss of as many as 45 lives. As a Seattlite, I was surprised to find I had never once heard of this event.

SS Dix Collision Map

Ultimately this is a museum for the community and they work hard to involve their neighborhood in their exhibits. The staff really care about the work that they do and that is wonderful. Unfortunately, visitors from outside of West Seattle might have a little trouble connecting to the stories.

Seattle Asian Art Museum

Set within the beautiful Volunteer Park, the Seattle Asian Art Museum is absolutely wonderful. There, I said it. I was lucky enough to visit on an equally wonderful, sunny day in Seattle which only added to my afternoon.

As a local, I was surprised to find that I had never been to Volunteer Park before, let alone the SAAM. I chose a great day for my first trip. Sunshine, flowers, and people strolling through the park on a Wednesday afternoon. What a great day! And let me tell you, it got better. Prepare yourself, I’m about to faun over a museum.

SAAM currently resides in what was once the home of the entirety of the Seattle Art Museum, a 1933 Art Moderne beauty. SAM moved downtown in 1991 and the original building reopened as the Seattle Asian Art Museum in 1994. The two share management and resources, as well as offering admission to both venues for the price of one (if visited within one week). The Art Moderne building alone would be the reason for me to love this museum, but it has so much more to offer than a pretty face.

Liu Xiaodong

I began my visit in a gallery on Liu Xiaodong, “A Hometown Boy”, which featured paintings, sketches, and a documentary by the artist. It seeks to capture the life in a typical Chinese town, the artists home, with a focus on the mundane. He depicts real people, in their homes, living their lives. It was a thought-provoking examination of the role of art in society. Is it merely aesthetic or does it serve to tell a story? The video, in particular, was interesting as it showed the artist interacting with the same people shown in his paintings.

Liu Xiaodong, “A Hometown Boy”

The next gallery in this long white hallway was rather small and only contained one piece. The museum was featuring a new acquisition, AI Weiwei’s “Colored Vases”. The large traditional earthenware pots were dipped in industrial paint and left to drip dry. They played with the idea of old versus new and authenticity. One thing I noticed immediately in this space was the excellent use of lighting, something I later came to realize was a common theme in this museum.

Ai Weiwei

From there I moved into a realm more suited to me than that of contemporary art, historical art. The galleries in this area focused on China from the Neolithic to the Qing. I am moderately well versed in themes present in Chinese art, so the pieces were relatively familiar. What surprised me most was the display techniques utilized by the museum staff. The ceramics mounts were quite simply beautiful. The use of lighting and color were spot on and in many cases, the visitor could view the cases from all sides. One thing I did notice a few times was an odd emptiness to some wall mounted cases. They were quite large but featured low-profile objects. Perhaps they once housed larger/taller artifacts?

Ceramic Mounts

The last gallery on this side of the museum was another contemporary exhibit, this time on Wan Qingli’s ink paintings. I loved his use of a traditional Chinese art form to depict modern subjects, like square watermelons and urinals.

The Foyer in the center of the museum offers visitors a place to sit and rest. It also houses some truly lovely stone reliefs, most from Buddhist, Taoist, and Jainist temples. I was eager to see the rest of the galleries, but I would have liked to stay and appreciate these reliefs in more depth.

Poem Scroll with Deer

The other half of the building is designed in contrast to the previous with dimmer lighting and dark wall colors. These galleries focused primarily on Seattle collectors of Asian Art, many of whom contributed works to the museum. Here you have more diversity of origin. Japanese, Chinese, and Korean art of a variety of periods as well as photographs and stories about the families who collected it. One piece of note was the “Poem Scroll with Deer”. Parts of this massive scroll are owned by several museums, only two of which are SAAM and SAM, but you can view it in its entirety through an interactive display. Shown in either English or Japanese, the display zooms in and translates sections of the poem as directed by the user. There is also a segment discussing the year-long conservation project undertaken on this piece. It was a delightful display and added greatly to the enjoyment of the scroll.

One other gallery with a wonderful interactive display was “Dr. Richard Fuller & Beyond: Chinese Art”, which showed visitors the online catalog of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy. I was completely unaware of this resource prior to visiting the museum and I am so excited that it is accessible anywhere! They have a display in the gallery which accesses the website for visitors to explore, but they also include information for viewing it at home.


