Seattle Art Museum
In the heart of downtown Seattle, light-filled galleries invite you to wander through our collections, temporary installations, and special exhibitions from around the world. Our
collections include Asian, African, Ancient American, Ancient Mediterranean, Islamic, European, Oceanic, Asian, American, modern and contemporary art, and decorative arts and design. Visitors especially enjoy our remarkable Native American galleries and our exceptional collection of Australian Aboriginal art.
Expansion of SAM
The opening of the new Seattle Art Museum in 2007 unveiled a striking expansion designed by Brad Cloepfil of
Allied Works Architecture, which doubled the museum’s public and exhibition space.
Cloepfil’s design seamlessly connects to SAM’s existing downtown facility, which was designed by
Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates and opened in 1991. The expansion was designed to highlight the art within and create a center of creative expression and energy in downtown Seattle. Its elegant stainless steel façade responds to its urban surroundings, the light and the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, while spacious interiors provide an inviting environment for the experience of art.
In conjunction with the opening of the expansion and SAM’s 75th anniversary in 2008, the museum has also received an unprecedented series of gifts from prominent museum patrons and collectors. The gifts—nearly 1,000 works from more than 40 collections—significantly enhance SAM’s holdings and reinforce the museum’s dedication to artistic excellence. In a remarkable show of support, entire collections by some of the Northwest’s leading collectors have been committed over time, creating the largest gift in the museum’s history.
SAM HISTORical TIMELINE
From its early 20th-century roots as the Seattle Fine Arts Society to its growth into a dynamic museum with three distinct venues, explore how the Seattle Art Museum evolved into a vital Seattle institution.
The Seattle Fine Arts Society becomes the Seattle Art Museum under the leadership of Dr. Richard E. Fuller. Carl F. Gould is retained as architect. Dr. Fuller and his mother, Margaret MacTavish Fuller, traveled extensively collecting Japanese and Chinese art in the early 1900s. They gave the City of Seattle $250,000 to construct and maintain the Seattle Art Museum. Dr. Fuller, who directed SAM for its first 40 years, donated much of his own collection and acquired important works by contemporary Northwest artists such as Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, and Kenneth Callahan.
The Seattle Art Museum opens its doors the year President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiates his New Deal. The Art Deco building, designed by architects Carl F. Gould and Charles Bebb, opens to the public with a collection of 1,926 works of art. Three hundred thousand people visit the Seattle Art Museum in its first six months. In his subsequent 40 years as director, Dr. Fuller never receives a salary.
War brings the threat of danger to Seattle: 650 important works from the collection are removed from Seattle and transported to Denver for safekeeping until the end of World War II.
The museum hosts its first large-scale traveling exhibition,
India: Its Achievements of the Past and of the Present.
Asian art scholar Sherman E. Lee arrives to serve as assistant director. He will bring treasured works of Japanese art to SAM and will help acquire the Kress Foundation collection of European paintings for the museum.
Mrs. Donald Frederickson donates one of SAM's most beloved treasures of Japanese art—the early 17th-century
The museum hosts an exhibition of Japanese treasures sent to the United States by the Japanese government as a goodwill gesture.
Drawn from the private collection of Van Gogh's nephew, the special exhibition
Paintings and Drawings by Vincent van Gogh sets attendance records with 126,110 visitors. A Mark Tobey retrospective, celebrating the Northwest master, is organized by SAM and features 224 objects. The show tours museums in Portland, Colorado Springs, Pasadena, and San Francisco in the following months.
The Seattle World's Fair raises the visibility of the museum and suggests its potential for the future. In 1964 two World's Fair pavilions at Seattle Center are combined to create a SAM branch facility for temporary exhibitions, the Modern Art Pavilion.
The National Council on the Arts (later the NEA), the Seattle Foundation (which Dr. Fuller helped to found), the City of Seattle, and Dr. Fuller finance the acquisition and installation of Isamu Noguchi’s
Black Sun in front of the Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park. It is the NEA’s first commission in Seattle.
