Tacoma Art Museum opens its new $10 million Benaroya wing, built with a $10 million gift from Seattle philanthropist and arts patron Rebecca "Becky" Benaroya, along with a promised gift of 353 pieces from her and her late husband Jack Benaroya's private collection.
Tacoma Art Museum has a new addition with a new view: the 6,595-square-foot Benaroya wing, built with a $10 million gift from Seattle philanthropist and arts patron Rebecca “Becky” Benaroya, along with a promised gift of 353 pieces from her and her late husband Jack Benaroya‘s private collection.
“When it arrives, we’ll have over 900 objects of studio glass art,” said David Setford, executive director of Tacoma Art Museum (TAM). “Making us one of the top five collections of American studio glass in the country — which is to say, the world.”
“A friend of TAM was living in the same building as Becky,” Setford said, “and got to talking with her about the final destination of the collection.” Benaroya visited TAM, he explained, admired what the museum had done with the Haub Wing (built in 2014 to showcase a 295-piece collection of American West-themed art donated by Erivan and Helga Haub) and decided she’d like something similar.
“Becky is 96, and the gift comes to us when the day arrives when she can’t enjoy it anymore,” Setford said. “We hope that won’t be for a while. But in the interim, when she’s away in the desert several months out of every year, we can borrow what the heck we like!”
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Benaroya’s collection includes photography, painting and sketches (some by Northwest Mystics like Morris Graves), as well as sculpture (including one of Deborah Butterfield’s cast-bronze horses), but is heavy on glass. The wing’s inaugural exhibition, Setford said, “talks about art in the era of Pilchuck (the glass school in Snohomish County) and what those studio-glass artists were looking at: minimalism, installation works, conceptual art, pop, while others were also looking at ancient art.” The exhibition will also include four glass trees by Debora Moore, who is largely known for ambitious but comparatively smaller-scale works, like her glass orchids.
“This is completely new for Debora,” Setford said. “How to make a bent and gnarled tree and armatures of glass to support it. It’s visually stunning.”
Why did the Benaroya collection end up at TAM instead of Seattle Art Museum? “I don’t want to get into the nuts and bolts,” Setford said, “but we made our first glass acquisition in 1971. By the early 1980s, Chihuly started giving us works. Anne Gould Hauberg, co-founder of Pilchuck, donated her collection — a lot of names of people Becky loved and enjoyed, and that was a real hook for her.”
The Benaroya wing was designed by Seattle firm Olson Kundig, which worked with the museum to create a more transparent, accessible view with the “vista gallery,” a large, protruding window that looks out onto the city and the Prairie Line Trail, and lets people on the outside peek in.
“I wasn’t here for the original building,” Setford said, “but I’ve seen photographs and heard a few people say it was a bit of a monolith.” The Benaroya wing, he said, came in slightly under the $10 million budget — maybe not surprising, given that Jack Benaroya was a large figure in Seattle’s construction business, as well as being a civic and arts leader. “We have a representative from the Benaroya company on our building committee, and contractors from JTM, which has worked with the Benaroya company on many, many projects,” he said. “We didn’t think we’d go over budget!”
Kirsten Murray, a partner and principal at Olson Kundig, said transparency and the use of daylight were key concepts in the design: “That vista gallery becomes a beacon to people outside, increasing the sense of activation and visibility.” The new wing also needed to be flexible, with moving walls and different light configurations. “Glass art sometimes wants to be in a very dark space and dramatically lit from within,” she said. “Sometimes it wants a daylight space.”
Murray, Tom Kundig, and their team designed the Benaroya wing while considering expansions to come. “With this, we thought about anticipating extending the wing vertically, and blocked out an area for an elevator and services to the upper floor.”
Olson Kundig has a long history with Tacoma Art Museum — it designed the Haub wing, as well as plaza and lobby renovations. “Whenever we add on,” Murray said, “we want to have an intelligent dialogue with the building.”