Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Artist at Washington Foundation Creates a Spectacle

During a June 2010 residency at The James and Janie Washington Foundation, artist Garric Simonsen created a project called The Spectacle. The project was inspired by a parade where he saw vendors roaming the crowd with carts selling inflatable novelty toys and balloons. What attracted him to these mobile stores was the effort each vendor put into the presentation of their products. What also interested Simonsen were some unique connections these vendors shared with the business of being a self-promoted artist.

Artists put themselves into the public eye displaying things, trying to be noticed for their ability to produce unique items. Most commonly their art is engaged commercially and in some cases mass-produced to appease high demands from collectors. This project critiques the idea that art is a commodity. It also symbolizes the artist’s ability to withstand public scrutiny, standing as a metaphor that interprets what it’s like to be viewed as a spectacle.

The connections between an artist’s self-promotion and a parade vendor inspired Simonsen. During his one-month residency at the James and Janie Washington Foundation, he created one of these carts and stocked it with his own selection of inflatable novelties. The process began with finding an abandoned shopping cart and getting it back to the studio for modifications. He ordered his products from an online retailer and began outfitting the cart with oversized sunglasses, glow-sticks, balloons shaped like frosty beer mugs, giant crayons, little guitars and even a huge inflatable hammer called the “Big Bopper.” This Saturday, he will set out on a three-mile pilgrimage to the art district in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Everything on the cart will be given away for free.

The walk will start around 10:00am Saturday, June 19th from The James and Janie Washington Foundation (1816 26th Ave.) and continue down Capitol Hill jetting back and forth between Pike and Pine Street eventually landing in Westlake Park around 12:30pm. From Westlake Park the cart will make its way through downtown, landing in Occidental Park in Pioneer Square between 3:30pm-4:30pm. Finally the artist will head up Jackson through the International District and turn north on 23rd , through the Central District.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Fountain of Triumph

As a student of the UW Museum Studies Certificate Program I’ve been volunteering at the James and Janie Washington Foundation for about 2 months. With my program now over, I can’t help but think how lucky I am to have found a practicum at a museum that keeps me constantly inspired by its mission, and excited to keep coming back. As a new student in the museum field, it is endlessly encouraging to be surrounded by motivated artists, to be a small part of Mr. Washington’s beautiful legacy, and to be around Tim Detweiler, executive director, for his constant enthusiasm about his museum and his great stories.

Sitting in the living room of the house, one photograph in particular has been grabbing my attention for the past two weeks. It’s a simple picture of Mr. Washington sitting in front of one of his sculptural fountains located in the Central District neighborhood as traffic and life pass by around him. However simple, the photo strikes me every time I enter the house. I think the photo, as well as Mr. Washington’s expression, says so much about who he was and what his foundation continuously strives to accomplish. The sculpture is on the corner of Union and 23rd, and was originally made as a meeting place for the community. He sits happily in front of the sculpture with a sweet, and unassuming demeanor.

The community is working to restore the sculpture and to restore the original idea of unity in an ever-changing neighborhood. The beauty and message of struggle and determination that the sculpture still brings to the neighborhood, long after his death, is moving. With the youth programs, exhibit tours, and artist in residency programs, the museum keeps Mr. Washington’s message alive and well and I’ve been honored to be part of it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Philadelphia sculptures found

James Washington was commissioned to sculpt six busts of African American heros in 1968. The sculptures were placed in the Rotunda of Achievement at the Freedom Plaza, the first African American owned outdoor mall. The sculptures at the Rotunda of Achievement were vandalized within a month of their installation in 1969. Mr. Washington later said, “That’s the way Philadelphia was in the 60s.” It was as if he expected it to happen.

Later in the 1980s, the sculptures were again vandalized and the management of the Freedom Plaza where the Rotunda was located, decided to take the sculptures off of public display. The Rotunda itself was later raised because it had become a hangout for drug dealers.