The museum hosts its first retrospective of the work of American master Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence and his wife, Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, moved to Seattle in 1970; they will live and work here for the next thirty years.
Exhibition activity at the Modern Art Pavilion ramps up after the founding of the modern art curatorial department in 1975. In 1976, Museum Week celebrations include a visit from Andy Warhol concurrent with an exhibition of Warhol portraits.
Treasures of Tutankhamun opens. Its extraordinary success—nearly 1.3 million visitors, a record, attended the show at Seattle Center—spurs the idea for a new SAM in the city’s downtown.
The SAM collections expand with an unexpected gift of African art from collector Katherine C. White and through the support of the Boeing Company, an extraordinary combination of private philanthropy and corporate support.
Jonathan Borofsky’s giant
Hammering Man is commissioned by the city in anticipation of the opening of the new museum in downtown Seattle.
On December 5, the new downtown museum, designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, opens its doors. The collections now include works of Northwest Coast Native art, donated in the same year by trustee John Hauberg.
The original Art Deco building in Volunteer Park reopens to the public as the
Seattle Asian Art Museum. More than 6,000 visitors celebrate the opening on August 13, 1994. Mimi Gardner Neill (Gates) is named director of SAM. She remains the director until 2009, having led the institution through the creation of the
Olympic Sculpture Park, the downtown expansion, renovations to the Seattle Asian Art Museum, dozens of special exhibitions, and thousands of new acquisitions.
More than 236,000 visitors view the special exhibition
Leonardo Lives: The Codex Leicester and Leonardo da Vinci's Legacy of Art and Science, which spotlights the last Leonardo manuscript in private hands in the world.
SAM, in partnership with the Trust for Public Land, raises $17 million for the purchase of future sculpture park property on Seattle’s waterfront. Jon and Mary Shirley endow the park with a $20 million gift that will allow the park to be free to the public; they name the park the Olympic Sculpture Park. This is also the beginning of a capital campaign that will eventually raise $220 million with more than 10,000 gifts—the largest cultural fundraising campaign in the history of the city of Seattle.
Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi of Weiss/Manfredi Architects are selected as lead designers for the Olympic Sculpture Park. Also, Jon and Mary Shirley donate Alexander Calder’s
The Eagle (1971), a landmark art acquisition for the future Olympic Sculpture Park. Until the sculpture park is finished,
The Eagle rests in front of the Seattle Asian Art Museum.
The Olympic Sculpture Park opens in January as downtown Seattle’s largest green space, featuring stunning works of modern and contemporary art.
The Seattle Art Museum downtown location reopens in May, welcoming more than 32,000 people during its 35-hour marathon opening weekend. The expansion, designed by Portland-based Allied Works Architecture, gives the museum almost double the amount of space, and a partnership with Washington Mutual Bank allows for future growth.
The Seattle Art Museum’s 75th anniversary is celebrated with an ambitious art acquisition initiative. The results: over 1,000 gifts (full, partial, pledged, or intended) from more than seventy donors, bringing the collection to nearly 25,000 objects.
After 15 remarkable years, director Mimi Gardner Gates retires. Executive Director at the San Diego Museum of Art, Derrick R. Cartwright, is chosen as SAM’s new Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director.
Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris breaks SAM’s record for the most popular exhibition in the history of the downtown Seattle Art Museum, attracting more than 400,000 visitors and boosting membership to an all-time high of 48,000 during its showing in Seattle from October 8, 2010 through January 17, 2011.
After an extensive international search, Kimerly Rorschach is chosen as the Seattle Art Museum's new Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. Prior to joining SAM, Ms. Rorschach served as the Mary Duke Biddle Trent and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
SAM unveils MIRROR, a new permanent art installation on the outside of the Seattle Art Museum by internationally acclaimed artist Doug Aitken. See the
video here and learn more about