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Find the nation's 'Soul' at Crystal Bridges 

Spring 2018 fine art preview.

click to enlarge 'SOUL' ART: Benny Johnson's "Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree?" is one of the works in "Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power" at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
  • 'SOUL' ART: Benny Johnson's "Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree?" is one of the works in "Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power" at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

"Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power" is such a significant exhibition that writers from The New York Times and Art in America magazine traveled to London to the Tate Modern's inauguration of the show last year to see and review it. Those critics, and others from The Guardian, Art Review, the Independent and more, have praised "Soul of a Nation" for its exploration of how African-American artists confronted issues of politics of civil rights, identity and contemporary art technique. They've called the work "sorrowful, shattering art" (The Guardian) and a "visual channeling of fist-shaking rage" (the Independent), telling a "tale of trauma and revolution as well as strength and hope ..." (Art in America). It is a show rich in content, about art, racism in America, the role of the artist in society and the demands on African-American artists to say something about the black condition in their art.

The exhibition made its American debut at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art — which The Washington Post recently described as possibly the "most woke museum" in the nation — last month. It's a good bet that art lovers familiar with the periods in which these artists worked are more familiar with their white contemporaries (Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb et al.). "Soul of a Nation" corrects that omission by starting with black artist collectives that formed in the tumultuous 1960s — the Spiral group in New York, with works by Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden and Hale Woodruff; the Organization of Black American Culture and AfriCOBRA in Chicago — and going on to cover two decades of works created during the civil rights struggles, both figurative and abstract.

Central Arkansas got a leg up last year on the AfriCOBRA collective thanks to two exhibitions, "Here." at the Arts & Science Center of Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff, a show that featured works from its permanent collection, and "AfriCOBRA NOW" at Hearne Fine Art in Little Rock, with art and talks by contemporary AfriCOBRA members. Among the 60 artists whose works are featured in "Soul of a Nation" are AfriCOBRA members Barbara Jones-Hogu, Wadsworth Jarrell and Gerald Williams. Crystal Bridges' own Elizabeth Catlett sculpture, the "Black Unity" mahogany fist, is here, as well as Melvin Edwards' wall sculpture "Lynch Fragments"; Benny Andrews' flag-and-fist painting "Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree?"; Sam Gilliam's abstract memorial to Martin Luther King Jr., "Curtain of Sorrow ... April 4"; OBAC member Jeff Donald's "study for the Wall of Respect (Miles Davis)"; and Faith Ringgold's portrait of a race riot, "American People Series No. 20: Die."

"Soul of a Nation" runs through April 23 and won't be seen again until it opens at the Brooklyn Museum on Sept. 7. The Arkansas Times is taking its Art Bus to the museum on March 10; Hearne Fine Art's owner, Garbo Hearne, will lead the trip. For more information on the trip, go to centralarkansastickets.com/events/soul-of-a-nation-bus-tour.

Views of the Arkansas River Valley from Petit Jean Mountain are spectacular; now, the views atop the mountain will be something to marvel at as well with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and partners' temporary sculptural installation, "Art in Its Natural State."

The 10 chosen site-specific sculptures by artists from Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee and Florida will be installed in late April, and the artists will give a talk at a celebratory opening event starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 28, at WRI.

Artists submitting winning designs are Monica Dickson of Kansas City, Mo.; Lee and Betty Johnson (Benson Sculpture LLC) of Jackson, Tenn.; Heather Joy Puskarich of Houston; Lee and Betty Benson of Jackson, Tenn.; Phoebe Lickwar of Fayetteville; Laura Terry of Fayetteville; Katrina Pais of Miami; Edwin A. Penick of Miami; Sabine Schmidt of Fayetteville; Don Wilkison (m.o.i. aka The Minister of Information) of Kansas City, Mo.; Russell Lemond of Little Rock; Nathan Pierce of Cape Girardeau, Mo.; and Marshall Miller of Hot Springs. The artists — most of whom have exhibited nationwide — were asked to keep the natural landscape of Petit Jean in mind while creating their work. They received $5,000 to cover material and costs related to transporting and installing the works.

The day event will feature demonstrations, performances and art activities provided by numerous Arkansas arts organizations; there will also be food trucks. The event is free; find registration links at rockefellerinstitute.org/institute-programs/natural-state and eventbrite.com.

A dinner and reception with the artists will feature music by the Arkansas Symphony Quartet and singer/songwriter Bonnie Montgomery starting at 5:30 p.m. Saturday evening. Tickets are $50. Tickets for the reception and lodging at WRI for one is $150 and for two is $200.

Eight of the works will be installed on institute property — the former ranch of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller — through March 2019 and two will be located in Petit Jean State Park through July. They were chosen by representatives from the Arkansas Arts Council; the Arkansas Arts Center; the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith; and UA Little Rock. Find sculpture sites at rockefellerinstitute.org/art-in-its-natural-state, and find profiles of the artists at rockefellerinstitute.org/institute-programs/natural-state.

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