Photo: Kevin Kinder
The permanent collection of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art keeps expanding, and an exhibit that opened June 26 helps show the newest works at the museum. “What I Know: Gifts from Gordon W. Bailey” debuted over the weekend and joins several other focused exhibits on view this summer.
“What I Know” features works by Black artists from the South that were collected by advocate, scholar and collector Gordon W. Bailey. Within the exhibit, the museum notes that many of the artists collected in “What I Know” might be considered “outsider” or “self-taught” artists while also acknowledging a need to retract from that kind of labeling language. “Self-taught” is a gatekeeping term, the museum writes, often used to exclude.
At Crystal Bridges, that means work by Herbert Singleton is on a wall not far from works by Thomas Cole or any one of hundreds of household names. Singleton’s wood carving “Angola” is a panel about the size of a door and features several scenes depicting the American criminal justice system. The images Singleton has carved are filtered through his time at Angola, the largest maximum-security prison in the United States and the home of the state of Louisiana’s death row. “Angola” shows a man strapped to an electric chair, among other gruesome imagery.
New works at Crystal Bridges
“What I Know: Gifts from Gordon W. Bailey” – Through Oct. 11
“This is the Day” – Through Aug. 16
“The Bruising: For Jules, The Bird, Jack and Leni” – No end date set
Where: Crystal Bridges, Bentonville
Info and tickets: 479-418-5700 or crystalbridges.org
Several of the other works are just as unsettling to view. Roy Ferdinand’s “Do Not Cross” shows a drive-by shooting victim covered by a white sheet on a sidewalk. Red spots show where bullets have entered the victim, and small tents around the body indicate the locations of shell casings. Created in 2004, it reminds us that gun violence is an ongoing American condition. And the collection serves as a reminder of the pervasiveness of the penal system in America. Included are several precise and colorful geometric designs by Welmon Sharlhorne, a second former Angola resident turned artist.
“What I Know” is organized into two sub-categories: ‘Things Seen” and “Things Heard.” It contains a range of works made on a variety of media, including wood carvings, sculptures, paintings and drawings on paper and can be viewed in the center of one of the Modern Art galleries.
Not far from “What I Know” is the focused exhibit “This is the Day,” which highlights the importance of Black churches throughout the South. The collection includes works by famous artists such as Faith Ringgold, but also an image from an unidentified photographer. These churches provide sanctuary and community for the Black community, and many of the works capture that sentiment. One photo shows breathing holes on the floor of a church in Savannah, Georgia, used to allow airflow to slaves hiding below during stops on the Underground Railroad. The exhibit also reminds viewers that because of the sense of community provided by churches, the buildings are also frequent targets for violence. The image from the unidentified photographer is called ‘Mr. and Mrs. Chris McNair, Birmingham, Alabama” and shows those two parents holding a photo of their daughter, Denise. She was among the four young girls killed in a church bombing in Birmingham in 1963.
“This is the Day” opened in April and runs through mid-August.
Another new piece can now be viewed outdoors on the museum’s North Forest Trail. ‘The Bruising: For Jules, The Bird, Jack and Leni” is a custom-built, open-aired, living installation. The pyramid-structured piece features native planned curated by artist Rashid Johnson in collaboration with the museum’s trails and grounds crew. Located near the stage for the museum’s summertime outdoor concert series, “The Bruising” also contains a platform for performances. It’s an artwork that constantly changes – the plants grow and various elements of the piece wither or drip in the summer sun, impacting the look.
Each of the three exhibits can be viewed during the museum’s operating hours and are free for the general public.
Photo: Kevin Kinder