Originally published by The Seattle Times, February 16th, 2023, written by Jerald Pierce.
There are certain museums — ones that define a region or a city — that you’d be remiss not to visit. Looking around at the museums that should be top of mind for art lovers looking for a museum trip in the Seattle area, one thing is clear: there is immense pride in the level of talent that this region has cultivated.
So whether you’re looking for historical classics, contemporary takes or simply want to support the outstanding art being created by artists living and working in the region, these museums should make any art lover’s to-see list.
Bainbridge Island Museum of Art
Hop on the ferry and head to the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art for a look at contemporary art from the Bainbridge Island community and beyond. Opened in 2013, the museum rotates its major exhibitions three times per year and focuses its exhibitions on artists and collections from the Puget Sound region. Current exhibitions from local artists include the first retrospective exhibition from Seattle’s Ginny Ruffner (through Feb. 28), as well as a sculptural installation alongside performance from Seattle’s Sarah Fetterman (through April 2). In addition to these local works, you can also check out a series of prints from Detroit’s Amos Kennedy (through Feb. 28), a printer and book artist known for his social and political commentary, aimed at telling a larger story about Rosa Parks.
10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; 550 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island; free; 206-842-4451; biartmuseum.org
Bellevue Arts Museum
Founded in 1975, the Bellevue Arts Museum grew from a time-honored tradition among art lovers: an art fair. Since then, the museum has dedicated itself to art, craft and design, highlighting work from influential artists in the Pacific Northwest as well as showcasing international collections. After completing renovations of their second and third floor galleries, the museum will open “Abstract Truth,” a new exhibition that runs Feb. 25-Oct. 8 and features the art books and photographs of Preston Wadley. Wadley, professor emeritus of fine arts at Cornish College of the Arts, focuses on themes of race, identity, local history and the history of photography as he reflects on change and the connection between the past and an evolving present.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; 510 Bellevue Way N.E., Bellevue; free/children under 6, $8/children 7-17, $12/members of the military, students and older adults, $15/adults; 425-519-0770; bellevuearts.org
Chihuly Garden & Glass
Seeing the intricate glass work of Dale Chihuly in any context should be enough to appeal to an art lover. But with its location near the Space Needle and its garden and eight galleries, Chihuly Garden and Glass has become a must-see stop since opening at the Seattle Center in 2012. The installation of Chihuly’s work is intended as a gathering place as well as a highlight of the influential career of Chihuly himself. At the center of it all is the 40-foot tall, 4,500 square foot Glasshouse that features a 100-foot-long suspended sculpture that shines in the natural light.
10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; 305 Harrison St., Seattle; free/children 4 and under, $16/children 5-12, $24/adults 65 and older and King County residents 13-64, $27/people 13-64; 206-905-2100; chihulygardenandglass.com
Cascadia Art Museum
Similar to other museums on this list, the Cascadia Art Museum dedicates itself to featuring art from the Northwest region. Here, though, the museum turns its attention to art from 1860 to 1970, specifically looking to uplift work from artists from marginalized communities who have contributed to the region’s cultural identity. In that vein, you can now see a rare exhibition of early works from Seattle sculptor George Tsutakawa (through March 26) as well as an exhibition featuring artists depicting the changes and evolution of Seattle’s urban landscape from 1910 to 1960 (through July 16).
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; 190 Sunset Ave. S., #E, Edmonds; free/children under 18 and students, $9/adults over 65, $12/adults; 425-336-4809; cascadiaartmuseum.org
Frye Art Museum
Grounded in a founding collection featuring European art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Frye opened in 1952 and has grown from that initial collection from art collectors Charles and Emma Frye to works by a mix of local and international artists. Right now, you can catch New York artist Katherine Bradford’s paintings in “Flying Woman: The Paintings of Katherine Bradford” (through May 14) alongside an artist-curated installation from the museum’s collection curated by international research collective ESTAR(SER) (through Oct. 15) and an exhibition of work from early 20th century painter Marsden Hartley in “Marsden Hartley: An American Nature” (through May 21).
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; 704 Terry Ave., Seattle; free; 206-622-9250; fryemuseum.org
Museum of Museums
With a mission to inspire the local arts ecosystem, the Museum of Museums showcases contemporary art in two formal exhibition spaces and additional artistic spaces aimed at increasing the city’s artist population. With that in mind, if you head to the museum between now and Aug. 31, you’ll be able to catch “Soft Touch,” an immersive exhibition featuring over 40 artists. The exhibition features soft sculptures and textile art, inviting attendees to dive in. Maybe you’ll find yourself in a cushioned meditation room, an interactive diorama where you can take photos or reclined under a ceiling of clouds.
5 p.m.-10 p.m. Thursdays, noon-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday; 900 Boylston Ave., Seattle; $10-$20, free/children under 10; museumofmuseums.com
Seattle Art Museum
If you’re heading out to see art in Seattle, the Seattle Art Museum is likely already on your list with its three different locations to explore. The first, the Seattle Art Museum itself, features a variety of works from cultures around the world as well as modern and contemporary art. In addition to checking out their American Art gallery, which was revamped last fall, ongoing installations include their porcelain room and John Grade’s massive sculpture “Middle Fork,” which hangs over the museum’s lobby.
Also under the SAM umbrella is the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Head to the 1933 Art Deco building in Volunteer Park to see ongoing exhibitions like “Beyond the Mountain,” which features contemporary Chinese artists combining Chinese traditions with depictions of present-day events. The final stop of the three-location SAM tour will bring you to Olympic Sculpture Park, a nine-acre park featuring large-scale contemporary sculptures like “Echo,” a monumental head seemingly in a constant state of meditation.
Seattle Art Museum: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; 1300 First Ave., Seattle; free/children 14 and under, $22.99/teens 15-19 and students, $27.99/members of the military and adults 65 and older, $32.99/adults, buy tickets online to save $3; 206-654-3100, seattleartmuseum.org
Seattle Asian Art Museum: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday; 1400 E. Prospect St., Seattle; free/children 14 and under, $12.99/teens 15-19 and students, $15.99/members of the military and adults 65 and older, $17.99/adults, buy tickets online to save $3; 206-654-3210; seattleartmuseum.org
Olympic Sculpture Park: Open daily from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset; 2901 Western Ave., Seattle; free; 206-654-3100, seattleartmuseum.org
Tacoma Art Museum
Since opening in 1935, the Tacoma Art Museum has grown to include a collection of over 5,300 works, including a studio art jewelry collection by Northwest artists that spans from post-World War II to the present, as well as around 300 works from the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art, which spans 200 years. As Dale Chihuly’s hometown museum, TAM also features an ongoing exhibition of Chihuly’s legacy and work, which Chihuly began donating to the museum in 1990.
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays and Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays; 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; free/members of the military, veterans and children 18 and under, $15/adults 65 and older, $18/adults; 253-272-4258; tacomaartmuseum.org