At first glance, the kudzu vines, honeycomb and giant bees spilling over the walls around The Hive -- the restaurant inside Bentonville's 21c Museum Hotel -- may seem like themed decor. However, closer inspection reveals curious objects and creatures that don't belong, imbuing the installation with mystery and even a sense of the macabre. The piece by Johnston Foster is titled "BuzzKill" and morphs The Hive itself into a work of art.
"To transform a space -- both architecturally and metaphorically -- of everyday activity like a place we eat into a space for art and the reflection on it, is very exciting, and I think it proves inspiring for our visitors and for all of us at 21c," says chief curator Alice Gray Stites. "It's a great expression of our mission, which is to integrate art into everyday life."
WHEN — On display for the foreseeable future
WHERE — The Hive, 21c Museum Hotel, Bentonville
COST — The museum is free and open to the public
INFO — 286-6500, 21cmuseumhotels.com/bentonville
Foster's already established relationship with the museum -- several of his pieces have been previously collected and exhibited at the museum's various locations -- and his engaging use of re-purposed materials made him an attractive choice to commission for the space. Though Foster was not instructed on a subject matter or color palette to use in the work, Stites recalls describing to him the beauty of the Ozarks region and how the integration of nature and civilization influences the character of Bentonville itself.
"Of course the name of the restaurant is The Hive, so it's almost to be expected that one would would respond with some reference to bees," she muses of Foster's returned proposal for the piece. "But also, given that [Foster's] work addresses very important contemporary issues like the state of the environment, the future of the local food supply, its relation to the health of pollinator species and the adaptation of humans and other species to a changing environment, [these] seemed like very prescient and fascinating topics to explore."
But given the scale and the vibrancy of the work, Stites assures, one doesn't have to think about the fate of pollinators or ruminate on environmentalism and sustainability to have a full appreciation of "BuzzKill." As with any "good" art, the observer's experience with "BuzzKill" can change with each viewing based on who they're with, their openness to participation or even their mood. Simply sitting and enjoying the colors and the shapes taking over the space is just as accepted a response to the piece as considering the necessity of adaptation of living things when an invasive species arrives.
"We want to take away any barriers to entry -- get rid of that proverbial velvet rope that makes people feel like they need to be knowledgeable to experience or appreciate contemporary art," Stites shares. "The artist feels the piece is not complete without the participation of the viewer, but there's no prescribed way in which one is meant to participate or interact. It can be through osmosis -- you can't help it, you're in the space -- or you can be very deliberate about it."
"BuzzKill" is Foster's most ambitious project to date in terms of scale and will be "living, embedded, invading The Hive" as a permanent, site-specific fixture for the foreseeable future, Stites reveals. The work serves to further distinguish the character of the already unique, chef-driven restaurant, she says, while also broadening the audience and the appreciation for an artist like Foster.
"You're going [to a restaurant] not just to feed the body, but also to feed your mind, to feed your soul, your emotions. Because hopefully whether you're on your own, reflecting, or you're with family and friends sharing thoughts ... or a special moment, you're there to feed yourself and feed others. And that is what art does -- it feeds our eyes, it feeds our minds, it feeds our souls. So I think it's a perfect [setting] to install very contemporary, thought-provoking, inspiring artwork. It just takes that experience to another, even more multi-sensory level."
NAN What's Up on 11/19/2017
Print Headline: Big Buzz