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Evil, but cute & gay about it
...ramblings of the imperfectly innocent
The new SAM (4am edition) 
6th-May-2007 01:33 pm
For a long while now, the Seattle Art Museum has been closed as they expanded their space. Yesterday, they celebrated their grand reopening with a 35 hour long marathon event. I got there around 3:30am this morning. It was awesome. There was a crowd dancing in the new spacious public forum, and the bands were still going strong. The huge exploding car installation seemed to almost be flashing in time with the music; an unexpectedly vibrant atmosphere permeated the whole building. That noise travel may be one of the museum's few shortcomings, though: you could hear the (admittedly very loud) bands no matter where you were. At 4am, they switched to a more subtle electronica that appropriately reinforced the trippiness of being in a crowded art museum at four in the morning.

I'm not going to give another moment-by-moment account (of which I am so fond), but rather a series of general impressions. The new space is very, very nice. A good mix of large, open areas as well as small, cozy corners. (I won't spoil it, but if you find the sculpture called, IIRC, "Untitled (Cheap to Feed)", the placement they use is at least half the magic.) Enough of a maze to lose yourself inside the passages, but not so much that you get lost. It could be the late hour talking, but there were many, many extraordinarily beautiful pieces on exhibit. I was continually impressed with the quality of the collection. The Porcelain Room by itself is just overwhelming.

It really seems like someone wanted to spend gobs of money on making a modern museum with some class. They succeeded. And in what is perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to a museum, SAM seems *unique*, and not cookie cutter. This really hit home in (of all places) the gift shop. While the classes of items (books, glassware, scarves, &c.) were pretty typical, the particular ones they had seemed... so much better than any other museum gift shop I've visited. But on reflection, that quality really permeates the whole experience. The people who designed this place clearly knew what they were doing.

I can nitpick, of course. Some of the exhibit sections don't flow as well as I'd like (costumes to photographs to pop-art to 19th century landscapes; what?!?). And even though they've doubled their space, and there's a huge variety of styles, I was left wanting *more*. Perhaps I wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than the National Archives, though.

And while this is a fantastic place, I can't help but feel that it's not a revolutionary step, but an evolutionary one. Sure, there are audio/video displays, and even elegant computer aids in appropriate places (like the 70 foot long silver and gold Japanese scroll which couldn't be displayed in the traditional manner), but it doesn't seem like they tried to do anything on the bleeding edge. The more that I think about it, though, given Seattle's history of such projects (the monorail, the viaduct, public transit in general, the beautiful but not-entirely-user-friendly library), maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's a *really* good thing. They just tried to bring SAM up to a world-class level (or close to), and I think they succeeded.

Well done.
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