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.

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.

 

Explore the Unexplored with ‘Ed Gold: Other Worlds’ at Firstsite

Opening this weekend on Saturday 17th June at Firstsite, Colchester (private view tonight from 6-9pm!) is Ed Gold: Other Worlds, a compelling presentation of 100 photographs by the  social documentary photographer taken over the past 30 years during his time spent living in various isolated communities across the globe. There are five bodies of work by Ed being shown in the retrospective: Patagonia, Country Folk (Essex, Wales & Scotland), Afghanistan Bed Spaces, Positive Futures and Nowitna and each series is an in-depth look at what it really is like to be a part of those communities.

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M’Hula Crew, Country Folk, 1999, Digital print, Dimensions variable

 

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Simon Patterson Presents a Safari at the De La Warr Pavilion

From 20th May, the De La Warr Pavilion will present Safari: An exhibition as expedition, an anthology of works by the British artist, Simon Patterson.

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…words fly up…,, 1996 (detail) © Simon Patterson, by courtesy of the artist 

Interspersed throughout the gallery space and hence taking the viewers on their own mini safari, the works on view will span a quarter century of Patterson’s career and feature wall drawings, sculpture, prints, photographs video and installation, as well as a public intervention, a site-specific commission and on opening day, a staged sea battle in collaboration with Bexhill Sailing Club!

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Simon Patterson, rehearsal of Seascape, 2017, with Bexhill Sailing Club. Photo: Sin Bozkurt

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A Classic Goes Contemporary: ‘Botticelli Reimagined’ at the V&A

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Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder in ‘Dr. No’, 1962, Directed by Terence Young

What does a Bond girl have to do with a Botticelli? Quite a lot, actually. This is what I realise at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s ‘Botticelli Reimagined’ exhibition, almost as soon as I walk through the door. A large screen is playing a scene from the 1964 Bond film Dr. No, in which Ursula Andress (as the dubiously named ‘Honey Ryder’) emerges from the sea, in the little white number that is now one of the most famous bikinis of all time. Why on earth are we looking at this? Where is the obligatory timeline of Sandro Botticelli’s life, giving us the overview of his developing career, and leading us towards the paintings recognised as the works of one of the greatest Renaissance painters of all time?
It shouldn’t be that unusual to find a reference to a blockbuster film in an art exhibition. We know that popular culture and ‘high’ art aren’t incompatible – that’s what Pop Art was all about, after all. But that’s Pop Art. This is an exhibition about the Renaissance, and Botticelli’s influence on other artists since that time – even if one of them was the ultimate Pop Artist, Andy Warhol – so why not begin at the beginning? Though Honey Ryder does look quite a bit like the Birth of Venus (1482-1485), it feels unusual that she is our mediating guide (along with Uma Thurman, shown on the same screen as Venus in the 1988 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) through this trajectory. There is something to be said for the fact Honey Ryder belonged to a moment in history often referred to as the ‘birth of the sexual revolution’ – but isn’t this quite a tenuous link to Venus’ titular birth?

 

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Sandro Botticelli, ‘The Birth of Venus’, 1482-85

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The Broad Museum Announces Its First Special Exhibition: ‘Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life’

Nine months after Los Angeles’ newest contemporary art museum opened to overwhelming crowds, The Broad’s first special exhibition will debut in June with a comprehensive survey of the work of artist Cindy Sherman.

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Cindy Sherman, Untitled #92, 1981

Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life is the first major museum show of Sherman’s work in Los Angeles in nearly 20 years, and the exhibition will fill The Broad’s first-floor galleries with close to 120 works drawn primarily from the Broad collection.

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Tate Modern: The EY Exhibition ‘The World Goes Pop’ & ‘Blindly’

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ArtAttack visited the Tate Modern today and experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. On the one hand, we viewed an exhibition everyone should see, ‘The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop,.’ to develop their minds on traditional Pop Art and its’ relationship with politics, culture and feminism. In complete contrast we were privileged to view an artists’ experiment ‘Blindly,’  a painting workshop with a small group of visually impaired participants. 

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