Category: CBMAA Blog

As a Museum Educator of Studio Programs at Crystal Bridges, I have the privilege of planning classes for Museum guests that allow them to create work alongside living contemporary artists from State of the Art, such as the upcoming multi-generational workshop with Alberto Aguilar. Many of you may already participated in Alberto Aguilar’s world by playing with the bells and balloon in Sensitive Equipment, his interactive work of play in State of the Art, Discovering American Art Now.   Each time I pick up a bell, I feel the sweetness of sharing a unique moment from someone else’s life.


We each have habits and games that we play with our loved ones and Aguilar’s work not only connects me to the artist, but also reminds me of the many times that I have spent laughing and playing games with my own family.   It is these relationships and interactions between family members that Aguilar will be exploring with visitors next weekend in his Multi-Generation Workshop.    This class will result in a video work similar to this one from Aguilar’s Intergeneration Workshop at the Elmhurst Museum in Elmhurst, Illinois.  Earlier this week, Alberto discussed with me his ideas behind this workshop and its creative possibilities:


JV: What  exactly is an Inter-generational workshop?

AA:  Rather than using traditional materials for making artwork, we use the raw materials of real life.  This includes interaction with one another and drawing from the everyday, seemingly mundane tasks that we don’t necessarily think of as creative acts.  It’s intergenerational but also interactive in the sense that it makes you interact in a creative way with other people, including your family members. It explores how these things can generate an artwork in the end.


JV: In the first part of the class, visitors will create drawings using a ballpoint pen to scribble.  How does this get people comfortable with the class?

AA:  By making lots of mistakes. That’s why I do the scribbling. You’re told not to scribble because that’s the wrong move.  A little bit of scribbling might be the wrong move, but once it becomes intentional and you become tuned to it and do it excessively it becomes the right move.  It can have the potential to create a stimulus in your brain and get your thoughts flowing and moving.

When we start, we draw on one another’s energy. The more people scribbling, the more energy there is.  The more you hear the scribbling, you feel the motions, you feel the warmth of everyone in the room. It’s a good way to dispel fears.  The more you make, the more possibilities there are of getting something really good in the end.


JV:  In the second half of the workshop, adults and children split up to work on separate projects. Can you explain why you break up into groups?

AA:  Both groups have the potential to teach the other group something else.  Each age group works in a different way.  Adults have to be retaught not to use logic, but to use chance and different accidental elements and spontaneity and intuition.  Adults sort of have to be directed or trained to do this again, where kids still have it in them.  What kids create is amazing and interesting but there is something that adults have that can improve the things that kids make.  So by separating, when they come back together they both perform their thing to each other and both groups are shocked and confused and surprised by what the other presents.  It’s a way to shock and confuse both of the groups.  I believe that confusion is an act of learning.  When we’re confused it’s because we’re not expecting it but are stretched in a new direction.


JV:  Why do you bring in your own family to participate in this workshop?

AA:  My kids have gotten used to interacting with other kids through these art events that I have organized. They have given workshops as parts of other exhibitions and led other groups of people in doing things.  In this workshop they actually take the kids and lead the group, not in a very authoritative way, but they play with the kids to come up with some sort of performance with them.  Mine is more of a structured play and theirs is more of a play that generates a performance.


JV:  So, will your family be able to come back to Crystal Bridges for the Symposium and workshop next week?

AA:  Yes, they will be there.  I always bring everyone with me wherever I go.  We just went to Colorado for a week for a residency.  I’ve been incorporating them into my artist talk for the State of the Art Symposium on Saturday, November 14.  They will be part of the talk, which will be performative.  So people will get to see how the work becomes performative in front of Sensitive Equipment.   The bells will be part of the performance – both what’s on the television and the actual piece, but there will be other elements.  My daughter Madeleine is a musician and will be playing and performing as well.


JV:  What do you hope participants will gain through this workshop?

