One of the many peculiar things about this moment is that literal signs of the times are everywhere. Black Lives Matter in the windows of houses. We Got This Seattle still occupies Ballard’s Majestic Bay marquee. Just down the road, at the National Nordic Museum, signs greet you at nearly every step. On September 4, it became the first Seattle museum to reopen after the pandemic shutdown in March. Here, the signs offer pandemic direction: Go With the Flow (meaning follow the new unidirectional path that guides you through the galleries). Please Follow Social Distancing stamped all over the floors. This gallery is limited to 10 people at a time. Regularly sanitize your hands, please. (Honestly not sure why there were so many of the last one. Sanitize when you come in. Then you’re in a museum—don’t touch shit.)
Everything this year—shopping, work, socializing—has changed, to the degree that having the cliche “new normal” crammed into our ears and eyes is, well, the new normal. Not so with a museum visit. In fact, beyond those signs, most of my time there felt strangely, comfortingly familiar—a sort of artifact dredged up from the past, like those on display. It felt like early February again.
There are changes, sure, which you can expect at museums across the city as they reopen. Occupancy is capped at 25 percent. I had to get a timed ticket beforehand, which demanded I arrive between 10 and 10:30am, and I had to be out by noon. The people at the front desk sat behind plexiglass dividers. I followed a loose course through the place: new exhibition, upstairs, down, out. The cafe is closed. Everyone wears masks.
Yet the fundamental act, drifting through a large space and seeing things (fashion! photos! chairs! logging equipment!), remains the same. Outside of an opening night party, it’s pretty rare I’m in a museum that isn’t already socially distanced.
I still won’t eat in a restaurant. It’s not worth the risk when most everything I love about them, for the moment, has been stripped away. Stepping inside a grocery store remains a stressor, my synapses firing with the relative closeness of each stranger’s body, some invisible, odorless miasma of virus perhaps lurking in aisle five. But the museum is just a few people in cavernous space, so much air between us and above us. I felt relaxed. I surveyed the current exhibition, a holdover from April, Gudrun Sjödén—A Colorful Universe. An exuberantly hued collection of clothes and images, it’s a bit like stepping inside of a child’s fantasy of a fashion show—transportive in a moment when we need transport.
Here are the coming museum openings, with hours:
National Nordic Museum
Opened on Sept 4, hours are Wed–Sun 10am–5pm
The Museum of Flight
Opened Sept 5, hours are Fri–Mon 10am–5pm
Seattle Art Museum
Opens Sept 11, hours are Fri–Sun 10am–5pm
Museum of Pop Culture
Opens Sept 18, Fri–Sun 10am–6pm
Wing Luke Museum
Expects to open Oct 7
Frye Art Museum
Expects to open in mid-October