Friday, March 5, 2010

Alexander Calder at the Seattle Art Museum and Taste

Seattle is blessed with a wonderful art museum that I had the good fortune to visit with my friend Jill just a few days ago. Jill works at the museum a few days a week, so a good thing got even better when we received free admission because of her employment there. We went with the purpose of seeing the amazing Alexander Calder exhibit that is on display right now. It features work in the Shirley’s private collection, major benefactors of the Seattle Art Museum. There are around forty outstanding pieces to be seen including the huge “Red Curly Tail”, “Spider Web”, and my personal favorite, “Bougainvillea”.

Calder worked mostly in the first half of the twentieth century. He is single-handedly responsible for the creation of the mobile genre. He was heavily influence by Joan Miro, with whom he maintained a life-long relationship. There is also quite a bit of similarity to Piet Mondrian in terms of his use of color, and his earliest works on display at SAM reminded me of Picasso. We had the benefit of one of SAM’s knowledgeable docents leading us through the galleries and telling us about each of the works on display.

I was struck by the playful character of Calder’s work. It had a child-like simplicity to it that belied its sophisticated balance and rhythm. While many of his works have a space-age minimalist look to them, there is a certain organic warmth that evokes nature and the elements. That coupled with a strong sense of energy and movement made for a dynamic and engaging collection of pieces to be seen at SAM.

Walking through the rest of the museum, Jill showed me some of her favorite highlights. There was a giant suit of armor made from dog tags, a wood carving showing remarkable soft-looking folds of fabric, and a terrific exhibit of the Pacific Northwest’s Native American people. I was also quite taken by an exhibit of Australian Paintings on the ground floor in a smaller tucked-away gallery. The museum has quite a lot to offer, much of which we did not have time to see.

We ended our afternoon at SAM’s elegant restaurant, Taste. It reminded me a lot of The Modern, which is attached to NYC’s MoMA. We ordered from their inexpensive lunch menu. I had a nice grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup that was warming and satisfying. There was even a little Calderesque garnish floating on the top of my soup.  Jill had a delicious spaetzle dish with grilled chicken, and we shared a deviled egg. Their comfort food offerings were just what we wanted on a chilly damp Seattle afternoon.

The wine list at Taste is excellent and features plenty of small local producers. We chose a semi-sparkling Riesling from Chehalem in the Northern Willamette to go with our afternoon repast. It was light, refreshing, beautifully aromatic, and complimented our food very well. We were both pleased to find out that it was only eight per cent alcohol, because we were sure to finish the bottle since it was so tasty. The lower alcohol didn’t leave us feeling tired and sluggish, and we were glad because it was only the beginning of our adventure-filled day.

I should also mention the impressive cheese plate at Taste. On the day of our meal there it featured: River Valley “Valley Girl”, Quillisascut “Curado”, and Samish Bay “Black Mambazo” all from Washington. They were delicious, and I engaged our bartender in a discussion about them. It ends up that she was just as big a “curd nerd” as myself, and she had quite a bit to say about cheese in the Pacific Northwest. The more I learn about Washington’s budding dairy industry, the more impressed I am with what it has to offer. I especially enjoyed the “Black Mambazo” which was rubbed with Chipotle pepper, cocoa, and cinnamon. I keep hoping the Washington cheeses will make it out to the East Coast soon.

Visiting SAM was a real treat. The Calder exhibition was magnificent and the permanent exhibits are equally engaging. It was also refreshing to visit a museum that had such a different viewpoint than what I am used to seeing at the MFA here in Boston. I anticipate a return to SAM, and look forward to visiting the Asian Art Branch in the near future.

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