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Seattle Art Museum goes all out for its 75th anniversary celebration

The Seattle Art Museum is a whole lot roomier, having just completed a three-year, $86 million expansion that added a brand-new building and more gallery space to the institution.

With all of that extra room and a 75th anniversary coming up next year, the timing is right for the museum's latest exhibition, which features about 200 pieces from top collectors in the Pacific Northwest. About half of these will remain in the museum's permanent collection after the exhibit closes.

"There is a huge energy in art collecting in Seattle," said museum director Mimi Gates, "and now you can see it in the museum."

Culled from the holdings of more than 20 private collections, the exhibition showcases modern and contemporary works by such artists as Georgia O'Keeffe, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, as well as Native American, African, Oceanic and Asian art.

The expansion itself also has artistic flair. The new building's exterior of stainless-steel "shutters" diffuses natural light, so museum-goers can view the art in light-filled galleries against a backdrop of the city and Elliott Bay.

In addition to the art and expanded museum, Gates offers a secondary reason for visiting Seattle: the weather (yes, the weather). "Seattle is a great place to come in the summer," she says. "There's no humidity."

Among the don't-miss exhibits:

  • The new Porcelain Room, displaying some 1,000 European and Asian porcelains arranged by color.
  • Renowned Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang's "Inopportune: Stage One," the first installation to hang in the new 5,000-square-foot Brotman Forum, depicts nine Ford Tauruses that seem to randomly hurl themselves around vibrant lighting. Gates said it could be interpreted as "a traffic jam, a celebration ... or a dream of tumbling through space."
  • Constantin Brancusi's 1926 masterpiece "Bird in Space" is one in a series of works by the Romanian sculptor portraying a soaring bird without wings or feathers.

The museum holds a 35-hour grand opening weekend starting May 5 at 10 a.m. The event features live dance and music performances representing cultures from around the world, art activities for all ages and limited-edition gifts designed by Olympic Sculpture Park artists for sale. Admission is free all weekend but requires entry tickets with specific times.

Make time to visit the museum's new Olympic Sculpture Park (at 2901 Western Ave.), which opened in January. The nine-acre downtown waterfront park is a mile north of the museum's expansion and features works by Richard Serra, Alexander Calder, Roy McMakin, Louise Bourgeois and many others. Admission is free.

When you're hungry, Taste, the museum's new restaurant opening May 5, prides itself on using local ingredients. The chardonnay chicken salad sandwich comes straight from the Skagit River Ranch just outside Seattle. Lunch dishes run from $5 to $12; dinner entrees cost $10 to $30.

Union also boasts ingredients from the waters of the Pacific Northwest as well as from overseas. The menu changes daily, but you can count on the Dungeness crab salad with avocado and basil oil, scallops and roasted guinea hen; dinner entrees are in the upper $20 range.

After taking in the museum's Asian art collection, grab a table at Wild Ginger, an Asian restaurant and satay bar. Recipes from the Pacific Rim include wild ginger fragrant duck and seven-flavor beef. Dinner dishes cost $15 to $34.

Renowned Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Inopportune: Stage One” is the first installation to hang in the new 5,000-square-foot Brotman Forum at the renovated Seattle Art Museum. It depicts nine Ford Tauruses that seem to randomly hurl themselves around vibrant lighting.