Alaska's 10 Best Contemporary Art Galleries and Museums

Patrick Norrie

Alaska is an incredibly vast region and yet it is still sparsely populated. However, over the years artists have come to Alaska, inspired by its mesmerising landscape. Art has played an important role in this unique state, helping to define the community by giving the area a reference point, a sense of place and meaning within the wilderness. Here are 10 galleries that provide an essential platform for contemporary artists in Alaska.

Arctic Rose Gallery & Art Center

This is a collaborative project curated by artists Jana Latham, Jon and Jona Van Zyle as well as 10 other creative members in downtown Anchorage. At the heart of the retail gallery’s enterprise is to instil a passion for art in Anchorage. Jon Van Zyle is a prominent painter in this state, distilling the essence of Alaskan landscape and its wildfire in his indelible watercolour paintings. He has also been inducted into the Iditarod Hall of Fame, having been the official painter of The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race since 1979. Jona, meanwhile, is a versatile artist most well-known for her Alaskan pictures made outs of beads. Arctic Rose Gallery & Art Center exhibits a diverse range of art including an unique Russian collection of matrushkas and lacquer boxes. Latham and her team ensure the gallery is bustling with events, organised throughout the year. The gallery also participates in Anchorage’s ‘First Friday Art’, which brings the art community and local residents together.

Arctic Rose Gallery & Art Center, 423 W 5th Ave, Anchorage, Alaska, USA, +1 907-279-3911

1. Bunnell Street Arts Center

Building, Art Gallery

front view of Bunnell Street Arts Center including our current installation called Bouys and Barrels by Jarod Charzewski
Courtesy of Bunnell Street Arts
This creative hub is a real gem in the midst of the stunning Kachemak bay and Kenai mountains. It is a non-profit multidisciplinary arts organisation, situated in the historic Inlet Trading Post building. It is truly embedded in the community, playing a pivotal role in the revitalising of the Old Town in Homer. Bunnell Street Arts Center promotes both visual and performing arts, coordinating lectures, plays, exhibitions, workshops and Artists in Schools. Yet at the core of the arts organisation is the Artist in Residence programme, held three to five times a year. It allows Alaskan and international artists to live on-site for up to a month, while laying on educational outreach activities for the community. Current beneficiary of Bunnell’s inclusive philosophy is Jarod Charzewski, an art teacher at College of Charleston, whose popular installation Buoys and Barrels has become a central feature of the exterior of the gallery. Moreover, there is currently a solo exhibition by Kodiak artist Antoinette Walker who explores the coastal marine theme via the encaustic medium: one of the oldest painting techniques that combines damar crystals, molten bees wax and pigment.

2. University of Alaska Museum of the North

Art Gallery, Museum

The mere exterior of the museum is eye-catching because of its distinctive award-winning architecture. Inspired by the Pritzker Prize–winning architect Frank Gehry, the building evokes the shape of Alaska’s rugged rural scenery. However once you enter the museum, you will be confronted by an abundance of historical objects and artworks, which all collectively depicts Alaska’s history as being culturally rich and diverse. For the devotees of contemporary art, the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery on the top floor is place to go. Interestingly, the gallery juxtaposes the traditional with the contemporary, as it makes a concerted effort to highlight Alaska’s different cultures as being all on the same footing aesthetically. Additionally, next to the gallery is a popular permanent exhibition The Place Where You Go To Listen by John Luther Adams. It is a clever and contemplative installation that continually translates the geography of Alaska – like the movements of the sun, the phases of the moon and general seismic activity – into music and coloured lighting. So this whole museum literally strives to the physical embodiment of Alaska.

3. Alaska House Art Gallery

Art Gallery

Alaska House Art Gallery, Fairbanks
Image Courtesy of Alaska House Art Gallery
This log house is an aesthetic sanctuary that promotes and conserves Alaskan art. This culturally significant gallery was established by Joe and Claire Fejes. The latter, although born in New York, became an renowned oil painter in Alaska. She was inspired by the beguiling surroundings and the Native people living in the area. After she died, it was decided by the family that the gallery should be reopened. The current owner is Claire’s daughter Yolande, who actually grew up in the log house. Yolande felt compelled to uphold her mother’s legacy, so therefore there is a considerable collection of art by Claire Fejes at the gallery. However, there is also a burning desire to provide a platform for contemporary artists. Alaska House Art Gallery represents painters, printmakers, sculptors and Native artists. A recent exhibition involved Bill Brody‘s captivating paintings of the Alaskan landscape.

4. Alaska Robotics Gallery

Art Gallery

Alaska Robotics Gallery, Juneau
Image Courtesy of Alaska Robotics Gallery
Alaska Robotics is simultaneously a comic bookshop and an art gallery. The store in Juneau demonstrates that comic books are a manifestation of artistic expression. For some mistakenly believe that graphic novels are solely confined to the genre of superhero fiction. Yet Alaska Robotics are keen to broaden the appeal of graphic novels by illustrating its richness as a form of visual art. The gallery itself is still in its infancy – just two years old – yet it certainly looks set to have a bright future. It features illustrations by Pat Race, the owner of Alaska Robotics, as well as other local and national artists. The team are perpetually in motion, creating illustrations, graphic novels, cards, shirts, short films as well as organising workshops.

5. Pratt Museum


Reliquary by Jo Going
Courtesy of Pratt Museum
The award-winning Pratt Museum is primarily concerned with exploring the dynamic relationship between human beings and the environment. The museum invites visitors on a jaunt through the natural history of Kachemak Bay, conveying how the evolution of people and the area are very much intertwined. It also possess a respectable permanent collection of local artists, showcasing a range of artists inspired by the natural world around them such as Susie Silook’s ivory artworks. An intriguing temporary exhibitions ongoing at the moment is an exhibition titled Reliquary by mixed media artist Jo Going. The name of the exhibition is a reference to her experience of visiting Roman Catholic churches in Italy, seeing how they revere the bones of a saint within a reliquary. The installation, influenced by Neolithic and Palaeolithic art, consists of animals bones. She seeks to examine whether their spirit lives on after death. It has taken 30 years for the exhibition to come to fruition, as she painstakingly collected bones of Arctic Wild animals mainly on the tundra in Alaska.

6. Anchorage Museum


Anchorage Museum views Alaska through the spectrum of art, history and science. It is one of the most popular tourists attractions in the whole state. The museum seeks to survey the history of Alaska, as symbolised by its current exhibition Re/Marks that chronicles the evolution of contemporary Alaskan Native art from the 1970s to today. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg as there are many exciting events to look forward to. For example, there is the exhibition in October Brick by Brick created by Nathan Sawaya and Mike Stimpson that highlight the potential of Lego bricks as a learning tool with ‘artistic, scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical applications’. Yet the crucial event at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art this year is the biennial exhibition known as the All Alaska Juried. It has been a permanent fixture in the calendar for over 30 years, with the museum emboldened by its mission to provide an overview of the best of contemporary art in Alaska. The competition also endeavours to discover a new and up-coming Alaskan artist to introduce to the art scene. This year, the judges are two curators: Bonnie Laing-Malcolmson at Portland Art Museum and Harold Schnitzer at Northwest Art. The exhibition begins in November and ends in February when it will embark on a tour round the state including The Bear Gallery in Fairbanks.

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