Revisiting Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville AR #USA #Travel

Sharing is caring!

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Bentonville AR @DownshiftingPRO

Update: Although l visited Crystal Bridges a few years ago, l hope to return in the fall. I have updated this post to encourage you to see this amazing American Art museum if you are traveling to Arkansas this summer. Watch out for Diego Rivera’s America and exhibition from March 11 – April 31, 2023. With 170 art pieces, this will be epic.

They have recently expanded Crystal Bridges to include The Momentary featuring contemporary art  and performance art in the galleries, musical performances and concerts, or just hang out for coffee, cocktails or food truck offerings. General admission is always free.


Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

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.  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.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Bentonville AR @DownshiftingPRO
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AK – @DownshiftingPRO

Architecture

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 with an $850 million endowment.  This provides 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.

Art Trail with Maman by Louise Bourgeois at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Photo credit media page
Maman – 1999 – Louise Bourgeois –
Photo Credit: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art –
Note: There is also a Maman sculpture in front of the National Gallery of Canada

Crystal Bridges sits on 600 acres of land that was owned by the Walton Family (of Walmart fame).  The museum was purposely designed around its natural surroundings. Alice Walton, the patron of the museum, wanted to showcase the natural beauty of Arkansas. 

Crystal Bridges–Museum of American Art, Bentonville AR
The museum is made up of floor-to-ceiling glass walls
They give you exceptional views of the ponds and the surrounding Ozark forest

There are architecture tours of the museum on Monday, Thursdays, and Sundays at 1 pm discussing both the inside and outside highlights of this magnificent museum. You can listen to an interview, available in the Crystal Bridges app, of the lead architect quoting Genesis (“Let there be light”) in his inspiration for the museum.

His intention to create a gallery full of natural light was a success.  Nature is as much a part of the ‘masterpiece’ as the structure. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art 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).

Outdoor Trails and Exhibits

As you approach the museum you drive through a wooded area and you arrive at 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 on the front lawn that looks exactly like a leafless, dead tree but when you approach it, you realize that in fact, it is a spectacular polished stainless steel sculpture.

3 Entrance to Crystal Bridges with Yield stainless steel sculpture by Roxy Paine thumb
Yield – 2011 – Roxy Paine (Photo Credit: Crystal Bridges Media Page

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 join 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 in 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.

Still Life with Mirror - 1972 -  Roy Lichtenstein 
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art - @DownshiftingPRO
Still Life with Mirror – 1972 – Roy Lichtenstein
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art – @DownshiftingPRO

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.

Galleries

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. The permanent collections span five centuries from colonial to the present day.  There is the Colonial Gallery from Colonial to Early 19th Century. Be sure to have a 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. 

The Return of the Gleaner Winslow Homer Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art @DownshiftingPRO
The Return of the Gleaner – 1867 – Winslow Homer

In the late 19th Century Gallery you will find one of my favourites: The Return of the Gleaner by Winslow Homer as well as 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 1940s 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.

Rosie the Riviter Norman Rockwell Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art @DownshiftingPRO
Rosie the Riveter – 1943 – Norman Rockwell 

Be sure to look up when you are in there as you will see a magnificent  Hanging Heart (Gold/Magenta) by Jeff Koons.

Hanging Heart Gold Magenta Jeff Koons Crystal Bridges
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 Museum of American Art 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 outdoor grounds exhibitions. 

Crystal Bridges–Museum of American Art, Bentonville AR Entrance - Beethoven's Trumpet (with Ear) Opus #132
Beethoven’s Trumpet (with Ear) Opus #132

The outdoor pieces have works from Dale Chihuly, a Frank Lloyd Wright home, a Keith Haring sculpture and so much more. There are multiple trails throughout the property that are open from sunrise to sunset.

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.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art - Architecture by Moshe Safdie
Crystal Bridges from above before you descend to the ravine.
Crystal Bridges–Museum of American Art, Bentonville AR Entrance - Moshe Safdie
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Important Details:

Museum hours

Monday:10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Tuesday:Closed
Wednesday:10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Thursday:10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday:10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Saturday:10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday:10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Trails and Grounds are opened daily from sunrise to sunset. Closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day

Phone: 479.418.5700

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
600 Museum Way
Bentonville, AR 72712

Eleven Restaurant

The culinary experience at Crystal Bridges and the museum’s restaurant, Eleven, is authentically local, sustainable, and an enhancement of the art and culture at the museum.

Dining at Eleven is a unique, one-of-a-kind experience with beautiful views and a special atmosphere. The cuisine is High South, an in-house culinary concept that elevates Southern home cooking in the Ozarks to a new level: champagne and cornbread. Chef Tim Ordway.

Lunch: Mon, (closed Tuesdays) Wed – Sat | 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Brunch: Sun | 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Bar & Bites Thursday & Friday: Wed – Fri | 6 to 8 p.m.
Reservations are recommended for brunch and dinner service. None need for lunch. Reservations: 479.418.5700

Public Programs

All program are free and offered throughout the year. There are art programs for both children and adults.

CB Museum APPs

The Crystal Bridges Indoor (CB Museum) and Outdoor apps offer audio tours and interactive maps, along with detailed images and in-depth information about artworks, architecture, and nature in and around the museum. Available for both Apple and Android devices.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art -
John Baldessari – Beethoven’s Trumpet (with Ear) Opus #132
fe7f0234a78ffafa49a0c9d24d3fb075?s=150&d=mp&r=g
 | Website

Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.