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5 Best Exhibitions at the Seattle Art Museum

August 15, 2023 By CityPASS

The Seattle Art Museum, or SAM, is a top-rated destination for art in all its forms. First operating as the Seattle Fine Art Society and later the Art Institute of Seattle, the organization received a new name and location in 1933.

Architect Carl F. Gould from Bebb and Gould designed the Art Deco-style museum in Seattle's Volunteer Park. In 1991, the museum moved downtown near Pike Place Market and turned its former home into the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Robert Venturi designed the new downtown facility, and Brad Cloepfil designed the 2006 expansion.

Now offering 312,000 square feet of gallery space, the downtown Seattle Art Museum rivals and enhances the collections at local institutions like the Museum of Museums and the National Nordic Museum. With Seattle Art Museum tickets, you'll discover incredible exhibitions and permanent collections that impress hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

5 Exhibitions You Can't Miss at SAM

Heading to Seattle and SAM? Here's your guide to the five best Seattle Art Museum exhibits you'll want to experience.

1. European Art: From Renaissance to the 20th Century

The Seattle Art Museum's downtown facility is home to an extensive collection of European paintings, busts, art pieces, and other works. Whether searching for Rembrandt, Henri Matisse, Albrecht Dürer, or other European artists, you're sure to walk past a piece that inspires and delights. Discover the Seattle Art Museum van Gogh paintings, Claude Monet paintings, and more.

Many European artworks were gifted or loaned from prominent Seattle Art Museum supporters and Seattle businesspeople, such as Samuel H. Kress, Zoë Dusanne, Richard and Margaret Fuller, and Norman Davis. Others were purchased for permanent introduction into the collection.

The European art collections are on the fourth floor, with separate rooms for Italian masterpieces. Seattle Art Museum photos help ensure lasting memories of your experience, along with a stop by the Seattle Art Museum store for art books and other printings that bring a touch of European décor to your home.

2. Native American Art: From the Pacific Northwest and Beyond

Along with impressive European and Asian art, SAM is home to an extensive collection of Native American art. Seattle Art Museum founder Richard Fuller had a lifetime passion for Northwest art, bringing local and regional artists into the public sphere. Along with a large donation of items from John H. Hauberg, the museum also acquired important cultural items, sharing the different cultures of the First Nations peoples. You'll see masks, shaman figures, totems, clothing, carvings, basketry, and other works.

Beyond the Northwest collection, SAM has aboriginal artwork from Oceania and Australia, spotlighting the diverse skills of different groups. The museum also houses artwork from the Ancient Americas, ranging from Peruvian to Mayan to Mexican cultures and civilizations.

3. Modern and Contemporary Art: The 20th and 21st Centuries

When Charles Cowles became the curator of modern art in 1975, the Seattle Art Museum ascended to new heights with its modern and contemporary art collection. SAM's third floor houses the extensive collection of 20th- and 21st-century artwork, although the Specific Exhibit rooms on the fourth floor may also display these treasures.

The museum's collection of artwork offers a broad view of the changing world and how artists and society responded. From the abstract art of Arshile Gorky to the moody modernism of Max Beckmann, society comes alive in SAM's modern art galleries. Moving to the post-war period, you'll find artwork from Andy Warhol, Martin Puryear, Do Ho Suh, Jacob Lawrence, and other modern and contemporary artists.

4. African Art: Ancient and Modern Pieces

In 1981, the Seattle Art Museum acquired the Katherine White collection, which included hundreds of artworks from across the African continent. This collection features sculptures, masks, textiles, and decorative art pieces, combining a stunning array of African art from ancient to modern.

You'll find older art like this Salt Cellar from Sierra Leone and this Belt Mask from Benin Kingdom. Modern artworks might include this Bull Necklace from the Maasai people, Les Années 90 from Congolese artist Cheri Samba, and Signare #1 from artist Fabrice Monteiro.

5. Olympic Sculpture Park: A Unique Experience

The Olympic Sculpture Park opened in 2007 along the Seattle waterfront as the third facility of the Seattle Art Museum. This free-admission, nine-acre park features indoor and outdoor exhibits on a rotating schedule.

Olympic Sculpture Park starts at Western Avenue with the Paccar Pavilion and Gates Amphitheater, winding down a ‘Z' path past three separate wildflower meadows, over the Mimi Gardner Gates Bridge, and down to the shore path. Along the way, you'll enjoy different sculptures from regional and international artists.

Some sculptural artworks were designed specifically for Olympic Sculpture Park, while others were installed from other locations. The shore path looks out on a natural tidal garden, bringing together art and nature in the Pacific Northwest.

Immerse Yourself in Top-Rated Art Collections

SAM has top-rated art collections that welcome you with open arms and highlight the beauty of the global art experience. From ancient Mediterranean and European art to Asian, Oceanic, and African pieces, this museum has something for everyone.

Are you ready for the Seattle Art Museum? With Seattle C3® tickets you'll save on admissions to top Seattle attractions like the Seattle Art Museum, Museum of Flight, Space Needle, and Chihuly Garden and Glass.

Seattle Lodging

To get the most out of your stay in Seattle, we recommend finding lodging near Seattle's top attractions. Use this map to find the right lodging for you:

Header Image ©Photo: Alborz Kamalizad

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