Tag Archives: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 2)

I visit as often as I can, and have blogged about Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art several times.  As the museum continues to showcase visiting world renowned exhibits, and reorganize the permanent collection, there is always something new to see and more to say about this special place in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I get to visit this time with a dear childhood friend who has never been to the museum.  I try to give her space and not interrupt our outing with my own perspective and excitement about this place. What a treat it is to hear the amazement of a first time visitor who has seen countless museums elsewhere but can’t help to be impressed and delighted by this one.  It makes me proud all over again and deeply grateful to Alice Walton for providing this resource for her community, home state, and beyond.

We arrive during mid day summer heat and decide to start with the inside tour, postponing a visit through the expanded trail system and “Chihuly in the Forest” until the next morning. The collection is a world class wonder, and I am drawn to my favorites again and again: Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Robert Henri, Max Ferguson, Fairfield Porter, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Alexander Calder, Donald Judd, Wayne Thiebaud, Alice Neel, Kara Walker…the list goes on and on.

One aspect of the museum experience I’ve been considering lately, is that of community outreach and education.  In other words, what good does it do to have all this great work here? So often, visitors wander through and don’t feel connected or informed by artwork. Crystal Bridges has established a strong education program for the community, reaching out to all types of visitors through targeted events and programming. Instead of wandering aimlessly, visitors really learn about the work, whether it be through the extremely friendly and informed attendants, through school visits, through guided tours, through accessible displays and explanations, or through the many interactive tablets mounted throughout the museum. What does this mean? To me, it means the museum can reveal to visitors the perspective of another person. What a powerful gift! And don’t we desperately need ways to see perspectives different from our own?

After walking through the main galleries, we enter the “Chihuly in the Gallery” exhibit. As usual, learning about the artist, his background, and his various influences made me appreciate the work more than I did before this visit. Perhaps because I am a 2D artist, one of the highlights are the sketches by the artist. While the glass blowing process sometimes alters from the original plan, usually the pieces were produced exactly as described in the sketches, which is impressive.

We then check into a nearby hotel and explore the town square. The food scene in Bentonville is bustling and picking a place for dinner is difficult because of the multiple options. After rave reviews from a friend (thank you, Terri!) we decide on the Italian restaurant, Tavola Trattoria, which is excellent and affordable. Before retiring after a big day, there is more art to see…the always provocative exhibit at 21c Hotel. I’m starting to think a famous artist is following me. OK, if not the man, his art. For those who have read this blog before, you’ll know I am ecstatic to find the work of, you got it, Hank Willis Thomas!

“Raise Up” by Hank Willis Thomas

His work is part of a group exhibit, “Seeing Now” of which Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator, states, “This multi-media selection of works by over two dozen artists explores what and how we see today, revealing the visible and hidden forces shaping both what the contemporary world looks like, and how we consume and interpret that information—how visual and psychological perception are evolving in the 21st-century.” 

While I want to believe tolerance, integration and acceptance is a growing part of this booming area, I know there is more progress to make to battle racism. Perhaps the work of this brilliant artist can open the minds of people who are still stuck in hate and fear. Willis Thomas is able to take simple-seeming images and allow viewers to understand another person’s perspective, to sense the consequences of our actions, to see how our beliefs can be problematic, and to grasp that ambivalence is actually negligence.

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For example, the two photos above are part of an interactive photography display. Using a phone, viewers can choose to snap pics with the flash on, which exposes details in the image, allowing us to look closely at what is really happening in the photos. Or, visitors can walk on by vaguely aware of the activities and pain occurring in the historic photographs. Brilliant. The artist, in such a simple way, evokes a powerful conclusion: racism will continue in this country if all “races” do not work together as the artist and viewer work together to see and acknowledge what is happening. If white people continue to look away, we will not heal or progress as a society….at least that’s my take-away from another thought-provoking display by Hank Willis Thomas.

