Expanding Narrative

Expanding Narrative

Crystal Bridges exhibitions create new context for American art


Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville released the temporary exhibition schedule for 2021 only a few weeks ago in early July and already, a few modifications have been made. As with the 2020 schedule, the 2021 timetable has been impacted by covid-19, and the museum continues to flex with the adjustments.

“Often, craft does have a functional connection, but in the case of this exhibition, there are so many things that what the work might be doing is referencing something that’s functional, but it, itself, is not functional,” Jen Padgett, co-curator of “Crafting America,” explains of the first exhibition of the 2021 temporary schedule. (Courtesy Image/Crystal Bridges Museum, Photo by Joshua White Photography)

“Due to covid-19-related challenges, several changes have been made to our exhibition lineup including moving the Diego Rivera show to 2023 and adding a Crystal Bridges-organized exhibition in its place,” reveals Beth Bobbitt, public relations director. “As we approach our 10-year anniversary, there is no better time to reflect on the decade behind us and dream about what’s ahead.”

The exhibition in question, “Diego Rivera’s America,” was developed by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and will “expand how we think about national boundaries,” associate curator Jen Padgett says of the Mexican muralist’s work. The exhibition, which will bring many works “we don’t often have the opportunity to experience” from institutions and private collections in Mexico to Bentonville, will now debut at Crystal Bridges in March of 2023.

The updated exhibition lineup sees the internally curated “Crafting America” open on Feb. 6; the celebratory “Crystal Bridges: The First Decade” on display July 10 through Sept. 27 of 2021; and “In American Waters,” co-organized between Crystal Bridges and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., showing Nov. 6, 2021, through Jan. 31, 2022.

“Looking at the exhibitions broadly for next year, the thing that stands out to me is the sense of breadth to them, and especially the diversity of material included,” Padgett shares. “There’s such a range of materials, of subjects, and of ways of thinking about American art, and it contributes to our larger mission in which we’re always thinking about how we expand these narratives.”

Padgett co-curated “Crafting America” with Glenn Adamson, guest curator and scholar of craft, design history and contemporary art. The exhibition will feature more than 100 works in ceramics, fiber, wood, metal, glass and other unexpected materials — including a custom electric guitar designed for Prince. Each of these materials has its own unique history, Padgett explains, but the exhibition will focus broadly on the skill of making that’s behind all the highlighted objects.

“Along the Shore” by William Trost Richards is a Crystal Bridges fan-favorite and is included in the “In American Waters” exhibition, co-organized with the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., and opening Nov. 6, 2021.
(Courtesy Image/Crystal Bridges Museum, Photo by Steven Watson)

“We do have things that are extremely technically accomplished and show you the kind of rigors that are required to make something,” Padgett says, “and then some things that seemingly are relatively straightforward, but they require just as much knowledge of the material and just as much expertise for the artist to be able to use them in ways that are unexpected. So sometimes, even things that look simple are quite complex.”

Padgett was inspired to mount the ambitious show as a way to give visitors a starting point for thinking about craft as an integral part of American art, she shares. From the 1940s to the present, “Crafting America” will delve into the nuances of a form that, for a long time, Padgett reveals, was a means of creative expression for people who were excluded from categories of fine art.

“The works are so rich in terms of their texture and their physical presence, and that’s one of the things about craft that’s really remarkable — how you have a sense of all of the time and skill that goes into making the work,” she enthuses. “The physical presence of the material really isn’t something that you can convey through a digital image. And because of that connection to the person that made them, there’s a really deep sense of human connection through craft.”

The monumental 10-by-9-foot “Precious jewels by the sea” by Amy Sherald is part of the “In American Waters” exhibition and a recent acquisition for Crystal Bridges. The award-winning portraitist was chosen in 2017 by Michelle Obama to paint the First Lady’s official portrait for the National Portrait Gallery and was featured at the museum in a solo exhibition in 2018. (Courtesy Image/Amy Sherald and Hauser & Wirth, Photo by Joseph Hyde)

“Crafting America” concludes at the end of May and will be followed in the summer by “Crystal Bridges: The First Decade” as the museum celebrates its first 10 years of sharing art, architecture and nature with more than 5 million visitors. Voices within and beyond the museum will revel in Crystal Bridges’ collection and engage artists and the Northwest Arkansas community in surprising ways.

More than 40 works will be highlighted, and 10 distinct experiences will invite guests to explore the works through a range of engaging, creative approaches.

“Step into Maxfield Parrish’s ‘The Lantern Bearers’ with an immersive tableau vivant,” a news release details. “See self-portraits by local students presented side-by-side with artist self-portraits from the collection. Watch an artist create a new artwork in the galleries. Experience nature indoors in an immersive installation merging art and nature. Revisit artworks from past exhibitions organized by Crystal Bridges, juxtaposed to tell new stories, and so much more.”

The final exhibition in the lineup splashes into the temporary galleries on Nov. 6, 2021, as “In American Waters” considers how the tradition of marine painting encompasses so much more than ship portraits. Artists including Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Winslow Homer, Jacob Lawrence and more are inspired by the beauty, violence, poetry and transformative power of the sea in American life.

“It will be really exciting to see how works that are in our collection can speak in new ways by putting them in conversation around this theme,” Padgett posits.

One such work is visitor fan-favorite “Along the Shore” by William Trost Richards. By putting the beloved work in conversation with the rest of the exhibition, which will include pieces from Peabody Essex as well as other institutions, the viewer is encouraged to form new connections to the immediacy of a piece they may have seen dozens of times, Padgett shares.

“The way that Richards really conveys the power of the sea speaks to the themes in this exhibition about how the ocean, how the shore have been such a powerful force in the imagination of artists and people broadly.”

“Tigris T-1” by Anne Lemanski is part of the temporary exhibition “Crafting America” — the first exhibition in Crystal Bridges Museum’s 2021 lineup — opening Feb. 6.
(Courtesy Image/Crystal Bridges Museum, Photo by Steve Mann)

“In American Waters” is also accompanied by a major multi-author illustrated publication published by Crystal Bridges and the University of Arkansas Press.

“I think the thing that we’ve learned from previous exhibitions is how much our audience is willing to come along with us and explore these big questions and themes and issues that are really timely through really remarkable works of art,” Padgett muses. “Based on those past experiences and looking forward, it is really exciting that this art creates a place where we can come together and think about these big topics.”


Crystal Bridges Museum

2021 Temporary Exhibition Schedule

“Crafting America” — Feb. 6-May 31

“Crystal Bridges: The First Decade” — July 10-Sept. 27

“In American Waters” — Nov. 6-Jan. 31, 2022.

INFO — 657-2335, crystalbridges.org

Step into Maxfield Parrish’s “The Lantern Bearers” with an immersive tableau vivant — one of 10 creative engagement experiences devised for the celebratory “Crystal Bridges: The First Decade,” opening July 10, 2021, as the museum celebrates its 10-year anniversary.
(Courtesy Image/Crystal Bridges Museum)

Categories: In The News