Arts & Culture

Tacoma Art Museum’s new $10 million wing opens next week with actual wings

Tacoma Art Museum now has enough wings to take flight.

The museum’s new Benaroya Wing opens at 10 a.m. Jan. 19. Built over the past year at the north end of the museum, it’s the second addition to TAM following the 2014 Haub Family Galleries wing.

The $10.1 million Benaroya Wing adds 4,550-square-feet of exhibition space to the museum for a total of 41,000 square-feet of galleries. When the new building opened in 2003, it had only 25,000-square-feet.

The wing was built to house the promised art collection of Seattle philanthropists and art patrons Rebecca and Jack Benaroya as well as works from TAM’s permanent collection.

The Benaroyas’ collection was amassed during a 70-year marriage. The collection includes 353 works of studio art glass, paintings and sculptures.

“It’s truly replete with masterpieces and one-of-a-kind objects,” said David Setford, TAM’s executive director. “Receiving it puts TAM in the ranks of the great collections of studio art glass.”

Rebecca Benaroya (Jack died in 2012) gave $9.2 million to build the wing. Along with the building funds and collection, she gave a $4 million endowment for its care as well as for a dedicated curator.

Attached to the addition’s exterior are three 10 to 16-foot-tall bronze-and-aluminum bird wings by artist Ginny Ruffner. TAM obtained the works in 1995, and they’ve been in storage since.

A prominent feature of the new wing is a 46-foot long wall of plate glass that faces Pacific Avenue. Visitors to the Greater Tacoma Convention Center and new 22-story Marriott Yareton hotel under construction will have views into TAM.

“(It) allows the public outside a very special glimpse to what is going on inside,” Setford said.

The museum’s visitors, in turn, will have views of the growing city and the recently built Prairie Line Trail. Visitors this weekend will see the multihued balloon shapes of Jen Elek’s “Blanket”.

“It’s super fun to curate from across the street,” Rock said. The space will be lit at night.

The addition of the Olson Kundig-designed space to the existing building was funded with a $1.02 million Building for the Arts grant. The wing has moveable interior walls, making it a versatile space for exhibitions.

Two walls of windows come together in the gallery’s Northwest corner. Standing in the glassed-in corner can give a visitor the feeling of floating in air.

“For Ginny, these wings are a metaphor about the importance of art and beauty in life and a reminder to keep aspiring to something bigger and better,” said Rock Hushka, TAM’s chief curator and deputy director.

On Thursday, the finishing touches were being put on exhibitions in preparation for Saturday’s opening. Rebecca Benaroya is scheduled to attend.

With 150 promised glass works in the Benaroya collection, TAM now has about 1,000 works of glass art.

TAM held its first glass show in 1970, less than a decade into the studio art glass movement.

The Pacific Northwest became a center for art glass after the opening of the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood in 1971. It was co-founded by Tacoma native Dale Chihuly.

Along with the nearby Museum of Glass and its hot shop, the two institutions make Tacoma a nucleus of art glass.

The opening exhibition for the Benaroya Wing is “Metaphor into Form: Art in the Era of the Pilchuck Glass School.” The works in the show range from glass icons William Morris and Lino Tagliapietra to Tacoma artist Oliver Doriss.

Visitors to the new wing on Saturday will be greeted by a glowing chartreuse glass pyramid by Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova. Other works in the show include the Benaroyas’ first piece of glass art, a 1980 Chihuly “basket” set.

The wing also includes new work, commissioned by TAM.

“Arboria” by Debora Moore, which features four life-size trees erupting from boulders, each adorned with glass flowers or fruit, was made for the opening of the wing. One of the pieces will become part of TAM’s permanent collection.

Also new to TAM is “Current” by Martin Blank. The 1994 work was donated by Rosalind Poll and relocated from a Seattle office building.

“This giant river of glass is literally the largest work in the museum’s collection, 30 feet long, 9 feet high,” Hushka said.

The sweeping panels of undulating glass are installed near the reception desk and discreetly block views of Interstate 705 beyond.


What: Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Wing

Where: Tacoma Art Museum,

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19

Admission: Free

On tap: Art activities, performances, talks and exhibitions


Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.