Other voices, other rooms: without SAM

What's an arts maven to do when the city's foremost museum is closed? With the Seattle Art Museum shutting its downtown doors Jan. 4, 2006, not to reopen them until spring 2007, where will we go to slake our hunger for art?

Not to worry! Seattle has a feast of other art venues, and this is the perfect opportunity to visit some of them and get to know some of the less-known art treasures that enrich our region.

Though SAM downtown is closing to complete construction on its major expansion and renovation, many of its programs will take place at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. That museum will reopen on Jan. 14 after being closed for six months to complete various improvements including a new roof. It has its own wonderful collection, and to celebrate this new beginning there will also be two new exhibits on Chinese painting and calligraphy, an expanded Buddhist art exhibition, plus a video installation.

Come May, there will be a series of six exhibitions culled from SAM's permanent collection featuring glass, paintings, works on paper and art deco materials, mostly done by Northwest artists. This splendid building was where everything began for SAM; stop by and reacquaint yourself with one of the granddaddies of local museums. And don't forget the grand opening of SAM's Olympic Sculpture Park in fall 2006.

Of course the Frye Museum has a full program of permanent and temporary exhibits both tame and edgy. Exciting things have been happening at the Frye over the past year. Under the leadership of the new director, Midge Bowman, and the new chief curator, Robin Held, the Frye has been blowing the notion of representational art out of the water. A new photography show featuring the work of Candida Höfer opens Jan. 21.

When was the last time you visited the Henry Gallery on the campus of the University of Washington? Here, edgy is a tradition. The current exhibition of Lynn Hershman Leeson's electronic, sci-fi, feminist art brings the concept of interactive exhibits to a whole new level. It will be there until Feb. 14.

Though the Eastside may seem like another country and culture, it's worth the trip to the Bellevue Arts Museum. Here one finds a celebration of crafts traditions, especially as practiced in the Northwest. One of the current exhibits, "Looking Forward Glancing Back: Northwest Designer Craftsmen at 50," features more than 100 works by members of the Northwest Designer Craftsmen organization. It's a stunning assemblage that speaks to the talent resident in our community.

If you're willing to buck the traffic on I-5, make a day of it in Tacoma. The Museum of Glass is a monument to what is probably the Northwest's most famous artform. The Tacoma Art Museum, which is under new management and in a new building, has been offering some terrific shows lately. Beginning Jan. 14, they'll brighten the winter landscape with an exhibit of contemporary photography focused on gardens. It will offer some unexpected images.

If you enjoy photography, don't forget the Photographic Center Northwest on 12th Avenue near Seattle University. The gallery features emerging and well-known photographers in a series of changing exhibits.

Then there are the venues that not everyone knows about. Have you ever been to the Wright Exhibition Space on Dexter Avenue? It's housed in a large, former industrial site that's been elegantly transformed into an exhibit space. Here Bagley and Virginia Wright sometimes show works from their own collection, sometimes from other private or public collections.

The current show offers highlights from three collections of works on paper and photographs by leading mid-20th-century American artists. The pieces belong to the Washington Art Consortium, a group of five museums in Washington state. It's an exhibit of heavy hitters: Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Diane Arbus, William de Kooning and many, many others of equal stature. The building alone is worth a visit. This show makes it a five-star attraction, but note that it's open few days and few hours a week. They will make appointments: 264-8200.

Western Bridge is probably Seattle's newest public exhibition space. It's housed in a former industrial space located at 3412 Fourth Ave. S., near the West Seattle Bridge. It too was founded by Seattle collectors. Bill and Ruth True collect contemporary video, photography and other media. You will see contemporary art here.

Another feature of the Seattle art scene is the number of public buildings that have collections on display. Check out the glass at the City Center Building downtown. When it was opened in 1989, the developers decided to install glass art in exchange for a building bonus. The collection is better than that of many museums around the country. Nearby is Benaroya Hall with its quintessential Chihuly chandeliers.

Downtown is full of art. The collection at the Convention Center is open to all. And have you visited the new City Hall? There art is integrated within the building structure. There's a glass bridge, a glass wall incorporating Seattle images, an electronic piece over a stairway with lights and sound. In addition there are displays of paintings, prints and photos. If you want to find all the artworks in this building, pick up one of the brochures in the lobby.

Justice Center, the new City Courthouse, is another art venue as is the downtown Seattle Public Library. There are so many places to see public art in this city that Seattle's Web site offers brochures you can download that describe a variety of art walks, not just downtown but out in the neighborhoods. Go to seattle.gov/arts and click on the Publications page, then Public Art. Look for the walking tours.

You will be amazed. There's a whole new world of entertainment and aesthetic pleasure for you and those out-of-town visitors for whom you must find something they haven't already seen. And when they're leaving, remind them to admire the art collection at the airport once they've passed through security.

We'll miss SAM during its renovation, but we won't be lacking for other art to experience.