Author: don-bacigalupi


On November 11, 2013, the second anniversary of the Museum’s opening, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announced State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. As part of the initiative, Museum President Don Bacigalupi and Curator Chad Alligood traveled to all regions of the country to visit nearly 1,000 artists in their studios and conduct hundreds of hours of one-on-one conversations in search of the most compelling art being made today.

Now, the research and planning phase of the journey is complete and the Museum has selected 227 artworks by 102 artists for State of the Art, debuting at Crystal Bridges on September 13. The artists range in age from 24 to 87 and come from every region of the the country. Their diverse styles and voices reflect what’s happening in American art right now.

As the opening date approaches, the physical transformation of Crystal Bridges’ gallery spaces is well underway and artists have begun to arrive in Northwest Arkansas to oversee installation of their work. Last week the second of several State of the Art works to be installed in the Museum’s public spaces was completed. [Read about the first installation by Dallas-based artist, Gabriel Dawe, in Crystal Bridges’ Blog.]

Located on the South Lawn of the Museum, Mille-fleur, by Boulder, Colorado-based artist Kim Dickey, is a 21-foot-long wall covered in 10,000 painted ceramic floral shapes. From a distance, the work presents a formal garden pattern reminiscent of a sixteenth-century tapestry. Up close, the individual shapes and colors of each ceramic element become apparent, and the experience of the artwork becomes more abstract.

Each floral unit that covers Dickey’s work is both the same (in shape) and unique (in its painted surface). The work revels in opposites– minimal and decorative, abstract and floral, architectural and organic. Ultimately, the garden wall occupies the precise boundary between nature and culture and is well-suited to Crystal Bridges’ South Lawn, situated along one of the beautiful nature trails that traverse the Museum’s 120-acre grounds.

State of the Art will include works in a wide array of media, including video, ceramics, photography, paper, glass, and more. The exhibition will occupy approximately 19,000 square feet of gallery space, reaching beyond the temporary exhibition space and activating community areas both indoors and out.

State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now will be on view at Crystal Bridges September 13, 2014 – January 19, 2015. Read more about State of the Art here. Admission to the exhibition is sponsored by Walmart and Sam’s Club.

In selecting artists for State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now,

Why did you prefer to visit artists in their studios?

We wanted to get a sense of the artists’ process, as well as to have an opportunity to view works in progress, or works that might not have been exhibited. Very soon, however, we discovered that viewing the works in the studio was a very different experience than viewing them in a gallery or museum. In a gallery, you see the work removed from the artist and the creative setting. But the texture of the space can be very rich. You can get a sense of the way the work derives from their lives. The artists tended to speak differently of the work in their studio than they would in a gallery setting, as well. In the gallery, artists have sometimes perfected a sort of “pitch” for the work. In the studio, however, they tended to share more of their ideas, of their process.

Can you make any generalizations about the types of studios you saw?

Artists will use almost any space they can find for studio space. We saw everything from pristine, clean, and organized studios with every single item in its place to studios that looked as much like hoarder spaces as working studios, and everything in between. We saw a lot of basement studios, garage and attic studios, and spare bedroom studios. These spaces were interesting because you’re walking into the artists lives. We met a lot of children, a lot of pets. Their artwork and their daily lives are thoroughly entwined. They’ll work anywhere there is space and light. We visited one artist who was living and working in this very small apartment in a very dodgy neighborhood who told us he’d taken the apartment just for the light.


Did you see any unexpected or interesting trends?

It was interesting — in big cities, the most compelling work we found was happening outside the city center. I’m sure it has to do with the cost of real estate. In urban areas, where real estate is so high, the further we got from the city, the more interesting the work. There’s a real entrepreneurialism among artists, too, a real determination to find space. We saw artists sharing space in all kinds of repurposed buildings: an empty furniture store, an old drugstore, a former goat farm. Many artists will come together to make joint use of a large space, often with an unintended benefit to the community. In Jacksonville, an artist approached a local developer to turn some unused warehouse space into studios. It has become a kind of community arts center, and has now expanded. We often saw this sort of economic and social benefit developing as a by-product of the artist community.

