Asian Art Museum is reopening in May! Find out more about visiting »

Revisiting Reopening the Asian Art Museum, At Last

One year ago, we welcomed you back to the renovated Asian Art Museum following a three-year closure while we reimagined and reinstalled SAM’s original home. Now, we are thrilled to invite you to another reopening in May 2021, following our year-long COVID closure to keep our community safe. The galleries have been waiting for you.

During the opening weekend in February 2020, 10,000 people visited the museum to experience the groundbreaking new thematic installation of SAM’s Asian art collection and share in creativity across cultures. It was moment to remember and we invite you to revisit the festivities in this video. Closing the museum just one month after this video was filmed was a sad moment and we know that many people did not get a chance to experience the expanded and enhanced Asian Art Museum. But soon, everyone will be able to!

The Asian Art Museum will reopen with limited capacity to members on May 7 and to the public on May 28. Friday, May 28 will be free and hours will be extended for Memorial Day weekend. Member tickets will be available starting April 15 and the public can get tickets starting April 29. The museum hours are 10 am–5 pm, Fridays–Sundays and admission is free on the last Friday of every month. When the museum reopens, the inaugural exhibitions will remain on view, including Boundless: Stories of Asian Art and Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art in the museum’s galleries and the installation Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn: Gather in the Fuller Garden Court. Learn more about what to know when you visit the Asian Art Museum.

Today’s Seattle Asian Art Museum is inspired. The Asian Art Museum breaks boundaries to offer a thematic, rather than geographic or chronological, exploration of art from the world’s largest continent. The restoration of the historic Art Deco building, improvements to critical systems, expanded gallery and education spaces, and a new park lobby that connects the museum to the surrounding Volunteer Park are just some of the ways the Asian Art Museum has been transformed and preserved as a cultural and community resource for future generations.

You will no longer find galleries labeled China, Japan, or India. Instead, vibrant artworks from Vietnam to Iran, and everywhere in between, come together to tell stories of human experiences across time and place. From themes of worship and celebration to clothing and identity, nature and power to birth and death, the new collection installation reveals the complexity and diversity of Asia—a place of distinct cultures, histories, and belief systems that help shape our world today.

The Case of the Weeping Buddha

The recent renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum allowed SAM to evaluate and conserve artworks we have previously been unable to display. One such work is the seated Buddha Shakyamuni which is on view for the first time in over a decade. Cast in the late 8th to early 9th century in Kashmir, Buddha Shakyamuni is seated in the dharmachakra mudra, a gesture that signifies the sharing of spiritual teachings. The sculpture is one of only a few examples known in Western collections. It is featured in the inaugural exhibition Boundless: Stories of Asian Art—a thematic, rather than geographic or chronological exploration of art from the Asian continent—celebrating the historic renovation of the museum’s 1933 Art Deco building located in Seattle’s Olmsted-designed Volunteer Park.

In 2009, during a condition assessment for a multi-venue international traveling exhibition, it was discovered that large white drips of zinc hydroxychloride corrosion product were seeping down the sculpture’s back. Independent conservation scientist John Twilley had identified the corrosion product in 1988 and the object was then treated for chlorides, however corrosion had reactivated in the intervening years.

Due to the severity of the problem and the importance of the sculpture, Twilley was engaged in 2009 to perform a technical study that included, among other techniques, x-radiography and metallographic study, including electron microscopy. Twilley determined that the metal contains 34-39% zinc, which is an extraordinarily high percentage of zinc to copper even for Kashmiri production. Twilley states that “a critical technological value of 28% zinc… is believed to be the highest value normally achievable by cementation methods” (Twilley 2003: 144), in which vaporized zinc is directly absorbed by copper metal to form the alloy. This finding has great technological implications: it identified the Shakyamuni as a rare, surviving example of brass produced from the earliest actual smelting of zinc, achieved by Kashmiris approximately 1,000 years before Western Europe.

Reverse view before removal of white corrosive product. Photo: Elizabeth Brown

However, the sculpture’s stability is inherently compromised as a result: the presence of two phases (or different crystal microstructures of copper and zinc) in the alloy creates the potential for galvanic corrosion in the presence of chloride contamination and moisture. Above 5% relative humidity, moisture penetrates the alloy’s higher zinc component causing dissolved corrosion products to migrate through the sculpture’s porous casting network.

Detail during treatment: corrosion product removed from lower third of drip. Photo: Elizabeth Brown

Conservation treatment options are limited. Chemical treatments can control chloride corrosion in copper alloys, and were tested for this sculpture and previously performed locally, but the high zinc level of Buddha Shakyamuni renders the figure particularly susceptible. Immersion of the sculpture is impractical due to the surface ornamentation and extant casting core. Therefore, controlling the environment in which the sculpture is stored and displayed remains the preferred preservation approach. 

The SmallCorp case being tested prior to installation of the sculpture. Photo: Geneva Griswold

For the last decade, the sculpture has been successfully stabilized by storage at <5% relative humidity; a micro environment was fashioned from a glass bell jar packed with oxygen scavenger and silica gel, sealed to a plywood board (covered with aluminized polyethylene and nylon barrier film) on which the sculpture is mounted.

