Because of Covid, I booked an Airbnb with a kitchen and dining space so we have eaten all but one of our meals dans Airbnb, on a little wooden deck at a turquoise-colored metal table overlooking a sloping lawn with trees and a big stone mansion in the distance. We ordered takeaway from Oven & Tap, which made for two dinners – excellent flash-fried edamame, fried chicken and a margarita pizza. We had to wait a half hour beyond our pickup time, but other than lousy service, no complaints about the food! We also got excellent bread (orchard bread, rosemary polenta bread) from Ferrere, a bakery in Kansas City’s quality Hill neighborhood (near bluebird cafe)which has served us well.
Crystal Bridges’ North Forest Lights did not disappoint. At our scheduled time (8:15) we joined a socially distanced crowd to walk 1.5 miles along a lit path in the dark woods, stopping at 5 installations that combine music, lights, trees and sometime sculpture. It was mesmerizing. The woods was also dotted with sculpture, illuminated by lights. Loved this!
Today we rode bikes to Crystal Bridges proper and showed our timed tickets on my phone to get in. The museum is free. We paid $ 12 per person for an interesting show of photography by Ansel Adams and a host of contemporary landscape photographers. It took me awhile to figure out how to best see the art, given we must wear masks. I thought contacts would be best but after getting warm riding my bike, my vision was blurry with the contacts so I switched to glasses. Next issue, my glasses kept fogging up so I’d have to wait until the fog cleared to see the photos. I finally figured out a way to put my mask a little lower on my nose so my glasses didn’t fog. For the most part, other people kept their distance but every once in awhile some clueless person would get too close. I just moved away. We did eat lunch in the museum’s cafeteria because there were only a few tables with people, we found a table far from everyone, the space is huge with high high ceilings and glorious views of the ravine and yellow and orange leaves on the trees.
On our third visit, Bentonville continues to intrigue us. It’s an unlikely mix of small town and boom town, of traditional values and cutting edge contemporary art, of dare devil mountain bikers and artsy looking visitors, hymns played on the 5 p.m. Sunday church bells and a wild Nick Cave avant-garde installation at an industrial chic museum in a former Velvetta cheese factory.
With Covid raging across the land (Arkansas is slightly less beet red than Iowa on the Covid map…although it may as well be the political map too), this has been an easy place to social distance. We rode our bikes up down and around the Razorback Greenway trail that is right near our Airbnb and runs north-south, curving through dense hilly woods along a ravine by Crystal Bridges museum, past sculpture along the “art trail” and paralleling a crazy off-road dirt trail with jumps and platforms that draws daredevil teens and adults.
In town, the trail skirts the pristine town square, lined with well-tended old brick buildings, and heads through neighborhoods with a remarkable mix of architecture, from tiny unassuming shacks and ranch houses to massive elegant old mansions and new modern mansions that sit close to the street but are block-deep and high, lots of tin, wood, porches. Some newbies tower over their smaller older neighbors. One house in our neighborhood must be four times the size of its neighbor.
Our Airbnb is just northeast of the square in what seems like the newer part of town on NE 2nd St., which feels a little more rural with huge lots than the east side. We are behind our Airbnb owner’s attractive ranch house, in a spacious studio apartment tacked onto a barn-like garage. It is country chic inside and incredibly well-equipped, down to the homemade marshmallows, Hershey bar and graham crackers for s’mores, using the brick fire pit in our very private back yard.
We also have an outdoor deck where we have eaten all our meals because it has been so incredibly warm (and we are not eating out during a pandemic). Our view looks out onto woods and a ravine. Past the ravine is an intriguing stone mansion with a French mansard roof. We finally walked around the block to see it. Turns out it’s even more enormous than we thought, on a street with three more huge tasteful houses with private electronic gates. As D says, we are in Hamptons Territory here, which is weird because this is, or used to be, small town northwest Arkansas. We assume many of the new fancy homes being built all over town are for Walmart bigwigs.
I haven’t even gotten to the museums, which is why we came here. We biked about five minutes south to The Momentary, the dramatic industrial cool museum that opened last spring as a hipster offshoot of Crystal Bridges Museum. It’s an industrial retrofit, with poured concrete walls and large high-ceilinged spaces for huge installations so it was well-suited to Nick Cave’s over-the-top concoctions. We started in one large room filled with dangling cut tin ornaments in many colors and shapes, that grew and shrank and shined with the breeze.
The main attraction is an enormous hodge podge of kitschy stuff – – ceramic birds, beads, old sambo sculptures and black-faced jockey lawn ornaments (the very un-PC ones) crowded astop an enormous tacky chandelier. To see it up close, we could climb one of three yellow metal ladders to a small clearing. Given Covid, we had to wipe our hands with a sanitary wipe before and after climbing. We also went to another viewing platform on a balcony, which we had all to our own. (There were few visitors to begin with.)
