Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in 2011 and immediately become one of the most important art museums in the United States.
What People Thought About Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Before it Opened
Before its opening the art world elite was all aflutter because Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was destined to be located in Bentonville, AR. Which, by the way, is really not totally isolated, or impoverished, or remote…all things that it was accused of being when word got out of the plans for the museum.
Ms Alice Walton, Walmart heiress, as well as the founder and benefactor of Crystal Bridges, was treated with not a little derision for her decision to build the museum in her beloved Bentonville. The coastal art people were astounded that this museum was to be in a “fly-over state.”
Decrying the location wasn’t the worst of it, the museum was also called a “moral blight” because Ms. Walton dared to build during a recession. She was accused of cultural vandalism because she purchased art, willingly sold by the way, that had once hung in other places. In particular it caused quite a stir when she purchased “Kindred Spirits” by Asher B. Durand from the New York Public Library.
Fortunately, she was not to be deterred and continued with her plans despite the naysayers.
Perhaps those who were upset by her choices believed that she should have kept all of her artwork in her vaults or in her personal home rather than giving the people of Arkansas, of the south, of the midwest, of the US, and indeed, of the world, a place to see amazing American artwork? Perhaps she should have not created jobs and revenue and tourism for northwest Arkansas during an economic downturn? I’m not sure I understand their problem.
What to Expect at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges has now been open since 2011 and this amazing museum has proven that the critics were wrong. In 2015 Forbes even included it in a list of art museums around the world entitled “13 Art trips you need to take.”
Here is what you will discover on a visit to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Crystal Bridges Museum of Art Mission Statement
The mission statement of Crystal Bridges is “to welcome all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of nature.”
A Spirit of Welcome
“…to welcome all…” What could be more perfect, indeed what could be a more profound statement than a gorgeous building filled with amazing works of American art plopped down unexpectedly in the middle of the United States allowing average Americans to experience a world class museum only a car ride away.
The art crowd said that nobody would come to Bentonville, Arkansas. Perhaps they don’t understand geography? Perhaps they don’t understand any culture but their own?
Instead, Crystal Bridges welcomed their 2 millionth visitor by 2015 and their 4 millionth by 2018. Art lovers come from all over the world to Crystal Bridges, but mostly they come from Arkansas and it’s neighboring states.
The setting and the Building are Part of the Experience
“…uniting the power of Art with the beauty of nature…”
The much maligned location provides a glorious backdrop. Crystal Bridges was designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie. The museum nestles in a hollow (or holler as those from the surrounding Ozark mountains might say) like a vision of a rustic spaceship. It is all curved walls and curved roof lines and curved ceiling joists…glass and wood and copper. The various structures are connected by bridges over spring fed ponds. Tree covered hills rise softly on each side. Everywhere you look nature becomes a part of the installation.
And this was the plan.
In a New Yorker article Ms Walton was quoted as saying, “The museum is to be discovered in the center of this one-hundred-and-twenty-acre wilderness, and, instead of ascending, you really descend into the museum.
The tree line surmounts everything we have built, and that is a metaphor for the intersection between art and nature. It is also a kind of technique for viewing art—the idea that being in nature opens you up for the experience of engaging with a work of art.”
Everything is free.
Free parking, free shuttle from the far reaches of the parking lot to the nondescript entrance, and free admission! There are special, temporary exhibits that require a fee, but basically you can see the museum free of charge.
A warm and personal welcome
I have been to a lot of art museums around the world and never before received such a pleasant welcome. Crystal Bridges exhibits southern hospitality at its finest. Stop by guest services in the lobby to find out what all is going on and to pick up your map of the museum.
You will be able to explore on your own or take a tour
After you are welcomed you will receive a map of the displays and the grounds and can ask questions about any particular pieces of art that you are interested in seeing. There are also free one hour drop in tours available on a daily basis so be sure and request information about those as well.
There are several different tours to choose from on different days of the week including the highlights of Crystal Bridges permanent collection. There are self-guided and audio tours available as well.
At Crystal Bridges Museum You Will Find Art Both Inside and Out
Crystal Bridges sits in the midst of 120 acres of forests and trails. Be sure and take a look at the trail maps. You will definitely want to walk the trails to both experience the beauty of the area as well as to see the art installations that are outside the walls of the museum.
Plus you will discover some wonderful views of the building which is a work of art itself. Tip: Wear comfortable shoes. Tip: Winters days can often be mild in Arkansas which means that winter can be a wonderful time to be outside in addition to spring and fall. Tip: Summers are hot and muggy so be prepared for that.
Take a look at the stone grotto that runs along the west side of Crystal Bridges’ upper pond. It is made of boulders that are covered in natural quartz crystals. These boulders were excavated from a mine in west central Arkansas, an area that produces some of the largest and clearest quartz crystals in the world.
Note that the museum is closed on Tuesdays.
The opening hours are Saturday and Sunday 10:00-6:00. Monday 11:00 to 6:00. Wednesday through Friday 11:00 to 9:00.
I have been on a Saturday when the museum was extremely crowded and a fall weekday when it was less so. The last time we visited was on a Friday evening. We arrived about 6:00 and had some rooms to ourselves. Great experience!
Amazing American Art from a Variety of Time Periods
From early American to American Impressionists to Modern and Contemporary Art.
American Art from a Variety of Artists
One writer with the Washington Post recently posed the question, “Is Crystal Bridges, in rural Arkansas, the most woke museum in America?” This is due to the fact that there are so many works of art in the museum that were NOT created by white men.
You notice this diversity particularly while perusing the gallery of recent and contemporary art, and it feels…organic. Although I’m certain that there has been purpose in every purchase, you get a sense that Ms Walton and her curators are simply selecting the best, the most representative American art regardless of who created it.
One American museum recently announced that it would only buy artwork by women during 2020. That’s nice. I’m sure they have good intentions.
But at Crystal Bridges there is a feeling of of inclusivity that just… is…like they are organically inclusive because they actually recognize that good art comes from a variety of sources.
Frank Lloyd Wright
The Bachman-Wilson house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was painstakingly moved from it’s original location in New Jersey to the grounds of Crystal Bridges. The house had been threatened repeatedly with flooding so the owners decided to sell it to an institution in order to preserve it.
It was restored at the museum in 2015 and like the museum buildings themselves perfectly showcases the connection between architecture and nature. General admission to the house is free but you will need to pick up a ticket at guest services.
Food and Drink
Of course you are not allowed to eat, drink, or chew gum in the galleries but you can eat at the onsite restaurant, Eleven. There is also a coffee bar off the lobby where you can get a snack or a drink and then eat outside at tables on Walker Landing. The museum encourages picnicking on the grounds and this would be a wonderful thing to do on a pleasant fall or spring day.
The last time we were at the museum my husband and I had dinner at Eleven. It has a nice wine list and wonderful views of the nature that surrounds Crystal Bridges. Large windows and curved wooden arches tower beside and above you. The menu is fairly innovative and the food is good.
The room is a large. Although the size is perfect for the lunch time museum-going crowds it can feel a bit cavernous when half empty as it was the night we had dinner there. It was difficult to catch a servers eye and conversation felt a little echo-y. Still it is a nice place to eat
Crystal Bridges is a gem in the middle of the country, not unlike the crystals that are abundant in its hills and woods of its native Arkansas.
It has a spirit reminiscent of an idealized America. Not who we are, but perhaps who we might want to be. Beautiful without being flashy. Devoted to America and American art without being either mawkish or arrogant. Friendly, yet still private. Wealthy and outrageously generous.
A visit to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a visit of discovery. You will leave inspired.
Thanks for stopping by!