SEATTLE ASIAN ART MUSEUM, Seattle WA – Reopening Feb 8
by Matthew Kangas
Since its opening in 1933 as the original Seattle Art Museum, the Bebb & Gould–designed Art Moderne structure in Volunteer Park has been a beloved jewel box of Asian art, the preference of founding director Richard E. Fuller. Today, after two previous renovations, the 64,250-square-foot building on Capitol Hill has achieved a new glory, at a cost of US$56 million. This includes a US$3.5-million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help fund the largest Asian art conservation lab in the Pacific Northwest.
Besides ample daylight from ceiling skylights in other areas, the entry area, or Fuller Garden Court, now opens out at one end to the park beyond, allowing daylight into the court and the newly installed ceramics gallery behind it.
Curators Xiaojin Wu and Ping Foong followed the lead of cutting-edge material culture museums such as the Quai Branly, in Paris, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, DC: related artworks are displayed across historical and geographical boundaries, instead of in the traditional country-by-country chronological arrangements. As a result, visitors can make cross-cultural comparisons easily. They can track, for example, the evolution of celadon glaze from China to Korea and Japan, or the representation of Buddha in countries such as China, Japan, Vietnam, India and Thailand. As both Wu and Foong pointed out, this arrangement (or layout) will emphasize “transmission” and “pluralism without stereotypes.”
Three inaugural exhibitions mix historical and contemporary art from Asian countries: Boundless: Stories of Asian Art joins Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art and Gather, a sound-immersive installation by third-generation Seattle artist Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn. In Boundless, collection treasures are presented according to 13 themes, such as “Spiritual Journey,” “Blessings and Festivals,” and “Sacred Texts and Tales.”
Notably, art from the Philippines, Iran and Azerbaijan, never before exhibited, may now be enjoyed in a sparkling new setting.