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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art prepares for fall debut of "State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now"

Bentonville , Arkansas -- 16 July 2014
A.  Mary Kay, "Zenith," 2014.
A. Mary Kay, "Zenith," 2014.
(Photo: Jim Turner)

On November 11, 2013, the second anniversary of the museum’s opening, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announced a major new initiative to discover and exhibit recently created artwork from across the United States. As part of the initiative, museum president Don Bacigalupi and assistant curator Chad Alligood traveled to all regions of the country to visit nearly 1,000 artists in studios and conduct hundreds of hours of one-on-one conversations. Now, planning and research is complete and the museum has selected 102 artists for the resulting exhibition, State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, debuting at Crystal Bridges on September 13, 2014.

During 2013 and early 2014, the Crystal Bridges curatorial team logged more than 100,000 travel miles, crisscrossing the country to visit artists, all in search of the most compelling American art being created today. Traveling to communities large and small, the museum sought to discover artists whose work has not yet been fully recognized on a national level.

The result of this unprecedented journey is a one-of-a-kind exhibition that draws from every region of the U.S., offering an unusually diverse and nuanced look at American art. The 102 artists selected range in age from 24 – 87, including 54 male and 48 female artists from across the country. 

From works on canvas and paper to photography, video to installation, sculpture to ceramics and more, the diverse range of styles and voices from across the U.S. reflects what’s happening in American art right now.

“The exhibition is a glimpse into the state of art in our nation at this moment,” said Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi. Presenting the exhibition at Crystal Bridges provides us an opportunity to see contemporary art in the broader historical context of the five centuries of American art in our collection, as well as connect us to what’s happening in American art at this moment. By examining a wide range of works by artists from across the country, we can gain insight into our nation as a whole: our collective passions, challenges, and concerns.”

For instance, in Boston, artist Nathalie Miebach’s work focuses on the intersection of art and science and translates meteorological events into woven sculptures. On the Umatilla reservation in eastern Oregon, James Lavadour responds in paint to his experience of the land and legends of his Walla Walla heritage. In Cincinnati, Terence Hammonds creates art installations that feature music and inspire dancing, yet reflect on our nation’s civil rights history. And in New Orleans, Gina Phillips weaves narratives in mixed media about family and sense of place.

“The complexity of themes in the work mirrors the diversity and individuality of the makers. Each artist represents meaningful conversations happening in rural communities, small towns, and more densely populated urban centers all across the country,” said Crystal Bridges assistant curator Chad Alligood. “The artists are responding to the same things we’re all responding to in our daily lives. We hope that this exhibition will inspire new ways to experience contemporary art and the evolving narratives that make up our cultural fabric.”

 The State of the Art exhibition, featuring more than 200 works by the 102 artists, will reach beyond the museum’s temporary exhibition spaces, extending into the permanent collection galleries and activating community areas indoors and out. Visitors to the exhibition will traverse through the museum’s permanent collection galleries, featuring masterworks such as Asher Brown Durand’s Kindred Spirits and Georgia O’Keeffe’s Radiator Building—Night, New York, before arriving at the museum’s 20th century gallery and the beginning of the State of the Art exhibition. The exhibition continues in the temporary exhibition galleries, occupying a total of approximately 19,000 square feet of gallery space.

 Outdoors, the pond adjacent to the galleries will feature a site-specific installation by Cleveland-based artist Jimmy Kuehnle, and the museum’s South Lawn will host a sculpture by Boulder-based artist Kim Dickey. Additional outdoor works will be located in nearby downtown Bentonville.

 “Extending beyond the boundaries of gallery spaces into the community offers opportunities to connect with visitors in a variety of ways,” said Bacigalupi. “We hope that the artists’ own voices and stories, the contexts and communities in which they make their art and the intersections of their art and their lives will be rich additions to the visitor experience.”

 The voices of the artists featured in State of the Art will be incorporated into the exhibition materials, ranging from a free downloadable app created specifically for the exhibition to an exhibition catalogue to a series of videos of the artists in their studios. “We want to incorporate as many of these layers as we can in our galleries, interpretive devices, and educational programs,” added Bacigalupi.

 Many of the artists will visit Crystal Bridges to host public programs ranging from lectures, gallery talks, workshops, and classes to school programs, including teacher professional development, and homeschool offerings. Bacigalupi and Alligood will present a Spotlight Lecture about the exhibition on Friday, September 12, from 7 to 8 p,m,

 “The exposure to working artists across the country was a profoundly rich, inspiring and enlightening experience that we will share with visitors,” added Alligood.