I became interested in the whereabouts of the busts when I heard about the story in 2007. I called a friend in Philly and checked public art websites and called several people in the City Government and found no information. An Art Historian, Susan Platt, who was going to the East Coast to do some research swung by the Plaza to look at the sight and ask a few questions. The spot where the Rotunda had sat was now a vacant lot and no one at the Plaza office even remembered the busts. Susan called the one person that the folks at the Plaza thought might know about the history. The woman that she contacted remembered the sculptures and said that they had been stored away and that was all she knew.

A year went by and Susan called the woman at the Plaza to ask if she had found out any more information. The woman was immediately excited when she heard Susans voice on the phone. She said that they had uncoved the sculptures, literally, when workers sarted on a renovation on the old Plaza building a week before. They removed a wall under a staircase and found the six sculptures underneigth.

Susan was able to visit Philadelphia again shortly after the phone conversation and photograph the busts. The faces of one of the sculptures had been painted white and the lips of two others. They are all in good shape otherwise and plans are being discussed to put them perminately on display in the offices of the newly renovated Freedom Plaza.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Io Palmer review

Io Palmer and Modou Dieng

BP John Administration Building, 17600 Pacific Highway (Hwy 43),
November 8–December 13

View of “Io Palmer and Modou Dieng,” 2009.From left: Io Palmer, Artstar #4, 2009; Io Palmer,Artstar #3, 2009; Io Palmer, Janitorial Supplies #7, 2009; Io Palmer, Janitorial Supplies #4, 2009.

Io Palmer’s ongoing work Artstars, 2007–, comprises a team of players represented, in absentia, by a collection of white “uniforms” paired with common cleaning tools (mops, brushes, and brooms) that have been radically accessorized with artificial hair, bobby pins, and barrettes, transforming them into radically hirsute tools. The Artstars are Palmer’s Dream Team—heroic amalgamations of the artist’s friends, family members, and sports heroes––and brilliantly synthesize haute couture, feminist art history, professional sports, and domestic servitude.

In the artists’ hands, a plain maid’s smock is sexed up into a flowing linen gown that opens across the gallery floor in a corona of petal-like teardrops. Palmer references labor and women’s work while raising African-American identity politics to glamorous new heights of Jugendstil panache. In one instance, Palmer exhibits a cape made of leather that is covered in bobby pins and patterned after former Detroit Piston Allen Iverson’s cornrows. The piece reads like a chain-mail cuirass lying in wait for its commander.

In the Art Gym’s second gallery, Senegalese artist Modou Dieng exhibits a series of new mixed-media wall works inspired by African cloth, African-American musical history, and sexy Blaxploitation graphics. Dieng works the canvas with a rigorous ease, incorporating vinyl LPs into the work and slathering them with iridescent paint and collage elements. In hello mom, hello dad, 2009, Dieng overlays silk-screened images of Malcolm X with actual albums (and their covers) by Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, and Isaac Hayes. The albums transmit a vibrant, kinetic energy and hark back to Marcel Duchamp’s Rotorelief devices. Yet Dieng takes on the history of the readymade and Pop art with a fresh attitude and finesse.

— Stephanie Snyder

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jen Graves' review

James Washington Jr.: The Saga

posted by JEN GRAVES on MON, NOV 30, 2009 at 4:06 PM

James Washington Jr. working on his bust of MLK.
  • James Washington Jr. working on his bust of MLK.
What do you say we focus on another black man in Seattle for a while?

Last week, just before Thanksgiving, I met Tim Detweiler at Woodside/Braseth Gallery to walk through The Spirit in the Stone: A Centennial Celebration & Exhibition Honoring James W. Washington, Jr.Detweiler was practically breathless. He talked for a half-hour before I got a word in, and before we even looked at the late Washington's art. The reason why: Detweiler has been buried in a mountain of fascinating stuff for the last year or so, and it's like he traveled to an undiscovered land and must. get. the. stories. out.

