This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Seattle’s World’s Fair. As part of the ongoing commemorations, through the month of September SAM looks back at arts at the Fair, as well as the legacy of those projects.

1,350,000 people visited the Fine Arts Pavilion at the Seattle World’s Fair, where six wide-ranging exhibitions held visitors’ attention for hours. Of these exhibitions, “Masterpieces of Art” was the most ambitious—Time magazine deemed it “well worth an hour off from the geewhizzery of space and the girlie shows of the Gayway.” Selected by the directors of North American museums, this show still betrayed a perspective unique to Seattle. In addition to works by Rembrandt, Copley, Monet, Eakins, and Picasso, several Asian masterpieces were also included. Among the latter was SAM’s submission: An ancient Japanese tomb figure.

The catalogue for “Masterpieces of Art” called this sculpture, “a simplified, almost abstract interpretation of a helmeted and armored warrior,” one who once guarded a tomb in Japan’s Gunma prefecture. This monumentally scaled terra cotta was concrete recognition that a “Masterpiece” could, indeed, hail from a region other than Europe or America. This willingness to acknowledge the artistic achievements of non-European-extracted cultures extended geographically as far as Asia, and philosophically as far as the native cultures of North America.

In 2012, our conception of the world has expanded even further. In addition to all of the geographies represented at the Fine Arts Pavilion of the Fair, this year SAM has shown art from Polynesia, Brazil, Australia, and Central Asia in dedicated exhibitions; as well as permanent collection objects hailing from Africa, the Middle East, and Central America. The world has grown over the past 50 years, and now more than ever before it has come to Seattle.

Haniwa warrior figure (detail), 6th-7th century, Japanese, Kofun period (3rd-7th century C.E.), ceramic with polychrome, 53 ¼ x 16 ½ x 10 ¾ in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 62.44. Currently viewable online.

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