BENTONVILLE--Driving from Little Rock to northwest Arkansas every six weeks or so develops patterns that come to define the experience.
What started out as a unique adventure has settled into a predictable routine: Stock the car with bagels, bananas, chocolate, and bottled water. Listen to Arkansas Rocks at 94.5 FM until the none-too-powerful signal fades. Find a speedy front door to lead the way. Switch to KUAR at 89.1 FM until the reception starts to crackle and we get tired of talking about the NPR news we're hearing. Plug into Apple Music on the iPhone, put it on shuffle, and sing along as we pass the Altus wineries and head up the hill onto I-49, through the Bobby Hopper Tunnel, and past the Fayetteville exits.
Complain about how we wish Bentonville is where Fayetteville is so we would be there by now. Arrive in Bentonville within three hours of departing Little Rock (unless there's an accident on I-40). Take Exit 86 to South Walton Boulevard and make our way to our preferred low-budget hotel (close to Starbucks).
Check in, grab a cup of the hotel's amazingly good coffee in the lobby, then find our room (small, spotless, decent TV channels, too-hard pillows, shampoo and soap but no skin lotion, so I bring mine). Unload a minimal amount of luggage, connect the MacBook Air to WiFi, add or subtract a jacket, and head out for a walk along the heavily trafficked boulevard before veering off onto the quieter walkways along SE J Street.
Later we're off to dinner (there's some variation; our latest discovery is Ramen Nara, just over the border of Bentonville to Rogers at 301 S. Dodson Road; other favorites are Azul Tequila on South Walton Boulevard and Pedaler's Pub at 410 SW A Street), then dessert in the form of a doughnut from Starbucks. Then to bed.
Following this routine--humans tend to be creatures of habit--we get up early the next morning, go out for another walk, eat everything in sight at the hotel's breakfast bar, then drive to our usual destination: A press preview at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
This recent visit provides not only a look at the museum's State of the Art 2020, but a stop at the newly opened Momentary.
It's the second go-round for State of the Art, in which curators from Crystal Bridges tour the country's backroads and big cities to discover what artists are producing (the original State of the Art, which garnered a lot of national attention, set the stage in 2014).
One hundred works in the new exhibition are displayed throughout the permanent collection galleries at Crystal Bridges (a concept that integrates seamlessly) and scattered here and there at the Momentary, with a thought-provoking array of paintings, photographs, fabric assemblies, interactive installations, sculpture, video, and performance art. Everybody will have their favorites.
So, about the Momentary. You can't miss it--a looming contemporary visual and performing arts facility marked by a striking repeating arrow pattern titled Sway on the exterior glass and main entryway (created by Osage Nation artist Addie Roanhorse to respect the history of the land on which the Momentary sits).
Housed in a giant former cheese factory at Eighth and E streets in Bentonville, it's undergone what appears to be a thought-out repurposing (the vision of Steuart, Tom and Olivia Walton, who brought her adorable black Labrador retriever to the structure's press preview) that maintains its industrial pedigree. The building incorporates technology, audio and lighting design, and maneuverability so that its versatile indoor and outdoor spaces can accommodate whatever the art world can throw at them.
Located a mile and a half from Crystal Bridges, the Momentary has high-ceilinged galleries, several performance spaces, a couple of bars (including a spectacular Jetsons-style hideout way up in the sky with glass walls and 1960s-style seating highlighted by a a round couch surrounding a circular glass floor where visitors can look four stories down to the main floor), and vast expanses that, for now, offer only the promise of what they may become.
"As we get this space opened and bring in more artists, we'll see what this place can be," said Lauren Haynes, curator of visual arts at the Momentary and curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges.
The most relevant display may be a neon sculpture by Tavares Trachan, 78 feet across and 25 feet high, on the east exterior of the building that spells out You Belong Here.
We dutifully follow curators through the new exhibitions, ask questions, inspect the gift shop, chat with our peers, then head for home.
Despite grumbling about the time it takes to get to Bentonville and back, we have many memories of coming to northwest Arkansas before the completion of I-49's connection to I-40 in 2014. Those memories include getting stuck behind a logging truck near Mountainburg that lost part of its load, trying to get around wide-body RVs chugging at a snail's pace on winding U.S. 71 (scenic, but impossible to enjoy the views when you're trying to keep your car from tumbling over a precipice). The time it took to transport ourselves along this route was unpredictable, to say the least.
Now the journey is simpler and faster, which matters most when we're heading home. Although we enjoy visiting northwest Arkansas--like the neon sign says, We Belong Here--it always turns out that we want to get back as quickly as we can.
Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.
Editorial on 03/22/2020
Print Headline: Routines on the road