Construction of a low-oxygen, low-humidity case was required to enable display and to ensure its survival in long-term storage, as even a controlled museum environment provides ample moisture for the corrosion process to occur. A glass vitrine, rather than acrylic, was necessary to minimize the rate of air exchange. The sealed display enclosure is composed of inert materials including the 5-sided 8.8mm UltraVue laminated glass vitrine, powder-coated aluminum deck, and ample conditioning chamber located below. The case is intended to passively maintain a relative humidity below 5%, however two ports in the sub-deck are designed for dry nitrogen flushing if necessary. A glass and gasket access door in the sub-deck enables live-view of the temperature and humidity loggers inside the display area, and enables periodic replacement of the silica gel, oxygen scavenger, and temperature/relative humidity sensors.

The Seattle Asian Art Museum is thrilled for the opportunity to display the Buddha Shakyamuni, and to share both its innovative creation story and present-day preservation plan with the public. If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

This project would not have been possible without the leadership of Nicholas Dorman, Head of Conservation at the Seattle Art Museum; Mike Dunphy, Sales and Marketing Manager at SmallCorp; John Twilley, Independent Conservation Scientist; and Yadin Larochette, Museum and Conservation Liaison- Americas, Tru Vue, Inc. 

– Geneva Griswold, SAM’s Associate Objects Conservator & Elizabeth Brown, SAM’s Senior Objects Conservator

Images: Buddha Shakyamuni, Kashmir, late 8th to early 9th century, copper alloy with silver and copper, Floyd A. Naramore Memorial Purchase Fund, 74.70, photo: Susan A. Cole

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Muse/News: A bewitched art project, digital art walks, and a playlist to lean on

SAM News

Stay Home with SAM continues to inspire. We’re getting bewitched with Korean artist Jung Yeondoo, looking to the helpers with a 19th century Japanese fireman’s coat, and walking towards the light with Seattle artist Barbara Earl Thomas. Scroll, listen, and make to your heart’s content.

Seattle Magazine’s Ariel Shearer is “foraging for hope,” sharing resources and efforts to keep connected, including Stay Home with SAM.

CAA News shared this thought-provoking review of Boundless: Stories of Asian Art by Christina Yuen Zi Chung.

“There is a special delight in discovering that what seems to be a premodern piece was in fact created in the 2000s, and what looks to be a contemporary work was in fact created centuries prior. Asia is pulled from the shadows of essentializing stereotypes and refashioned as a multidimensional entity that is in dialogue with the past instead of being confined to tradition.”

Local News

The Stranger is sharing a waterfall of poetry, encouraging you to “Take a Break and Read a F***ing Poem.” We recently enjoyed Natalie Diaz’s It Was the Animals.

Seattle Met’s Stefan Milne interviews Jon Mooallem about his new book, This Is Chance!, which may offer some hope about how communities can respond to crisis.

Crosscut’s Brangien Davis does a very convincing and rather moving digital art walk, in lieu of what would have been First Thursday in Pioneer Square.

“Remember art walks? Wandering the crowded sidewalks, packing into small galleries for popular shows, hugging an old friend upon a chance encounter?”

Inter/National News

Artforum and Bookforum both launched their latest issues online—entirely for free. Happy reading.

#IAmNotAVirus: PBS News Hour interviews Korean-Swedish artist Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom on her single-panel comics addressing the influx of anti-Asian racism.

The New York Times explores the special role filled by Los Angeles’ Underground Museum, which was also about to open a show of work by its founder Noah Davis.

“What is it — artist project, kunsthalle, community hub, pop-up museum?” Mr. [Glenn] Ligon said. “It has a spirit and energy unlike other art spaces I’ve ever been to and once I was there I wanted to be part of it, even though I wasn’t sure what ‘it’ was.”

And Finally

A playlist for when there ain’t no sunshine. RIP Bill Withers.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene, ca. 1638-39, Georges de La Tour and Studio, oil on canvas, 42 x 55 7/8 in., Gift of Richard and Elizabeth Hedreen in honor of Mimi Gardner Gates, 2008.67
Stay Home with SAM is supported in part by 

SAM Connects Asian Art to Seattle for Free!

The Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens February 8 and we want to be sure you know all the free and discounted ways that you can visit the reimagined and reinstalled museum!

Even though the Housewarming: Free Reopening Weekend is sold out and we are not accepting walkups on February 8 or 9, there are many other opportunities to visit for free. Today’s Seattle Asian Art Museum breaks boundaries to offer a thematic, rather than geographic or chronological, exploration of art from the world’s largest continent. The restoration of the historic Art Deco building, improvements to critical systems, expanded gallery and education spaces, and a new park lobby that connects the museum to the surrounding Volunteer Park are just some of the ways the Asian Art Museum has been transformed and preserved as a cultural and community resource for future generations.