State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now will feature the work of 100 artists from across the US. The exhibition opens at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, on September 13, 2014.

State of the Art is sponsored by the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, Christie’s, Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, L’Oréal Paris, Tyson Foods, Inc. and John Tyson, 21c Museum Hotels, and Crystal Bridges’ Global Initiative Fund and Art Now Fund. Exhibition admission is sponsored by Walmart and Sam’s Club.


The road to

“In talking about State of the Art, we’ve often mentioned how we started out with a list of some 10,000 artists’ names,” said Don Bacigalupi. “An untold part of the journey is how we developed that list. And really it’s a remarkable story that speaks to the vitality of a nation-wide network of arts professionals, and to the very real sense of a need for this sort of national undertaking.”

Ten thousand artists is a lot of people. Even with a small army of research assistants, it would have taken years for a two-man team to produce a list of that magnitude. But the idea of State of the Art is based on immediacy: works produced within the past three years or so. They needed a list of artists working out there now. They began by reaching out to the professionals who are in the know in every region.

“I started with people I knew in Texas and Ohio, because that’s where I had spent the majority of my career,” Bacigalupi said. “I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Here I was calling people up and asking them to hand over the names of all the up-and-coming artists in their region. I didn’t know if they might feel territorial about these artists. What I found really amazed me. Not only did our colleagues willingly provide us with the names of artists in their area — with very few exceptions, they overwhelmingly offered additional names of art contacts in their region. It was mindboggling the level of enthusiasm and generosity.”

In a very short time, the list had grown exponentially. When all was said and done, Bacigalupi had corresponded with some 800 arts professionals across the country, many of whom he had never met and had no previous connection with. Time and again the reaction was the same: “They were not only helpful, they were appreciative,” he said. “They were enthusiastic about the project, and they wanted to help. I was absolutely bowled over by the positive response.”

Across the country, curators, gallerists and scholars helped to spread the word. “Have you talked to so-and-so?” they would ask, and the recommendations poured in. Bacigalupi and Alligood found themselves answering a barrage of curious questions: How are you defining “emerging artists?” Are there age limits?

Each time they answered such questions it helped further refine the parameters for the search. “Emerging artists,” for the purposes of this exhibition, included those who may have a regional following but have not yet been nationally recognized. The age question came up time and again, but because of their broad definition of “emerging,” no limits were set. All ages were considered (the oldest artist the team visited was about 90).

“One thing we’ve discovered is that art careers can happen in interesting places,” Bacigalupi explained. “Sometimes the art community is associated with a college or university; in other places there might be a civic art commission that recognizes and supports artists. Sometimes the artists themselves come together to run cooperative studio or gallery spaces that help to support the community and serve as a magnet for other artists. Across the country, however, art flourishes wherever it is supported, whether that support be public, private or communal.”

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is located in Bentonville, Arkansas. The exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now will be on view in the museum September 13, 2014 through January 19, 2015.

Were the artists surprised that you came to visit them?

Absolutely. Often, the first question that people asked when we walked through the door was “How in the world did you hear about me?” That feels good because that means that we’re achieving our goal of reaching out and seeking unheralded or under-recognized artists across this country. What we’re finding is that there are multiple centers of art production. Smaller, sure, in terms of scale than New York, or LA, or Chicago, but no less dynamic and innovative.

Have you noticed any trends or commonalities among the artists you’ve visited?

To be a working artist in the US right now is often to be a jack of all trades–to have a day job or sometimes two, and to have a family, and to also carve out time to be in the studio and to create. Artists across the country are educators, either in a K-12 school, or a college, or community-sponsored program. They’re working the best they can to make ends meet so that they can have an hour or two in their studio every day to do the thing that they love to do. The rest of their time is also spent advocating in their communities. Artists in many communities run alternative exhibition spaces that support their fellow artists within the region.

Have you met with any surprises?

Yes! We come in prepared to look, to think, to engage critically, to ask pointed questions, and to come away with a deep understanding of the work. But sometimes you walk into a studio and what you’re looking at, what you’re experiencing, is so overwhelming, so deeply considered, so complicated that you can’t get to the critical place because you’re so enamored with experiencing the work. I would love to go into each of these studios and just sit and think. There have been a few times when all I wanted to do was just dissolve into the work. And when that happens, when the world leaves you, when you can get me to shut up…something special has happened.

