Bigger is Better

Seattle Asian Art Museum will reopen in February after a two year expansion

The $56 million renovation and expansion included the restoration of the museum's art deco facade. (Tim Griffith)

The Seattle Asian Art Museum will reopen to the public in February 2020 after a two-year, $56 million renovation and expansion project. The museum, which has not undergone any major work since it was first built in 1933, is in the midst of an extensive renovation by LMN Architects to both secure the building’s aging structure and reopen the facilities as a modernized exhibition space. The Asian Art Museum will reopen with a new debut, Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, and the special exhibition Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art. Two full days of free events will also accompany the shows on February 8 and 9, 2020, with tickets available starting in December.

The museum is renowned for housing one of the most prominent collections of Asian art outside the continent itself. Its galleries display work spanning the 1st to 21st century and hailing from China, Japan, Korea, India, the Himalayas, and Southeast Asia. The Asian Art Museum is in Volunteer Park and makes up one-third of the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), and has occupied its art deco home since 1994. Prior to that, the 1930s-era building functioned as the original location of SAM until its move downtown. 

Rendering of a boxy museum space in a park

The museum’s expanded east side will feature a new park-facing lobby, gallery, program and education spaces, and conservation studio. (Courtesy Tim Griffith)

In addition to preserving the historic sandstone facade, landscaping, and fountains, the museum has significantly expanded its gallery and programing facilities. The expansion includes a new 2,600-square-foot gallery as well as new education, conservation, and community spaces on the building’s east side. The existing Fuller Garden Court, the museum’s central point, will be renovated and connected to a new park-facing lobby. The galleries will also receive an upgraded lighting system that mimics natural daylight. 

Aerial photo of a park with the Seattle Asian Art Museum inside

The renovation takes advantage of the museum’s location in Seattle’s Volunteer Park. (Courtesy Tim Griffith)

Taking advantage of its location, the glass-enclosed Park Lobby on the east side of the museum will overlook Olmsted’s Volunteer Park. Reinforcing the building’s relationship to the park was one of the museum’s major goals. “The design represents the seamless integration of the building’s spectacular site,” said LMN in a statement, “with the museum’s mission for the 21st century: to showcase Asian art in conjunction with contemporary educational and conservation spaces.” 

Inside of an empty museum hall

The Asian Art Museum’s renovated Fuller Garden Court (Tim Griffith)

As one of only a handful of museums specializing in Asian art in the U.S., the expanded public programming, exhibition, and conservation capabilities of the museum will be a huge cultural asset to the city. “With the completion of this project, we unveil new spaces to connect the museum’s extraordinary collection of Asian art to our lives and experiences,” said Amada Cruz, Illsley Ball Nordstrom director and CEO of SAM, in a press statement. 

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