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In 1962, Seattle hosted the World's Fair: Century 21. Opening the twenty-first of April, my family was one of the first in the neighborhood to take advantage of its nearness to home. My father, an aerospace engineer, had high expectations for the event which showcased the latest advances in technology. My mother, an artist with buried aspirations, was excited for the exhibits that were to be on hand depicting the evolution of art since the Renaissance. In the shadows of the graceful upward sweep of the Space Needle - the fair's centerpiece - and the princess arches of the science pavilion, both had their expectations met. Although I was just a year old at the time, over the years I've heard so many stories of our visit, they feel like memories of my own.


Art Since 1950: American and International, Seattle World's Fair Fine Arts Pavillion, April 21 - October 21, 1962
compiled by Sam Hunter and William Sandburg
Joh. Enschede' en Zonen, 1962
160 pp

Art Since 1950: American and International, Seattle World's Fair Fine Arts Pavillion, April 21 - October 21, 1962 is one of three publications cataloging the art exhibited at the 1962 World's Fair. By their very nature, catalogs tend to be dry, statistic-weighted documents. That said, Art Since 1950 (and its two companion catalogs) are interesting, historical, and nostalgic to-boot.

American
Overseen by Norman Davis, Director of Fine Arts Exhibits, Seattle World's Fair, Art Since 1950 (and its exhibit) are divided into two sections: American, and International. Curated by Sam Hunter (Brandeis University), the American collection is comprised of seventy-five paintings and thirty-nine sculptures in an effort to reflect the exhuberance and vitality of America's art scene.

Opening with Jasper Johns' Map (1961), the painting depicts a map of the United States in red, gold and blue, similar to the red and blue state electorial maps trotted out by the networks every other November. The state boundaries are blurred and inexact, suggesting national identity trumps that of state. The image is one of only six in full-color. The art of the 1950s leaned heavily toward the abstract, and color played a large part in its messaging, so it's unfortunate that the overwhelming majority of the plates are black and white.

Included in the exhibit is Woman IV by Willem de Kooning (1953), a piece reminiscent of finger painting. Its crude and broad strokes (smears, really) capture the essence of a female figure, full-faced and bosomy, but her story's only half-told represented as it is in black and white. Similar in style are Jackson Pollack's Ocean Greyness (1953), and Hans Hoffman's In the Wake of the Hurricane (1960), a piece filled with chaotic movement, presented in full-color that captures the rich pigmentation preferred by the artist. Other stars of the American art scene included in the exhibit are: Barnett Newman (Onement Number 6, 1953); Robert Rauschenberg's Hazard (1957) and Stuart Davis' Premiere (1957), two pieces reflective of the era's commercial art, similar to the pop art stylings Andy Warhol - as yet undiscovered - would become famous for; and Mark Tobey (Serpentine, 1955) who was also included in a separate exhibition at the fair featuring the Seattle Art Museum's collection of Tobeys. Unfortunately, the plate is black and white; Tobey's pieces really require color to achieve their full impact.

Like the paintings of the fifties, the sculptures too demand imagination from the viewer. With a tendency toward earthiness (save for a few technical pieces) exact definition was apparently a thing of the past. The sculptures presented here, for the most part, look more like bludgeoning devices than figures; random accidental results than crafted sculpture. Among the American sculptors included are: Jacques Lipchitz (Sacrifice, 1959); Seymour Lipton (Thorn, 1959); Robert Mallary (Red Collage, 1960); and Isamu Noguchi's Woman with Child (1958), a standout piece due to its graceful curves and material (the artist used Greek marble).

International
On the International side of things, painters appear to be influenced by the same forces that informed their American counterparts. Curated by William Sandburg (Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam), artists included are: Italy's Pinot Gallizio (The Temptations of Pythagoris I, 1960, and The Temptations of Pythagoris II, 1960, both pieces suggestive of Hans Hoffman's for their vibrant use of color); Danish born Asger Jorn (Stalingard the Non-existent, 1957-60, done in a style reminiscent of Jackson Pollack); and the absurdly crude brush strokes of Dutch artist Lucebert's Baby Elephant, 1960.

