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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.