Art In Context

Art In Context

Historical meets contemporary at Crystal Bridges, Momentary


When curators at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville look at building a new temporary exhibition lineup, they look at the season holistically. With the intention of providing fresh and engaging perspectives on American art, the curatorial team endeavors to create a calendar that varies in contemporary versus historical material, internally versus externally generated projects, and solo artists versus group showings. In 2020, they had the added excitement of organizing in two spaces with the Momentary, scheduled to open in February.

“It’s a really nice opportunity for us to think about different ways that the contemporary programming will live across both buildings,” offers Lauren Haynes, curator, contemporary art at Crystal Bridges and curator of visual arts for the Momentary.

“It’s also important for us to really think about how, although we will have contemporary visual arts and performing arts at the Momentary, that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop having contemporary projects here at Crystal Bridges.”

The new lineup comprises six exhibitions — four to be displayed at Crystal Bridges, one at the Momentary and one at both locations.

“We were definitely thinking about that balance,” Haynes explains. For example, “in the summer when we have the Ansel Adams exhibition here at Crystal Bridges, we’ll have the Nick Cave project, ‘Until,’ that we co-commissioned with MASS MoCA, at the Momentary. Those are very different projects in a way, but exciting to think about together.

“I think that’s something that’s going to be a trend for us as we continue thinking about the two spaces and how they’ll go together,” she continues. “Like, what is that balance? When do we want to have things that connect? When do we want to have things that may seem very disparate but have some connections? And when do we want to do things that go across both spaces? [It] really gives us the opportunity to expand and have some great conversations with our team internally, as well as make space for great projects that are organized by other institutions that feel like a good fit for us here.”

Before Ansel Adams or Nick Cave, the season opens Feb. 8 with a survey of award-winning conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas’ career. The chance to present a mid-career survey of work by a living artist is a compelling opportunity, Haynes says, especially when the artist in question works across so many types of media, offering many points of entry and connection for the viewer.

“Hank Willis Thomas’ work lives in a space of multiplicity, and he often sees dichotomies — as well as binaries, double entendre and different perspectives — as an opportunity to create meaningful dialogue,” shares Allison Glenn, Crystal Bridges associate curator.

A perfect example, Glenn points out, is Thomas’ 2014 sculpture “Raise Up,” based on an apartheid-era photograph of 13 black miners by South African photographer Ernest Cole. The piece connects this historical moment to contemporary time, as well as the continents of Africa and North America.

“In the wake of the murder of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, Black Lives Matter organized a national ride and protest, where the ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ slogan was born,” Glenn says.

“Thomas’ sculpture — created in the same year — visually aligns itself with this movement and slogan. In actuality, the message is much broader, and viewers should come away from this exhibition with a keen understanding of the nuance of Thomas’ practice, the critical theory that he is employing, and the larger global issues that he is tackling within his work.”

Later in February, while Thomas’ work is still on display at Crystal Bridges, the Momentary’s debut exhibition also connects the past and the present as “State of the Art II” opens at both locations on Feb. 22.

“It was a really fantastic exhibition for the institution, but also for our visitors. It just really allowed this idea of art being made now to be seen in such an expansive way that the idea to do a second iteration was a bit of a no-brainer,” Haynes says of Crystal Bridges’ 2014 internally organized project “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now.”

“For the first ‘State of the Art,’ so much of the work that product was doing was proving this premise that art, and important art, and interesting art, is made all across this country, not just in the centers of New York and L.A. And now we’re able to take some of what we were seeing and think about what are these ideas and how are they pulling themselves into themes and into a way that is going to make it a cohesive exhibition across the two spaces.”

Summer of 2020 will host the work of iconic American landscape photographer Ansel Adams alongside contemporary works also focused on nature.

“For us, that really hits on our idea of how do we talk about nature in the setting that we’re in and how it’s so present?” Haynes muses. “To actually have that be in the galleries is something that we’ve also gotten really good at and has been an important part of our exhibition programs.”

Something people often ask, Haynes says of the next exhibition, is when will the museum do more American history/historical projects. “Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere” is the curatorial team’s answer to that question, while also maintaining work that “feels like it fits in and is part of our ongoing conversations that we’re having in our gallery,” she shares.

The exhibition was developed by the American Antiquarian Society and will bring more than 80 objects — including Revere’s original engravings of historical events — to Crystal Bridges on the nation’s 244th birthday, July 4, 2020.

The Momentary’s second exhibition, opening July 18, was in the works with Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) and CarriageWorks of Sydney, Australia, long before the new arts venue’s completion, Haynes reveals. Visitors may be familiar with Nick Cave’s “Soundsuits” in the permanent collection or when the artist was included in the 2016 Distinguished Speaker Series lineup. But in “Nick Cave: Until,” the artist will take the viewer inside one of his Soundsuits for an immersive and engaging experience.

“To really think about a space that is meant to be deeply engaged by other artists and other members of the community, I think is going to allow not only for people to see the Momentary in a completely different way — because it’ll be new, but different from ‘State of the Art’ — but also see Nick’s practice in a whole new way,” Haynes shares.

Finally, October of 2020 will see the final temporary exhibition of the year with “Craft” (the exhibition’s working title). The project was developed by Crystal Bridges Assistant Curator Jen Padgett and guest curator Glenn Adamson — scholar of craft, design history and contemporary art. More than 90 works in traditional and unexpected materials explore how the skills and elements associated with craft play a vital role in American art from the 1940s to present.

Whether through a quilt made by a grandmother and passed down through generations, a woodworking class taken in high school, or a handmade mug used every day for morning coffee, everyone has a connection to craft, Padgett suggests.

“We want to build on those familiar associations but then surprise our visitors, invoking a sense of wonder and expanding the way they think about craft,” she says. But the exhibition also encourages reflection on the material world around us, as well as a more inclusive and expansive story of American art.

“Craft has long been an accessible art form for women, people of color, immigrants, Indigenous peoples, veterans and other marginalized communities,” Padgett explains. “This exhibition allows us to highlight a range of creative activity and explore how artists have engaged with and reinvented traditional ways of making over the past decades.”



Crystal Bridges Museum

And The Momentary

2020 Exhibition Schedule

“Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…” — Feb. 8-April 20

“State of the Art II” — Feb. 22-May 24

“Ansel Adams: In Our Time” — May 23-Sept. 7, 2020

“Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere” — July 4-Oct. 11, 2020

“Nick Cave: Until” — July 18, 2020-Jan. 3, 2021

“Craft” — Oct. 10, 2020-Feb. 1, 2021

Categories: 'Tis the Season