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On a surprisingly gray and wet Thursday we made a pleasant trek to Crystal Bridges. Beth Bobbitt had announced a new media preview for a coming exhibition, and as per usual, she was kind enough to extend an invitation. These exhibits are always a sight to behold.

The new exhibition is called Crystals in Art: Ancient to Today. And it's more than just a bunch of shiny rocks (though there are plenty of those). The exhibit, which attempts to answer the question of how crystals have been used throughout time, is broken into five sections, and curator Lauren Haynes revealed the museum has been working on it for two years.

Several pieces are on loan from museums across the country, and some of the crystals come from right here in Arkansas. That figures, seeing as you can't till a garden without finding a couple of them. They're more abundant than arrowheads.

The first section is called "Sacred and Translucent." Lauren Haynes said the art presented there is supposed to show how crystal has been used through the years to shape sacred objects. There is a detailed crystal sculpture of Buddha, an interesting piece called Pendant of a Rosary, and other crosses.

Our favorite is an 18th-century holy water font made with rock crystal in gilt bronze by Giovanni Battista Metellino. It features a scene of the wise men presenting gifts to the newborn Christ.

This section also features a display of stacked crystals called Bird in Space Becoming Dancer by Jen DeNike. The artist mined all the crystals from around Hot Springs. We were told that in the final display, ballet dancers would be performing around the piece.

The second section is called "Crystal Extravagance," which shows off how wealthy one had to be through time to own works of crystal and other materials crafted by talented artisans.

Lauren Haynes said this section contains the oldest work in the exhibit: a string of beads and a scarab from ancient Egypt, excavated around 1898 and dated to between 2030 and 1840 B.C. Talk about archaic. A colleague joked that we should touch it, but that idea had two problems. First, the beads were in a protective case, and second, the movies have already showed us what happens when you go messing with ancient Egyptian artifacts. No thanks.

Our favorite from this section is a painting of red lips covered in droplets of water and crystals in the mouth--so detailed and crisp--called Crystal Swallow, created by Marilyn Minter.

Section three, "Science and Mysticism," shows the blurred lines of science, religion and mysticism, questioning the alleged curing power of crystals.

One wall asks, "What are the healing properties associated with quartz crystals?" It has five pictures of different crystals and the supposed healing benefits they contain. For example, citrine is supposed to spark creativity and imagination.

The work in this section seems especially relevant given the prominence of new-age folk who decorate their homes with crystals, wear them to supposedly clear their negative energies, and seek some sort of purification. Art really does mirror reality.

The fourth section is "Crystallic Form" and features work from artists like Picasso and Andy Warhol. Finally! Names we'd heard of and could at least pretend to know a little about in a crowd of artists.

Lauren Haynes said the work in this section is meant to show how artists think about and explore the properties of crystals, rather than just their forms. In the middle is a giant quartz cluster called the Holy Grail. We are told it's one of the largest specimens ever mined, and it was pulled from the dirt in the Ouachita Mountains. It's homegrown!

Apparently, it takes a mini forklift just to move the cluster. And you'll see why should you head to Bentonville to take a gander at this beauty.

The museum folks have set up a timeline showing different uses of crystals throughout history, starting with quartz crystal tools, found in New Mexico, that were used by Native Americans known as the Clovis around 13,000 years ago.

The display highlights how Homo faber has used crystals throughout time, even in a technological sense, like in watches people wear. There's also a neat space for attendees to draw their own ideas and uses for crystals, plus some you can touch.

In an area called "Crystals in Pop Culture," we see a piece that highlights crystals being used in Superman's Fortress of Solitude and that last Indiana Jones movie.

The most puzzling piece in the exhibit is a column of 15 blue footballs that are aged, decayed and made to look like crystals are growing out of them. It's certainly unique, but we doubt the Hogs will be adopting these anytime soon.

A pair of crystalized books capture our attention just before the final section. Fittingly, the real books are titled Smithsonian Nature Guide: Rocks and Minerals and Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Rocks and Minerals. All the pages in these books are entirely crystallized by an artist named Alexis Arnold.

The last section is called "Crystal Universe," and it poses the question: How do artists ask us to examine the infinite nature of crystals?

And that sums up an entire theme of this collection: Crystals are infinite when looked at from certain angles, and nowhere is this better displayed than in our favorite piece of the exhibition, Anthony James' Portal Icosahedron.

This pair of steel icosahedrons (a fancy word for a shape with 20 sides) contains what look like two-sided mirrors and LED lights so you can see inside without seeing your reflection. And there before our curious eyes and captured gaze is an infinite series of reflections, triangles of light and mesmerizing dimensions.

The curator went ahead to speak about the final piece in the collection, a giant chandelier. But we have to confess, we just stood there, staring at the portals to a limitless reflected cosmos. Our brains swam through the eternal triangles until Mrs. Bobbitt came over to ask us if we needed any additional information.

Pictures and words pale in comparison to staring at the Portal Icosahedron. The entire exhibit is fantastic, but that is easily our favorite piece.

The exhibit opens today, and it's worth seeing.

Editorial on 10/12/2019

Print Headline: More than just shiny

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