Seattle Museum celebration; the need to approach art on its own terms
The Seattle Art Museum's yearlong celebration of its 50th anniversary ends this June on a note of pride and optimism. Not only has the museum carved a special niche for itself among American art institutions, it also is about to realize its plans for a new and considerably larger building in Seattle's downtown area.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The actual site has not been chosen, and other details cannot yet be revealed , but everyone at the museum insists it's only a matter of time. One official, in fact, believes the move to new quarters will be made within three years at most.
The celebration itself has focused on several outstanding exhibitions whose character and emphasis underscore the museum's special interests and strengths. Chief among them have been ''The Box of Daylight: Northwest Coast Indian Art''; ''Praise Poems: The Katherine White Collection,'' a truly superb exhibition of African art; and ''50 Years: A Legacy of Asian Art.''
The last-named was designed as a tribute to Dr. Richard E. Fuller, the museum's founder, first president, and principal benefactor, who provided it with leadership and direction from its opening in 1933 until his retirement in 1973. His interest in Asian art led to the establishment of the Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, which now serves as the core of the museum's world-famous collection of Asian art.
Its fame is well justified, judging from what the museum staff chose to include in this show. Every piece is first-rate, and a few are among the finest of their kind. I was especially taken by the sculpture, and by a group of Japanese paintings including ''Black Bull,'' a mid-13th-century section of a handscroll.
Another 50th anniversary show, ''Morris Graves: Vision of the Inner Eye,'' is one I discussed when it originally opened at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., last year. (See Monitor review of April 26, 1983). Since Graves is one of the Pacific Northwest's two most famous artist-sons (Mark Tobey being the other), it is appropriate that an exhibition honoring his achievement be mounted here. This is the third installation of the Graves show I've seen, and I found it particularly effective. Anyone paying close attention must realize how cleareyed an observer of bird and animal behavior Graves is, and how brilliantly his images embody and evoke personal as well as Eastern spiritual ideas.
I was particularly pleased about this, for I feel very strongly that something must be done to correct the distorted reputation Graves has recently acquired in certain quarters as a painter of fuzzy-minded mystical works that depend more on Eastern ideas than on art for their effectiveness. So much emphasis has been placed on his otherworldliness, his involvement with Oriental philosophy, symbols, images, and art, that we have overlooked how superb an artist he is. Among other qualities, he has a remarkable grasp of line and form, and the kind of perception that sees precisely how things work. No one knows better than he how a bird cocks its head, grasps a branch, or prepares itself for flight. And no one can render small animals, plants, flowers, gnarled old trees, or fish (among many other things) more clearly or sensitively than he.