Boris Nzebo paintings at The Pressroom in Bentonville

Boris Nzebo painting in the Manchester Art Gallery

Wiped out from long walks and art overload (is that even possible?), we get to sleep early and are ready the next day to hit the trails. First, we visit The Pressroom for breakfast. In addition to the excellent food, I am delighted to spot these three paintings by Nigerian artist, Boris Nzebo. The graphic lines are quite recognizable and I was surprised to see the work in the small Arkansas town – I wrote last summer about admiring his work in a museum exhibit in Manchester, England! It is so strange how, once one pays close attention and develops a a list of  art elements to admire, the world becomes small and repeat finds happen often. Seeing a piece of art by artists we deeply admire feels like seeing an old friend or famous figure. I never tire from the excitement of exploring for this reason.

One could spend hours on the trails around Crystal Bridges but we have to head home soon so we don’t venture far. We enjoy a walk through the exhibit “Chihuly in the Forest,” peek at the Frank Lloyd Wright house, and head for the car. It is helpful to move around before the three hour drive back to Little Rock. Admittedly, the hours fly by as we chat endlessly about art, the ability to incite change through art, and how we can each apply to our own jobs and projects what we learned during our quick adventure. As I drive toward home, my mind is a whirl of ideas and thoughts for upcoming days in the studio. And I think of Chihuly who stated, “I don’t think much about the past. I think more about the future. I prefer to be thinking about what I want to be doing tomorrow.” I completely understand.

Up next, Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 3) which will focus on the current “Nasty Woman” exhibit at UA Little Rock. Thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

 

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Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 1)

IMG_1333After a surprisingly mild June, the choking heat of July is upon us here in Arkansas. Consider cooling off by visiting one of many outstanding art exhibits. My favorites so far are at the Arkansas Arts Center, at UA Little Rock, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and at 21c Hotel. I’ll start with the Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) which, I must admit, holds a dear place in my heart.

As a current mixed media workshop teacher there, I like to promote the AAC as often as possible. However, I have a lifetime of memories starting with early childhood that make me fond of the place. Do you have a place that you can return to after many years, and the smells and sounds make years rush back in one fell swoop? The AAC does that each and every time I step in the door, especially the original entrance which is now the back door and the quickest way to the museum school.

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More relevantly, I remember hearing my whole life about the drawing collection started by Townsend Wolfe, the famed and beloved Director and Curator from 1968 until his retirement in 2002. During my visit last week, I started my tour with “Drawing on History: The National Drawing Invitational Retrospective” which re-presents artwork featured in 12 Drawing Invitationals held at the AAC over a 30 year period. The exhibit showcases pieces from well known contemporary artists and the work is sure to impress the most educated art aficionados as well as visitors new to drawing. The variety of work is very relatable, provocative and advanced in concept and technique.

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Bill Vuksanovich, “Untitled”

Take, for example, the direct realism of Bill Vuksanovich, (please pardon the reflections in the glass). The boy’s stare grabs viewers and compels us to stare back, which is when we notice the details: the pressed yet wrinkled pants, the slightly awkward hands, the unsettling contrast between the boy’s expression and the word “Champion” on his baggy sweatshirt. This is a piece to be examined just as the boy is examining us.

It is a pleasure to compare and contrast the variety of drawings in this exhibit. For example, we grasp the breadth of the collection as we move from figurative realism to the mathmatical work of Stephen Talasnik and the alternative surface created by Russell Crotty (both in the slide show above).

IMG_1365Exiting the Drawing exhibition and walking toward the Young Arkansas Artists Exhibition (the 56th!), I had to stop and examine a recent acquisition, “Les Demoiselles” which reminds me of my favorite contemporary artists, Firelei Báez. Now I have another artist to study, Zoë Charlton. It just so happens she shows at ConnerSmith in Washington DC which I’ll soon visit (material for another post!). I haven’t done thorough research yet, but find myself hoping these artists know each other – it seems they would have lots to discuss.

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The aforementioned Young Artists exhibit is always a crowd pleaser. I come away enthralled and slightly jealous…the skills and ideas presented by such young artists…if only I’d had half their talent and motivation at that age!