AA:  I think that one thing is that family life can be a creative place and space.  The interaction between family members can be a creative exchange. That interaction with family members can be a fun and creative thing.  That’s what I hope for people to take to be a little more sensitive to the relationships in your family and to everyday life and its potential to be more than what we tend to think it is.


Jeanne Vockroth is an Associate Museum Educator at Crystal Bridges

It was two years ago today that Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the US, causing massive destruction along the eastern seaboard and especially in New York and New Jersey. Instruments recording ocean and atmospheric data during Sandy registered a number of extremes:  the storm surge at Battery Park in New York topped 13.88 feet: more than three feet higher than the previous record set by Hurricane Donna in 1960. Waves in New York Harbor hit a record high of 32.5 feet, more than six feet above the record set by Hurricane Irene in 2011. Sandy’s barometric pressure was the lowest ever recorded for an Atlantic storm making landfall north of Cape Haterras; and the storm’s hurricane-force winds extended 175 miles from the eye.  (Storm statistics found here.)

Nathalie Miebach, a Boston-based artist featured in State of the Art, used the weather data associated with Superstorm Sandy in an unusual way to create her artworks featured in the exhibition. Miebach builds sculptures of reed and other materials woven together in much the same fashion as a basket. However, each part on these sculptures represents some set of data points related to Sandy.

She has crafted this information into the shape of amusement park rides related to two locations where the storm’s impact was worst: Coney Island in Brooklyn and Seaside Heights, New Jersey, both of which happened to have oceanside amusement parks that were devastated by the high winds and storm surge.

With a little guidance from the artist, we can read Miebach’s sculptures as a record of the atmospheric and oceanic levels, hour-by-hour, throughout the duration of the event. Follow this link to view a video in which Miebach gives us a brief guided tour of her sculpture O Fortuna, Sandy Spins.

“The ability of democratizing the arts… making it available to more people, and giving people a chance to develop their own talents, will be one of the most important strategies we can pursue to build a future we can all share and live with.”—President Bill Clinton


Since the opening of State of the Art on September 13, the art world has been abuzz about the significance of Crystal Bridges’ unprecedented approach to discovering and exhibiting contemporary art.


The Summit at Crystal Bridges
On October 7, more than 200 leaders in business, art, philanthropy, and education convened at Crystal Bridges to view the exhibition and discuss the role of art in a changing America.


Hear what they had to say:
Click here to watch videos of sessions from the Summit featuring speakers and panelists including Maya LinArianna Huffington, and others. Additional videos will be added as they become available.


Join the Conversation:
The State of the Art Symposium:  November 14 and 15, 2014
Join us at Crystal Bridges for part two of this ongoing discussion, a free public symposium featuring artists’ talks, panel discussions, and lectures by artists featured in State of the Art in conversation with curators, the community, and with you.


State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now is on view through January 19, 2015.


New Orleans artist Dave Greber creates mesmerizing, eye-boggling video works.  The two works presented in State of the Art illustrate the very different styles his practice encompasses, yet the two works—Sinew-en-ciel, an installation on the gallery wall, the other, Stilllives II: Vignette, projected on the floor—complement one another with their use of color and movement to create images that are at once abstract and familiar. Greber started his career in commercial video, but found the work to be “psychically violent,” and abandoned it, choosing instead to make a living as a “pedicabber,” a bicycle-based taxi service. His roundabout route to becoming an artist speaks of the life-changing power of art.  I spoke with Dave when he was at Crystal Bridges installing his work.  

How many layers are in Stilllives II: Vignette? It’s probably, like, 200 layers, but the last one goes on top of the first one… I like to make a loop that you have a hard time telling how long it was. I do little repetitions, so it throws off your sense of time.  

Is that your cat in the work? Yes, and my dog.  My dog is Seta, and my cat is Keith.  

