‘Contemporary, temporary’: State of the Art 2020 helps open new home for new art in Bentonville

Drag queen and all-encompassing visual artist Jody Kuehner’s work “DITCH” from 2019 is among those prominently displayed at The Momentary as part of “State of the Art 2020.” The work is a combination of fabric, polyfill, wood and cardboard. Kuehner, under the stage name Cherdonna, performs at The Momentary from April 2-5.

Photo by Dero Sanford / Courtesy of The Momentary

After much fanfare and anticipation, The Momentary opened to guests in Bentonville last weekend. And as it did, it also kicked off another anticipated debut – that of “State of the Art 2020,” now on view at both The Momentary and its sister museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. “State of the Art 2020” is a sequel to the much-lauded “State of the Art” exhibit that was first unveiled in 2014.

The opening of The Momentary comes after some years of anticipation. The contemporary art museum opened to its members on Friday and to the general public Saturday with a series of performance art pieces and concerts in the various spaces of the museum, constructed within and around a former cheese factory located southeast of the Bentonville square. The airiness of the museum is apparent immediately upon entering. The various nooks and crannies that would have served as different parts of the commercial cheese-making process now house art, music spaces or eateries. The plant’s original breakroom, for instance, is now home to a restaurant called The Breakroom. And near what would have been the plant’s loading and unloading dock is a new Onyx Coffee Shop, clad in pink hues and featuring a conveyor belt for coffee delivery.

“State of the Art 2020”

When: Through May 24
Where: Crystal Bridges and The Momentary
Admission: Free
Info: For a full schedule of related events, visit crystalbridges.org

The Momentary

When: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; closed Mondays
Where: 507 SE E St., Bentonville
Admission: General admission is free; some performances require tickets
Info: 479-367-7500 or themomentary.org

There are many rooms to explore at The Momentary, a given considering the 63,000-square-foot floor plan. Art is almost everywhere, from a third-floor atrium to what had to be a broom closet or storage space of some kind.

All of the space is consumed by “State of the Art 2020” right now. Like its predecessor exhibit, it features contemporary art from yet-unknown artists around the United States. Crystal Brides/The Momentary curators traversed the country for the exhibit, visiting dozens of studios along the way. Some works came from as far away as places such as Spotsylvania, Virginia, while others came from as close as Fayetteville. Several pieces by Anthony Sonnenberg, currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in Ceramics at the University of Arkansas, were included among the selected works. Sonnenberg will lead a conversation about his work in the gallery space on March 14.

A trio of “State of the Art” curators, none of which helped assemble the first round, have been crossing the country looking for artists with potential. Lauren Haynes, Allison Glenn and Alejo Benedetti first emailed curators at other museums to look for leads. They then crossed the country to visit studios and soak in what artists were saying about the current state of the art in the country. Haynes said the curators resisted making prejudgments about the kind of art they might find and let the show develop around what’s being made in this moment.

“It’s about going to different parts of the country and seeing how the artists work,” Haynes said. “I want to be surprised.”

Curators (from left) Allison Glenn, Lauren Haynes, and Alejo Benedetti traveled thousands of miles to find the artists included in “State of the Art 2020,” which opened Friday. They are pictured here inside The Momentary.

Photo courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

The new exhibit features 61 artists working across all media and styles, each made since the first show debuted. Many were made specifically for the new exhibit space. The works align into several loose themes, such as disruption and creating a sense of place. Other unstated themes are present as well. Racial tension remains prominent, and works like Paul Stephen Benjamin’s “Summer Breeze,” a series of televisions playing snippets of a young black girl on a backyard swingset while part of the chorus to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” plays in unison, will haunt you.

The 63,000-square-foot contemporary art museum called The Momentary opened last weekend in Bentonville. Among the various places to explore is the prominent Tower Bar, center. The Tower Bar, loosely inspired by airport lounges, is open for coffee and snacks to museum members during the day and opens at 5 p.m. to the general public for cocktails and bar snacks.

Photo by Dero Sanford / Courtesy of The Momentary

Political tension is another theme, and many pieces are direct reactions to the 2016 election. Two notable works, the video installation “Western Front” by Rick Silva and the mixed media piece “Bonfire” by Carla Edwards stand out among them. Viewed alongside other highlights such as “The Cessation” by Sama Alshaibi, who explores those who have vanished during the Iraqi war, the totality of the exhibit captures a somber reality.

Haynes said that she wouldn’t call the exhibit bleak, though, and she notes that art serves to capture our history as it happens. “These artists are reflecting what’s happening right now,” she said. “Art is supposed to make you think, and make you consider that’s going on.”

University of Arkansas visiting professor Anthony Sonnenberg is the only Arkansas artist included in the “State of the Art 2020” exhibit. He works in ceramics, as evidenced by the 2019 examples such as “A Pair of Candelabras (Jolly Rancher Red),” made from porcelain over stoneware and found porcelain tchotchkes and glaze.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Sonnenberg

The exhibit is free to view in both museums. The museums are free to visit as well, barring special exhibits, and even then sometimes those are sponsored. Haynes said “State of the Art 2020” was the right option for The Momentary’s debut because of the temporary nature of the collection. The Momentary does not have a permanent collection. The focus will always be on “temporary, contemporary” exhibits, she said, just like the one on the walls now.

Sama Alshaibi’s “The Cessation” from 2019 features neon, aluminum, acrylic, copper, palm fronds, terracotta and sound elements and discusses those who have vanished from Iraq.

Photo by Kevin Kinder

As “State of the Art 2020” remains on the walls, and after it clears out on May 24, The Momentary will be filled with performance artists and musical works (Note: Check our story about the open round of performances). The next major visual arts piece will be the massive floating installation “Until” by artist Nick Cave. That exhibit debuts July 28.

This article is sponsored by First Security Bank. For more great stories of Arkansas food, travel, sports, music and more, visit onlyinark.com.