A Quick Visit to The Seattle Museum of Art

I was in Seattle over the weekend giving a “Starving” to Successful workshop. The trip was extremely brief  – I landed in Seattle at 11:00 p.m. Frday and was back in the air again by 5:40 p.m. Saturday (there just long enough to wonder why I live in Arizona during the summer). My workshop ended at 1:00 Saturday, and by the time I finished visiting with the attending artists and got all my gear stowed, it was nearly 2:00. This meant I had two free hours and a rental car. My instant reaction in such a situation is to find the nearest art museum and make a quick visit. I looked up Seattle’s art museum on my phone, plotted the course, and took off.

By the time I got to the museum in downtown Seattle I could see that I was only going to have about 54 minutes, 12 seconds to do the entire museum. I’ve spent longer than that staring at a single Rothko painting. Not an ideal scenario, but it’s what I was stuck with. I parked, made my way to the front desk and started a virtual sprint through the galleries.

I know nothing about the history of the museum and I didn’t have time to learn anything about it, but basically it appears the museum has taken over 3-4 floors of a high-rise. The architecture is well done and the museum has some fun spaces. I think this museum could make a good case for using existing spaces instead of building independent buildings for museums.

That said, the Seattle Museum of Art doesn’t have a huge collection. There are some nice pieces, but it turns out the 55 minutes I had was just about enough to survey the museum. Two hours would have been more than enough to see and experience just about everything.

Highlights for me: The museum has a nice minimalist collection, some interesting renaissance works, along with some interesting modern art. There was a beautiful Lee Krasner, a nice, though small, Jackson Pollock. I spent some time admiring a spectacular Frederic Church painting.

The area I would have spent more time in would have been the Northwest Native American collection. I know nothing about Northwest Coast Native Art and the museum has some spectacular pieces. I’m always excited to learn something new and get a peek into a culture I’m unfamiliar with, but, unfortunately, by the time I came to those displays my countdown was getting critical and I had to breeze through with only a few quick stops and a mental note to return.

Overall, I can recommend a visit to the museum if you have a few extra hours when you are in the Emerald City. The museum asks for a voluntary $17 admission – and I find that number to be a little aggressive. The Met asks for $25,  the Philadelphia Museum of Art is $20, and the Cleveland Museum of Art is free. Compared to these world class museums, $17 seems like a lot for what you are going to see. I guess the museum needs the money to grow, but I wouldn’t feel guilty about giving them a $10 donation instead of the suggested $17.

Below are my snapshots from the museum. They are in no particular order, and while I usually try to get the wall info for each piece I photograph when I visit a museum, I just didn’t have time to do it here. Consider it a test of your art history acumen to figure out who the artists are!

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

5 Comments

  1. Very nice article, Jason! I’m local to Seattle area and have been to the Seattle Art Museum a few times, so I know by the interior photos you managed to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time!

    I wish I had checked in sooner – had I been aware that you were giving a lecture so close by, I would have found some way, any way, to attend! Friday found me in the throes of preparing for the Skagit Highland Games and camping for the event, preparing hand-made banners as we were the host clan this year, and most daunting (for me) of all, preparing for an hour-long feather-painting demo/presentation at the culture tent during the event. It was not your usual place for an art presentation, and mine was certainly not your usual presentation for a highland games, but it was a wonderful opportunity to talk to an entirely different audience, and most of those attending had not heard of my artwork before.

    Do you think you might get back up here for another workshop some time? I’m hoping you might, I would love to attend! If you do and you find yourself with extra hours again,and if you would like to see a wonderful collection of PNW Native art, I recommend the Burke Museum. They have a fantastic display of Salish, Haida, Kwaqiutl, etc. with many fine examples of flat design, carving, textiles and more. http://www.burkemuseum.org/

    1. Thanks Julie – I’m sorry it didn’t work out to get you to this workshop, but I will definitely be back. I’ll be giving the workshop in Vancouver, BC on August 24th if that would work for you.

      Thanks for the suggestion for my next visit!

  2. A few notes.

    The space was custom built for the museum. The south portion of the building was done by Robert Venturi in the early 90s. The north portion of the building was built in partnership with Washington Mutual (now Chase) and was designed by Brad Cloepfil. The museum was designed to grow vertically and has the right to “take back” additional floors from Chase in the future as the museum grows.

    Also, the museum does not have a sizable Inuit art collection. The Inuit live in the arctic and have a unique style of art that is all their own. The Northwest Coast tribes represented at SAM come mostly from the temperate coastal climate of Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. These groups include the Salish, Haida, Tlingit, Nuu-chah-nulth, and others. Their art is typified by the use of cedar and a distinctive red and black (sometimes blue) color scheme.

    If you ever visit Seattle again, I would recommend the Henry Art Gallery and Frye Art Museum. Their exhibits tend to be much more intellectually rigorous and challenging.

    1. Thank you Pascal – shows how little time I was really able to spend – I’m fixing some of the inaccuracies in the post and will make a point to spend more time next time in Seattle and will definitely hit the Henry and Frye.

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