Yesterday, the Seattle Art Museum announced that the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park will finally reopen next month, after more than a year of closure due to the pandemic. Previously, the museum had been closed for nearly three years as the historic, Carl F. Gould-designed building underwent extensive renovations, and as curators embarked on an exciting "reimagining" of the permanent collection.
The Asian Art Museum will open on Friday, May 28 for the general public and Friday, May 7 for SAM members, with opening hours from 10 am to 5 pm, Friday through Sunday.
Like most other museums in the city, timed tickets are a must for entry. The public will be able to start reserving timed tickets for the May 28 opening on April 29. (For SAM members, reservations open starting on April 15). For all, tickets will continue to be "released on a rolling basis, every Thursday."
Entry will be free for those lucky enough to get timed tickets for the May 28 opening, but the museum will continue to offer free admission on the last Friday of every month.
Though relatively few visitors saw the revamped Asian Art Museum after its February 2020 opening, its was still an exciting moment for Seattle. The celebrated Art Deco building that houses the museum got some major renovations, including a multimillion dollar expansion that added thousands of square feet of gallery space, as well as a conservation center for Asian art, an updated HVAC system, renovated flooring, and a reinterpreted sense of light in the building.
Another major element of the Asian Art Museum's renovation was the "reimagining" of their permanent collection, which was undertaken by SAM's curator of Chinese art, Foong Ping, and curator of Japanese and Korean art, Xiaojin Wu, along with consulting curator of South Asian art Darielle Mason. Rather than grouping objects by year or country of origin, they instead rearranged the collection by thirteen different themes, such as spirituality, color and ceramics, the afterlife, precious materials, and the natural world. Ancient ceramics sit next to modern ones; Korean works sit next to Indonesian ones.
Here's some of what I wrote about the reinterpretation of the Asian Art Museum's collection for The Stranger's Spring Art & Performance guide just before COVID changed our world:
This thematic approach is an unusual move. Museums are not, generally speaking, the most experimental institutions. Foong said they wrestled with the idea for some time because they did not want to sweep real differences between countries and cultures under the rug, or assert that all Asian cultures were the same. But a thematic approach opened up conversations between objects that weren't necessarily apparent before.
It was a "long process" figuring out themes broad enough so that other objects in the museum's collection could rotate in. "We want various authorities to be represented, we want authentic sustained engagement," said Foong. Because many Asian artworks are light sensitive, objects have a display life of three to six months before needing to be rotated out to preserve their longevity. It was important to the curators to create themes that hit on important ideas and constructs in Asian visual culture, and that also spoke to the strengths in SAAM's collection.
I'm excited to get back into the building and see what new connections my brain will make after more than a year away. And in the wake of the targeted violence on the Asian community both here and across the country, it's an important moment to reflect on the history and culture of an invaluable part of Seattle.
Find more information about the Asian Art Museum's re-reopening here.