SAAM’s Mood Indigo showcases the wondrous blue hue that saturates our world.

By Jeremy Buben
April 25, 2016

With the arrival of spring and warmer weather I notice that the blue clothes in my closet come into significantly heavier rotation. The blacks and grays of winter move further out of reach and indigo dyed fabrics become the staple of my wardrobe. These garments in blue tones hold up to hours lying about in grassy fields for leisurely picnics and concerts on the lawns of city parks, often looking the better after all the wear and fading. Indigo hasn’t just resurfaced in my closet this season but also at the Seattle Art Museum.

At the museum’s Volunteer Park location, known as the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) curators have drawn from their extensive permanent collection for the latest exhibition titled Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World. The exhibit of over 100 indigo textiles covers an impressive variety of shades from across the globe and from a vast slice of history up to the contemporary.

Speaking of contemporary, Mood Indigo begins on a dramatic note just after one enters the main courtyard of the museum. The first gallery is an installation from American artist and indigo farmer Rowland Ricketts that aims to be both immersive as well as inspiring. With a soundtrack and hundreds of dried strands of the actual indigo plant nailed to the wall, the first gallery beckons the visitor to delve deeper than just the surface color. Take a moment to stand in and look at the subtle gradation of blue in the patchwork curtain hung in a cylinder at the middle of the room. Listen carefully and you’ll hear field recordings of indigo seed being sown, plants being harvested, composted, and turned into dye.

Once you’ve experienced how indigo is created the galleries open up before you and one can take in all the splendid textiles that are saturated in the deep blue hue. The exhibit pulls largely from SAM’s collection of Japanese and Nigerian garments, but peppers in some remarkable finds from ancient Egypt and Peru, intricate Indonesian batiks, and even a couple of Native American items from closer to home. A particular show stopper are the trio of recently cleaned and repaired Flemish tapestries dominating the corners of the back gallery. These enormous tapestries depict the continents as seventeenth century Europeans might have imagined. Although terribly inaccurate as realistic depictions, they are mesmerizing in their intricacy and over the top imagery.

Amongst the sea of blue the details really stand out, and this is what makes the exhibit really shine. Whether it is the intricate resist dyeing techniques or the meticulous embroidery, each garment has so much detail to explore and ponder. The wide range of backgrounds of these textiles are fascinating; they covered regal Belgian walls, wrapped precious items in Korean households, clothed the imperial court of China, and kept firefighters in Edo period Japan safe while battling flames. And after serving a wide variety of uses from practical to ceremonial they have all somehow found their way to Seattle where we can visit them; might I suggest we do so in our best shades of blue.

Seattle Asian Art Museum
Volunteer Park
1400 E Prospect St, Seattle, WA 98112

The Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around The World exhibit runs through Oct 9.

Jeremy Buben is a Seattle-based freelance writer and art addict. He is probably out there looking at art right now and instagramming it under the name @art_goers. Jeremy has written for other Seattle online publications including Seattle Met, Art-Nerd, Vanguard, and Crosscut