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story.lead_photo.caption “Whenever I go to a museum, I always do the thing we’ll ask the audience to do: strike a pose. Take on the pose of the subjects,” dance historian Thomas F. DeFrantz says. “How do these paintings or objects want you to move? Paintings benefit from you moving in relation to them. I move myself through this experience in a way that allows me to experience happiness, joy, sometimes sadness. My movement is part of my story of my experience at the museum.”

Today marks the official fifth anniversary for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. In its five years, the museum has become a jewel in the crown of Northwest Arkansas with its permanent collection including impressive names -- even a Frank Lloyd Wright House -- and its (often free) programming constantly engaging the Arkansas community. Also significant is the list of major temporary exhibitions the museum has hosted, boasting works from names like The Hudson River School, Georgia O'Keeffe and Norman Rockwell.

Photo by Ben Goff
James Turrell’s skyspace ‘The Way of Color’ was one of the first incarnations of Crystal Bridges, opening before the museum itself.
Photo by Courtesy Paulo T. Photography
Rulan Tangen says the hope of her Indigenous Peoples dance collective Dancing Earth is to translate indigenous philosophies to the broadest sense possible. The environmental messages embedded in the work might be considered socially relevant because of the recent national attention given to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the protests by the people at Standing Rock Indian Reservation. But Tangen was working on the stories portrayed in Dancing Earth long before. “People will see [the work] as a response to Standing Rock, but this has been happening to Native Peoples for a long time.”
Photo by MARCIA SCHNEDLER / Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1956 Bachman-Wilson House opened at Crystal Bridges on the museum’s fourth anniversary last year.
Photo by File photo
Robert Indiana's "LOVE" is among permanent exhibits at Crystal Bridges Museum.

The consistent temporary exhibitions allows the museum to pursue its goal of welcoming all people to enjoy art by introducing guests to unique stories in the history of American art and challenging and inspiring them with exhibit-specific programming. The current exhibition, "The Art of American Dance," features perhaps some of the most diverse programs the museum has seen thus far.


Thomas F. DeFrantz

WHEN — Performance Lab, 8 p.m. today

WHERE — Great Hall

COST — Free

Dancing Earth

WHEN — Gallery Conversation, 1 p.m. Saturday; College Hangout, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; Performance Lab, 7 p.m. Thursday

WHERE — Throughout museum

COST — All free


BONUS — Both artists will also perform during Art Night Out from 8 to 11 p.m. on Saturday. $20.


By the Numbers

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is constantly growing and improving. In its five years of operation:

— The permanent collection has grown from 1,555 pieces to more than 2,370

— Thirteen major temporary exhibitions have been on view

— The museum’s 3.5 miles of trails attracts approximately 250,000 visitors annually

— Nearly 80,000 visitors have enjoyed the Frank Lloyd Wright house since Nov. 11, 2015

— Crystal Bridges has offered nearly 3,000 programs including art-making classes, artist talks, workshops and performances

— Some 2.7 million visitors have passed through the doors to the museum since it opened Nov. 11, 2011

"It's really exciting that Crystal Bridges is recognizing contemporary Native Americans. I love that Dancing Earth is being programmed in" for the exhibition, says Rulan Tangen, the founding director of Dancing Earth, an Indigenous Peoples contemporary dance collective. "I'm a real advocate for Native Americans being included in anything called 'American.' It recognizes Native Americans as an evolving people."

"The Art of American Dance" explores social issues and historical connections between the world of dance, America's past and art inspired by movement. By building metaphors and stories about the history and challenges faced by Native People into choreography, Dancing Earth does the very same thing.

"With this movement toward environmental sustainability, a lot of the stories [the Native Elders] have shared are the core of our work right now," Tangen says. "Water, heirloom seeds, native plants -- stories are shared and interpreted into movements; metaphors are expanded into themes. It's the idea that we are the seeds of our ancestors. We're bringing to life the things that are important [to them]."

While Tangen's stories center around the issues Indigenous People faced -- and are still facing -- performer and dance historian Thomas F. DeFrantz uses the medium to show the evolution of dance while exploring "what if's" in the exhibition. His performance projects Slippage and fastDANCEpast use technology to incorporate contemporary dancers inside works included in the exhibit. Through this method, the dancers imagine an alternate history for the painting or object and raise interesting questions about style and evolution.

"These performers never would have been the subject of the painting. What if this different kind of person had been included [in the work]? What if you could see the subject dancing?" DeFrantz muses. "It's an interesting oddity -- to see a character moving inside a painting. The dancers engage with the captured image. [The project] tries to underscore the complexity of painting dance."

Both DeFrantz's and Tangen's projects use motion to explore how American culture has been portrayed by visual artists, and each tells stories related to their own experiences.

"The power of art is that it can convey messages in a way that is more like a transference that happens," Tangen says. "A lot of times, people feel moved when they see movement, but it's literally a transference of kinetic energy -- the language of movement. In a way, words can be limiting because of their specificity."

By using unrestricted physicality and the historical and cultural context provided in the exhibition, the programs are able to create interpretive works that examine race, political structures, environmental concerns and the celebration of humanity.

"Many times art is a harbinger of what comes into consciousness. People think of music and dance as a response to culture but often, they create the moment in culture," Tangen offers.

Providing guests with a sense of how the dances they know and love have evolved from their ancient roots can be a point of access to better understanding the evolution of the cultures represented in the artworks as well. The programs taking place this week bring together the history, the technology, the cultural impact and the physicality of visual and performance media to move people (pun intended).

"Dance is a pretty amazing device of creative expression that really helps us understand what it means to be human," DeFrantz says. It provides "moments of encounter where we've learned new things and imagined new possibilities. It helps us imagine ourselves forward."

Exhibitions like "The Art of American Dance" have enabled Crystal Bridges to provide its guests the opportunity to consider topics in formats beyond the permanent collection. The museum will continue its commitment to these unique experiences, starting with its three planned exhibitions for 2017.

NAN What's Up on 11/11/2016

Print Headline: All You Need Is Art

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