Now that the selection process is underway and you’re beginning to get an idea of what work will be in the exhibition, what do you think it will mean for visitors who see it all together?

I’m hoping that visitors will walk away from the exhibition with an understanding that what they just saw was the tip of the iceberg, that the experience will be a representation of the depth and diversity of artistic practices in the United States. I want them to have the sense of being inspired, engaged, and in a place where they feel they can have a conversation about contemporary art. Contemporary art is not scary, it’s part of our everyday lives because it’s being produced right now … by people that you are buying your bananas next to when you go to the grocery store. And they’re responding to the same things that you respond to in your everyday life. Communicating that is an important part of this show.

State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now will debut at Crystal Bridges on September 13, 2014. Read more about State of the Art here. Admission to the exhibition is sponsored by Walmart and Sam’s Club.

As Chad and Don are beginning to wrap up their long months of studio visits, we’ve been talking with them to get a sense of the big picture in American art to distill some of the themes and trends they’ve been experiencing on their travels. Here’s another bit from an ongoing discussion with curator Chad Alligood about the “state of the art” in America today.

So what is the general mood among the art communities across the country now, based on your experiences?

Like any of us in our everyday lives, artists experience a variety of moods. I’ve been very impressed with the amount of innovation and discovery that American artists are able to bring to the table. I think there is a real mood of positivity and hope about the state of American art and about a sense of local community being supportive of one another. Because most of the people that we’re looking at are deeply and actively engaged in their studio practice and also have a very full and engaged and interesting life outside of their studio, we’re seeing people who of necessity have an attitude of “things are going to be good, I can produce and respond to the world around me, I can make a difference.” And people that feel the agency in their lives to make a difference, both through their work and in their local communities, that’s a hopeful stance and it’s inherent to that kind of an attitude.

It’s been buoyant to me along the way. Every fresh discovery has been, “Okay, there’s nothing dire about the state of American art or American culture, we’re doing just fine.” That’s not to say that the issues that are present in American life right now are not important and worth considering… but artists are responding to them and saying, “how can I make a difference?” which is great.

I guess the act of making art is in itself a positive action. If they didn’t believe it mattered, they wouldn’t do it, is that it?

It’s interesting, if you are a working artist, you are a doer, you work. We know when we walk into a studio and an artist is a worker. They get to that place… and then they go 10 steps beyond. At some point, they know there will be something even better. And they don’t stop. A lot of artists we talk to have said there’s never a final state for the work. You’re just seeing it at its best state at the moment. For them it’s mere steps in a career-long progress, a trajectory of making and figuring out and thinking. It’s never “done.” And the creative impulse, married with the doing, the have to do… it’s an inherently positivist stance: “There is possibility here, I can do, and I am doing.”

It’s surprising, sometimes, when we see the quality of their work and the dedication that they have to advancing their practice when there may not be much local collector support to what they’re doing. They just have to do it, anyway.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art President Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood have been traveling the country for more than six months, visiting the studios of more than 700 artists in preparation for a major exhibition of contemporary American art titled State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, to open at Crystal Bridges in September, 2014. The exhibition will showcase the work of more than 100 artists from every region of the United States and will offer an unusually diverse and nuanced look at today’s American culture. State of the Art is sponsored by Walmart and Sam’s Club.

Don Bacigalupi, President of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Chad Alligood, Assistant Curator of Special Projects, have been traveling around the United States for the better part of the past year, visiting artists in every region of the country in preparation for the exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, which will open at Crystal Bridges in September. As of this moment, they have visited some 700 artists. Chad stopped in the Museum offices this week long enough to answer a few questions and to provide some insights into what discoveries they are making on the road.

So, having been to nearly 700 artist studios at this point, what themes are you seeing arise?

