SAM on the World Stage: 1960-69



Reports in the 1960s

After the remarkable growth of the 1950s, the beginning of the new decade showed some strain and self-consciousness in the effort to maintain the momentum:

Although many of our statistics for the past year are not spectacular and reflect only the very demanding routine activities which our organization must maintain, a survey shows major fields in which we have excelled previous records. (1961)

Though 1961 may have felt lackluster in comparison to the 1950s, 1962 “was inevitably an exceptional year” thanks to the Seattle World’s Fair. SAM had a considerable presence at the Fair, and was “responsible for lending numerous works for display throughout the Fair grounds as well as in other places in the city” (1962). The exhibit in the Fine Arts Pavilion of the Fair and other exhibits around the city “did much to publicize our organization” on a local and international scale (1962).

1962 also saw Seattle play host to “the annual meetings of both the American Institute of Decorators, and the annual conference of the Pacific Arts Association" (1962). All of these events in conjunction might be seen as testament to the increasingly high profile and excellent reputation SAM and Dr. Fuller had cultivated since the museum’s opening in 1933.

After the whirlwind of activity in 1962, the 1963 report began with the shortest introductory statement to date: "Historically the two most important events of the year were the 58th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Museums in Seattle and our summer exhibit at Seattle Center" (1963). During this same year, "As a trial run the Museum maintained an exhibit at the Seattle Center from June 1st through September 2nd" in a remodeled pavilion from the World's Fair (1963). The space was renamed the Seattle Art Museum Pavilion, and in the three month trial period, "more than 114,000 persons visited the Pavilion. We consider the trial a remarkable success and hope that it may be continued" (1963). The Pavilion did indeed continue, officially opening on June 5th, 1965 with "the notable and expensive" exhibit "The Responsive Eye, the 'op' show assembled by Mr. William Seitz for the Museum of Modern Art and sponsored in Seattle by the Contemporary Art Council of which John Denman is President" (1965). The Contemporary Art Council (CAC) would become quite influential; later in the decade, the CAC and curator Lucy Lippard would present "a highly provocative exhibition of Conceptual Art called 557,087, a movement with a myriad manifestations of which the keynote is the isolation of the commonplace and unexpected," an exhibition that would help put SAM and Seattle on the map for serious contemporary art (1965).

This was clearly a busy time in the history of the young museum, which had been rapidly catapulted to international prominence with the World's Fair, the hosting of these conferences, and the opening of the Seattle Art Museum Pavilion. 

By 1967, Dr. Fuller began to prepare for his succession in museum leadership:

When a museum director attains the ripe age of three score years and ten one of his principal duties is to provide for succession even though he may hope still to have years in which to pass on his knowledge of the collection. (1967)

Though he wouldn’t retire for another five years (he stepped down from his leadership roles in 1972), this is notably the first time the co-founder and director gave any hint in writing of the end of his tenure.

The 1969 report includes the following assessment of the year's activities: "In the history of the Seattle Art Museum the year of 1969 will be remembered principally for the wealth of its accessions[...]" (1969). Many reports cite "the wealth of its accessions" as a notable characteristic of a given year, this particular year celebrated the accession and installation of Isamu Noguchi's Black Sun in Volunteer Park. This was made possible thanks to generous matching funds from donors, the Seattle Foundation, and the City of Seattle. There was a dedication ceremony and Mayor's reception to mark the occasion, and the piece remains an integral part of the Seattle landscape to this day. Although not part of SAM's collection -- it belongs to the City of Seattle -- it was an important piece that clearly has a relationship with the museum it faces. Dr. Fuller's participation in the triumphant installation of the now-iconic Black Sun was perhaps a fitting way to close out the decade during which SAM made its presence known on the world stage.

SAM on the World Stage: 1960-69