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Image: Mike Kane

When Kimerly Rorschach took charge in 2012, the Seattle Art Museum was in a bad way: It needed direction. The downtown museum had been renovated, but its new potential hadn’t yet been realized. And trustees had been considering abandoning the Asian Art Museum in Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park, SAM’s original location, due to disrepair.

“You could say that’s a good time for a director to come in, because things can only get better,” says SAM trustee Charlie Wright. “But things really got better.” 

Rorschach—who’d spent nearly two decades directing museums in Chicago, Philadelphia, and North Carolina—was drawn by the opportunity to head the foremost museum in a swiftly changing city. Since arriving, she has spearheaded renovations to the Asian Art Museum, which began construction in February and should reopen in late 2019 with an expanded program, adding rotating contemporary exhibits and encompassing cultures outside of its Japanese, Chinese, and Korean collections. 

She’s also lined up a program of downtown exhibitions—from Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic to Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, the latter of which attracted more than 130,000 visitors and sold out daily—that have shaken off any fusty museum connotations and become vibrant threads in the city’s cultural fabric.

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