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Fracking Fields by Susie J Lee (video)










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Great New Art Museum - If You Build It, I Will Come!

December 18, 2014

It was an icy, dreary morning in the parking lot of the Bentonville, Arkansas Walmart. We sat drinking our coffee looking at a winter storm advisory in action and wondering if we should go back to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.*

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
We had put in a full day the day before, traipsing around the intriguing Moshe Safdie structure - enjoying the walls of glass overlooking the two lagoons, sunlight and shadows playing across the various passageways as well as the bridges and the tree filled ravine that surrounds this mecca of art in northwestern Arkansas -  not far from Walmart Corporate Headquarters.

Yes, sometimes we do more than test drink recipes… although that is high on our list of favored activities. What makes us go back to a museum anyway? (Well, living across Central Park from one, that just happened to be the Metropolitan Museum of Art, made it easy to go often) But, if we stayed and went back to Crystal Bridges, what would we return to see? What made us stop and look the day before?

The structure itself. The museum looks unimposing when you arrive at the entrance, although the Roxy Payne aluminum tree out front lends a certain glamour to the cold and barren winter setting. A short elevator ride down the side of the ravine and you step into the museum itself, and it is then that you begin to fully appreciate just how beautiful and functional this place is.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

The light filled bridges, skylights and exterior views all work to control and use the natural light to create a pleasant place to spend a day or two with art. Oh yes, and Cafe 11 had really good fresh food, wine and "intriguing" cocktails.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Upon first entering the  permanent collection the day before, I had that sinking feeling that it was going to be classic-white-bread dreadful. We were greeted by a 19th century, white marble bust of some woman (Proserpine) from some other time. On the wall next to her were three paintings - all of three of different women in red dresses - all very formal, and all four might as well have been the same person. It was deja vu all over again.  But moving through the museum I saw more and more artist friends that I loved. Here a Maxfield Parrish, there a John Marin… and Audubon turkeys!

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Over the years I have enjoyed doing some small sketched collages in art museums, but usually the art on the walls makes me feel quite inadequate. The horribly gesturing, critical monkey always flies into the gallery where i have planted myself with my sketchbook, lands on my shoulder and begins a negative whispering campaign in my ear. "Why bother?" "That's a pretty feeble attempt you've got there." "Go have a glass of wine, you're good at that."

Only graphite allowed in the galleries. I started inking and adding washes in the Cafe, and finished back in the camper.

(click to enlarge)

Only graphite allowed in the galleries. I started inking and adding washes in the Cafe, and finished back in the camper.

The "State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now," a temporary, family friendly exhibition that took over 19,000 square feet of the museum, was on view when we visited. Two hundred works were culled from curatorial visits to nearly 1.000 artists studios around the USA. The show was hodgey-podgey, but interesting and enjoyable. It needed some sort of direction.

However, it was one of the pieces in this show that really brought us back to sit and watch for a while, even though we disliked it. It's called Fracking Fields, by Susie J. Lee, and it consists of three parallel, much larger than life, hi-def moving stills of three field workers sitting in a cafe trying to stare at the camera. We kept coming back to sit in front of it over the course of our two days. We stared and stared at the men. They were not likable, every pore and zit visible, smirks and arrogance all over their faces… The piece was disturbing and unpleasant and yet it was the main reason we came back…besides the good food and wine, the building, the art… and to sketch. of course.

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*Walmart neither owns nor operates the museum, but underwrites all free admissions and parking.

Hi Peg!! Still miss you! I actually really liked the moving still video. I didn't see the same thing you did. I felt uncomfortable for the guys as they seemed to be making the best of what was being asked of them. The youngest one seemed the most uncomfortable. When they were looking away I just wanted them to look back. What am amazing place. Merry Christmas!


Hi Peg and Bernie -Thanks for this piece. You've whetted my appetite for a return to Fayetteville (where my youngest son spent a year in UA's creative writing program and taught freshman English 20+ years ago). Did you visit the Cathedral of the Pines (I think that's what it's called -- a very impressive wood structure not far from Bentonville.)

With best wishes for the holidays... and Merry Christmas!


Reminds me what someone told me a awhile back: these billionaires have by now run out of ideas how to spend their money, so they invest in art. In the case of the Waltons, it benefits us all. The collection looks very interesting! Am almost tempted to fly down! Where is the nearest airport?

From now on I will not hate Walmart so much anymore. To commission a Safdie structure!! But of course, they have the money to do it.


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