The buildings, designed by Moshe Safdie, present visitors with an architectural delight. The curved walls and linear roof lines form a jointed exoskeleton huddled like a cluster of dormant crustaceans in a watery valley. Regardless of what lies inside the magnificent hull, the outside is certainly worth a visit.
Once a visitor has marveled over the lush landscaping, the winding trails, the various sculptures and the materials forming the structure of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, she must remember there is much to experience on the inside, as well.
What lures my group up from Little Rock this time is the groundbreaking “State of the Art” exhibit of American avante garde artwork. Museum curators visited studios across the country and selected work by 102 artists for a diverse presentation of materials and ideas from the studios of today’s American artists.
While the crowds are not suffocating, there is a buzz in the air created by the excitement of numerous visitors. People seem truly interested in understanding the works and there are multiple audible “ah-ha” moments rippling throughout the galleries. A couple of the works try too hard to force found objects into an art context, such as the stack of sombreros on blowing fans reminiscent of Donald Judd’s Minimalist wall mounted rectangular forms. But who am I to say? Other visitors might connect with and marvel over that piece. There certainly is something for everyone, as an emphasis on materials (and variety of materials) is a strong theme in the show. Speaking of materials, an important distinction occurs to me as I consider the variety of pieces. This is an exhibit of what is happening in art studios across the country, not an exhibit of what is happening in the art business in our country. The curators seem to have no fear about crossing preconceived boundaries between fine art, craft and technology. The end result is a presentation of work unfiltered through the business of art giving us a view of what artists, regardless of professional acumen, are making and saying. This is not to say all of these artists are emerging and undiscovered. Many of the artists represented are, indeed, established and already included in fine art museums, galleries and collections. But by visiting nearly 1,000 artists in all areas of the United States, the curators chose artists based on messages and materials and the show mirrors a cross section of what is happening in all types of studios, not just those who have risen to the top of an industry.
As a painter, I am naturally drawn to many of the 2D pieces, particularly the figurative works of Vincent Valdez (see photo to the right), Delita Martin, and Mequitta Ahuja. Each work by these three artist conveys a strong sense of history and narrative. As with much great art, the pieces can be viewed multiple times with new observations and discoveries made each time.
There are a large number of video and installation pieces as well as an inventive use of materials, such as thread, plastic, glass, wood, recycled objects, and even smoke. Despite the alternative methods and use of materials, most of the artists succeed in communicating a message that can engage viewers, providing just enough information to allow us to “get” the piece, or at least ask relevant questions. To me, this is what makes the show wildly successful.
On the road trip home, our car held three visual artists and one writer, and boy, did we have lots of comments and questions. Despite a thorough visit, I’m ready to return, for one more look at the provoking and engaging exhibit, State of the Art.
NOTE: Below are snapshots of the helpful brochures which allow a wide variety of museum visitors to engage and appreciate the exhibit. I was tempted to work on the games below in the brochure meant for children!