Strolling the four floors of artistic barrage that is the renovated Seattle Art Museum, a simple, four-letter word comes to mind.
After navigating its complex, new vertical structure and peering at elaborate works of art which span centuries of human civilization and are arranged in an interconnected continuum, the only thing I — an A&E writer just out of the gates — can say to SAM’s president, Susan Brotman, is an awestruck, somewhat obscure compliment.
“It’s so vast.”
She laughs and agrees, and we delve into the goals, gifts and proverbial blood, sweat and tears which have made the SAM what it is today, on the verge of its grand opening. Or grand re-opening rather.
A 35-hour marathon is slated for the SAM’s colossal celebration of its new space this weekend. It will begin at 10 a.m. May 5, continue through all hours of the night and into May 6. The entire event is free, but tickets are required due to limited space …
Limited space in 268,000 square feet of this four-floor museum lends mental illustration to just how massive the folks at SAM expect this party to be. And the four additional floors lying in wait above that current area signifies SAM’s expectations for the future.
But that will be then … this is now.
Right now above the main floor’s Brotman Forum, an immense sculptural rendering of an exploding arch of identical cars called “Inopportune: Stage One” by Cai Guo-Qiang hangs in symbolism.
The composition begins with a white car wheels on the ground; then seven more suspended cars — pierced with pulsing light rods — bridge the new building overhead through an opening into the SAM’s old space where the composition comes to an end with another car on the ground. Seaming.
Guo-Qiang’s featured piece has some similar qualities to stop animation cinema making it a visibly living work of art. And it’s ideal seems inline with what the SAM is trying to do with its space as a whole — creating connections through progression.
Throughout the 11 different gallery spaces, works have been hung with a bridging element in mind. Connecting cultures and time periods can enhance the viewer’s intimacy with a certain piece, art form or artistic era, SAM curators surmise.
A holistic example of that attempt is apparent in a fourth-floor gallery which pairs ancient Mediterranean art with Islamic art, intensifying similarities in style, thought and subject matter. A more individualistic example is found in the Northwest Artists gallery where four Morris Graves paintings — spanning 1925-1935 — hang side-by-side.
Walking out of the Northwest Artists space, one will find themselves in the chaotic, abstract expression gallery which modern and contemporary art curator Michael Darling bridged directly into the gallery of minimalism. Good for an ironic chuckle but also serves as a powerful link.
Another dynamic connection is found in the African Gallery where curators have set up a standing exhibit of tribal ceremonial masks and matched it with video of an actual ceremony — seen from the audience point of view on one screen and from the stage view on the other.
This type of technological enhancement is called on many times throughout the new space. One hundred pieces now have touch screen monitors which allow viewers a more intimate and specific look while seven other flat screen monitors will feature discussions with different collectors who have contributed to SAM, providing viewers with an even deeper connection to the museum’s collection as the SAM nears its 75th anniversary in 2008.