Whatever they're drinking over at SAM, they need to need to buy a round or two for some of the other Big Cultural Institutions in town. First the museum delivers a fantastically successful, wonderfully populist sculpture park. Now they have a flawlessly executed opening to their expanded indoor space. On my afternoon visit I witnessed SAM handling the blocklong lines with expert, unhurried efficiency, The Tall Boys doing some picking and bowing to keep everyone feeling good. There was no misplaced, overbearing security presence, inside or out, of the type that one comes to expect these days whenever big crowds are gathered. Instead of feeling like the public was the enemy, come to threaten the art, the museum couldn't have created a more welcoming vibe--no bag-checking, no guards standing watch everywhere, just volunteers with Ask Me signs on. I saw one little kid practically plant his nose on one of the aboriginal paintings, one of countless close calls I'm sure, but the museum clearly decided it was better to let people enjoy themselves freely, without a lot of close monitoring. As with the sculpture park, you saw every variety of Seattle citizen at the opening, a sight that made me wish that, with all the money seemingly sloshing around SAM, would permanently free admission not have been a possible goal? After a couple of intimate, media-only walk-throughs, it was fascinating to see how the feeling of the art changes when the museum's packed with people. Most everything seemed to benefit from the energy. The only thing that suffered in my view was the African wing, which felt really cluttered and diffuse once the galleries filled with people. On the other hand, Maurizio Cattelan's taxidermied dog, tucked into a corner of the fourth floor and snoozing on a stark plastic chair, was even more freaky and discomfiting when you stumble upon him amidst the mob.
To check out our SAM slideshow, with photos by Renee McMahon, click here.