Outside, on a vast lawn with a huge tarp/tent, there was supposed to be activities like yoga and meditation but they never seemed to materialize, even though I signed up for something called sound and light. Circles were drawn on the lawn to help people sit six feet apart. We rode bikes to a nearby former industrial space, that had a few shops and food place, including 8th street market which was mostly closed on a Sunday. We walked through one space called Holler where a few young people were playing shuffleboard on a glossy wood floor in the middle of a space lined with a bar and tables to eat burgers and ramen ordered on a computer screen. Not sure where the food was coming from. There were a few food trucks outside. We went in one lovely shop specializing in textiles and wool, with beautiful indigo dyed cloth and paper like we saw in Japan.
We rode around the market district surrounded The Momentary , another interesting mix of old housing and new contemporary homes. Then we rode north on the razorback greenway trail through the prettiest stretch, winding through the woods past and north of crystal bridges. A bit hairy to navigate at times with strollers and mountain bikers on crazy trails parallel to our more sedate trail. The northern bit of the trail that leads to a small lake was closed due to construction. We ended up taking another trail (north Walton) back. Although it runs parallel to highway 71, most of the time we were hidden in the woods and it was far less crowded than the Razorback greenway. Once we got to town, We rode on a combination of what felt like country roads and trails. Later this evening we took a long walk, admiring the mix of architecture and homes east and west of the square.
We’ve been to the fabulous Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville twice (2012, 2018) since it opened in 2011 and it looks like we need to go a third time, maybe spring 2020 to see the “State of the Art II” exhibit next year — and a new ancillary exhibit space, The Momentary, opening in a former cheese factory. Bentonville also has a another art space, the 21c Museum Hotel which has contemporary art exhibits (Des Moines is supposed to get one of these hotels sometime soon!) A PBS documentary that aired in spring 2019 on the museum’s first State of the Art Exhibit is available for streaming here.
Remember the State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now exhibition at Crystal Bridges? It was based on a journey in which museum curators visited over 1,000 artists across the country and created an exhibition featuring 102 of these artists whose work had not yet been recognized on a national level. This groundbreaking exhibition is now the subject of a one-hour documentary produced by the Arkansas Educational Television Network premiering nationally on PBS Friday evening, April 26th (2019). Filmmakers Brent and Craig Renaud captured the personal stories of seven diverse artists featured in State of the Art, traveling from the woods of North Carolina to the deserts of Nevada, the backstreets of Pittsburgh to the foothills of Arkansas and the riverbanks of New Orleans.
Thanks to the NYTimes listings, I know what’s on my to-see list during trips East, West and North this year.
In LA – Betye Saar: The Legends of “Black Girl’s Window” – LACMA Sept. 22-April 5.
In Chicago – Photography + Folk Art: Looking for american in the 1930s: Art Institute of Chicago Sept. 21-Jan. 19, 2020 ….In a cloud, in a wall, in a chair: Six modernists in Mexico at Mid Century (thru Jan. 12)
In Minneapolis: Theaster Gates: Assembly Hall – at Walker Art Center thru Jan. 12.
In Bentonville, Ark — The Momentary, which appears to be an outpost of the fabulous Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
In NYC: Kenyan-American Artist Wangechi Mutu’s sculptures at the MET – the first-ever art commission for the museum’s Fifth Avenue facade niches (her “Water Woman” sculpture at the Des Moines Art Center is a bit hit with the fourth-graders I take on tours) ; also on my list: the Amy Sherald show (she of the Michelle Obama portrait)…
Arkansas? Yes. Arkansas. I’m surprised by how surprised my fellow Iowans seem that we’re going to Arkansas for Memorial Day weekend (and to mark our 22nd wedding anniversary). True, it is a long drive for a three day weekend – about 6.5 hours to Bentonville. (Bentonville? Yes. Bentonville). But we like road trips and stopping along the way at whatever grabs our attention. And we like Arkansas. We haven’t been there in over, um, 22 years, come to think of it, but Eureka Springs (where we’ll be staying on Sunday night) is a pretty old Ozarks resort town with old hippies and avid Christians, as I recall.
We’re staying overnight at bare bones motel in Butler, Mo; then driving to Bentonville on Saturday, where we’ll visit the new Crystal Springs, a new American art museum created by a Wal-Mart heiress that’s designed by Moshe Safdie. (The museum showcases a reportedly impressive art collection and also has a sculpture garden and nature trails that wind through 120 acres of forests, gardens and ponds.) We’ll eat at AQ (“Arkansas Quality”) Chicken in nearby Springdale/
On Sunday we’ll explore Eureka Springs and splurge on non-motel accommodations, staying at Rock Cottage Gardens, a spruced up former motor court. Dinner options include Gaskins Cabin (for steak) or Ermillios or DeVito’s (Italian.) Several restaurants aren’t open on Sunday including Bubba’s which looks like it has good bbq. Not sure if Mud Street Cafe is open.
We may also stop in Joplin, Mo. en route to see how the city is recovering from the horrendous tornado that leveled a large part of the city a year ago. (We’ve been driving for several years through Greensburg, Ks. and watching it rebuild after a tornado several years ago.)