An important part of the work that took place while the Asian Art museum was closed for renovation and expansion isn’t something you will notice about the architecture or art. The City of Seattle financially supported the preservation and improvements of SAM’s city-owned Art Deco home and in return, we made a commitment to offer more free ways for members of the community to visit the Asian Art Museum!

  • All exhibitions are suggested admission at the Asian Art Museum when purchasing tickets onsite. You can pay what you want.  See Boundless: Stories of Asian Art and Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art on view when the museum reopens!
  • Many programs such as lectures, performances, and tours at the museum are free and include free entry to the galleries. Check out our Free First Saturdays series for kids!
  • SAM provides discounted rates for students, teens, seniors, and military with ID.
    • Seniors (65+) and military can visit for $12.99
    • Students and teens age 15–18 can get tickets for $9.99
  • Children (14 & under) are always free.
  • SAM members are free. Join today and RSVP to see the museum before it opens to the public during the Members Open House on February 5 and 6.
  • First Saturdays and the Second Thursdays of every month are free to all.
  • The First Friday of every month the Asian Art Museum is free for seniors.
  • Bring a group of 10 or more and get discounted tickets. Find out more about group visits!
  • Educators can visit for free anytime with ID. Mark your calendars for a special Educator Open House at the Asian Art Museum on February 27!
  • Did you know that we now offer free school tours for all public schools at all SAM locations? We also offer bus subsidies for title 1 schools. School tours at the Asian Art Museum start march 1—find out more!
Photo: Jueqian Fang

Reimagining the Galleries at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

When the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens next year, visitors will experience the museum’s renowned collection of Asian art in a whole new way. Most of the original galleries will showcase the museum’s collection, while the building’s new gallery—housed in the expansion—will focus on rotating special exhibitions. SAM’s curatorial team saw the renovation process as an exciting chance to rethink how visitors engage with the Asian art collection. “How often does a museum go offline and move everything out?” notes Foong Ping, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art. She continues, “This was an opportunity to dream a little bit.” 

The curators convened groups of scholars and community advisors to explore approaches to displaying SAM’s artworks. Moving away from the chronological and geographic organization of most museums, they took a thematic approach instead. Each gallery of Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, the new collection installation, focuses on a theme central to Asia’s diverse arts and societies, ranging from worship and celebration, to visual arts and literature, to clothing and identity. For instance, a gallery titled Spiritual Journeys brings many objects together, from a Pakistani Bodhisattva, to an Indian Stupa, to a Chinese demon, to explore spiritual imagery through unifying ideas such as spiritual guides and guardians. The reinstallation provides an experience of great diversity and a broad context within which to engage with artworks.

Boundless also presents varied voices and perspectives on artworks to offer visitors a wide array of approaches to appreciating SAM’s collection. Along with traditional curatorial texts, artists and Seattle community members also offer their perspectives. The Color in Clay gallery presents a large selection of ceramics from China as well as vibrant works from Vietnam to Iran in a natural light-filled gallery without any contextualizing text. Monitors with more information will be available, but Foong’s hope is for visitors to be immersed in looking closely at subtle differences in tones and textures in the clay and the glazes. “I’m particularly excited about this display because it represents a completely different experience than we’ve ever had at the Asian Art Museum,” she says.

The first special exhibition Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art also draws primarily from the museum’s collection. It brings together works by 12 artists born in different parts of Asia—Azerbaijan, Iran, India, Thailand, China, Korea, and Japan—who have all lived outside of Asia and are exploring their Asian heritage from global perspectives. Be/longing features Some/One by Do Ho Suh—a sculpture so large that we were previously unable to exhibit it at the Asian Art Museum. SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art Xiaojin Wu explains, “Some/One is an imposing work that compels the viewer to think about identity and our relationship with society—issues we all care about.” Positioning Some/One alongside works by other contemporary artists, visitors will encounter its powerful resonance in a new exhibition, a new gallery, a new building, in the new year.

Images: Some/One (detail), 2001, Do Ho Suh, stainless steel military dog-tags, nickel-plated copper sheets, steel structure, glass fiber reinforced resin, rubber sheets, diameter at base: 24 ft. 4 in.; Height: 81 in., Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2002.43, © Do Ho Suh. Dish with Foliated Rim, late 15th–early 16th century, Vietnamese, blue and white ceramic, 13 1/4″ diameter, Mary and Cheney Cowles, the Margaret E. Fuller Fund, and the 1999 Maryatt Gala Fund, 2000.118. Seated demon figure, 14th century, Chinese, bronze with gilt, 3 1/4 x 2 x 1 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 52.45. Lined robe (detail), 20th century, Japanese, plain weave silk crepe with paste-resist stencil decoration (Oki., bingata) lined with modern replacement silk broadcloth, 47 3/4″ long (from collar) x 43″ wide, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 89.155, © Artist or Artist’s Estate. Bodhisattva, ca. 2nd–3rd century, Pakistani, Gandhara region, dark gray schist 45 x 15 x 7 in. Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.63.