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What they’re saying about Capitol Hill’s Seattle Asian Art Museum overhaul: cross-cultural galleries, new Conservation Center, and all-gender restrooms

(Image: Seattle Asian Art Museum)

Saturday dignitaries including Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Michael Shiosaki of Seattle Parks cut the ribbon marking the grand opening of the overhauled and expanded Seattle Asian Art Museum in Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park.

“I‘m so proud that Seattle continues to showcase the rich diversity of our world — reminding us that we are all global citizens,” Jayapal said of the moment before the weekend’s expected 10,000 guests stepped in for their first looks inside the renovated and upgraded 1933-built art deco-style museum after three years of closure for the project.

CHS looked at the project’s history and nitty gritty details from floor to ceiling here:

Xiaojin Wu, the curator of Japanese and Korean Art for the Seattle Art Museum, says the reopening of SAAM includes a reinvention of how the creations and treasures are showcased that is “history amplified” and a new thematic approach that ignores international boundaries and highlights “an exchange throughout the region” of materials, styles, beliefs, and values. Modern photography is juxtaposed with ancient textiles. A ceremonial Indian elephant ankus glimmers in a case while a Chinese “Weeping Buddha” dances nearby.

After this weekend’s celebrations, the museum begins regular hours Wednesday. Meanwhile, here is a look at what others are saying about new life for the Seattle Asian Art Museum:

  • The New York Times focuses on the building’s design and, especially, the eastern expansion: The local firm LMN Architects was hired for the project, which consisted of modernizing the building and its mechanical systems, expanding gallery and education space and preserving its art deco facade. The new design also added a glass-enclosed lobby to the east side of the building, enhancing the connection between the museum and its surroundings in Volunteer Park.
  • The Seattle Times and longtime arts reporter Brendan Kiley dig into the museum’s new thematic approach to its holdings: The renovation also opened the door for reinvention, spurring some bold curatorial moves from a three-person team (Wu; Ping Foong, SAM curator of Chinese art; and Darielle Mason, curator of Indian and Himalayan art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). One big display of ceramics, for example, has no labels, inviting us to sharpen our eyes and look deeply. (Those who crave scholarship can find it on a nearby screen.) Bright, contemporary objects punctuate rooms full of dun-colored antiquities. And, most significantly, the museum is now organized not by country or epoch, but cross-culturally and under broad themes (“Spiritual Journeys,” “What Is Precious?,” etc.) No “culture in a box” for SAAM redux.
    The Times also posted this photo essay of the opening weekend’s scenes. 
  • KUOW’s report is also an artful approach with details of some of the special items now on display: Foong said visitors will see artworks that haven’t previously been on display, including an ancient sculpture of the Buddha. “We call him our Weeping Buddha, because he was always covered in moisture due to bronze disease,” she said. The sculpture is now housed a specially manufactured display case filled with gas that keeps the metal moisture free.

  • The Stranger also notes the new thematic approach: This arrangement allows for connections that wouldn’t normally be made in a “traditional” curation of a permanent collection, where things are arranged by our modern conception of borders or cultures. Time is a construct, a flat circle, everything is connected, etc.
  • International Examiner looks at the museum’s new Asian Paintings Conservation Center: Residing just below the museum’s galleries, the small studio sits at a little over 1,000 square feet. Inside, a reception desk welcomes visitors into the space while a nearby TV screen provides general information on the conservation process. A glass partition separates the conservators from the public, guaranteeing the art’s protection while offering a firsthand look at the treatments taking place atop elevated Tatami mats.
  • Architectural Digest: Nestled within Seattle’s Frederick Law Olmsted–designed Volunteer Park, the 1933 Asian Art Museum, with its distinctive stone facade and decorative aluminum window grilles, looks more like it did on opening day than ever before.


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2 thoughts on “What they’re saying about Capitol Hill’s Seattle Asian Art Museum overhaul: cross-cultural galleries, new Conservation Center, and all-gender restrooms

  1. It was gorgeous! My son and I swung by on Sunday, and the light airy feeling of the new wing was truly phenomenal… I think I’ll be getting a Sam membership just so I can go hang out and meditate by those massive windows after I’ve soaked up that chanting jukebox installation. New favorite stoner walk destination!!

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