Talk about how you came to the idea for this work. I had the idea at a Thornton Dial show at the New Orleans Museum of Art. It was a specific piece of art, I think it was called Setting the Table.  It was like a dinner table set and it was somebody running across the table, sort of.  It was very abstract, but using real shoes glued on to it.  I was thinking of that perspective, looking straight down at a dinner table, and going from there.  It’s like abstract expressionist assemblage, the way he’s using objects to paint with. I’m kind of doing the same thing.  

I understand that you’ve been making art for only about five years, what drew you to art? I went to film school. I do think that the film world is different than the art world. I wasn’t attracted to the film world. I was trying to do experimental films for film festivals, while I was doing commercial stuff, and it was never received well … and I didn’t even want it to be received well.  (laughs) The formula of that world I found just really didn’t jibe with me. Then I got into a residency in New Orleans that was all with art people, fine art makers:  painters, sculptors, some more experimental video stuff too, and I was like “Wow, this is what art is? If this is what art can be, then I want in.” So I just started making art right there and I never stopped. It was just so rewarding emotionally and spiritually that I just wanted to keep doing it.  

Must be quite a change in your life, what’s that done to your world? I used to be really embarrassed to tell people what I did, because I hated it too much. I felt like I wanted to use my talents, but I didn’t know there were other ways to use them. It’s like: you do what you’re good at and you get a job doing what you’re good at;  and the only jobs that exist in the media world are generally, I think, psychically violent, bad things, and I didn’t understand how to get around it. There were two options, I could just not engage in that at all and work in a kitchen, which is what I did. Or I could make more money and do what I’m good at. But it was terrible, I just hated it. I found I would just be happier staying true and expressing what I want to express, making money how I have to, as a pedicab man or whatever. I’m in a residency with the Joan Mitchell Foundation in New Orleans that’s been amazing. They give me a studio and a stipend for six months. I’ve been spending a lot of time working. I did this piece there at their studios.  

So when did you end up going to grad school in art? In 2011 I found out that the Tulane art program was free if you get in.  I was like: “What??” I was six blocks away from Tulane!  I never thought I’d go to grad school. So I went and graduated last year.  

How did that affect your work? I don’t know how to say it. It’s challenging, in the way that it’s supposed to break you down, isn’t that the point of grad school to make you tougher or something like that?  I didn’t think it would do that to me, I just had such a different take. I was open to receive what Grad school had, I didn’t have expectations. I wanted to learn things and be challenged, I was up for the challenge of it.  

It’s a tough business.   I know it’s difficult for everybody. A few of the other people I went to school with are pedicabbers too, we’re like:  “Hey we have master’s degrees!” I tell kids that sometimes too:  “Stay in school and you can be a pedicabber.”  

You have spoken of your work in a spiritual way. What does that mean to you? By making art, that’s how I reconcile my deepest beliefs and my way of dealing with the given reality and frustrations that I think everyone shares to a certain extent:  injustice, violence, a huge mass of people fighting for resources and killing each other and hoarding everything. It seems very barbaric, our world, you know? In my deepest heart of hearts I feel like we’re all the same energy, like this is an illusion to an extent. We’re all made of stardust. So, I don’t feel like I can judge any situation. It’s not up to me to judge. It’s my job to understand how to live in harmony….and I can do that through the creation of art. It’s kind of like the only thing.  

Talking with Detroit-based artist Hamilton Poe is something of a circular… or perhaps spiral … process.  He trails off, comes back around, picks up with something he’d said earlier… it’s conversation in three dimensions. Part of this non-linear style is due to his ADD, which he classifies as “pretty severe,” but another, and I think a bigger and more important part, is the fact that Hamilton’s brain is just busy.  It’s thinking about art, or else thinking about thinking about art, or it has temporarily released its tether to the terrestrial altogether and is out exploring, waiting to see what it encounters that it can bring back down to earth as art.


