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Photographs that reveal truths — some hard, some funny, some embarrassing — about our country are the stuff of two important spring exhibitions at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville and the Arkansas Arts Center.
The works in "The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip" at Crystal Bridges, based on a book by exhibit curator David Campany, take viewers through America, from New Orleans to Las Vegas, with images of people and places — an old woman with a pistol as big as her head, a girl playing an accordion on the tailgate of a car, another girl typing on the hood of a car, a lion through the front window of a car, mobile home parks — by some of the country's greatest photographers. From Robert Frank, who traveled across the country in 1955 (and met with anti-Semitism in Arkansas because he had a Guggenheim Fellowship), to contemporary photographer Alec Soth, these 100-plus images capture what it's like to live in the land of the free, powered by a V8 engine or a Volkswagen van. The show runs through May 30 and is free to members ($10 to nonmembers).
Crystal Bridges will screen "Pull My Daisy" (1959), a movie about the beat generation directed by Frank, and host music by Smokey and & Mirror and spoken-word poetry from 7 to 9 p.m. March 4. The Arkansas Times is offering bus travel to the show April 2.
At the Arts Center, "Dorothea Lange's America" will feature the Farm Security Administration documentation of the Depression by Lange, Walker Evans, Ben Shahn and Marion Post Walcott, as well as photographs by Mike Disfarmer, social reformer Lewis Hine, Appalachian photographer Doris Ulmann and filmmaker and photographer Willard Van Dyke. This work shows the faces of people trying to make it in a tough world of immense wealth among the few and widespread poverty among the many, a bit like today.
In conjunction with the Lange show, University of Central Arkansas art historian Gayle Seymour will give a talk, "Arkansas Post Office Murals: Women Artists of the Depression," at 5:30 p.m. March 31, and the Arts Center will screen the documentary "Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning" at 2 p.m. April 3 and 17 and at noon April 29.
Machinery rather than people is the focus of the Arts Center's "Industrial Beauty: Charles Burchfield's 'Black Iron,' " an exhibition built around the large Burchfield watercolor of a railroad drawbridge over Buffalo Creek in New York. The painting, along with sketches and writings by Burchfield, was a gift from Hope Aldrich in honor of her father, John D. Rockefeller III. The show includes other works by Burchfield on loan from the Charles E. Burchfield Foundation, the Rhode Island School of Design and the Charles Rand Penney Collection. Burchfield, perhaps more known for his almost psychedelic treatment of nature, focused on industry in mid-career.
The Lange and Burchfield shows run through May 8.
Both the Arts Center and Crystal Bridges are putting the spotlight on single paintings: At the Arts Center it is William Adolphe Bouguereau's "Admiration," featuring the mid-19th century artist's favorite subject, lovely nude women, here gathered around sweet Cupid. The painting is on loan from the San Antonio Museum of Art in exchange for the earlier loan from the Arts Center of its 1914 Diego Rivera painting, "Dos Mujers," and will be on exhibit through May 15.
Crystal Bridges' single-painting exhibit is of Samuel F.B. Morse's "Gallery of the Louvre and the Art of Invention." Morse, the inventor of Morse code as well as an artist, chose masterpieces from the Louvre and depicted them as if they were hung in one room. The painting is on loan from the Terra Foundation for American Art in Chicago through April 18.
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