Crystal Bridges ups the wow factor in 2019

Crystal Bridges ups the wow factor in 2019


It was a big year for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. For a museum that’s only 8 years old, every year might conceivably be a big year. But in spite of its youth, the Bentonville museum has already established itself as a trailblazer and continues to achieve impressive new heights with each passing trip around the sun.

In 2019, Northwest Arkansas’ behemoth arts presenter organized, mounted and traveled a momentous exhibition (“Men of Steel, Women of Wonder”); activated outdoor spaces in new ways with an internally curated sculpture exhibition and an innovative light and sound installation; explored its namesake in a first-of-its-kind exhibition (“Crystals in Art: Ancient to Today”); acquired dynamic new works; and is on track to have a record-breaking attendance year.

“It’s a lot happening,” Executive Director & Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Rod Bigelow says with a chuckle — and a touch of astonishment.

“When we landed on the scene, we were labeled a disrupter,” he goes on, noting the label was bestowed with both positive and negative implications. “I think that’s part of our DNA and our culture is that we want to continue to disrupt these discussions and have a bit of a different perspective in the field.

“Early on in our life, there was a lot of criticism about who would come to see art in Arkansas, and a lot of discrediting the quality of the experience or where it was. It’s good to look back on that now,” he muses.


This year, Crystal Bridges honed in on two points of its mission: welcoming all, and presenting a more inclusive narrative of the American experience.

Bilingual presentations in exhibitions were expanded and will continue to increase moving forward. More multi-sensory experiences for visitors with blindness or low vision were widened through a touchable art program. A new cart guide program offers guests a more hands-on way to interact with the work than the traditional walk-through museum experience. And this summer, during the museum’s outdoor sculpture exhibition focusing on color, Crystal Bridges was gifted 60 pairs of special color-enhancing glasses that were made available for checkout to guests who are colorblind.

The museum’s commitment to meeting visitors where they’re at so that everyone can experience the art in their own way has translated to almost 5 million visitors since its opening. Before the holidays, Crystal Bridges had already seen an estimated 662,000 visitors this year, surpassing the previous annual attendance record by nearly 30,000.


Outside the museum’s walls, the grounds at Crystal Bridges were host to myriad experiences the museum had never engaged in before.

“We did some creative things this year, including the first campout in the forest, which was fun and exciting, especially for people who don’t ever camp,” Bigelow shares. “And then we did a big Chalk Festival where we had 23 artists come and create a multi-day experience in our parking garage. If you haven’t seen chalk art being created moment-by-moment, it’s a fascinating experience. And although it was hot, it was terrific.”

The North Forest was also host to two other exciting moments for Crystal Bridges. This summer’s “Color Field” was the museum’s first internally curated outdoor sculpture exhibition and was displayed in conversation with the temporary exhibition at the time, “Nature’s Nation.”

In the fall, Crystal Bridges’ new partnership with Montreal-based multimedia and entertainment studio Moment Factory resulted in the immersive, experiential installation North Forest Lights.

“That is a very different kind of experience for us, and that was our intention,” Bigelow says of the group of five artistic light and sound installations that are open at night through Feb. 16. “What I love about being out in the forest is that every experience is different. And I think that’s a poignant impact that we’ve created in that space and that will continue.”


“One of the things that was really important for us this year was our continued growth in our collection, and acquiring objects that are more representative of America,” reflects Bigelow.

In focusing on creating a more inclusive view of the American experience, Bigelow reveals curators were very intentional about acquiring works by women artists and artists of color. Two of the new works that have incited significant enthusiasm from viewers are Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrored Room” and Kehinde Wiley’s “Portrait of Florentine Nobleman,” both on display in the Contemporary Art Gallery.

These and other acquisitions for the Contemporary Gallery instigated the opportunity to re-imagine a portion of the space. Prior to the redesign, the gallery’s flow was more chronological. Now, the experience in the immersive Infinity Room — abstraction, repetition — informs what guests will see in the rest of the gallery space. The section following Kusama’s piece is full of newly acquired works by artists concentrating on figuration influenced by abstraction, assistant curator Alejo Benedetti revealed to What’s Up! earlier this year.

Among these contemporary artists of color and female artists pushing boundaries of representation are:

• Jordan Casteel, “Ourlando”; Loie Hollowell, “Mother’s Milk” (featured in 2018 exhibition “The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art”); Nathaniel Mary Quinn, “Dave Forsythe”; Emma Amos, “The Reader” (featured in 2018’s “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power”).

• Crystal Bridges also acquired 23 works by Los Angeles-based collector Gordon Bailey this year.

• Added to the Early American Art Gallery, pioneering African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner’s “The Good Shepherd” is another important 2019 addition.

Categories: Galleries