That’s a common question. It’s no surprise that artists are engaging with themes that directly impact our world and our everyday lives — and those run the gamut from things that are explicitly political, in a way, like the environment or the distribution of wealth in this country, or the state of the economy. Those things percolate up. And they percolate up differently in different parts of the country. But then there are other themes that arise, too…

For instance, I was recently in Las Vegas, and Vegas, more than any other place, seemed to me to be really responsive to the local context. Las Vegas has such a rich visual and metaphorical terrain that artists can’t help, but respond. So, they’re making things that are obsessed with surface, that are interested in the multiplication and duplication of imagery, that are interested in ideas of excess and ornament and decoration: impermanence, dynamic change. These are all themes that bubble through this community of artists in completely divergent ways, so this fabric of the city becomes filtered through these individual practices…[resulting in works such as] a lacquered bug on the wall, or a huge piñata sculpture, or quiet obsessive drawings of surfaces. These are all disparate practices, right? But they are filtered through these individual people that are responding to the same stimuli.

So, on a micro scale that reflects what’s going on in other parts of the country, because everywhere people are responding to their local communities and environments in unique ways.

How have you been received by the artists you have visited?

It’s interesting to see the ways in which the perception of the project has evolved over time. In the beginning, Don and I would show up and [some] people didn’t have a clear idea of what Crystal Bridges was or who we were. There was no press, there was nothing out there [about the exhibition] for them to Google before we got there. And so they just approached it like any other studio visit.

As the project has gained momentum and people have started to talk [about State of the Art], we’ve encountered a deep appreciation, understanding, and respect for this project that we’ve launched. People across the country thank us: “Thank you for doing this work, because no one else is doing it.” And that sense that what we are doing is resonating, not only with the artists themselves, but with the other nodes of the art community — the local gallerists, the people who manage artist-run spaces, the art educators, the academics — those other members of the community who also advocate for artists and what they do. It’s been really galvanizing and encouraging to see the ways that they’re responding.

State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now will showcase the work of more than 100 artists from every region of the United States and will offer an unusually diverse and nuanced look at today’s American culture. The goal of the exhibition is to inspire conversation, broaden perspective, and facilitate dialogue on the issues most important to us — as a nation, as artists, and as a world.

On as recent trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, Crystal Bridges’ curator Chad Alligood met Delita Martin, a young artist who captures and re-thinks images of African-American women in her work. Little Rock’s complex and sometimes violent racial history, including the rocky desegregation of the city’s schools under armed guard in 1957, serves as a poignant backdrop.

Martin’s sharp relief prints bring together history, memory and imagination to create images of African-American women that serve as icons of strength and community. Combining strong line with traditional symbols of domestic service, Martin’s prints help to reframe our associations of these things with the women she portrays.

I wanted to take my work and reconstruct the identity of black women. You look historically… when you think about Mammy, Jezebel and Sapphire and all those stereotypes, it wasn’t a very positive outlook. Well, I wanted to take these images of women and present them in a different way.

Working frequently from photographs of women in her family, Martin studies the faces and demeanors of her subjects in a process she refers to in terms of conversation: a dialogue with the image that helps guide her toward the embellishment that results in the final print. The elements she adds — including such household domestic objects as skillets, mason jars and spoons — comprise a personal iconography for Martin, which she uses to expand upon the portrait, providing context and tone. The finished work elevates both these humble objects and the portrait’s subject above the literal, offering a greater understanding of and appreciation for the role of black women in African American culture and American history at large.

I have a lot of photographs of my mother as a child growing up. I think I have more understanding of her from drawing her than I have in conversations that we’ve had in the last few years. And through understanding her, I’ve come to understand me. A lot of things are so much clearer to me.

View a short video clip of Delita Martin in her studio as she talks about her work with Don and Chad:

Images courtesy of Delita Martin.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art President Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood have been traveling the country for more than six months, visiting the studios of more than 700 artists in preparation for a major exhibition of contemporary American art titled State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, to open at Crystal Bridges in September, 2014. The exhibition will showcase the work of more than 100 artists from every region of the United States and will offer an unusually diverse and nuanced look at today’s American culture.

In Phoenix, AZ, Chad and I visited artist Monica Aissa Martinez. Her large, richly detailed and colorful paintings begin with the anatomical structure of the human body, but manage to fold in the artist’s love of the maps collected by her grandfather, her own study of yoga, her heritage as a Hispanic woman and a holistic approach to mind, body and spirit that incorporates both the cosmic and the micro-cellular.

