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Assessing the State of the Art in 2020

In 2014, just three years after Crystal Bridges opened its doors for the first time, the museum presented a massive exhibition featuring artists working around the country. After hundreds of thousands of miles traveled and hundreds of artist visits, State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now brought the work of 102 contemporary artists to the center of the country, in Bentonville, Arkansas.

State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now was on view at Crystal Bridges in 2014-2015.

As a result of those efforts, more than 175,000 visitors experienced this groundbreaking exhibition and engaged in meaningful discussions and events, including a free symposium with artist talks and a summit addressed by former President Bill Clinton. PBS even created a documentary called State of the Art, following the journeys of seven artists featured in the show, which was released in April 2019.

Much has changed in six years. In 2014, Barack Obama was our president. Ebola became a global health epidemic. Apple Watches were just being announced and Ice Bucket Challenges were the hottest social media trend. As the world turns, so does the state of contemporary art.

Six years later, it’s time to assess what art looks like moving into a new decade.

Left to right: Allison Glenn, associate curator of contemporary art, Lauren Haynes, curator of visual arts at the Momentary and curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges, and Alejo Benedetti, assistant curator of contemporary art. Photo taken at the Momentary.

Lauren Haynes is the curator of visual arts at the Momentary and the curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges. She, along with her colleagues Allison Glenn, associate curator of contemporary art, and Alejo Benedetti, assistant curator of contemporary art, traveled thousands of miles across the country to visit artists in their studios and communities. From their efforts, 61 artists were selected and will be featured at Crystal Bridges for the first time on a national stage through State of the Art 2020.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to have audiences explore new things that are being done in art today, by artists who come from diverse backgrounds and communities,” said Haynes. “On top of that, this is also meaningful in that we will be featuring contemporary art at the Momentary as well as Crystal Bridges.”

“Contemporary art is incredibly democratic. Everyone living at this moment has a connection to it in some way, simply by virtue of existing while it’s being made now.” – Alejo Benedetti

One of the works that will be featured in State of the Art 2020. Sama Alshaibi, The Cessation, 2019, Neon, aluminum, acrylic, copper, palm fronds, terracotta and sound, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of Sama Alshaibi; originally commissioned by Artpace San Antonio, Photo by Seale Photography Studios, ©Artpace San Antonio.

The artists featured in this exhibition are at all stages of their careers, living and working in communities large and small across the country. What connects this particular group of artists, however, is a collection of themes that began to emerge during the curators’ visits, specifically concepts of world-building, mapping, sense of place, and temporality.

“As we began traveling, we noticed similar conversations, questions, and ideas emerging among artists from different regions. These synergies drove the selection of artists and development of themes. This opportunity to work with such a wide range of thinkers across our two campuses is an exciting one,” said Glenn.

“All art was contemporary at some point. This is an opportunity to see and appreciate what our art looks like now, in 2020, straight from the communities across our nation.” – Lauren Haynes

State of the Art 2020 opens on February 22 at both the Momentary and Crystal Bridges. It is free to view at both locations. 


Cover photo: Suchitra Mattai, Dialectic, 2019, Vintage saris from India, Sharjah and artist’s Indo-Guyanese family and rope net, 480 x 180 in., Courtesy of K Contemporary Art and the artist, Photo by Wes Magyar, Note: Dialectic is an example of what is being created for State of the Art 2020.