The sculptures selected for the International exhibit are in line with those of the American: earthy and free of precise definition, but even more so. Their unlicensed styling melds nature with art; raw grit with finesse. Whether the ultimate result be smooth (Jean Arp's Human Lunar Spectral II, 1958), rough (Shamai Haber's Space Construction, 1960-61) or somewhere in-between (Karel Appel's Two Torsos, 1961), the apparent goal of '50's sculpting was to create form while leaving no tell-tale signs of the artist's hand in it. These sculptures look closer to something coughed up out of the bowels of the earth than they do to a visual representation of a thing. Their beauty lies in their naturalistic crudeness. Other sculptors included: German artist Norbert Kricke (Spatial Sculpture, 1961); France's Francois Stahly (Big Wood, 1959-61); and Austrian Fritz Wotruba (Two Figures, 1949-50).

Since World War II (some would say earlier), Paris' reputation as the center of the art world had been waning, leading critics and observers to declare New York as its new center. The impressive showing by America's sculptors and painters at Seattle's Century 21 Exposition quietly affirmed that declaration, and to this day New York is considered the center of the world of art.


Masterpieces of Art: Seattle World's Fair Fine Arts Pavillion, April 21 to September 4, 1962
compiled by William M. Milliken, PhD
The Lezius-Hiles Co., 1962
164 pp

Like its companion, Art Since 1950: American and International, Seattle World's Fair Fine Arts Pavillion, April 21 - October 21, 1962, the catalog for Century 21's Masterpieces of Art exhibit is informative both visually and textually. Where Art Since 1950 dropped the ball on text, Masterpieces of Art: Seattle World's Fair Fine Arts Pavillion, April 21 to September 4, 1962 picks it up. Whereas Art Since 1950 furnishes only the most minimal details on the artists (place of birth and expositions they've participated in), Masterpieces of Art provides a nice bio on each and every artist exhibited, including places of residence with the where and how their painting was affected by regional influences, including religion dominated art movements.

Art History for Dummies
Like Art Since 1950, Masterpieces contains only six color plates, leaving to the imagination what the likes of Monet or Picasso look like in color. French painter Georges Seurat's portfolio (Le Chehut, 1889) suffers dearly in black and white. The whole point of developing the painting style that he did (an expressionist style called pointillism) was to give his paintings greater intensity of color and luminosity. We're told it was very effective, but we'll have to take the author's word for it.


      "Traveling throughout the Netherlands and looking for a painter, [I] had found but one, Henricus Ter Brugghen."

William M. Milliken, PhD (Cleveland Museum of Art), curated the Masterpieces exhibit. Like the Art Since 1950 exhibit, it too is divided into American and International (European) masters. The paintings (in both the exhibit and book) are chronologically arranged from earliest to latest, first the Americans, then the Europeans. The editorial attempts to show how one style of painting evolved into another, but that's a hard row to hoe. Artists don't just drop how they're accustomed to painting and adopt the style of the latest trend. And geography - especially prior to the nineteenth century - often determined a painter's style. Artists, more so than not, evolve slowly from one style to the next, blurring the lines between them.

East by West
In order to prevent physical injury, a few limits on the art that could be included in the Masterpieces exhibit were adopted. As a result, paintings on wood panels were not considered for the exhibit, which limited the earliest pieces to the sixteenth century, when the use of canvas became widespread. That said, in an effort to be globally inclusive (it is a World's Fair, after all) a few pieces of Asian art were included, the earliest a jade elephant from the Shang Dynasty (fourteenth to eleventh century B.C.). A few early decorative European pieces are also included, religious in origin, ranging from the tenth to the thirteenth century.

Each piece has two pages devoted to it. Each piece in the exhibition is pictorially represented in the catalog (not every piece in the Art Since 1950 exhibit was). The Americans are represented well by the diverse styles of George W. Bellows (Dempsey and Firpo,1924), Charles Demuth (My Egypt, 1927) and Winslow Homer (Eight Bells, 1886), represented in full-color as it should be. Who captures the muted tones of sea and sky better than he?

