I recently had a chance to spend a full day in Seattle to explore the city and wanted every hour to count. So when I settled into my hotel bed the night before, I decided to narrow my visit to one major activity to satisfy my visual arts appetite and placate a strong urge to return (after some 20 years) to a jewel of a museum. And so it was that I flagged a cab outside my hotel the next morning and instructed the driver to drop me off at the Seattle Art Museum...otherwise known as the SAM.
As I walked towards the building, I was greeted by the stately 48-foot tall steel and aluminum kinetic Hammering Man standing "at attention" outside. This extraordinary sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky is one of my favorite works of art in the world. The earthy monumental piece engages the viewer and represents so well the work ethic that Seattle represents -- it's a perfect fit for the city!
The SAM proved to be the perfect arts emporium for a one day exploration. I loved the fact that it is a medium-sized space with a manageable layout that doesn't wear you out from too many ramps or stairs. And there were great, comfy spots along the way to sit even when the feet did start to complain.
The best part is that visitors are allowed to photograph most of the exhibitions except for special traveling shows. This is usually a big no-no in most museums!
I was particularly drawn to this museum because of a small installation by an artist from Chicago who I have just recently become acquainted with. His name is Theaster Gates and he is currently one of the hottest contemporary artists in the U.S. His installation called The Listening Room, a site-specific exhibition showcasing the music from the 60s to the 80s through vinyl records. The installation purveys this music to a public that crosses racial and cultural lines and is presented within the framework of an unseen DJ spinning the hits and thus revealing some of the social and political events of this often-turbulent era. The viewer is invited to pause and summon up some thoughts about what it means to listen to music that is perhaps foreign to a generation of listeners who now enjoy hip-hop instead of old works recorded on vinyl disks.
I snuck in a tasty little snack at the small café before continuing my journey through galleries where the art is exhibited in what I call a 'come hither' ambiance that invites close-ups. I loved the architectural open spaces on the second floor, which allowed us to look down on the art and savor different perspectives.
The museum's permanent collection is encyclopedic in its scope. I discovered unfamiliar artists in the contemporary galleries as well as old favorites. I felt comfortable in pausing at pieces that were particularly striking and in a few cases amusing. One of the gallery guards even offered to take my picture with a piece that was really shocking and hilarious, "Mouse and Mann", by Katherina Fritsch. This sculptural mixed media concoction is truly surrealistic art at its most confrontational as it presents a huge black rat sitting on a white-clad male reclining on a white linen bed. Hallucinations anyone?
No visit to a museum, at least for me, is complete without a foray into the gift shop. I consider myself a connoisseur of museum shops having shopped at hundreds across the globe. I like to look for books that give an overview of the exhibitions and the museum's permanent collections. I also make sure to search for art education materials for my grandchildren, both of whom love art and are eager little artists themselves. They make great keepsakes for a young inquiring mind!
However, my great temptation is the purchase of jewelry from local artisans. More people have admired my jewelry from museum stores than any other adornments in my wardrobe. I departed with some great purchases; a pair of fabulous earrings, a book on the SAM Collection and a catalogue from the special spring Gauguin exhibition.
It was a full and comfortable day (no aching feet). I left with the pleasurable sensation of a visit to a world-class museum both in collections and environment. And I covered a millennium of artistic excellence on two floors within flowing, pristine and well-organized gallery spaces. To all of you headed to Seattle...my Grannies on Safari tip is that this visit is a must! Viva SAM!
Follow Regina Fraser and Pat Johnson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GranniesOnSafar