Artist to Watch Mark Dziewulski Opens Moving Show in London

Mark Dziewulski, recognised by Robb Report as one of the world’s top thirty architects, makes a bold foray into the arts with a new series of paintings and sculptures now on view at Gallery Different (14 Percy Street, London, W1T 1DR) from 26th April to 1st May 2018.  The new work launched at the Venice Biennale 2017, and has now made its way to London for its UK debut. Dziewulski’s work is next set to travel to New York, Seoul, Busan and Daegu this year, so make sure to catch it first here in London.


The main body of works on display are abstract portrait paintings that Dziewulski refers to as “painted digitals” that intend to capture his subjects’ life-force, or their ever-changing motions and emotions. His art is imbued with visceral architectural themes, testing the limits between figurative representation and abstraction.


Dr. David Anfam, one of the world’s leading experts on Abstract Expressionism (who was consulted as the go-to expert on the particularly contentious Rothko art forgery case), has likened Dziewulski’s work to the Wallace Stevens poem, “Life is Motion,” drawing on its central themes of movement, memory and time.

London born, Dziewulski’s UK exhibition has particular personal significance. For art aficionados interested in meeting Dziewulski, the San Francisco based artist is due to attend the Closing events on the 30th of April.


Mark Dziewulski: Layers of Self is on view at Gallery Different (14 Percy Street, London, W1T 1DR) 26 April-1 May

January Joy: Discover JR’s work at Lazinc

Sackville Street’s newest gallery, Lazinc, is marking its launch with a multidisciplinary solo exhibition from the French street artist JR.

JR – GIANTS, Mohamed YOUNES IDRISS from Sudan, Flamengo. Close-up, © Comité international Olympique, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2016

JR’s work and his often collaborative approach, continues to go from strength to strength,  and continues to reach new audiences. He has recently made headlines with his work on the Mexico border and then again when his work work best documentary prize at Cannes 2017 for a film with the legendary Agnes Varda.

JR’s installation at Lazinc.

The exhibition demonstrates the full-cycle of JR’s installation practice – from his works’ inception to its outdoor execution, and it is particularly interesting to understand how process and inspiration come together in his famous work – he is not the first person to bring art out of the gallery but his is certainly one of the most effective, one of the most iconic. An excellent excuse to get out and about on a miserable January weekend, anyone interested will have no trouble finding the gallery as JR is reproducing his GIANTS installation on the exterior of the gallery, standing out from the nearby hedge-funds and John Nash architecture.

JR and his work on the US-Mexico border

Lazinc brings together contemporary art specialist, Steve Lazarides, founder of Lazarides, and eminent art collector and notable art collector, Wissam Al Mana. Building on the existing Lazarides business, Lazinc adds a flagship gallery in Mayfair to showcase its roster of acclaimed artists including: JR, Invader, Todd James, Mark Jenkins and Vhils promoting uninhabited, expressive and disruptive artists.

JR and Agnes Varda

If you haven’t seen it yet, JR’s TED talk is a great way to start understanding something of what drives the artist.




12 January – 28 February 2018

29 Sackville Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 3DX
+44 (0) 207 636 5443

New Grayson Perry exhibition opening at Firstsite, Colchester

“Our deeds still travel with us from afar/And what we have been makes us what we are.” – George Eliot, Middlemarch

18 November saw the opening of Firstsite’s latest exhibition, The Life of Julie Cope by Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry. The show features four large-scale tapestries, woodcuts and ceramic works among other work related to Perry’s A House for Essex (2015) – all playing on the theme of local identity.

Grayson Perry. Julie and Rob, 2013. Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry. 400 x 300cm. Published by Paragon. c. Grayson Perry. Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, London

The protagonist of this show, Julie Cope, lives out her days on a trail from Canvey Island through to Colchester high street where an unfortunate collision with a delivery drive on a moped cuts her life short. The tapestries, on loan from the Crafts Council Collection, are strewn with Perry’s usual subtleties, all pointing at the common theme of identity and social history in Essex. As Perry himself has said of the work, it represents ‘the trials, tribulations, celebration and mistakes of an average life’. Cope’s journey across Essex is both physical and emotional, echoing George Eliot’s sentiment of where we have been making us who we are today.

