While Crystal Bridges’ upcoming exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now has been creating excitement in the art media, among artists and audiences, Museum staff is busy working behind the scenes to make this exhibition an inspirational and unique art experience. Even before the doors open for the general public to view this contemporary American art exhibition on September 13, guests will already have noticed changes in the Museum galleries. Works for State of the Art will be installed not only in the temporary exhibition galleries, but also outdoors, in the Reflection Areas, and in the Twentieth-Century Art Gallery. This will result in works from the permanent collection being moved to other gallery spaces or to the vault for the duration of the exhibition.For months prior to the opening, visitors will probably see members of the prep team moving crates, de-installing works from the Museum’s permanent collection, and installing new objects throughout the Museum campus.
Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection is laid out more or less in chronological order. In parts of certain galleries, artworks are also organized thematically: guests can explore groups of works that reflect the artists’ interest in a certain subject, content, or motifs (i.e. the appreciation of nature and the compelling beauty of the American landscape in the Hudson River School section of the Early Nineteenth-Century Art Gallery). Sometimes works are grouped together because artists shared an interest in a certain style, technique, or medium. For example, a group of Colorfield artists displayed together in the Twentieth-Century Art Gallery were fascinated by the effects of color and form on human perception and psyche. Other times there are aesthetic reasons for juxtaposing artworks: the palette of the paintings, or even the size or design of frames may determine the choice of where certain works are installed. Whenever Museum staff has to move large numbers of artworks there is a break-up of these connections. On the other hand, the shake-up allows curators to rethink the organization of the galleries. This is often a welcome opportunity to present the art in a new context and to point out relationships and connections between artists and their works that weren’t previously addressed.
The challenge the Museum faces with the installation of the State of the Art exhibition is that all artworks currently on view in the Twentieth-Century Art Gallery will have to move—either to another gallery or to the vault. In order to at least somewhat maintain the chronology of the guest’s experience of the permanent collection, the Museum decided to present a Highlights of the Twentieth-Century Art Collection exhibition in the first of the two Early Twentieth-Century Art Galleries (the “box” galleries on the bridge). The current installation of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection will remain in the second gallery. The Highlights exhibition will feature a selection of works from the Museum’s collection of American Modernism, Regionalism/American Scene, Abstract Expressionism, Colorfield, and Pop Art movements. Some of the works that are currently exhibited in this gallery will stay there. Others will also have to be moved to the vault—or two another gallery ….
I think at this point the reader will have noticed that the installation of State of the Art causes a kind of domino effect throughout the Museum. The last galleries that will be affected by these changes are the North Exhibition Gallery (the upper and lower galleries near the stairs) and the last section of the Late-Nineteenth Century Gallery. The North Exhibition Gallery will feature early Ashcan School paintings on the upper level, and on the lower level will continue the Ashcan theme (paintings by George Bellow) and also showcase a few Modernist works as transition to the Early Twentieth-Century Galleries. Since Everett Shinn’s A French Music Hall (currently in the Late Nineteenth-Century Gallery) will be part of the early Ashcan School installation, it will be replaced by Alfred Maurer’s At the Shore, which is currently not on view. Luckily, here the chain reaction of art movement through the galleries ends!
However, since there is only a relatively small gallery space available for the Highlights of the Twentieth-Century Art Collection exhibition, it will be challenging to provide a true overview of the key movements and artists represented in Crystal Bridges’ twentieth-century art collection. Some of the major Abstract Expressionist works, for example, are large in size, and need a fair amount of “breathing space” around them. To install them in a smaller gallery combined with many other works from other art movements wouldn’t do these works justice. For this reason, several significant works from the collection will not be on view during the State of the Art exhibition. This will also cause challenges for the Museum’s Education Department, since they plan tours using many of these major works of art.
One of the main goals for curators is to provide meaningful art and learning experiences when we create installation layouts, and the State of the Art and Highlights installations have proven to be one of the most difficult layouts we have tackled. However, the curatorial and education department are working closely together to find solutions. We hope that guests who come to visit Crystal Bridges during State of the Art will still be able to find many of their favorite artworks in the galleries, and will visit our Highlights exhibition to see how the contemporary works in State of the Art connects with works from the Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection.