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Crystal Bridges, Momentary reflect outside world


Everyone at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Momentary in Bentonville was ecstatic to welcome members back on June 6 and to reopen to the public on June 10. It had been three months since the doors closed to keep covid-19 out.

The trails and grounds on Crystal Bridges’ campus have been open through the museum’s closure, and Bigelow notes that while he is proud the museum was able to maintain engagement with art lovers in this outdoor space, he was excited to see guests back inside the halls upon CBM’s reopening. “Nothing brings a museum to life more than the people that are in it.”
(Courtesy Photo/Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Momentary)

“I can tell you they were jubilant,” Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity & inclusion officer at Crystal Bridges, said of visitors who attended the soft reopening weekend. “I think there were tears. There was laughter. There was real solace and deep thought, especially in the Hank Willis Thomas exhibition.”

“We feel that the community is hungry for these kinds of things,” adds Momentary Director Lieven Bertels. “And that’s our reason of existence; we exist to bring art to people and we try and do that as best we can and as safely as we can under these circumstances. But it would also be sad to just not try and actively engage with the public when the public is ready for this.”

Both institutions, as with most businesses and organizations preparing for re-openings, will operate at a limited capacity for the time being. The Momentary and Crystal Bridges have both implemented safety measures in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the Arkansas Department of Health, including requiring face masks for all guests age 10 and older (and recommended for ages 2 to 10), touchless transactions and enforcing social distancing measures, among other efforts.

The safety precautions will also mean all public programs will continue to be online only through at least the end of June; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House, James Turrell’s “Skyspace: The Way of Color,” Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrored Room” and the Studio art making space at Crystal Bridges will remain closed until further notice due to limited space for distancing; and the performing arts, like concerts, theater and time-based performance pieces will not yet be scheduled at the Momentary.

Part of the reason for delaying performances, Bertels reveals, is many of the artists the multidisciplinary space would normally bring in are not yet ready to travel. The FreshGrass bluegrass festival — postponed to October from its original April scheduling — is one casualty of changes. The festival is now officially canceled for 2020.

“I wouldn’t have ever imagined this moment, but I think we’ve thought about this exhibition as being critically important all along. It is. It speaks to the moment as pointedly as you possibly can,” Crystal Bridges Executive Director Rod Bigelow says solemnly of the tragic timeliness of the temporary exhibition “Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…,” extended through July 13.
(Courtesy Photo/Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Momentary)

“I think we will indeed try and offer more online programming than ever before,” Bertels says in response to finding the balance of welcoming guests back to the physical space while continuing to engage those who will still refrain from venturing out to such a public sphere.

“We have definitely looked at what other museums were doing; we’re also in conversation through a formal network with most major museums and art centers around the country,” he shares. “But it’s very clear from everybody’s process they’re going through that this is very much about each person, each institution, finding what is right for their institution and for their region.”

“There’s no such thing as pre-covid in our minds,” Bigelow adds introspectively. “I think this experience was really hard, but it was one that transformed our ideas of what it is to connect with people. People are consuming differently. And we were able to actually produce and present different kinds of experiences that we wouldn’t have before. I would call it a hybrid going forward — and an exciting opportunity to continue to explore in that space.

“Our mission really is all about providing access to art,” he continues. “And a powerful thing that we can do is open our doors and be a place for inspiration, activism, reflection. And it’s more meaningful now than ever because of the events that have been happening around the country and around the world.”

It’s more than the coronavirus pandemic Bertels and Bigelow are alluding to. George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police on May 25 and the surge of protests against police brutality that have swept the world in response led to both institutions’ further inclusion in the dialogue surrounding social justice because of the exhibitions both currently have on display.

“That work has never been more timely than now,” Bertels says of Paul Stephen Benjamin’s “State of the Art 2020” piece “Summer Breeze,” which asks the viewer to consider how race relations have changed, or not, between different eras. “We saw that many people that came over the weekend really responded to that work, and were happy to spend some time with it because it reminds us of all the things that are going on, again, in this country. And it just goes to show that good art talks about everyday existence and what’s happening around us, and reminds us of important topics.”
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff)

“What’s amazing about having the exhibition before and after and during this moment, is that it does have the same meaning, and it has completely different meaning at the same time,” Bigelow says of the exhibition “Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…,” which was in the middle of its scheduled showing when the museum was forced to close.

“Navigating the complexity of the exhibition is what’s powerful. I mean, how do you talk about Hank’s portrayal of his loved one who’s been murdered? It’s tragic then, and it’s tragically more recognized now. So I hope that people who are walking through the space, and our own team, are more activated by the experience. But I think it also shows the long history of racism in this country, and how the ongoing struggles of social justice and civil rights are critical for a society that will be everything we want it to be: just and fair. I am confident that it will have incredible impact.”

Similarly at the Momentary, one of the pieces on display in “State of the Art 2020” saw many visitors engaging perhaps more urgently with it than they did in February. Paul Stephen Benjamin’s work “Summer Breeze” is a multi-video monitor, which includes a snippet of the song “Strange Fruit” — made famous by Billie Holiday in the late ’30s and protesting the widespread lynchings of black people.

“That work has never been more timely than now,” Bertels notes. “It just goes to show that good art talks about everyday existence and what’s happening around us, and reminds us of important topics.”



Extended Exhibitions

‘Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…’

WHEN — Extended through July 13

WHERE — Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville

COST — Free

INFO — 418-5700, crystalbridges.org

‘State of the Art 2020’

WHEN — Extended through July 12

WHERE — CBM and the Momentary in Bentonville

COST — Free

INFO — 367-5700, themomentary.org, or contact Crystal Bridges




• On June 10, Crystal Bridges returned to its regular operating hours of 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday through Monday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; closed Tuesdays. The Momentary returns to its regular operating hours of 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; closed Mondays.

• Visitors must register for a timeslot for both locations and will receive an email prior to their visit about what to expect and how to prepare.

• Restaurants at both venues, Coffee Bar at CBM and The Tower Bar at the Momentary will all be open. Onyx Coffee Lab at the Momentary will open at a later date.

• Shuttles between the Crystal Bridges entrance and additional parking will run; all riders (staff and guests) must wear face coverings. The shuttle between the Momentary, Crystal Bridges and 21c Museum Hotel will not be operating.



Safety Measures

• Crystal Bridges and the Momentary will be limiting the number of visitors to a maximum of 30 guests per 15 minutes at CBM, and 15 guests every 15 minutes at the Momentary. These numbers are based on five people per 1,000 square feet of public space, which adheres to a one-third capacity guideline for the state’s indoor venues.

• Visitors and staff are required to wear face coverings per state directives. Wearing a face covering is a state requirement for visitors age 10 years and older. At Crystal Bridges and the Momentary, face coverings are recommended for ages 2 and older. Masks will be available for those who do not have one.

• Signage has been placed to reinforce social distancing, as well as to direct flow through the galleries.

• Touchless transactions, increased cleaning and sanitation, and more.

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