American Art Through the Ages at the Crystal Bridges Museum

When not one, not two, not three, but four separate people recommend that you visit an attraction, you better believe we’re going to follow that advice. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is not a place that was on our radar. Prior to coming to Arkansas, we had never heard of it. And I’d be willing to bet we’re not the only ones. But when our friend Jill raved about it, and then two people emailed us suggesting we visit, and then fellow Aristreamers Liz and David who came to see us at Petit Jean SP said it was fantastic, we knew we had to go there.

Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
The museum entrance

Since it was only kind of, sort of on our way to our next stop in Missouri we made plans for a Friday afternoon detour. It actually worked out really well since we ended up leaving Petit Jean a day early in an effort to escape our water logged campsite. A single night at a small city park on the Arkansas River put us only about an hour and a half from the Crystal Bridges Museum. After checking out at noon and spending the rest of the work day in their scenic boat launch parking lot, we made the short drive and arrived at the Museum around five. Since they’re open until 9 on Fridays that left us plenty of time to explore.

Vine Prairie Campground
A good place to finish up the work day in the tiny town of Mulberry, Arkansas

We easily found a spot for the Airstream in their parking lot and set off to see some art.

Crystal Bridges Museum
We brought our own American art to the American art museum

Crystal Bridges Museum was founded by Alice Walton – yes from the same Walton family that created Walmart. Which seems fitting since the town where it’s located, Bentonville, is the home of Walmart and features the Walmart headquarters, a ridiculous amount of Walmart stores, and even a Walmart museum. The museum was opened in 2011 and showcases five centuries of American Art from the colonial era to the current day. The building itself is also amazing.

Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
Love this curved design that seems to melt into the surrounding landscape

It was designed by architect Moshe Safdie and features a series of connected galleries with a central pond in the middle and a stream that flows through the outdoor sculpture garden.

Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
The outside is as impressive as what’s on the inside

Not only is the building visually appealing, but the circular arrangement also makes for an enjoyable viewing experience. At so many museums we find ourselves constantly backtracking and consulting the map to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Crystal Bridges is arranged in such a way that you can only view the collections in one direction, ensuring that you don’t miss a thing. Simply start at the beginning and follow the galleries as they curve around the building.

Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
Follow the curve

Aside from what we thought was an excellently curated collection of art, we also appreciated how the paintings were arranged in chronological order. Each gallery featured art from a different era with a short description of the influencing factors of the day.

Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
As much as we enjoyed seeing the art, we also enjoyed learning about what influenced the artists during each time period.

Sharing photographs of art from a museum always feels a bit strange. The experience of seeing a painting up close and in person can never be duplicated by looking at a photograph on your computer. But because I know not everyone can drive to the northwest corner of Arkansas to view this amazing collection, I’m going to share some of my favorite pieces with you. Just like at the museum, I’ll put them in chronological order so you can see how art has shifted through the ages.

Crystal Bridges Museum
Samuel Beals Thomas, with His Wife, Sarah Kellogg Thomas, and Their Two Daughters, Abigail and Pauline by Edward Dalton Marchant (1830)
Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
Under the Willows by John Singer Sargent (1887)
Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
The Lantern Bearers by Maxfield Parrish (1908)
Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
Old Barn at Sheepshead Bay by Oscar Bluemner (1911)
Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
Greenland Landscape by Rockwell Kent (1923-33)
Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
The 1940s to Now gallery / The painting on the far right is called Airborn by Morris Lewis (1959)
Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
Popeye by Roy Lichtenstein (1961)
Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
Man on a Bench by Duane Hanson (1977)
Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
Decline and Fall (Selected Readings from Volumes 1, 2, and 3) by Michael Waugh (2009)

The above ink drawing is part of a 3-panel series. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a photo of all three due to the glare from the window behind me. Each panel depicted a different animal. What I found so impressive was that when you look closely it becomes apparent that the images are formed by words. The series is a critique of Edward Gibbons book, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Each drawing is composed entirely of words from Gibbon’s book.

Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
A close-up view reveals thousands of carefully shaped words
Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
The Big Black Bang by Ghada Amer (2013)

As you can see, the Crystal Bridges museum displays an amazing collection of American Art. We spent about two hours wandering around and still missed out on the Frank Llyod Wright house and most of the outdoor sculpture garden. If you ever find yourself even kind of close by, this place is definitely worth a visit. Oh, and did I mention that it’s free????

Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
Wall Drawing #880 Loopy Doopy by Sol LeWitt

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12 Responses to “American Art Through the Ages at the Crystal Bridges Museum”

Comments

  1. Camping through my eyes.

    I loved the art. Thanks for the posting.

    Reply
  2. Metamorphosis Lisa

    FREE?!?!?!? Amazing! That man on a bench is very similar to a sculpture of a couple at the Palm Springs Museum of Art…it’s got to be the same artist. What a great stop!

    Reply
    • Amanda

      Yes! We’ve seen that couple at the museum in Palm Springs and agree that it must be the same artist.

      Reply
  3. Gerri & Mike

    What a fantastic find!! Love the art!!!! What an amazing building as well. We will certainly put this on our list of ever close to the area!! Free??? Amazing!!

    Reply
  4. Jodee Gravel

    Wow, oh wow! What an amazing collection, can’t believe there is even more to see there. Love the Waugh piece created with all the words – beautiful.

    Reply
    • Amanda

      There was so much more to see! I agree that the Waugh piece was so intriguing. I could have looked at it for hours.

      Reply
  5. Laurel

    So cool! Love your description of the museum and why you liked it. Sounds like something we would enjoy, too. You always provide such great descriptions and photos of the places you visit. It’s really helpful.

    Reply
    • Amanda

      Thanks Laurel! that means a lot coming from a fellow blogger who always writes such gorgeous descriptions :)

      Reply
  6. Suzanne

    I have wanted to visit this museum for a long time, but just never seem to be in close proximity. Thanks for helping me see it is worth going a little out of the way. I enjoyed the post and your chronological photos of the art.

    Reply
    • Amanda

      It is absolutely worth going out of the way for! Also, we heard that downtown Bentonville is a fun place filled with cool restaurants and bars. Unfortunately, the annual film fest had most of the streets blocked off and we couldn’t find a place to park since we had the Airstream in tow. But next time we would find a place to camp and explore the town more.

      Reply
  7. MonaLiza Lowe

    I have to agree this place rocks right in the middle of Arkansas in Walmart territory. Thanks for showing me their latest displays and glad you listened to your friends and checked it out.

    Reply

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