Grayson Perry. In a Familiarity Golden, 2015. Tapestry. 290 x 343 cm. Published by Paragon. c. Grayson Perry. Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro, London

A House for Essex lies in Wrabness, overlooking the Stour Estuary in north-east Essex. Perry designed the house in 2015 in collaboration with Charles Holland of FAT Architeture. It has been described by Holland as a ‘radical statement about the capacity of architecture for narrative and communication to tell a rich and complex story.’ Acting as a ‘shrine’ to fictional character Julie Cope, the building is described as an ‘ornate ceramic-clad, gingerbread-like edifice’. It is chapel-like, stunningly secular and notably ‘Perry’ in its bright colours and patterns that contrast so heavily with the drab Essex countryside. It was commissioned by Living Architecture, which was founded to change public perceptions about modern architecture.

The meticulous design of the house includes everything from the patented ‘Julie tile’ that depicts totems of Julie’s life: a nappy pin, a mixtape and the letter J. Woodcuts from the project that depict 6 stages of Julie’s life will also appear in the show, alongside an audio recording of The Ballad of Julie Cope: Perry’s penned epic that both opens and closes Julie’s life.

This exhibition entwines narrative with local culture, hopes with dream and love with loss. Perry’s usual dry observations of contemporary British culture align themselves with the quietness of life, providing a new sentimental angle to his work about his home county.

The Life of Julie Cope runs from 18 November 2017 until 18 February. For more details, visit www.firstsite.uk

Duton’s Presents Rare Antiquities and Wonders at Asian Art in London

This Sunday 5th November marks the opening of Duton’s third edition of their Appreciation of China exhibition to take place at the Grosvenor House Hotel until 8th November.

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Entitled The Exhibition of Chinese Legacy, the presentation will feature a rare array of ceramic and sculptural masterpieces that have received praise from Chinese and international museums alike. The collections range from painted potteries from the Neolithic period and the Northern Qi Dynasty to Tang Dynasty horses, camels and auspicious beasts.

This key event launching Asian Art in London reflects Duton’s essential role as a platform for authentic and exquisite Chinese art and culture. A rare glimpse into the origin of Chinese art, each artwork on view is certified by Oxford Authentication, with many dating as far back as the old Tang and Song dynasties. The hero piece of the exhibition is a monolithic pair of painted horses, each 90 centimeters in height, the likes of which would be extraordinary to find even in the most prestigious of  institutional collections.

As the first Asian art company to arrive in Europe, Duton’s (est. 1999) is the first and premier Chinese auction house in the UK. Their Chairman, Mr. Du, a leading voice for Chinese art and antiquities, was vastly ahead of his contemporaries with his vision to bridge the longstanding cultural histories of China and Britain.

Against the contemporary backdrop of Asian Art in London, a key event in the British social diary, Duton’s will invigorate these important art objects with renewed cultural relevance. Unique to the location, Grosvenor House Hotel hosted the first ever exhibition of Chinese art in London in 1935. The event is a trusted partner of the Cultural Office of the Chinese Embassy, and will be attended by high profile members of British and Chinese society. Integrating Chinese art into the greater international art community is at the heart of Duton’s mission.

Young Art Star Emily Mulenga on Show at Firstsite, Colchester

Taking Up Space, the debut solo exhibition by the emerging British artist Emily Mulenga at Firstsite, Colchester, features a series of Mulenga’s video works as well animated GIFS and personalised emojis – or in the artist’s terms – MulengaMojis.

Emily Mulenga, 4 Survival 4 Pleasure (still image), 2, 2017. Courtesy of the artist
Emily Mulenga, 4 Survival 4 Pleasure (still image), 2, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

Mulenga uses her own image within her work to assert ownership over the way it is viewed online. Through her works, Mulenga positions her filmed self or animated avatar in vivid virtual environments. The title of the exhibition, Taking Up Space, refers to the way in which the physical or digital body can be a productive and positive site of artistic investigation.

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