West by West
The Europeans represented are a familiar list of who's who in art history, including the godfather of all western painting since he first lay brush to canvas, Rembrandt (Portrait of a Young Man, 1633). Also on the list: Rubens (The Archduke Ferdinand, Cardinal-Infante of Spain, 1635); Renoir (whose Neopolitan Girl's Head, was chosen for the cover); and Cezanne (The Gulf of Marseilles, Seen From L'estaque, 1886-90). Less familiar Europeans include: classicist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1864, stunning in black and white); the generally uncredited father of cubism Georges Braque (The Table, 1935); and the Caravaggio-influenced Dutch painter Hendrick Terbrugghen whose piece Martyrdom of St. Sebastian is depicted in stunning full-color, and of whom Rubens purportedly said, "Traveling throughout the Netherlands and looking for a painter, [I] had found but one, Henricus Ter Brugghen." Not a bad endorsement, if you can get it.

The final entry in Masterpieces is Pablo Picasso's Woman Seated in a Chair, 1941. It's not his most popular piece; the head of the woman looks too much like a horse's, and the composition is flat, deliberate in its two-dimensionality. Though the painting is suggestive of cubism, it lacks the visual trickery of cubist form. That it breaks from every style of his previous periods (he had three; four if you count his three dimensional pieces) is likely why this particular painting was included. Picasso was a force of nature; that he's represented here is a no-brainer. While his vases look good in black and white, his paintings, and the man behind them, are deserving of color.


Northwest Coast Indian Art: Seattle World's Fair Fine Arts Pavillion, April 21 - October 21, 1962
edited by Alan C. Wilcox
University of Washington Press, 1962
102 pp

The Third catalog of the 1962 World's Fair Art Pavilion focuses on the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest. By far the best of the set, Northwest Coast Indian Art: Seattle World's Fair Fine Arts Pavillion, April 21 - October 21, 1962 is packed with information on tribal customs and the art at the center of its life and ritual. The exhibit was curated by Erna Gunther, PhD., director of the Washington State Museum, University of Washington. Under her guidance, pieces were selected for the exhibit not only for their visual impact but for the narrative they told about the people they once belonged to, both in their day-to-day routines and in the religious rites and pageantry they subscribed to. The University of Washington has the largest collection of Native artifacts on the west coast, so there was no shortage of material to choose from.

Environment
The tribes of the Pacific Northwest coast lived very differently from their inland cousins. Their environment provided an abundance of food and wealth which didn't require them to be nomadic in order to procure. They did travel though, and evidence points to heavy trading between the various tribes of the coast. For this reason, they were influenced by each other, as is reflected in the common themes and style of their art, clothing, customs and mythology. Because they weren't nomadic, they were able to establish villages of permanence, fostering a culture of peace (for the most part) between one another.

The tribes valued alliances. It wasn't uncommon for them to travel hundreds of miles to attend a potlatch or dinner in which the host pulled out all the stops, often beginning preparations for them a full year in advance. The more wealth a family gave away, the higher its regard in the community.

Geography
Due to the geographical isolation of the Pacific Northwest, its coastal tribes were left in relative peace by the Europeans. Early explorers depended on them for trade, and they were more than happy to oblige. Thus, both the materials used and the subjects depicted in their artwork evolved over the nineteenth century, reflecting their contact with early Europeans. Sparse contact, of course, didn't last for long, and by the end of the century their culture had been upended, as is reflected by the University of Washington's huge cache of native artifacts.

As I thumb through the catalog, I'm struck by how sophisticated the coastal art is. Some items rest beside entries that explain the native customs associated with them; others, the editor admits, are still a mystery. Some items are completely foreign to me, while others possess that nagging familiarity of something seen before. I was only a year old when I attended the Seattle World's Fair. But still . . . it feels something akin to memories.

posted 05/13/22


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