It is hard to believe that in the small town of Bentonville, Arkansas in the southern United States you will find an architectural masterpiece with beautiful American masterpieces within it. This is what I found when I attended SoFabCon a few years ago when it was held in Northwest Arkansas. The conference in itself was wonderful but what was a showstopper for me was the reception that was held at Crystal Bridges – Museum of American Art on opening night. As we arrived in the evening it was harder to take in the magnificence of the all of the structures, on a afternoon visit later on I would see the amazing architecture. The evening was held in one of the pods with one of the two ponds surrounding the edifice. As you entered the reception, the space was large and completed surrounded by glass windows that then looked out to the water.
Designed by world renowned architect Moshe Safdie (who also designed Montreal’s Expo 67 Habitat and Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada), Crystal Bridges was established by the Walton Foundation. The family set up an endowment worth over $850 million. This has provided the museum the ability to offer free admission to the main galleries, free programming to schools as well as free transportation for students to the museum. It also gives the museum room for acquiring significant works of art. And acquired them, they have.
Crystal Bridges sits on 600 acres of land that was owned by the Walton Family (of Walmart fame). The museum was very much designed with its surroundings taken into consideration – that was the intent of Alice Walton, patron of the museum -to showcase the naural beauty of the location. In the audio interview available in the Crystal Bridges app, the architect quoted Genesis and said: Let there be light. His intention to create a gallery full of natural light was a succes. Nature is as much a part of the ‘masterpiece’ as the structure. The complex includes walking and bike paths that run from the museum into the town of Bentonville. For the more adventurous, there are mountain bike paths that you can access from the grounds. The grounds are peppered with large scale sculptured pieces (one is the Robert Indiana sculpture of the Beatle’s LOVE sign that you can also see in NYC).
As you approach the museum you drive through a wooded area and you arrive into a large circular area with a simple granite portico that has the name of the museum on the front. The only indication that you are approaching a museum would be “Yield”, the stainless steel tree by Roxy Paine in the front lawn that looks exactly like a leafless, dead tree but when you approach it, you realize that in fact is is a spectacular stainless steel sculpture.
To enter the complex you must take an elevator down into a courtyard that leads you to the entrance of the museum and the museum shop. The museum is made up of numerous pavilions and adjoining crystal bridges that joins them together. There are also two ponds that lay on either side of the pavilions creating a floating effect. As you walk from pavilion to pavilion you can look out to the Ozark forest and take the beautiful natural surroundings. The light was spectacular as the sun was setting when we arrived. But you could see the other pavilions lit up and the effect was stunning.
The buildings themselves are considered art as they house both permanent exhibitions and temporary exhibits. When you tour the museum you will see that there are gallery boxes within the large pods. As the pods are all glass the light floods the space but as you can imagine, light can be detrimental to art pieces. So once you enter a gallery box, you will see a more traditional layout of galleries and paintings on walls. By being closed in more, you can focus on the paintings and sculptures in the space.
I knew that I would have to return during the day to see how all the pods, pavilions, ponds and bridges were connected and what lay beyond the glass . Its permanent collections spans five centuries from colonial times to present day. There is the Colonial gallery from Colonial to Early 19th Century (look out for Kindred Spirits by Asher Brown Durand, George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton Portrait) by Gilbert Stuart (the detail of his head is featured on the $1 bill) and Haystacks by Martin Johnson Heade among others. In the late 19th Century gallery you will find one of my favourites: The Return of the Gleaner by Winslow Homer and Jessica Penn in Black and White Plumes by Robert Henri the images of these two women could not be any more different: one a peasant the other an aristocrat. You will find works of art from the early 20th Century including the iconic pieces Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol’s Dolly Parton in the 1940 to Now gallery. The museum’s collection also showcases major works by modern and contemporary American artists, including Roy Lichtenstein and Georgia O’Keeffe, providing visitors with a unique opportunity to experience the full scope of American art.
Be sure to look up when you are in there as you will see a magnificent Hanging Heart (Gold/Magenta)
Hanging Heart (gold/magenta) Jeff Koons (photo credit: Crystal Bridges)
You are not alone when touring this amazing museum. You can get the Crystal Bridges app and download audio, video and images of museum highlights. There is also a guide that you can follow with a code indicated on description cards. I would suggest you do a little homework before you go so that you have a better idea of what you want to see. This whole museum can easily take an entire afternoon, not including the grounds. You can also find information about the museum and certain pieces on YouTube. I absolutely love this YouTube video from the museum explaining the small details that you should take note of when you see the iconic Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell.
I know this will not be my last visit to Crystal Bridges. There are too many pieces that I didn’t see or maybe I just glanced at too quickly. I want to revisit some favourites with a new perspective. I also need to see more of the sculptures outside. I will return without a doubt.
|Monday:||11 a.m. – 6 p.m.|
|Wednesday:||11 a.m. – 9 p.m.|
|Thursday:||11 a.m. – 9 p.m.|
|Friday:||11 a.m. – 9 p.m.|
|Saturday:||10 a.m. – 6 p.m.|
|Sunday:||10 a.m. – 6 p.m.|
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
600 Museum Way
Bentonville, AR 72712