Seattle is a good city to have friends and family in. I consider myself lucky to have a place to stay on Puget Sound, a simple ferry’s ride away from this vibrant, unique city full of culture. Every time I visit, I try to get at least one more taste of the city’s rich cultural identity. This trip, that meant heading just a few blocks from the shores of the Sound to the Seattle Art Museum.
The Seattle Art Museum (known around town as “SAM”) was established in 1933 at the urging of Richard E Fuller, who was then the president of the Seattle Fine Arts Society. Today, the museum maintains three different facilities. The main building I visited, which is in the heart of downtown Seattle, the Seattle Asian Art Museum (known as SAAM, and closed for renovations until 2019) and the beautiful Olympic Sculpture Park, which is seated at the waterfront just a few blocks from the iconic Space Needle and another favorite stop, MoPOP. SAM has seen major growth since the 90s, with a collection that exploded from just under 2000 pieces to over 25000.
The museum itself is a work of art. Clean, minimalistic and full of wide open galleries perfect for wandering, it makes an inviting first impression. A fantastic addition to this first impression is John Grade’s massive sculpture, Middle Fork, a beautiful hanging piece that began with the artist fully casting a 140 year old hemlock tree. Exciting special exhibits come and go frequently, with a planned “Darks and Lights” exhibit on October 19th to feature several artists, such as Enid Smith Becker, Deborah Bell and Nick Brown, as they explore the subject and its relation to the changing of seasons, and an upcoming Andrew Wyeth retrospective on October 19th that makes me want to buy another plane ticket out.
Even if you’re not around for something like the Wyeth, though, you’ll find a fantastic collection of art from around the world. SAM maintains a wonderful collection of modern art, including some of the elaborate Nick Cave sound suits I’ve come to love and a new temporary exhibition, Big Picture: Art After 1945 which is full of color, texture and some amazing grand scale sculpture from the likes of Gorsky, Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko.
SAM also has a global focus that’s immediately clear, and features some very interesting exhibits. One of my favorite was the Aboriginal art. Much of this art focuses on water and its importance to the tribe, and bold colors and striking patterns elicit waves and currents as they ebb and flow.
Perhaps my favorite part of the Seattle Art Museum, though, was its representation of the native cultures of the Pacific Northwest. SAM holds a magnifying lens up to the beautiful lineform and color involved in the First Nations of the region, including beautiful totems, paintings and masks both new and old. It’s this part of SAM that really sets it apart from other art museums like it, and gives it a sense of place and appreciation for the uniquely beautiful region of the country that Seattle was born into. It gives a clear picture of the people from ancient times forward, even looking at the struggles those First Nations endure today.
The Seattle Art Museum is pitch perfect. It’s as vibrant and exciting as MCA Chicago with exhibits to excite and challenge, and its galleries contain some of the finest art from every period and school. It’s got a full calendar of events, a fantastic gift shop and excellent restaurant, and on top of everything else, it’s in the heart of Seattle’s downtown, just a block or two from the ferry terminals and a short walk to or from Pike Place Market, another must. My opinion? There’s no good reason for you NOT to take a trip to the Seattle Art Museum if you find yourself in the Emerald City.
For more on our time in Seattle, check out our travel journal from this trip here.