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Savannah Bell, “Popped”

This year, I had the honor of being a juror for the show which is not a challenge I recommend for the faint of heart. There were simply too many excellent entries. It was a pleasure seeing the work in person and I look forward to seeing what becomes of these exceptional students.

From there, I visited the much anticipated 59th Annual Delta Exhibition, a regional show that features contemporary artwork from Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi and Texas. There is really too much to say about this fantastic selection of work so I will mention a few personal favorites.

I would love to meet fellow Little Rock figure painter, Baxter Knowlton, whose painting, “Woman and Dog” is exquisite. The composition and drawing skills are excellent with rich, loose brushwork reminiscent of Lucian Freud. I hope to see more work by this artist. And look at the oddly delightful details in “Being Slipshod” by Arkadelphia artist, DebiLynn Fendley! I’m a tad uncomfortable looking so closely at his moles, curly chest hair, low slung comic strip shorts and dirty, chipped fingernails. But I can’t help myself and stay with this one for awhile. I wonder why he covers his eyes…so we can’t recognize him? So he won’t see us looking? Lastly, at least for the figurative favorites, is this piece by my friend, Jason McCann. I enjoy seeing his work evolve over the years and what I like most about this piece is strong evidence and use of line. With drawn line, McCann has a superior ability to capture a person’s inner qualities with well placed marks.

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Pulling myself away from the figurative work, there were many pieces that caught my attention. Looking at these three together, I realize the element of “line” is dominant in each piece, though applied in different ways.

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Wait wait, there’s more! “Part 2” coming soon: The Nasty Woman Exhibit at UA Little Rock, hanging out at heavenly Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the powerhouse exhibits at 21c Hotel in Bentonville. Thanks for reading and please visit again!

 

Laura

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Gallery Hopping in Nashville: Round Two

IMG_0153The drive from Little Rock to Nashville is 5.5 hours and the growing visual art scene in a city known for incredible music makes the drive well worth the effort for a painter like myself. I didn’t hit the lively bar scene; instead, I encountered another type of entertainment – outstanding fine art. During my last trip just two months ago, I got to visit several galleries and posted about the artists my friend, Chuck, and I discovered along the way. This trip, I was able to return to the full and fabulous Bennett Gallery (see last Nashville post to read more about Bennett) and visit two that I missed last time: Tinney Contemporary and Cumberland Gallery.

Arriving downtown, I IMG_0144felt hesitant as I parked and found my way into the cool clean atmosphere of Tinney Contemporary.  Though I emailed the owner, Susan Tinney, about hand delivering my portfolio (as opposed to mailing it), I did not have an appointment and wondered how I would be received. As luck would have it, Susan was immediately available. I made it clear I did not expect any type of meeting regarding the portfolio but was simply happy to meet her and see the current exhibit. Susan was warm and welcoming and visited with me about her business, her artists, about working with clients and about art in Nashville. While we were talking, another stroke of luck…in walked James Perrin whose current solo exhibition fills the gallery with energy, chaos, color and vibrant mark making. James was there on business but was kind enough to answer a few questions and talk with me about his work. Feeling incredibly grateful for the serendipitous timing, I knew I was meant to visit Tinney Contemporary, regardless of the outcome of the portfolio delivery.

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Perrin, Colossus, After Goya, Oil and acrylic resin on linen, 80 x 96 in.

At times reminiscent of Lucien Freud’s technique, Perrin’sIMG_0147 paint becomes sculptural, with it’s excessive protrusion forming another thing all together: and that thing, we realize, is the idea of excess itself. There is more than enough; the paint is startling, beautiful, and almost gross in the settings Perrin creates. In one series, the artist provides a window to his thoughts with titles such as “Walmart” and the mounds of paint in abstracted heaps spill outward from the realistically rendered aisles of a store. It dawns on me that the paint is not gross, it is the idea of excess oozing out that makes me uncomfortable.  Artists who are able to manipulate materials to impact the viewer’s thoughts and feelings are outstanding. I wonder if Crystal Bridges Museum of Art founder, Alice Walton, might consider IMG_0146purchasing paintings that reference her family company by name and paintings that possibly comment on material goods and consumption  (if interested in Crystal Bridges, use the search box to find earlier posts about visits to the museum). One might think she would be resistant or even offended by the title and content of Perrin’s paintings. However, like the Vatican’s ownership and display of a distorted pope by Francis Bacon, Walton might embrace an artist’s cultural commentary even when it comes to the family business. Perrin’s work would have fit well in the State of the Art exhibit last year at Crystal Bridges where artists pushed traditional art making materials beyond their typical use.

