Downtown Art and Culture: SAM

The Seattle Art Museum located downtown is a powerhouse of modern, decorative, native, and traditional art in the Northwest. It has grown to include the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park and hosts temporary exhibitions from some of the finest international museums.


Monday - Tuesday Closed

Wednesday 10 am - 5 pm

Thursday 10 am - 9 pm

Friday - Sunday 10 am - 5 pm


Adults $17

Senior/Military $15

Students $11

Children 12 and Under Free

As a native Seattlite, I have been to the SAM more times than I can count. However, the great thing about this museum is that it is constantly changing. I was excited to see that nearly every gallery had changed since my last visit. I started my visit on the top floor, to switch up my experience a little.

The African, European, Ancient, and Islamic art is found on the top floor. It's a vibrant display of decorative arts, paintings, and sculptures from around the world. African masks are paired with video footage of indigenous people using similar masks in dance and song. The Dutch gallery showcases the impressive Porcelain Room, which is filled to the rafters with tea cups, plates, and figurines. A new addition to the Dutch room, a painting by Kehinde Wiley, took classic European portraiture and mixed it with the high gloss of modern editorial photographs. It was a stunning contrast to the historic paintings hanging nearby. In the Greek glass gallery, a similar arrangement was done with various pieces of modern glass art. The introduction of modern pieces into traditionally historic spaces adds a depth to the interpretation that engages guests in interesting new ways.

Unfortunately the 'Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion' was no longer on display when I visited. However, they were setting up for the  'Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon' exhibition. One piece, an enormous cube built of speakers by Peruvian artist  William Cordova was already on display. The exhibition opens TODAY, October 17th.

One floor down houses the modern art exhibits, Native, Central American, and Asian arts. I am embarrassed to admit that although I am really into museums, I have no idea what to think about modern art. While I start out with every intention of gaining a deep understanding of the art, more often I find myself confused. That being said, there was a set of pictures I found especially interesting on this visit. Produced by Daryl Trivieri, these images are airbrush with ink and graphite on paper. They are two images of the same item, but one highlights 'hidden' things within the shape of the object. I loved hunting for more pictures within the picture!

The Native Art collection at SAM is one of my favorites, mainly due to the large masks and totem poles created by people indigenous to the NW. However, there are also modern works which highlight the versatility of traditional forms and styles in native art.

One area of this floor which I found troubling was the gallery exploring the art of the South Pacific, including Papua New Guinea and Easter Island. The gallery felt empty, bereft even, of objects. It relies heavily on staged backgrounds and cartoon-like wall decals. One of the display cases was nearly empty and missing its backdrop entirely. I liked what few pieces were on display, but the space felt like an after thought.

Down the corridor from the native art is the Japanese Tea room and the Asiatic art. I always loved the tea room as a child, it helped give context for the pieces laid out before me. As an adult I find myself more drawn to the array of kimono robes lining the walls of the gallery. Their technical difficulty in design, manufacturing, and construction awe me.

Today SAM opens its new exhibition "Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon" and I highly recommend going to see it. Whether you've been to the Seattle Art Museum a thousand times or this is your first visit, you'll see a variety of new things and walk away thinking.