Focused Forward: Museum celebrates past, envisions expanded future

Focused Forward: Museum celebrates past, envisions expanded future

It’s been a phenomenal decade for mid-America’s burgeoning American art museum. And just as we’ve been looking back, so too has Crystal Bridges. The museum’s newest temporary exhibition, “Crystal Bridges at 10” opened to the public July 11 and celebrates its collection and community.

“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,” Public Relations Director Beth Bobbitt said when the exhibition was announced last year.

Fahamu Pecou’s “Dobale to Spirit” will be part of Crystal Bridges’ first temporary exhibition of 2022. “The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse” spotlights the southern landscape through its musical heritage, spiritual complexity and regional swagger in an immersive, multi-sensory exhibition. (Courtesy Image/Fahamu Pecou/© Dr. Fahamu Pecou, courtesy Studio KAWO/Fahamu Pecou Art)

But, the curatorial team notes, while the exhibition is inspired by the anniversary, “Crystal Bridges at 10” is a reflection on the current moment, while also setting a direction for the future at the institution.

“We knew it would be important to include works of art that span our collection, and we have over 200 years of art highlighted — from 1820 to art that is literally made today, just for this exhibition,” curators Mindy Besaw and Lauren Haynes share. “We had fun pairing artworks from across time together to spark new conversations.”

Mindy Besaw — curator, American art, and director of fellowships and research — and Lauren Haynes — director of artist initiatives and curator, contemporary art, at Crystal Bridges and the Momentary — intersect voices within and beyond the museum in surprising ways for the engaging exhibition.

“One of our goals at Crystal Bridges is to create programs and exhibitions where communities feel connected and see themselves in the museum,” Haynes explains.

“We worked with Aron Shelton at Finding Northwest Arkansas to identify community champions to feature in the galleries. We also invited K-12 children to submit self-portraits to be shown alongside self-portraits in the collection — and we had over 500 entries! Twenty-four of these remarkable portraits are framed and on view, while all submissions can be seen digitally.”

“We also knew it was important to engage artists for this exhibition,” Besaw says of turning to the local community. “Fayetteville-based artist Ziba Rajabi will be working on her installation and adding artwork during the exhibition. We also engaged artist Dyani White Hawk (Sičáŋgu Lakota) to curate a selection of artwork from the collection to highlight both diversity and shared experiences. Mark Dion created a one-of-a-kind installation that juxtaposes painting, sculpture, cultural and historical collections, and natural history objects together in unexpected ways.”

The significance of the anniversary is reflected in the 10 distinct sections and art experiences that invite guests to explore the works through a range of engaging, creative approaches.

“Lauren and I worked closely with the larger team, including exhibition designer Jessi Mueller, to envision immersive exhibition spaces,” Besaw reveals. “It’s difficult to explain how experiential some of the areas really are — and hopefully [they] will be surprising to our guests.”

Jacob Lawrence’s 1948 piece “Ambulance Call” is featured in “Crystal Bridges at 10.” (Courtesy Image/Crystal Bridges Museum)

For example, she continues, a theatrical stage set invites viewers to participate in a modern-day “Lantern Bearers” tableau vivant, or living picture. “Watch an artist create a new artwork in the galleries,” the exhibition news release details. “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.”

“Partnerships with many talented and generous individuals at the University of Arkansas were key,” Besaw picks up the thread, “from lending objects to Mark Dion’s installation, to creating a theatrical lighting design that simulates conditions of nature indoors, to technologically bringing 1820s Brooklyn to life.”

More than 130 artworks present crowd favorites in new ways, showcase works never before on view at the museum and lift up artist voices, inviting new points of entry for the beloved pieces and offering the chance to build new connections.

Following the exhibition’s closing Sept. 27, the final temporary exhibition of the year opens Nov. 6 and will carry Crystal Bridges into 2022. “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.

A New Year

Lisa Perry’s Roy Lichtenstein “No Thank You” Dress will be part of Crystal Bridges’ first ever exhibition dedicated to fashion. “Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour” opens Sept. 10, 2022. (Image Courtesy/Lisa Perry)

Looking to the future of the curatorial program, Crystal Bridges will continue to “dynamically expand our exploration of American art and architecture” in 2022, notes Chief Curator Austen Barron Bailly.

The lineup includes the museum’s first fashion exhibition, its first architecture exhibition, and an immersive exhibition experience organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

On March 12, “The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse” opens the season with an exploration of the relationship between music and visual art in Black southern expression from 1920-2020, according to a news release from the museum. The exhibition also examines the influences of the Black American South on the history of American art through works of sculpture, paintings, works on paper, assemblage, textiles and music, as well as ephemera from music culture, including instruments, music videos, costumes, lyrics and personal effects.

Opening Sept. 10, 2022, “Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour” is Crystal Bridges’ first exhibition dedicated to fashion and the first to present American fashion as a powerful emblem of global visual culture. Some 90 garments and accessories selected from across two centuries of fashion are presented in context with a dynamic interaction between video and imagery to underscore the influence of media.

Guest curator Michelle Tolini Finamore, Ph.D., is a leading fashion curator and historian and co-organized the exhibition in collaboration with Crystal Bridges.

“I am thrilled to be working with Crystal Bridges on their very first fashion exhibition,” she says. “Fashion is a powerful form of American artistic expression and Crystal Bridges, with its mission to embrace a more expansive vision of American art, is the ideal museum to broaden and diversify the American fashion story.”

The final temporary exhibition on Crystal Bridges’ 2022 schedule is “Architecture at Home.” Next year, from May 7 to Nov. 7, the museum’s first architecture exhibition brings together five prototypes for homes to spark a dialogue about contemporary housing.

A fan-favorite, Maxfield Parrish’s 1908 oil painting “The Lantern Bearers” will be re-imagined as an immersive tableau vivant for “Crystal Bridges at 10,” the museum’s celebratory new temporary exhibition looking back on the museum’s first decade as well as ahead to the future. (Courtesy Image/Crystal Bridges Museum)

“’Architecture at Home’ is exciting because it is the first time we are stepping into the world of contemporary housing,” says Dylan Turk, special projects editor, architecture and design, who curated the exhibition.

“As an art museum with a deep focus on stories, this exhibition will construct space for guests to experience the power of architecture, while provoking conversations about how people from all backgrounds live,” he continues. “The exhibition centers humanity with some of the best architects in the Americas, who are working to make houses more accessible to more people.”

Through research, interviews and innovative thinking, five architecture firms based across the Americas each designed and fabricated a 500-square-foot prototype for a contemporary house to be displayed in “Architecture at Home.” The exhibition will be situated along the Orchard Trail on the museum’s grounds, and visitors will be able to enter and explore the immersive, domestic prototypes.

Looking back on Crystal Bridges’ first 10 years, alongside thinking about its present and future, Executive Director and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Rod Bigelow likes to think of the introduction of the museum as a “spark moment” for the community.

“How people have engaged both regionally and nationally has inspired people to think about [Northwest Arkansas] differently, and think about what the possibilities are [for the region], and sort of extend those possibilities far and wide,” Bigelow asserts.

“One of the things we talk about is ‘Discover, Dream, Do’ as sort of this quick way to think about our mission,” he adds warmly. “Our job is to help people discover things that are beyond what they have thought before, and to dream about that. And I think the dream moves into action at some point when you build confidence and inspiration, and there’s this collective energy that I think is happening in Northwest Arkansas that we can’t take full credit for, but I think it’s definitely been a spark moment for this community and for this state.”

Categories: Galleries