The new Seattle Art Museum has been expanded to 268,000 square feet. They have the option to expand into another seven stories of the Washington Mutual Tower after ten years, or they can incrementally expand through the addition stories which will bring the total of square footage eventually to 450,000!!
The museum is a success in terms of architecture and installations. The architecture is not simply a platform for an ego, but a sensitive partnership with the art works.
The lighting is stunning. As the architect Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works explained it, the museum has layers of light, including something called a brise soleil which covers a window and can black out a gallery or open up gradually according to outside lighting conditions. The interior galleries flow from the old to the new building, giving a new sense of dimension to works that formerly seemed to hang flat on the wall in an interior space, we can explore in different directions, intersecting cultures, intersecting ideas.
The best aspect of the museum is the combination of historical and contemporary collections, particularly in the native American area and African area. The interlayering of contemporary practice and historical and traditional work as well as the intersection of traditional media with state of the art technology enlivens these collections. Three native artists, Preston Singletary, Sonny Assu and Chris White spoke about their work in the galleries. Sonny showed altered cereal boxes that make a witty comment on contemporary cultural icons and the kitsch side of native culture. Marita Dingus spoke about her work on the slave trade, 400 men and 300 women of African descent, a ritualized work made of scraps of fabric into hundreds of tiny figures. The museum has the 300 women on loan, hopefully for a purchase.
The artist Jim Dine gave two early works made with real tools.
The Jacob Lawrence and Gwen Knight galleries ensured the presence of both African Americans and women ( who are still underrepresented in the modern art galleries). The stunning installation of Jacob Lawrence and Gwen Knight's work is complemented by the display of his tools on loan from the estate of Gwen Knight.
The American Art galleries have expanded in an incredible manner with major masterpieces like John Singleton Copley's Dr. Silverster Gardiner 1772, and two loans, an early Winslow Homer and a stunning George Bellows from 1911 that was shown in the Armory Show of 1913 and barely seen since. In addition, the museum is showing the Bird in Space by Brancusi which is the very one that was held up at customs at the time of the 1936 Cubism and Abstract Art Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art!!
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the reconstruction of a 72 foot Japanese scroll. The museum owns half of it and through the wonders of digital technology they have been able to digitally assemble the rest from other collections to be scrolled through in the gallery, as well as project an enlarged image on the wall.
More to come. Even I can't digest an entire museum in two hours.