His brain is hard at work all the time, much in the same way Hamilton himself is at work most of the time.  He spends hundreds–thousands, even–of hours in the studio “just blatantly messing around” — trying things out, following leads, experimenting.  Like his conversation, his work practice is non-linear, concept-based, and free-flowing.  It is also earnest. He takes my questions, and his answers to them, very seriously–thinking about them carefully. Sometimes he talks his way into his answers, in his spiral fashion, letting his words follow the thought process around and through until he comes to what he means to say.

On October 7, 2014, the Museum hosts the inaugural Summit at Crystal Bridges: Insights from a Changing America.  Organized in conjunction with the ground-breaking exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, this invitational event will bring together an extraordinary group of policy-makers, thought-leaders, educators, business people, artists, museum professionals and others to share ideas, ignite inspiration, and imagine the future of American art.  Participants will take part in a series of informative and compelling sessions on topics including museums of the future, art in the digital age, and art as an advocate for social change.


The convergence of new technology, accessible information, and rapidly changing consumer tastes has resulted in an unprecedented rate of cultural change. We experience the change in communities across America and in today’s conversations, trends, and artistic expressions. The Summit at Crystal Bridges will address questions such as:   What are the driving forces of a changing America? Which meaningful trends and themes are redefining American art and its role in American life? What happens next?

Follow the #StateoftheArt conversation on Twitter throughout the day   And check back on the Crystal Bridges website for insights and outcomes from the Summit.

The Summit at Crystal Bridges is sponsored by U.S Trust and Sotheby’s.

As soon as we began discussing actual artists and specific works as a staff, we quickly started to understand just how many different people and departments within the Museum this exhibition process would touch. We were talking about types of installation projects we had never before attempted. I have fond memories of our first discussions with staff about the installation of Jimmy Kuehnle’s AIS  on the pond, Dan Steinhilber’s Reflecting Room covered in metallic Mylar film, and Jonathan Schipper’s Slow Room which slowly pulls all of its contents to destruction. These ideas weren’t met by looks of terror exactly… more like looks of determination. I’ve never felt luckier to work with people who are so innovative and patient. For every bump that we encountered in the road, our staff always came running with a solution. They were in.

Today we welcome guest blogger Madeleine Aguilar, the 16-year-old daughter of State of the Art artist Alberto Aguilar, whose home/studio is in Chicago.  Madeleine and her siblings experienced Crystal Bridges and Bentonville for the first time when the family came for the opening of State of the Art.  Here she describes their visit in a straightforward way that captures the experience pretty succinctly.  Like her father, who melds his daily life and his family in his work, Madeleine draws no line between her personal and family experience of soaking up the rare treat of cable TV in their hotel room and the public experience of attending the opening in “fancy clothes”. When you visit State of the Art, we encourage you to participate in Alberto Aguilar’s interactive artwork, Sensitive Equipment, which involves a set of hand-bells and a balloon. — LD


I didn’t know what to expect from the Crystal Bridges museum. My dad mentioned extravagant bridges. I thought it was weird that it was located in a small town. I heard that it was founded by the daughter of the man who created Walmart. I hadn’t seen any pictures whatsoever of the museum or the town, so when we drove through the pleasant town and arrived at the entrance of Crystal Bridges, I was completely surprised.


Once you pass the entrance, you follow a road down into the woods. Then you say to yourself,” There can’t possibly be a museum at the end of this road!” But there was. Even when I saw it, I couldn’t believe it because it didn’t look like a museum. It was a small, concrete building at the edge of a hill. I assumed that the rest of the museum was at the bottom of the hill, but I couldn’t find out for sure because we just dropped off my dad so that he could be there before the opening began. He put on his fancy clothes in the parking lot and we left him there so that we could finally get to our hotel after the 11-hour drive.


Thankfully, the hotel was just two minutes away from the museum. There was actually a trail, that we learned about later, that led us from our hotel, through the forest, past streams, trees, and art, and directly to the museum. So when we got to the hotel, me and my siblings immediately went for the TV because we don’t have cable at home. We watched TV until it was time to get into our fancy clothes and leave to the museum to meet up with our father.


