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Art and Music Come Together in a New Exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art: This Land: Picturing a Changing America in the 1930s and 1940s

A new exhibition opening at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Aug. 31 combines art and music to create a unique experience for visitors. This Land: Picturing a Changing America in the 1930s and 1940s features 44 paintings, prints and photographs, plus a digital audio tour featuring music selections chosen by Bryan Hembree, director of the Fayetteville Roots Festival. The exhibition will be on view through Jan. 6, 2014.

The 1930s and ‘40s were a period of great social and environmental upheaval in the United States. The crash of the stock market in 1929, combined with disastrous drought in the Great Plains and massive flooding along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, caused dramatic change to our natural and cultural landscape. The events of this time period caused a similar dramatic shift in the American art and music scene, with artists and musicians turning inward to focus on and grapple with the difficult realities of the times.

“The exhibition covers subjects many of our visitors will be able to relate to: the disastrous effects of extreme weather, coping with challenging times, including economic hardships, and other issues,” said Crystal Bridges Assistant Curator Manuela Well-Off-Man, who curated the exhibition. “Several well-known Regionalists such as Thomas Hart Benton and Joe Jones actually came from this area; others, like photographers Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn and Walker Evans, traveled to Arkansas to document the conditions of rural America for the Farm Security Administration.”

Artists during the Great Depression responded to and documented the hardships of the Depression era in a variety of styles and media. This Land features never-before-exhibited works from the Crystal Bridges collection along with works on loan from a variety of other institutions, including the Smithsonian, the New York Public Library and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, as well as from private and corporate collections. Many of the artists included were participants in the various government-sponsored recovery programs that resulted in post office murals across the country, fine-art prints for non-federal public buildings and photographs that captured the iconic images of the Great Depression. The exhibition tells the story of both rural and urban American life, and represents several very different styles that coexisted at this time: from Regionalism to Abstractionism, Cubism to Social Realism.

The Music Experience of This Land

Crystal Bridges has partnered with the Fayetteville Roots Festival to create a unique audio tour to accompany the exhibition, featuring songs by regional artists that reflect the hardships and indomitable spirit of the American people as showcased in the exhibition.

Like the visual artists, folk musicians of the 1930s and ‘40s responded to and reflected upon the cultural and political changes that took place during these hard times. Folk music gave voice to those who most directly suffered the displacement and disruption of the Dust Bowl and Depression. Bryan Hembree, director of the Fayetteville Roots Festival, curated the musical tour of This Land. Each of the ten stops on the tour features a song by Fayetteville Roots Festival musicians that captures the essence of an image from the exhibition. The tour includes music by well-known Festival artists, including Shannon Wurst, Ben Bedford, The Honey Dewdrops, 3 Penny Acre, and more. In addition to the music, Hembree, along with Well-Off-Man, provide background and commentary for each tour stop. The audio tour is part of the Crystal Bridges app, downloadable for free from the iTunes App Store and timed to debut with the exhibition.

“I’m excited about the collaboration with the Fayetteville Roots Festival,” Well-Off-Man said. “The music component in this exhibition will allow our guests to experience art from the Great Depression era on a new level: themes and lyrics often address contents of the artworks or reflect the mood of a painting. The artworks come alive through the music!”

No special tickets are required, and there is no admission fee to view This Land: Picturing a Changing America in the 1930s and 1940s, which will be exhibited in the museum’s North Temporary Exhibition Galleries.

Additional Ways to Enjoy the This Land Experience

Crystal Bridges will celebrate the opening of the temporary exhibition This Land with Bryan and Bernice Hembree of the Fayetteville-based folk band 3 Penny Acre from 7-8:30 p.m., Aug. 30. Visitors can enjoy live music and light refreshments outdoors on Walker Landing, or explore the exhibition while trying out This Land: The Music Experience app featuring a tour in music, presented by the Fayetteville Roots Festival. Free, no registration required.

A full roster of programs, from art classes to talks to a culinary event, complement the exhibition.