After the warm reception by both the owner and the artist at Tinney, I braced myself for a less informative exchange at my next stop. Let me just say, upon entering Cumberland Gallery, I realized the error of my pessimistic attitude. It’s just that I get so nervous – visiting galleries with portfolio in hand fills me with doubt. That doubt was dispelled the moment I met gallery manager, Lydia Denkler. Though Lydia will leave soon for work elsewhere, she spoke highly and passionately of the gallery, the artists and of gallery owner, Carol Stein.

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Lavadour, New Platform, 2012, oil on wood box, 32 x 48 x 2 in.

Not wanting to dominate Lydia’s time toward the end of the work day, I wandered the gallery. Upstairs, several artists were represented and I was delighted to recognize the work of James Lavadour, who had in impressive multi panel display at Crystal Bridges during the State of the Art exhibit (apparently, their curators have discovered the Nashville art scene!).

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Greene, Bellicose Binary, 2015, acrylic and oil on panel, 36 x 36 in.

Downstairs, the longer I stood, the more intrigued I became while studying the work of Warren Greene and of Bill Killebrew. Photos simply do not communicate the evocative surfaces of each of these artists. Green’s abstractions are built of multiple transparent layers causing the viewer to continue discovering nuances that seduce. Though the content and composition is vastly different from Mark Rothko’s paintings, I found the paintings to have a similar meditative impact on the viewer. The lines, patterns and texture created in a transparent medium offer a sensory appeal that made it tempting to touch the surface of the work (though I resisted).

Killebrew, Then she swept up and had a nap., 2015, oil on linen, 30 x 54 in

Killebrew, Then she swept up and had a nap., 2015, oil on linen, 30 x 54 in

As a figure artist, I was of course interested in the work of Bill Killebrew. The muddy skin tones he uses on the figures, who are set in object filled, colorful surroundings, force the figures to recede. The interiors become more lively than the figures and the objects dominate.  These qualities, plus the flattening of space, objectify the human form and make us look like part of the clutter, indistinguishable from our overfilled surroundings. The artist makes the viewer search and search for the camouflaged figure and the experience reminded me fondly of the “hidden pictures” game in Highlights magazine. As a girl, part of the fun was all the little things I spotted while trying to find one particular object…in this case, the human. Though make no mistake, these paintings are not trivial or childish – they are sophisticated and provoking due to the composition, color palette, and relationship between the figure and the space he habitates, or that habitates him.

Killebrew, Floor Repair, 2013, oil on linen, 54 x 45 in.

Killebrew, Floor Repair, 2013, oil on linen, 54 x 45 in.

As I prepared to leave, I stopped by Lydia’s desk to say good-bye. Instead of guiding me toward the door, she offered career guidance in the form of a book recommendation (Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland). She also spoke about the projects she enjoys, and it became clear she likes to teach and help people.

What a gift it is when people give their time and knowledge, when people are willing to embrace a stranger and provide insight. The more I paint, the more I study, the more I write, and the more I pay close attention to what I am seeing – in life, in work, in museums and galleries – the more I have something to offer as well. And the exchange, regardless of the outcome (in other words, regardless of what happens with my portfolio), is exciting and rewarding. It reminds me of finally learning how to paint in the moment, exploring the process rather than fixating on the outcome. It is all such a gift and I am grateful.

Thanks for reading!
Laura

A Spectacular Exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

DSC_0049 DSC_0050The 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.DSC_0052

 

 

 

 

 

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. DSC_0251 DSC_0257The 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.

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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. DSC_0264Despite 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!

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