The mixed-media works are created in a lengthy process that can take a year or more to complete. Each work begins with an anatomical drawing, and then Martinez begins layering in additional elements. With each layer, the character of the work changes, as can be seen in her photos of some of the works at various states of completion. At one level there are rich organic shapes representing organs; at another, there are lines suggesting the circulation of blood through the veins.

Next, the work is colonized by colorful shapes, evoking cells, and textural striations that combine the literal physicality of muscle tissue with a powerful sense of movement and connection between the forms. Viewed up close, the works are abstractions of vibrant color and shape. But pull back, and they become elegant iterations of Martinez’s holistic interpretation of the world and her place in it.

Every time I come to my work, I ask myself three questions: Who am I? What am I? What is this world and my relationship to it?

I’m trying to start a dialogue to answer those questions through my work.

View a short video clip of our conversation with Martinez:

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art President Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood have been traveling the country for more than six months, visiting the studios of more than 700 artists in preparation for a major exhibition of contemporary American art titled State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, to open at Crystal Bridges in September, 2014. The exhibition will showcase the work of more than 100 artists from every region of the United States, and will offer an unusually diverse and nuanced look at today’s American culture. The goal of the exhibition is to inspire conversation, broaden perspective and facilitate dialogue on the issues most important to us — as a nation, as artists and as a world.

Additional information about State of the Art, including weekly profiles of some of the artists the team have visited, is available on the Crystal Bridges blog.

Boston-based artist Cobi Moules’s paintings of landscapes, created from his own travels across the United States, honor the traditions of the Great American Landscape as envisioned by the Hudson River School painters while at the same time recognizing some diminishment of those landscapes brought about by modern accessibility. Moules’s landscapes are no less gorgeous than those of his Hudson River forebears, but they are no longer the wild, unexplored frontiers of the nineteenth century. These landscapes, like the busy national parks and recreation areas they depict, are heavily populated — by the artist himself — each scene full of climbing, frolicking, adventurous self-portraits in identical dress.


By placing multiples of himself in his landscapes, Moules manages to address both the irreverence of boy-scout troop hikes and the intense inner solitude of the only child at play in a landscape populated only by the characters in his head. While his group self-portraits are always playful, always at ease with one another and the landscape, we can’t help but remember that he is, in fact, alone in the landscape.

“I see a number of ideological links between their [Hudson River School] works and a specific current American Christian culture that was an integral part of my formative years; particularly in regards to ideas of purity and the honor of sacrificing one’s selfhood for the glory of God. As a queer and transgender person, I seek to renegotiate my relationship with this upbringing and the act of being told I am ‘unnatural’ through such a pointed Christian lens.”

Listen as Cobi discusses his artwork in the studio:

Images courtesy of Cobi Moules.


In Seattle, we met up with artist Susie J. Lee, who uses materials that inform our everyday contemporary lives–digital technology and video–in innovative ways that often reference images of the historical past.

For Still Lives, her recent series of video works, Lee worked with residents of the Washington Care Center, a long-term care facility for the elderly, to create video portraits that capture the slowed-down time of her subjects’ lives.

The resulting work, framed and presented on the wall like a series of paintings, appears at first to consist of static images. Then, one figure shifts slightly in his chair; nearby, another moves a strand of hair away from her face. Time begins to unfold anew as the viewer realizes that the images are moving, albeit with deliberate and almost imperceptible slowness and subtlety. The experience becomes a meditation on compassion, human perception, and the long expanse of time.

“I think in a very materially-based and three-dimensional way, and concepts aren’t driven by the technology. Video, light, and any technological components function in my practice in the same way as wood, paper, or clay to explore an idea. However, time-based work allows me to express the nature of transitions and passing in a much more immediate way.” — Susie J. Lee

Lee has also worked on a similar project, focusing on laborers in North Dakota, with very different results. Watch as Susie J. Lee talks about her Still Lives project with us during our visit:

Images courtesy of Susie J. Lee.