We took the shuttle there. When we arrived, some kind people by the concrete building signed us in and complemented my brother’s red pants. They led us to an elevator that I didn’t notice before. As the elevator took us down, we could see a courtyard filled with excitement and people. There were photographers everywhere. My brother was trying to get in the pictures. We entered through the doors and into the Crystal Bridges museum. At first I was overwhelmed by the crowds but as the night went on and I drank a couple Coca-Colas with the State of the Art logo on them, and I watched a DJ who used instruments and loops, and I took snacks from a round table filled with all types of foods, and I enjoyed an amazing performance by a band who afterwards gave me their CD for free, and I played on my dad’s piece with strangers, I realized what an amazing day it had been. We came back to the museum the next day and the day after that to experience the rest of the works in the State of the Art show. There was so much to see and such a wide variety of different things in the show—so we were able to take a lot from it.


During our trip we were also able to experience the town square of Bentonville. We stopped in a guitar shop, a toy store, and a breakfast diner. We ate at a restaurant called the Flying Fish and at a BBQ food truck. Twice, we visited the Walton 5-10 which is the first Walmart. The store front was just a small shop filled with vintage toys, candy, and souvenirs. But if you walk down a dark hallway to the back of the building you find a museum describing the story of Walmart; and it began with Sam Walton. From all that I gathered from the museum, I found that Sam Walton was a leader whose mission was to give good prices to everyone. I saw that he worked hard to build Walmart into what it is today.


I think the reason why our trip to Bentonville was so amazing was because everything was a surprise. I expected just a small town but I found a town rich with history and art. I expected just a fancy museum but I found a museum filled with kind people and amazing work by artists from across the United States; and not to mention the unique architecture of the building and the rocks, streams, and trees that surrounded it. I’m glad I was able to experience it in this way; as a surprise. It made everything much more memorable.


Steamboat Springs, Colorado-based artist Joel Allen works with tightly wound twine to create hanging sculptures that bristle with an accumulation of objects: wire, prescription pill bottles, wine corks, surgical tubing. They bear the aspect of furry cocoons, perhaps, or organic chandeliers, and they are curiously inviting. You want to touch them, even hug them. They seem friendly, somehow.


Allen himself is soft spoken and minimalist in his conversation.  When talking about his artistic process, his emphasis is heavily on the work itself, on his enjoyment of the physical act of making, and the meditative quality of that process. In speaking with him I sense he prefers that inner silence to a lot of outward chatter about himself or his work. He seems to be a man whose concepts are not reachable through words, but are born of something else—something silent, tactile, time-based– like the long, long line of twine that he uses to create his sculptures.  I talked with him shortly before State of the Art opened.


Have you always made art?

No, I didn’t even go to college until I was 35. I was working at a newspaper and decided there’s got to be more. And so I went to school.  I was going to go for geology.  I just accidentally took an art class because nothing else fit into my schedule, and I never looked back—from one art class. It just seemed like everything that I’d ever done—all the components of creativity and the way I thought—just came together in art.


What draws you to these forms?

I like the process, making all the parts.  It reminds me of when I was a kid and I was fishing. I would make up all these lures and extra leaders for fishing, when I was ten years old. I just like that feeling of preparing and making all these parts. I lay them out perfectly in rows.  I know I need a thousand of these, so I have to cut a thousand pieces of copper, a thousand pill bottles. It’s all laid out, and then I have to sit and do the hand tying for each piece. It’s always about “how can I use a line to create these sculptures.” It’s all made from line. There’s a line that goes through every piece, there’s a line that’s wrapped on every piece. It’s just a line. I’ve always thoughtthree-dimensionally so to build something with that line is kind of fun.


To me these works have a very welcoming aspect. Yet with the tightly wrapped twine and all that stuff bristling off of them, they could have a very different character. They could have seemed aggressive or forbidding.  Do they have personalities to you?  

