Over the years, the Henry has become one of the most prominent galleries in the Pacific Northwest, attracting more than 60,000 visitors a year despite only having 5,000 square feet for exhibitions. Since its inception, it was best known for progressive exhibition programs--its noted 1928 exhibition featuring works by the "Blue Four" (Feininger, Jawlensky, Kandinsky and Klee) was recognized as the first significant exhibition of modern art in Seattle.

"Trees and El," 1931, by Stuart Davis, from the War Assets Collection.
The new Henry's stature will no doubt grow in concert with its larger physical space, thanks to the $17.5 million renovation and expansion project financed through a public/private partnership between the State of Washington, the UW and the Henry Gallery Association, the gallery's fund-raising organization.

The state contributed $8.6 million over the past three years. Support for the Henry Gallery Association's capital campaign--headed by UW Regent Sam Stroum and William True, president of the Henry Gallery Association Board of Trustees--was so strong that the campaign surpassed its goal of $23 million and raised its sights to $25 million.

The new Henry features renovated gallery space to properly present the museum's permanent collection for the first time; new galleries to accommodate installations of contemporary art on an ongoing basis; improved storage and handling facilities; a 154-seat auditorium; a cafe; an academic research center; and studio space for school groups.

A spiraling staircase is one dramatic element in Charles Gwathmey's addition to the Henry Art Gallery. Photo by Mary Levin.
Gwathmey, best known for his addition to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, features as his central element the gigantic South Gallery, a warehoused-sized space in the Faye G. Allen Center. Much larger than it appears from the outside, the gallery is below grade, and its sloping roof, with three long skylights projecting above it, is similar in outline to the hillside it replaces. He himself calls it the "foothill" to the campus.

Gwathmey says the design "originates from the recognition of the existing building as a found object" and creates a "compositional whole by the addition of the new architectural form." Using glass, buff cast-stone panels, board-formed concrete and textured stainless steel on the addition provides a dramatic visual contrast to the monumental red-brick architecture of the neighboring academic buildings.

Skylights bring natural light into new galleries in the Henry Art Gallery. Photo by Mary Levin.
The original Henry remains untouched for the most part, both inside and out. The museum's main door has been moved to the long rectangular form that runs parallel to 15th Avenue N.E. behind the original building. That structure also features a loading bay--no great shakes to you, maybe, but consider that before the expansion project, everything had to enter the Henry through its tiny, old front door. That often required large exhibits and works to be taken apart, stored outside under weather protection, taken inside and then reassembled. That pain-in-the-you-know-what piece of history will make for good lore from now on.

Visitors entering the new main door have their choice: head down a bridge of stairs into the original building, whose galleries will display the Henry permanent collection; take a cantilevered stairwell to the new cafe and study area for the museum's collection of prints and drawings; or stroll past the stairwell to a wide passage overlooking the double-height East Gallery -- and taking you to the entrance of the South Gallery, where temporary exhibitions will be on display.

Unpacking the Collection

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