KAREN MARTIN: A collaboration of traditional and modern art
BENTONVILLE – “These are artists who are not usually brought together in a group exhibition”, says Kaitlin Garcia-Maestas. An associate curator at Momentary, she recently gave a group of journalists a tour of “A Divided Landscape.”
The exhibition, curated by Garcia-Maestas, Neville Wakefield and Taylor Jasper, presents seven artists’ views on Western expansion in the United States, combining works from the permanent collection of Crystal Bridges of American Art with the modern multimedia approach typical of Momentary. This is the first time that sister institutions have collaborated in this way.
Ideas of wilderness and indigeneity, human-animal interactions and human conquest of nature are central, we are told.
Works on display include those by Matthew Barney, Andrea Carlson, Nicholas Galanin, Brian Jungen, Lucy Raven, Xaviera Simmons and Kara Walker, as well as historic Crystal Bridges drawings and paintings by Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, George Catlin and Jasper Francis Cropsey.
The result could have been a jarring juxtaposition of periods, media and styles. But it turns out to be a continuous and appealing flow from one era to the next, as interpreted by an ever-changing set of translators.
“There has been a special focus on inviting artists, especially artists who identify as Black and Indigenous, to share a space with art that embodies the issues they face in their own work,” says Garcia. -Maestas. “These historical works are beautiful and tell a certain part of American history, but they are also full of myths that perpetuate a lot of problematic thinking about westward expansion.”
Among the contributions of the historic Crystal Bridges team is “Backwoods of America”, an idealized pioneering landscape of a remote farm on the edge of a wild lake where a family begins its day. As beautiful as it is, the painting is a “total fiction of the American West”, painted in England by Jasper Francis Cropsey in 1858, says Garcia-Maestas.
A contemporary take on the American Western landscape is presented by Lucy Raven in her 2022 film “Demolition of a Wall (Album 2)”, an ominous 15 minute, 31 second looping video with quadraphonic sound that captures ballistic material as they explode at a nuclear test site in New Mexico, as unnerving as Cropsey’s painting is idyllic.
Almost as disturbing as Raven’s display is Arthur Fitzwilliam Cate’s “A Tight Fix–Bear Hunting, Early Winter” (1856), also from Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection, which graphically displays the dread and nerve necessary to a bear and a human hunter face off in extremely tight quarters. How is this going to happen? Look carefully at the background and you will have a good idea.
Other favorites are a totem pole by Nicholas Galanin, a Tlingit-Unangax artist from Alaska, intricately painted with a colonial wallpaper pattern and mounted on a wall covered in matching wallpaper, as well as copper tree carvings sparkles by sculptor/photographer/filmmaker Matthew Barney.
There is also a solo exhibition, “Let Earth Breathe”, in which Esteban Cabeza de Baca explores relationships with the environment, the climate crisis and national history through site-specific paintings, sculptures and outdoor installations. .
His bronze sculpture planted with milkweed, coneflowers and strawberries, installed outside in late April, supports visitors from insects including native bees and monarch butterfly larvae. “Look, there’s a monarch larva,” exclaimed Angel Horne, the Momentary’s public relations manager, who apparently has more experience recognizing such larvae than the clueless reporters she accompanies through the exhibition, who completely missed it.
For more information, consider viewing “Redoubt,” a one-of-a-kind film by artist Matthew Barney related to his work featured in the exhibit, at 11:30 a.m. September 25 in Momentary’s fermentation room. Tickets are free; One must reserve.
In support of Cabeza de Baca’s indoor and outdoor installation, free seed packets can be picked up from a seed library in the gallery throughout the exhibition, which runs through September 25. Free entry. (I received a packet of seeds from Sweet William, which are now in a plastic coffee container on my porch; I’m determined to see them bloom.)
Opened in February 2020, the Momentary is a contemporary art space in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas, for the visual, performing and culinary arts. This is probably my favorite destination in Bentonville.
Karen Martin is the editor of Perspective.