By ANN ROSENBERG
Less is more in the expanded SAM
The Seattle Art Museum recently opened two amenities that augment SAMs capacity to display its growing collections and to install special exhibitions.
The institutions new nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park (devoted to 20 and 21st century three-dimensional works) opened in January this year. In a 35-hour-long event on May 5-6, the 90,000 square foot addition to the museums already-established home of its North American, European, African and Oceanic holdings became available for public viewing.
Portland-based architect Brad Cloepfils addition to Robert Venturis 1991 edifice provided more space for improved presentation, educational amenities, a bigger shop, a proper restaurant, and exhibiting galleries where light levels within and views to the outside could be controlled via easy to operate steel, brise soleil window shields
According to comments on the Internet, the addition is ridiculously cool and it made the Venturi grand staircase work. The title of an article by Regina Hackett Not a show piece, but a show place sums up the favourable response SAMs 2007 addition has, on the whole, elicited.
The 1300 First Avenue exterior of Cloepfils extension does not make a seamless liaison with Venturis Post Modern composition it conjoins. Its a contrapuntal link thats true to Cloepfils own taste for a Modernism that evolved out of the Mies van der Rohe less Is more aesthetic. Beauty in this latter approach, results from excellent composition and use of materials.
Cloepfils arresting 18-storey tower is cloaked in grey steel elements and glass panels that are blue or grey under different light conditions and mirror everything that surrounds them in an ephemeral fashion. In the Venturi 14-floor building, the artistic effects are applied elements like the textured, non-reflective paneling and the fanciful striped archways which do not react with or reflect city life. The top two floors of the older edifice above those veneered with opaque cladding, are a Mies-inspired structure of mullions and glass to which Cloepfils entire design makes witty reference.
The new tower is the result of a clever arrangement between SAM and Washington Mutual, a bank that is making Seattle its home base. The museum occupies the lowest four floors of a building in which the financial institution owns the top four and currently rents the eight gallery equipped storeys in between. While WaMu awaits the completion of its own 42-storey highrise next door, it has a high-profile address and SAM can progress carefully into future expansion as its bottom line permits.
The Seattle Art Museums new logo projects out over University Street like a handshake announcing I am SAM.
Ann Rosenberg is a freelance curator, critic and author.