New in Town: Consuming Art and Curating Comfort in Seattle

Uncovering Seattle connections to Artemisia Gentileschi and finding familiarity in new places

By Ariel Shearer

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January 14, 2020

New in Town is a blog series dedicated to exploring Seattle anew. Every week I’ll highlight a place, person or thing I’ve uncovered on my mission to experience all Seattle has to offer. Read last week’s installment here.

It’s an image I’ve seen hundreds of times—as misandrist memes across the internet, a patch on the back of my partner’s denim jacket, to list a few iterations—but witnessing Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes in person at the Seattle Art Museum last weekend still sparked a visceral reaction. The intensity of the painting, which depicts two women working together to behead a man, quieted the busy side of my brain and let my ideological core take a long pause before I set to considering the unfortunate similarities between our present day and the time when this painting was created, just a few years after Gentileschi’s rapist was put on trial in the early 1600s. The contemporary weight of the work really can’t be ignored in the midst of #MeToo, especially with Harvey Weinstein’s trial starting just last week.

Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture at SAM, shared some insight by email after my visit:

“Artemisia Gentileschi is certainly having a ‘moment,’ with another resurgence of interest in her work, including this spring’s solo exhibition at the National Gallery in London. But her images of empowered women have always been extraordinary. Many male artists of her time depicted this Biblical story, but few focused on the bloody act of beheading. I can’t think of another artist who captured this episode with such grim ferocity. It is an astonishing painting that must be experienced in person.”

If you’re new to the city and looking for a reason to visit the Seattle Art Museum, let this painting be your inspiration before the Flesh and Blood exhibit closes on Sunday, January 26. And if, like me, you wind up craving more Gentileschi after your trip to SAM, grab yourself a copy of I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi, a tome of a graphic novel by Seattleite Gina Siciliano published in 2019. It’s an artist’s telling of the painter’s backstory, with a robust bibliography and a powerful preface that speaks to the author’s personal experience with sexual abuse and how Gentileschi’s art sustained her over the course of seven years spent researching for the book. (You’ll find drawings by Siciliano hanging in SAM not far from the Gentileschi, and paintings by Titian and Raphael also worth a long look if you’re a lover of the Old Masters.) The novel Blood Water Paint by local author Joy McCullough offers another Seattleite’s telling of Gentileschi’s life.

Getting lost in art museums (and books!) is an antidote for feelings of homesickness and alienation that accompany the constant exposure to newness inherent with moving. Gazing at paintings transports me back to all the museums I’ve visited in the past, wrapping me in a cozy, familiar blur. After we left the museum, my partner and I were determined to sustain that feeling of cozy familiarity as long as possible—a task made simple by the easy-going vibe and generous spread of French comfort food found at Le Pichet, a quaint bistro (recommended by editor in chief Chelsea Lin) that’s a quick walk down the street from SAM. It’s a perfect place for unpacking arty thoughts over wine and duck leg confit while feeling a little more at home the city.

Contact senior editor Ariel Shearer at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @arielshearer.

This article has been updated since original publication. 

Photography by Grant Hindsley

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