SAM is a great and simple acronym for the Seattle Art Museum. SAM itself isn’t simple. It’s actually 3 fine art venues in the Seattle area. I blogged about one of them, the Olympic Sculpture Garden, on October 3, 2014. The other two are an Asian Art Museum and SAM itself.
The Asian Art Museum is in an art deco building in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood, which used to be Seattle’s best address. In venerable Volunteer Park, it once was the Seattle Art Museum. Volunteer was designed by the busy Olmsted brothers in 1906 and named in honor of Spanish-American War soldiers. In 1991 a new SAM opened downtown, and this building in the park with its fine view of the landmark Space Needle remained closed for 3 years. It’s now devoted to SAM’s excellent Asian art collection. It’s so large that what’s on display rotates constantly. The works include textiles, stoneware, colored bowls by controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, etc. All is displayed in a pleasing, uncrowded manner on either side of the Fuller Garden Court. A ticket bought at SAM downtown is also good for entrance to the Asian Art Museum within a week of purchase. The Sculpture Garden is always free.
SAM downtown is renowned for its outside Hammering Man sculpture. Made of steel with an aluminum, moving arm, Hammering Man is 48 feet tall and always exciting to see. SAM’s huge inside atrium where patrons buy tickets is locally famous for its flashily lit, hanging car sculptures, but that’s about to change and not everyone, including me, is happy about that.
Two things, in my opinion, make SAM downtown unique among West Coast museums. Some of its growing Australian Aboriginal Art collection is concentrated in an area called “Billabong Dreams” on the top floor. I’m convinced that one day SAM will be known as the U.S. museum with the best Aboriginal collection. The street level SAM Gallery and Shop is one-of-a kind because it sells and rents real contemporary art. A recent Seattle Magazine Reader Survey called this the best gallery in Seattle, a city known for an abundance of these. Dale Chihuly lives here! The shop and gallery’s manager Jody Bento told me that SAM’s mission is to support local artists by featuring and selling their works to the public.
The hanging cars will go away as SAM sets up its new show. “Kehinde Wiley: a New Republic” will dominate SAM’s temporary show space from February 11 to May 8, 2016. Born in 1977, Kehinde has a growing East Coast reputation. Fascinated by stylized 18th century portraits of the aristocracy, Kehinde is painting his own aristocracy–rappers, athletes, women who look like they’d be right at home on TV’s Empire. etc. His obsession with contemporary portraits began at the Studio Museum in Harlem. What will replace the cars, I was told, will complement SAM’s upcoming show introducing this buzz-worthy artist to the Northwest.
Change, I believe, is both inevitable and good for us.