The exhibition does a solid job of starting things off for him, and it's a generous act by Woodside/Braseth, considering that much of the work on display is not for sale but instead either owned by the James and Janie Washington Foundation (open by appointment at 1816 26th Avenue) or owned by private collectors.

David, 1958. The mount coil could be a ground wire from a battleship; Washington worked as an electrician for ships in Bremerton for years.
  • David, 1958. The mount coil could be a ground wire from a battleship; Washington worked as an electrician for ships in Bremerton for years.
Raw paintings and collages tell the early story.Making of the United Nation Charter, from 1945, shows hands turning to bone and heads to skulls. The charter was supposed to include an expansion of freedoms for African Americans after the war. But it didn't. Four years later, another painting, with thick impasto sections and also collaged newspaper clippings, drew together Washington's brutal Mississippi past with a not-as-different-as-you'd-like Seattle present (he moved to Seattle in 1944). The painting is called Democracy Challenged, and it pictures the Statue of Liberty, her torch's flame going up into a newspaper headline: "Fiery Cross 'K.K.K.' Note Found Near -- Home" beneath "House Defeats Civil-Rights Part of Housing Bill." On the other side of the painting, balancing Lady Liberty on the scales of justice, are three lynched bodies. A headline, also from the Seattle Times, dated Thursday, September 8, 1949, reads, "Mrs. Roosevelt Says: North as Bad as South in Discrimination." In addition to the daily personal debasements Washington had to endure growing up in small-town Mississippi, his father had been "disappeared" after threats from the KKK. Washington Jr. never figured out what happened to Washington Sr., even after putting a couple of Pinkertons on the case later in his life.

Bunny rabbit, 1965
  • Bunny rabbit, 1965

What's amazing is that Washington started showing his art pretty much as soon as he got to Seattle, and never really stopped. He wasn't the established, university-based, powerhouse figure that Jacob Lawrence was, but he was a constant presence until his death in 2000. And his greatest medium was stone carving. At Woodside/Braseth are several examples of his irresistible animal carvings (they're almost entirely in the round), as well as a self-portrait bas-relief he made in 1976, the same year he made one of Mark Tobey (it was the year Tobey died). This is his only self-portrait in stone.

Detweiler is the first first full-time, permanent director of the foundation—housed at the Washington home and studio, where there are still piles of granite awaiting carving—and he and a small team of helpers have been making discoveries in the archives. They found a letter from Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros inviting him to dinner (he accepted). In the crawl space below the studio they found memos from Washington's work with the Congress of Racial Equality in Seattle in 1960 (they'd demand parity, and if bosses didn't make at least a good-faith effort, they'd picket).

In 1968, Washington was commissioned by Leon Sullivan to do a series of six busts of African Americans for the rotunda of a black-owned mall in Philadelphia. (The picture above shows Washington working on the MLK bust.) The busts were vandalized by whites—actually given white-face—until they were finally removed, and then lost. Until now!

Detweiler and his team (including Susan Platt) called the mall to try to find the busts, and nobody knew where they were, so they started looking. It turns out they'd been hiding for 15 years under a stairwell, some of the white paint still on them. Thanks to Detweiler and the foundation, they've been found. They're staying in (and owned by) the mall in Philadelphia, which is being renovated.

See the show, which also includes a room of works by Washington's friends and contemporaries, before it closes December 12. More images...

Bear cub with food, 1966
  • Bear cub with food, 1966

Democracy Challenged, 1949
  • Democracy Challenged, 1949

Dorset lamb reclining, 1979
  • Dorset lamb reclining, 1979

Making of the United Nation Charter, 1945
  • Making of the United Nation Charter, 1945

Self-portrait, 1976
  • Self-portrait, 1976

Market in Mexico City, block print, 1953
  • Market in Mexico City, block print, 1953

Entertainment | Review: Washington centennial show traces stages of artist's powerful voice | Seattle Times Newspaper

Entertainment | Review: Washington centennial show traces stages of artist's powerful voice | Seattle Times Newspaper