Crystal Bridges Museum is a venue dedicated to American art and artists, a place of learning and community.
I arrive into Bentonville, Arkansas to attend opening events for the State of the Art exhibition. The show is extraordinary in that it truly does display my contemporaries – working artists from across the United States. I receive a glimpse of where I sit in the grand picture.
My goals for coming days: Enjoy. Experience. Learn. Though I don’t ignore I’m in the show it’s not the only focus. I want to know the bigger picture. I go with artist friend Carolyn Lavender. My sister Elisa (artist), my nephew Alfonso, his wife Ethel and their daughter Pilar join us in Bentonville.
The 4 day visit to the museum begins with a private reception – 70 of the 102 artists come together along with their invited guests. Talk about a celebration. I run into 2 of the 4 Arizona artists represented, one whom I meet for the first time.
The crowd moves from reception to exhibition. I love looking at people look at the art. Here are a few highlights from the evening.
John Salvest, Forever
Audience looking at Jawshing Arthur Liou‘s video – Kara
Monica Aissa Martinez, Male Torso – Anterior View
Remember my goal is to enjoy myself – I do in fact enjoy this moment ↑ seeing my work for the first time.
All of the video and sound work pulls at my attention. If only I didn’t love my brushes and paint so much. Below ↓ is a Kedgar Volta. The piece hangs a few feet from my own work. He places his audience in the role of voyeur. I look carefully at all the people and environments in the large interactive work.
Kedgar Volta, False Belief that the Control Resides in Me
Across from that video I enter an installation titled Reflecting Room ↓ by artist Dan Steinhilber. The mylar installation initially makes me think of melting ice caps. The next day I sit in there a longer time and get the image of a lung – inhaling and exhaling slowly. There is a Venus of Willendorf – like figure in the space. I want to bring this environment home with me.
Carolyn Lavender photographed in Dan Steinhilber‘s Reflecting Room
More photos from days that follow….
I look and wonder what I’m supposed to feel, other than uncomfortable – with eyes that seem to keep following me, from a work titled Fracking Fields. ↓ Eventually I settle into and enjoy viewing these video portraits by Susie Lee.
Susie J Lee, The Fracking Fields ( to the right)
There is so much work I want to get up close to and touch. The surface is so well executed, like these collages below.
Mark Wagner, Overgrown Empire
There are 102 artists and over 200 artworks. Two artist’s stand out even as I write this: Vincent Valdez and Vanessa L. German. ↓
Valdez’s larger than life works on paper are based on the lynching of Mexican-Americans in the state of Texas, up until the 1930’s. Think historical image placed into current structure. As a native-born and raised Texan ( I now live in Phoenix ) you can imagine how I feel learning about this in a museum, in Arkansas. I sit in front of the triptych-like display and return several times. I am familiar with Valdez and his work, but not this series.
Vincent Valdez, The Strangest Fruit
I spend a good amount of time with the sculpture of community activist/artist Vanessa German – though not enough because I can’t sit in front of them to really be with what she calls power figures – and they are powerful, no doubt.
Venessa L. German, White Naptha Soap or, Contemporary Lessons in Shapeshifting
Friday evening the museum hosts a lecture with curators Don Bacigalupi (now president of the museum) and Chad Alligood. The energy of the evening is high-spirited, to say the least. I recognize their connection and nature immediately upon them being introduced to the crowd. After hearing them tell of their travels, the exhibit and their intent – I understand why I respond the way I do, to the majority of the work. At some point they take a moment to introduce artists and my sister says, as she is looking at my head, that she swears she sees it grow an inch – funny Elisa.
The New York Times article that featured a photo of my studio comes up onto the screen ↓. The image takes me back to the beginning of all this. Because of that cover my studio visit was made public – coast to coast. I received emails from across the country – and still do. John, a neighbor, reads the article and makes copies for all the other neighbors. Now they understand why they never see me outside, I’m always painting.
During the lecture I sit behind a young man named Anthony. He’s one of the people who contacted me during the NYT activity. Since then he’s purchased a small work. It’s kismet – so pleased to meet him in person.
Alice Walton is present and sits nearby. I take a moment to introduce myself, shake her hand and thank her. I see her the next day in front of my artwork. It is at that time that she tells me she hopes artists stay connected – and from across the county, support each other. Within 24-hours of returning to Phoenix, and my routine – I join an on-line group for the artists and curators from the State of the Art (SOTA).
It’s happening Ms. Walton.
The exhibit runs to January 2015, and includes many events. I hear exciting rumors but I don’t know all the facts. I will return in November.
For info about the work, the artists, the studio visits, the curators and the organization visit The state of the Art → Website.
A postscript : I planned to post a few critique links here but I’ll let you google the info if you’re inclined. They have started coming out and as usual, opinions vary. I am enjoying reading all of them. I travelled to Bentonville with an artist friend. We maneuvered though the small town and had interesting experiences with the landscape and the local community. To people whom asked, and many did, we mention why we are visiting.
On our return to the airport we make small talk with an employee of the car rental agency. The next day I receive this email (I share only some here) :
Hi Monica, … I took your advice and my wife and I went to Crystal Bridges today to see the State of the Art exhibit. It is great!!!! The contribution of each artist is so good and so creative. I liked your painting and your approach to the topic! And to think that your painting made it to the cover of the art exhibit brochure is an honor for you as well. Keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing more of your pieces, maybe at Crystal Bridges?! I hope so.
The mylar room was really unique. What a cool experience to see the room deflate and then expand. So creative!
Thanks Don and Chad for visiting my studio.
Thank you Alice Walton.
Thank you Randy Kennedy (writer) and Ruth Fremson (photographer).
Thank you Julie Sasse, for your support.
And special thanks to my husband who couldn’t attend the opening with me.
Thanks to everyone (including artists) who’s made it so incredible.