Crystal Bridges launches satellite for living artists

Arkansas private museum’s cross-disciplinary new venue shines a spotlight on contemporary American art, from performance to cooking

JooYoung Choi’s Time for You and Joy to Get Acquainted (2017), part of the first show Courtesy of Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art and the Momentary

JooYoung Choi’s Time for You and Joy to Get Acquainted (2017), part of the first show Courtesy of Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art and the Momentary

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art unveiled a satellite venue called the Momentary on 22 February with a focus on boundary-crossing contemporary art. The 63,000 sq. ft building, which has been converted from a decommissioned Kraft cheese factory in Bentonville, Arkansas, by the Chicago-based firm Wheeler Kearns Architects, includes 24,000 sq. ft of exhibition space as well as two theatres.

The Momentary’s director, Lieven Bertels, says that Crystal Bridges, founded in 2005 by the billionaire Walmart heiress Alice Walton, recognised the need for “a non-collecting, kunsthalle-type organisation that will be able to offer a more nimble response to the fast-paced and often interdisciplinary world of artists living and working today.”

Drawing parallels with the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 in New York, Bertels describes the Momentary as “a younger sister organisation that would not feel the weight of collecting”. The new venue aspires to be “an everyday living room for the arts, a space where one and all feel comfortable to enjoy culture but also just to hang out”.

The Belgian-born Bertels has a background of working in organisations that bridge multiple genres. He directed the Sydney Festival in Australia from 2011 to 2016 and most recently served as the chief executive and cultural director of the Leeuwarden-Fryslân 2018 European Capital of Culture, a year-long festival in the Netherlands that promoted arts projects in a rural context.

Having relocated to Bentonville in 2017, Bertels says he hopes the venue will also “serve as a production hub with national and international reach”.

The Crystal Bridges satellite opens with State of the Art 2020 (22 February-24 May), an exhibition split between the museum’s main building and the Momentary. The curatorial team visited artists’ studios across the US to prepare their selection of more than 100 paintings, sculptures, video installations and other works by 61 emerging and mid-career American artists, such as Marcela Pardo Ariza, Suchitra Mattai, Larry Walker and JooYoung Choi. The show will be organised into thematic sections: world-building, a sense of place, mapping and temporality.

“We were conscious during our studio visits of not having preconceived notions of what American art should be, or of creating an exhibition about X, but rather working with artists who have a real understanding of their craft and are creating work relevant to this moment in America,” says Lauren Haynes, the curator of visual arts at the Momentary and curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges.

The show builds on the museum’s 2014 exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, and there are plans for a further iteration in 2025.

The Momentary also houses three studio spaces for artists in residence. Participants are encouraged to “create work that engages with Northwest Arkansas and our communities, and to consider how our connection to the land informs our varied identities”, Haynes says. Residencies are available to visual, performing as well as culinary artists.

A series of festivals and special events will pop up in the venue’s indoor and outdoor spaces throughout the year, beginning with the dance, music and theatre festival Time Being on the opening weekend.

Time Being includes two new commissions. The collective Four You will present a theatrical piece in collaboration with community members that celebrates ground-breaking activities like ribbon-cutting or shovelling dirt, while the performer and pastry artist Kristin Worrall will stage a hybrid theatre show with culinary students, offering visitors the chance to receive cooking lessons and sample the food prepared.

Playing on the history of the Momentary’s building, all the dishes will use cheese as an inspiration.