Yeah, they do have characters. I’m playing around with these opposite ends of things: an elegance, yet a quirky, fun side to them, so you’re not sure which way to go: Is it elegant? Is it graceful? Is it humorous? I’m also playing around with scale and height and the way that there’s a static nature to them, but they seem to be full of movement at times.

I’m always spinning them, looking at them, moving them around, so to me they have tutus and they’re spinning dancers. I like that feeling, that roughness to them.  And yet they’re kind of dainty, I think.


“The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without knowledge of the way media work as environments. All media are extensions of some human faculty – psychic or physical.”


These words were written by media theorist Marshall McLuhan, whose popularity exploded in the late 1960s for his exploration of how numerous media “massage” human perception of reality and our senses. Just as McLuhan was exploring media’s effect on humans, so too were artists looking to get away from the popular Abstract Expressionist painting movement and reinvent themselves through experimentation with the creative and spontaneous form of performance. For a visual artist, performance could offer direct physical impacts between the viewer and the artist—for example, a trending group at the time, Fluxus, held “Happenings” events by Yoko Ono, Nam Jun Paik, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Carolee Schneeman.


(Read a recent article in The Guardian newspaper about Eye/Body, the controversial series by Carolee Schneeman, now 73). To these artists performance meant that they were both the image and the image-maker.


In State of the Art you’ll find a multitude of art mediums used by current artists who are pushing the boundaries of how a medium can affect our senses and perception. What our guests may not know is that several of these artists are using performance as their medium, as well. On October 11, Crystal Bridges’ popular Art Night Out event presents Action/Interaction, during which four performance artists will move between being the image and the image-maker, using psychology, their bodies, and relationship-building with other people as their interactive “paintbrush” of choice. Below is a listing of the performances scheduled for the evening:  as the viewer, you can decide which medium will be your massage?


Artist Wilmer Wilson IV will perform From My Paper Bag Colored Heart in the Great Hall from 8:15 to 10:45 p.m. The work refers to the “brown paper bag test”—a practice used by African American social societies in the early 1900s to determine if a potential member was light-skinned enough to be accepted. Those whose skin was darker than a brown paper bag were deemed inadmissible. In the artist’s view, this form of “colorism” is still happening today. (Notice: this performance involves nudity. Appropriate signage will be posted outside the area prior to the performance.)


Artist Angela Ellsworth will perform Stand Back in the Twentieth Century Gallery Bridge from 9 to 10 p.m. In this performance, Ellsworth, dressed in the traditional “sister-wife” dress of the Mormon church, will perform atop a pedestal with a backdrop of clouds, representing heaven. For Ellsworth, who grew up in the Mormon faith, this performance questions the equality of Mormon women and their right to heaven. The performance will be accompanied by local a cappella singers performing “Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks.


Artist Autumn Knight will be waiting quietly in the outdoor courtyard housing Jenny Holzer’s Venice Installation to offer guests personal performances of her intervention work I Propose that We. Knight will be available to meet the entire evening: 8 to 11 p.m.


Artist Jimmy Kuehnle has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to release one of his Amphibious Inflatable Suits into the Crystal Bridges environment for some “non-host human interaction,” relying on guests at the event to assist in maneuvering the artist through obstacles. Kuehnle will periodically exercise his creatures between 9 and 11 p.m. DJ Abboriginal will provide accompanying sounds of aquatic, spatial beats.


In addition to the four performances, Art Night Out Action/Interaction will offer other ways of experiment with art in real-time throughout the evening. These include Works Progress’s Water Bar where guests can sample locally sourced waters from different locations. Accompanying the Water Bar will be the folk duo Still on The Hill performing their Once-A-River project.  Guests are encouraged to chat with local moms at artist Andy DuCett’s Mom Booth, or go to the South Lobby and make bird mobiles with State of the Art artist Calder Kamin. Finally, The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre of Fayetteville will be provide a cool-off lounge offering secret games and playful conversation.