Crystal Bridges Evolves Beyond 10th Anniversary

BENTONVILLE — As the 10th anniversary celebrations continue, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has plenty to brag about its phenomenal successes. The continued evolution of the museum also shows that there is no question of resting on its laurels.

If success is measured by popularity, a set of statistics displayed in an alcove of the gallery make it a triumphant case. Since its opening on November 11, 2011, Crystal Bridges has welcomed more than 6.5 million visitors from all 50 states and many foreign countries.

These millions enjoyed free access to the permanent collection and the art-strewn scenic trails, a boon made possible by the largesse of multi-billionaire Alice Walton and other benefactors. Many temporary exhibitions are also free.

Other published facts restore the luster. Crystal Bridges hosted 82 temporary exhibitions over the decade. The most popular was the 2017 “Chihuly in the Gallery and in the Forest”, which attracted 126,000 visitors.

Some 839 artists are represented in the museum’s permanent collection of over 3,500 works. Forty percent of the objects are prints, 27% photographs, 10% paintings, 7% drawings, 4% each watercolors and sculptures. An enigmatic 4% are classified in the “other” category.

A traveling exhibition on display until January 10 reflects the museum’s ongoing efforts for cultural diversity, evident in 2018 when Spanish joined English in making signs bilingual in galleries and elsewhere.

Selena is pictured at the entrance to a traveling exhibition about her life and performances. (Special for the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
Titled “Selena Forever/Siempre Selena,” the McNay show in San Antonio features nine photographs of the late Tejano superstar taken in 1992 and 1994 by John Dyer. Selena Quintanilla-Perez was shot dead in 1995 a month before her 24th birthday by a former friend and estranged employee.

When “Selena Forever/Siempre Selena” opened months ago at Crystal Bridges, curator Kate Carey of The McNay called the performer “one of those rare people who brings people together. I think of the experience of growing up multicultural, having a Texan identity, an American identity and a Mexican identity. And I also think about the fact that she was such a symbol for so many people from so many different generations.”

The photos mostly show Selena in poses as she expanded her popularity beyond Tejano’s audience when her 1992 album “Entre a Mi Mundo” hit the pop market. His latest “Amor Prohibido” remains one of the best-selling Latin albums in the United States. Photos of Dyer show off her signature lipstick, stylish bustiers and high-waisted pants.

A permanent gallery across from images of Selena illustrates the 2018 art arrangement that replaced the previous mostly chronological setup. An iconic 1790s portrait of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale is paired with a time-distorting intruder – a vivid video piece created in 2013 by Susie J. Lee of “Johnny”, a bearded oilfield worker wearing a knit cap .

The text of a bilingual explanatory sign asserts that “There is no single narrative of American art and history. Multiple perspectives, stories and experiences continually shape the identity of the nation. In you walking through the galleries consider the art from all angles when the artist made the work how does the art make sense today what are the perspectives and stories missing?”

Visitors who haven’t been to Crystal Bridges and its Bentonville neighborhood in the past two years will notice other changes. Most visible is the Momentary, a 63,000 square foot contemporary art space that opened in February 2020 less than two miles from Crystal Bridges.

Photo A dome installed earlier this year covers the lobby of Crystal Bridges. (Special for the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)
At Crystal Bridges itself, a reconfigured main hall and courtyard were unveiled this spring, complete with a domed roof to shelter visitors on inclement weather. The expansion slated for completion in 2024 will add 100,000 square feet to the museum’s gallery space, a 65% increase.

Crystal Bridges and the adjoining Amazeum for Children are collaborating to build Convergence, a 300,000 square foot playground with a six-story parking lot. It will be located on four acres on the southeast side of the Crystal Bridges property and at the western end of the Amazeum lot.

Meanwhile, Crystal Bridges’ cavalcade of special exhibitions continues. In addition to “Selena Forever/Simpre Selena,” this month’s visitors can see “Cross Pollination: Heade, Cole, Church and Our Contemporary Moment,” on display for free through March 21. There is an entry fee for the larger “In American Waters: The Sea in American Painting,” which ends January 31.

The popular holiday show “North Forest Lights” is back for a third season through January 2. It is open from Wednesday to Sunday, except December 24. The museum describes the attraction as “an immersive night walk through the woods with dynamic, nature-inspired lighting elements and soundscapes. Five distinct installations will bring the soul of the forest to life with light effects, sound and sensory.

North Forest Lights tickets are $22 for adults, $10 for youth ages 7-18, free for children 6 and under. Members get a discount. Advance reservations are highly recommended. Buying walk-in tickets costs an additional $5.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 600 Museum Way, Bentonville, is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday through Sunday. It is closed on Tuesdays and on Christmas Day. To visit crystalbridges.org or call (479) 657-2335.

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