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Art & Design

The Conscientious Curator

This summer, Seattle becomes a major art destination. A world-class traveling exhibition of famed artist Yayoi Kusama, which started at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., will land at the Seattle Art Museum. The Seattle Art Fair brings international galleries to the region. Chiyo Ishikawa, the Deputy Director of the Seattle Art Museum and a board member of On the Boards (a local organization that supports contemporary performing arts), offered her perspective on how the local cultural scene is developing, her own art history background, and little known facts about the Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park.

As a Board Member for On the Boards, you support emerging contemporary artists in the region. How have you seen this scene evolve in the area? 

I like the healthy balance that OTB strikes between introducing cutting-edge performance by international artists and robustly supporting the creative community in our area. In the visual arts, the gallery scene is evolving—alternative spaces, sometimes in people’s apartments, are showcasing new art. Throughout the Seattle arts scene I am excited that artists of color have more of a voice in programming; I look forward to the day when this is no longer noteworthy but just the way we do things.

Your expertise is in European painting and sculpture. What drew you to the field to begin with?

I was 12 when I fell in love. Though I probably couldn’t have articulated it at the time, I was drawn to European paintings’ connection to history and ritual, to a stable belief system, and to the way artists tried to surpass each other in a spirit of healthy competition. I also loved the variety of ways artists could address a recurring subject like the Nativity or the Crucifixion—what each one chose to emphasize to build an emotional connection with the viewer. You see a near-infinity of talent and ingenuity.

Throughout the summer, SAM holds tours of Olympic Sculpture Park. Name three little known facts about the works or the park itself.

  1. The park’s innovative design included several environmental restoration processes, including the return of a salmon habitat along the shore.
  2. The native plants are identified by their Lushootseed names, reminding us that this was originally Salish (indigenous peace of the Pacific Northwest Coast’s) land.
  3. Every summer, the park hosts a compelling, site-specific temporary installation. This year, it’s Latent Home Zero by Tacoma-based artist Christopher Paul Jordan. Visitors peer through a binocular telescope and observe what the artist describes as “an interactive silent film” addressing the historic migration of African American people across the United States through a series of collaged slides dedicated to north, south, east, and west.

Which cultural events are you most looking forward to in Seattle this summer and fall?

I am excited about the third year of the Seattle Art Fair August 3-6, and the wonderful satellite events like Out of Sight, this year in Pioneer Square. I will squeeze into Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors as many times as possible before it closes on September 10. SAM’s Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect (October 19, 2017-January 15, 2018) will surprise people with a radical reimagining of an artist many think they know. I won’t miss Ta-Nehisi Coates when he returns to Seattle Arts & Lectures on November 5. Lots of great performance coming up—Seattle Repertory Theatre’s fall season looks fantastic, and On the Boards of course has another must-see season. Finally, I’m looking forward to the world premiere of John Luther Adams’ Become Desert at the Seattle Symphony next March.