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2019 Distinguished Speaker Series

The Distinguished Speaker Series at Crystal Bridges invites visitors to hear from internationally acclaimed leaders who inspire new ways of thinking about art, architecture, and nature.

Wheelchair seating, assistive listening devices, and CART captioning are offered at all Distinguished Speaker Lectures. Please contact [email protected] or 479.657.2415 for preferred seating.

Check out past Distinguished Speaker Series





Laurie Anderson

Visual Artist, Composer, Musician,
Film Director, Writer

Laurie Anderson is a visual artist, composer, musician, film director, and writer who has pushed disciplinary boundaries in American art for over four decades.  Known primarily for her multimedia presentations, she has cast herself in roles as varied as visual artist, composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker, electronics whiz, vocalist, and instrumentalist. O’ Superman, included in the exhibition Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, launched Anderson’s recording career in 1980, rising to number two on the British pop charts and subsequently appearing on Big Science, the first of her seven albums on the Warner Brothers label. Anderson’s visual work has been presented in major museums throughout the United States and Europe. Her recent projects include a series of audio-visual installations and a high-definition film, Hidden Inside Mountains, a two-year worldwide tour of her performance piece, “Homeland,” and a solo performance, “Delusion.” Her awards include the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for her outstanding contribution to the arts in 2007, Pratt Institute’s Honorary Legends Award in 2011, and Yoko Ono’s Courage Award for the Arts in 2016.

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Vanessa German

Visual and Performance Artist

Vanessa German, the winner of the 2018 Don Tyson Prize, is an acclaimed visual and performance artist based in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood, the community that is the driving force behind German’s powerful performance work, and whose cast-off relics form the language of her copiously embellished sculptures. She was featured in Crystal Bridges’ State of the Art exhibition (2014-15). As a citizen artist, German explores the power of art and love as a transformative force in the dynamic cultural ecosystem of communities and neighborhoods. She is the founder of Love Front Porch and the ARThouse, a community arts initiative for the children of Homewood. Several of German’s artworks are included in Crystal Bridges' permanent collection. German’s fine artwork has been exhibited widely, most recently at the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA; Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA; the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; the Studio Museum, Harlem, NY; the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL as well as upcoming solo exhibitions at the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI and the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA. Her work has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR’s All Things Considered and in The Huffington Post, O Magazine and Essence Magazine.

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Titus Kaphar

Visual Artist

In this powerful talk, Titus Kaphar imagines a renewed, more nuanced engagement with American history: envisioning new spaces for marginalized or forgotten bodies to enter, and disrupt, the evolving fabric of our culture. If art is a language that speaks, what is it saying? In statue form, Roosevelt rides a horse and boldly stares into the future; meanwhile, nameless African American and Indigenous people walk on foot beside him. Statues of Confederate soldiers loom over our civic institutions—our libraries and schools and offices—without context or apology. Who are the anonymous slaves, servants, and laborers appearing as footnotes in portraits of our Founding Fathers? What values are being expressed by the constitutional monuments dotting the American landscape? And why do we skip over chapters—entire peoples, entire histories—in our national narratives? For Kaphar, the artist’s role is clear: to draw back the curtain on ignorance and deception, and amplify the voices of those who cannot speak for themselves. In a simple phrase, it’s to celebrate the truth. Join Kaphar—one of the country’s most exciting young painters—on a revealing, intellectually nourishing tour of the issues most in need of amendment.

Collection Connection: Titus Kaphar is the artist of The Cost of Removal (2017), on display in the Contemporary Art Gallery.

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Tonya Lewis Lee

Producer, Writer, Entrepreneur, Advocate

Tonya Lewis Lee has been hard at work for over 20 years delivering quality content and information across many platforms. Through storytelling online, in books, in film and in television, she has sought to entertain, educate, inspire and encourage positive healthy lifestyle choices and outcomes. As an art collector, Tonya and her husband Spike Lee have lent to exhibitions, such as the Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power. Fresh from producing She's Gotta Have It: Season 2, which focuses on contemporary artists, Tonya Lewis Lee will discuss the power and impact of art and images to inspire social justice.

Tonya’s most recent television production She's Gotta Have It: Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix, with Season 2 slated to return on May 24. Her most recent film Monster, based on the Walter Dean Myers novel of the same name, will be in theaters Fall 2019.





Jose Antonio Vargas

Filmmaker and Theatrical Producer

Join us for an evening with Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and theatrical producer. A leading voice for the human rights of immigrants, he founded the non-profit media and culture organization Define American, named one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company. His best-selling memoir is Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.  Most recently, he co-produced Heidi Schreck’s acclaimed play What the Constitution Means to Me, which opened on Broadway in spring 2019.

In 2011, The New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant. A year later, he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine worldwide with fellow undocumented immigrants as part of a follow-up cover story he wrote. He then produced and directed Documented, an autobiographical documentary feature film that aired on CNN and received a 2015 NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Documentary. Also in 2015, MTV aired White People, an Emmy-nominated television special he produced and directed on what it means to be young and white in a demographically changing America.





Marina Abramovic

Performance and Visual Art

Since the beginning of her career in Belgrade during the early 1970s, Marina Abramović has pioneered performance as a visual art form, creating some of the most important early works. The body has always been both her subject and medium. Exploring her physical and mental limits in works that ritualize the simple actions of everyday life, she has withstood pain, exhaustion, and danger in her quest for emotional and spiritual transformation. Abramovic has presented her work at major institutions in the US and Europe, including the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven,1985; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1990; Neue National Galerie, Berlin, 1993, and the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1995. She has also participated in many large-scale international exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (1976 and 1997) and Documenta VI, VII and IX, Kassel (1977, 1982 and 1992). Her most recent publication is Walk Through Walls: A Memoir.

During this Distinguished Speaker lecture, the performance artist will give a talk in which she discusses her work and her exploration of long durational performance, transitory objects, and the boundaries between artist and audience. 

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