SAM, I Am

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Yesterday Kish and I visited the Seattle Art Museum — also known as SAM.  It’s located smack dab in the middle of Seattle’s bustling downtown, and it’s worth a visit.

I like going to art museums I’m not familiar with, because you’re almost always surprised.  Sometimes it’s a good surprise, sometimes it’s not.  SAM falls on the positive side of the ledger.  It’s a big, sprawling facility, with all kinds of nooks and crannies to explore.  Every time you turn a corner, you see something interesting.

During our visit, the displays included an extensive and compelling Joan Miro exhibit — boy, he sure liked to paint birds and women! — and a fabulous and beautiful collection of blown glass objects that included numerous pieces by Dale Chihuly.  The museum’s standard collection is impressive and includes an interesting early American section, which blends portraits, landscapes, furniture, and other objects, Italian and French rooms, modern pieces by Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, and some whimsical and thought-provoking sculptures, including an untitled piece by American artist Marlo Pascual that featured a ’40s-style glamour shot of an unknown, sad-eyed woman on which a rock had been positioned to look like a hat.

My favorite part of the collection was a large array of indigenous art, including some fantastic masks and costumes and sculptures.  The masks in particular were riveting.  As I looked at the colorful depictions of serpents and wolves, I thought of the strong connection the indigenous peoples felt to the natural world and how we have largely lost that connection in modern America.  Maybe the piece featuring the well-dressed woman with the rock on her head speaks to that, too.

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The Fine Art Of Fakery

An interesting case that combines art and crime is proceeding in New York City.  It involves an art dealer who had a reputation for selling undiscovered pieces by famed modern artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko — paintings that prosecutors say were fakes.

According to prosecutors, Glafira Rosales and her boyfriend sold more than 60 phony paintings in the scheme.  They found a painter in Queens who produced the paintings and they applied techniques — such as heating and cooling and exposing the paintings to air and sunlight — to give them an artificially aged appearance.  They then sold the paintings, claiming they were early pieces produced by modern art icons that had been part of collections by overseas clients who wished to remain anonymous.  Amazingly, people fell for the scheme and paid millions for the paintings — including two Manhattan galleries that allegedly paid more than $33 million for the fakes.

It’s the kind of case that raises questions — questions like how supposed experts could fall for such a simple scheme, and how much phony art is out there on the market, being sold to unsuspecting but wealthy people who want to say that they own a Pollock or a Rothko.

It also raises an even more fundamental question:  did the people who bought this art buy it because they liked it, or because they wanted to invest in a piece that they expected to increase in value?  If it’s the latter, maybe that’s the big mistake on their part.  Art should be about the art itself, not the name on the piece.  People should buy and collect what they like — whether it was actually painted by Jackson Pollock or by a random artist in Queens.  If you’re just in the market for a name, perhaps you only have yourself to blame for ending up with a counterfeit.

Trying To Understand Acts Of Senseless Artistic Destruction

On Sunday, at London’s Tate Modern Art Museum, a visitor walked up to the Mark Rothko painting Black on Maroon and boldly wrote some words on the painting in black paint, then left the museum.

Today a Russian named Vladimir Umamets claimed responsibility for the act, but said it was not an act of vandalism.  According to the BBC, he was later was arrested and held on suspicion of causing criminal damage.  The BBC also reports that Umamets claims to be the founder of a “movement” called “Yellowism,” which apparently posits that “Art allows us to take what someone’s done and put a new message on it.”

I don’t know if there really is a “movement” called Yellowism, as opposed to one nutty jerk seeking to justify an otherwise senseless act of artistic destruction, but his philosophy is asinine.  Part of the joy of art is its aspirational aspect.  People appreciate art that reflects great talent that they don’t possess.  Anyone who thinks a great painting is just a canvas for their personal aggrandizement is just piggybacking on greatness they could never achieve on their own talent.

What would happen if every museum patron felt free to scrawl whatever they pleased on a Rothko — or the Mona Lisa?  It wouldn’t be long before a Rothko ceased to be a Rothko and instead became a patch of random graffiti.  If I wanted to see that, I would book a flight for inner city Detroit.  Come to think of it, that might be a suitable punishment for whomever actually defaced the painting:  sentence them to a few years scrubbing away the graffiti in British toilets.

Modern Art

One of Larry Rivers pieces

One of Larry Rivers' pieces

Last night at dinner we happened to get into a conversation about modern art, and it caused me to think about Larry Rivers. In college, I took an excellent art class that introduced me to many of the “modern” artists, such as Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns — and Larry Rivers. I particularly liked Larry Rivers’ work because often it had an unfinished, dynamic feel to it. It was as if the artist had just walked away for a minute and the piece had been stolen from his easel. The subjects of Larry Rivers’ work also tended to have an ironic, humorous aspect. This piece captures both of those qualities, and is one of my favorites.