Seattle Art Museum

Dear Liza,

“Hammer Man”, a moving statue, outside the Seattle Art Museum

Of course we had to see the Seattle Art Museum! It had our attention as soon as we got into town, but we only had two non-rainy days to do “outside” stuff, so we put it off. It was worth the wait.

Inside we found innovative, thought-provoking art. “Middle Fork”, a sculpture by John Grade that hovers over the main lobby, is actually a re-creation of a 140 year old hemlock tree that is still standing in a forest east of Seattle. Mr. Grade and hundreds of volunteers built a frame and made a plaster cast of the standing tree, then shaped thousands of bits of re-purposed cedar to echo the interior and exterior contours.

“Middle Fork” hovers over the lobby

I was fascinated by both the work itself and the process. Once again, my father’s reverence for forests tickled in the back of my brain.

Entrancing close-up of “Middle Fork”

On the four floors of the museum was a lot of what I think of as “regular” art. Bronze statues, oil paintings of women and children, religious icons, these are traditional subjects treated in traditional ways. They are lovely and show great skill.

“Portrait of Elizabeth” by Frank Benson

The art that captured my brain and sent me spinning down rabbit holes, however, was unlike anything I had seen before.

“Mina Mina”

First there was a gallery devoted to Dorothy Napangardi, an Australian Aborigine. She was born the same year as I was and died six years ago, after creating dozens of large abstract works in the style of her people.

“Women’s Dreaming”

To me, they felt like aerial views of imaginary cities, or a bustling hive of thoughts jostling in someone’s mind. I stared and stared, until a distractingly loud group of students arrived.

Further along was an exhibition of the photography of Zanele Muholi, who lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. Muholi goes by the pronouns “they/ their”, neither male nor female. Their pictures, all self-portraits, are meant to make us see trans people and our own concepts of beauty differently.

“Ntokakhe II or Own Things or Everything”

The works, all done in black and white and in very large format, pulled me in as I examined the lines where black met white and the traditional met extraordinary.

The last gallery of out-of-this-world art was “Lessons from the Institute of Empathy”. This was a multi-media presentation, including video, fabric sculptures, costumes, and written work.

Meditation mask from the “Institute of Empathy”

The statement on the wall says “Three Empathics have moved into the Seattle Art Museum and established a virtual space where you can step outside your normal, routine self and improve your ability to understand others.”

It goes onto explain that these works are here to help you feel what others feel, to increase your empathy. There were some silly bits about ingesting minerals and fungi in order to re-mix a person’s personality traits, but I appreciated to idea that these costumes and masks might get a person out of their rut about what is “us” or “them”.

Costumes to increase empathy

Since art is meant to allow you to see things differently, this was a successful exhibit.

Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I had all been wandering the museum on our own, but we got together for lunch downstairs. Our feet were sore but we weren’t ready to quit for the day just yet. We returned to the Library and found comfy seats to read, learn something new, and just enjoy the space.

I didn’t know that!

I will tell you about out evening’s adventure tomorrow!


Grandma Judy

Author: Judy

I am a new transplant to Portland from Salinas, a small city in Central California. This is a blog about my new city.

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