SAM's Gauguin 'Polynesia' exhibit is a U.S. exclusive

SEATTLE - Local residents who want a glimpse at something special in the art world may want to head for the Seattle Art Museum - the only U.S. stop for a unique exhibit featuring famed artist Paul Gauguin.

Gauguin soaked in the sun and culture of Polynesia more than 100 years ago. And today his bold and bright paintings are lighting up the Seattle Art Museum.

Sandra Jo Palm got a members-only preview of the pieces this week.

The 59 Gauguin paintings are borrowed from 40 museums around the globe. The creations are so unforgettable, Sandra Jo came back today to show her partner, Ruth.

"It's just mind-boggling," says Sandra Jo. "I feel like I'm in the Metropolitan Museum in New York or something. For the West Coast, this is it. It doesn't get any better."

Only one other city - Copenhagen, Denmark - has had this exhibit. And Seattle Art Museum Curator Pam McClusky is the reason why.

"This began with a conversation in Paris," she says.

McClusky pulled her connections with Polynesian art historians, Swiss organizers - and beyond - to make the show happen. And it is the first time Gaugin's flashy paintings have been shown next to the Polynesian pieces that influenced him.

"Kind of side-by-side, and intersecting in a way that hasn't happened before," McClusky says.

One thing Gauguin is known for is his use of bright colors. The museum purposefully picked a background color for the wall that would make sure his paintings would pop out - evoking a mood for Gauguin.

"I mean, it's spiritual, it's artistic. It's craft," says Sandra Jo.

The exhibit will be showing until April 29.

Meanwhile, administrators say last year's Picasso viewing surpassed Seattle Art Museum's expections - with twice as many expected guests. They're hoping Gauguin can pull in lots of people, too.