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Crystal Bridges overlaps two great exhibits

By JACK SCHNEDLER SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published January 23, 2014 at 2:44 a.m.

Images of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz greet visitors to “The Artists’ Eye” exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

BENTONVILLE - Any time is a fine time to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the worldclass showcase that has put Arkansas on the international cultural map.

But this weekend or next marks an ideal occasion to make the 220-mile drive north from central Arkansas for an overnight in Bentonville. That’s because two major temporary exhibitions are on view, one at the end of its stay and the other newly opened.

At the delightfully designed museum until Feb. 3 is “The Artists’ Eye: Georgia O’Keeffe and the Alfred Stieglitz Collection.” It encompasses not only notable O’Keeffe canvases and Stieglitz photographs but also European and African masterpieces that go beyond the museum’s normal American boundaries.

Unveiled last Saturday and on view until April 21 is “At First Sight: Collecting the American Watercolor,” a show touted as reflecting “the first love” of billionaire Alice Walton, museum founder and board chairman. Included are watercolors by O’Keeffe and other luminaries such as Thomas Hart Benton, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth.

Also newly on display is an important addition to Crystal Bridges’ awesome permanent collection, which was assembled in short order for the museum’s opening in November 2011. The work is Edward Hopper’s Journey to Blackwell Island, bought in May for $19.2 million, the second highest price ever for one of his paintings at auction.

The comprehensive range of the museum’s holdings is made clear in its “Collection Highlights” brochure, designed to lead visitors counterclockwise on the roughly circular path past the permanent collection.

Early American portraiture is exemplified by Charles Willson Peale’s George Washington, painted in 1779 and showing the founding father as a military commander. Impressionist Mary Cassatt is represented by The Reader, an enchanting 1877 work of a young woman holding a large book.

Icons of the 20th century on the highlights list include Norman Rockwell’s muscular 1943 Rosie the Riveter magazine cover illustration, Mark Rothko’s luminous No. 210/211 (Orange) field painting from 1960 and Andy Warhol’s ethereal 1985 Dolly Parton portrait.

The European gems in “Through the Artists’ Eye,” donated to Tennessee’s Fisk University by O’Keeffe in 1949 after Stieglitz’s death, are highlighted by canvases from Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Also on display are four works by 19th-century African artists, including a stunning Kota reliquary guardian figure.

The “At First Sight” exhibit, according to a museum news release, “offers a glimpse into how [Alice Walton’s] early interest in watercolor grew into a lifelong love of art.” The watercolors will be on display for only three months because their exposure to light needs to be limited.

There’s outdoor art at Crystal Bridges as well. Six hiking trails a half-mile or mile in length lace the naturally landscaped grounds, passing 17 contemporary sculptures. Among the more whimsical is Andre Harvey’s Stella, a rotund bronze porker weighing in at 560 pounds. Though not a razorback, Stella does add a morsel of Arkansas flavor.

Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, closed on Tuesdays. General admission is free, as is the “At First Sight” exhibition. There’s a $5 charge for visitors over age 18 to see “The Artists’ Eye” exhibition, with no fee after 5 p.m. Wednesdays. Call (479) 418-5700or visit crystalbridges.org.

Bentonville offers plenty of lodging and dining choices. On a recent visit, Microtel by Wyndham provided a comfortable room with breakfast for $67 plus tax. Dinners at Tavola Trattoria and Table Mesa in downtown Bentonville were delicious if a bit pricey.

Weekend, Pages 36 on 01/23/2014

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