Art Exhibits: Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas

Crystal Bridges Museum Art Catalogue

In this series of art museum visits, we now turn our attention to Art in the Heartland. In 24-hours, we were able to fly to Bentonville, Arkansas to explore the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

The mission of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is “to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of nature.” Guests can dine at a restaurant on a glass-enclosed bridge overlooking the ponds, shop in a museum store designed by architect Marlon Blackwell, and peruse a library featuring more than 50,000 volumes of art reference material. As if those features aren’t enough, sculpture and walking trails link the Museum’s 120-acre park to downtown Bentonville, Arkansas.

Visitors will notice immediately that Crystal Bridges does indeed bridge the water and responds to its lush green environment.  Crystal Bridges takes its name from a nearby natural spring and the bridge construction incorporated in the building, designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie.

Seven Types of Ambiguity
Helen Frankenthaler

While the grounds are certainly phenomenal, Crystal Bridges has every right to brag about its permanent collection, which spans five centuries of American masterworks–ranging from the Colonial era to the current day. Included within the collection are iconic images such as Asher B. Durand’s “Kindred Spirits,” Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter,” and Andy Warhol’s “Coca-Cola” [3]— each reflecting a distinct moment in American artistic evolution—as well as major works by modern and contemporary American artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, John Baldessari, and James Turrell. The permanent collection, which continues to grow through a strategic acquisition plan, is on view year-round and is enhanced by an array of temporary exhibitions.

My main interest was the Georgia O’Keeffe’s masterpiece, “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, 1932,” which is owned by Crystal Bridges Museum. However, this artwork is currently on exhibition at the Tate Modern in London (the subject of my next blog post).

A typical visit might include two or three hours for the museum, and perhaps another for the beautiful grounds, which feature paved trails and sculptures. There is also the Frank Lloyd Wright house to tour. Perhaps 5-6  hours would allow you to take in the entire experience, including Eleven (the on-site restaurant), the gift store and art library.

Crystal Bridges has only been open to the public since 11-11-11. In just five years, this art museum is highly energized and continuing to grow under the leadership of Executive Director Rod Bigelow, Margaret C. Conrads(Director of Curatorial Affairs) and Robin Groesbeck (Director of Exhibitions and Interpretive Presentations).

Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell

In the permanent collection, some of my favorite artworks included new acquisitions from several women artists including Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Brown.

After spending some time with the art, I had a chance to have coffee with Margi Conrads, the Director of Curatorial Affairs.  Conrads, who recently moved from Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum, spoke excitedly about the Crystal Bridges collection and future plans. “Central to Crystal Bridges’ mission is that the museum welcomes all. To that end, it is imperative that the collection is as inclusive as possible, and we are working hard to make that visible on our gallery walls. Recent additions to the collection by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Charles White, John Biggers, Faith Ringgold, and Alfredo Ramos Martinez are examples of how we are moving this important work forward.”

Conrads also noted that the museum’s cultural impact on the Heartland keeps growing. “Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announced that it will begin development of an innovative visual art exhibition space, performance venues for music, film and theatre; and a multi-disciplinary artists-in-residence program to be housed within a freestanding building in downtown Bentonville. The project will involve adaptive reuse of a decommissioned Kraft Foods plant, located approximately 1.5 miles south of Crystal Bridges, into a vibrant facility engaged in exploring the visual and performing arts.”

Margi Conrads offered a unique perspective on Crystal Bridges’ future by saying, “Crystal Bridges seeks to create experiences with art that are relevant to all guests. This goal has led the museum to find innovative ways to address issues of contemporary culture. Recently, we have begun work on an adaptive reuse project of a retired Kraft Cheese factory to create a multi-arts creative space that will include exhibition and performance spaces, a music venue, and host artist residencies, all tuned to engage visitors in conversations that matter today.”

I highly recommend a trip to Bentonville, AR to explore this gem. Its current rotating exhibition, American Made: Treasures from the American Folk Art is available until September 19, 2016. Whether you are a lover of architecture or art, or a dedicated student looking for another summer trip, visiting art museums in the Heartland can stimulate your senses on many different levels. It is well-worth the 24-hour trip to visit the visual beauty in the heart of Arkansas at Crystal Bridges.



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