November 8, 2011

Crystal Bridges Museum

Lucky me. My father, Robert Tannen, was commissioned to create a piece for the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and I got to zip off to Arkansas for the artist’s opening. Alice Walton, the visionary daughter of Sam (Walmart) Walton, has created our very own Bilbao on the edge of the Ozark Mountains in Bentonville. A short walk from the town square, the celebrated Moshe Safdie structure is the first of many surprises. You’d never know it was there until you’re upon it. The entrance elevator descends three stories to the main galleries and the landscape is as much a part of the museum as the art itself. The transitional spaces between the galleries look out on the landscape on one side and the swooping copper-roofed “bridges” on the other.

The buildings themselves hover over ponds, central to the museum’s design and fed by a crystal spring. The effect is dramatic and elegant and well-suited to the environment. The art collection is arranged chronologically from seventeenth century works, to familiar Old Lyme Colony painters (Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf) to modern masters like Mark di Suvero and James Turrell. The controversy surrounding the museum, its acquisitions and whether it makes sense to have a world class art venue in middle America becomes moot once you visit. Everyone should have access to beautiful things and this outstanding museum has achieved just that, making art accessible to all. Admission is free.

Stay: A new boutique hotel is in the works downtown, but in the meantime, stay at the groovy Aloft or The Doubletree Suites.
Eat: New restaurants Tavola and Table Mesa provide upscale dining for the art-seeking hordes, but this area is famous for barbeque: Smokin’ Joe’s is the best, but I happily chowed chopped brisket and pulled pork at Dink’s. The museum’s stunning restaurant, Eleven, will be the place to see and be seen.

Do: The area is rife with walking and biking trails, including a two-mile Art Trail (where my father’s piece, Grains of Sand, is installed) around the museum. The guys at Phat Tire bike shop are happy to rent bikes (from mountain bikes to tandems) for a few hours or by the day. A new Yoga Studio has drop-in classes, and don’t miss the original Walton’s 5 and 10 (now a museum) on the town square. A must see is the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel designed by reknowned architect, Euine Fay Jones, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Oh, and I dropped some serious cash at The Museum Store, a smart shop with an inspired selection of art books, kidstuff, scarves, art jewelry and unusual gifts.

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