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Kehinde to Basquiat to Rothko 

Big names on gallery walls this spring.

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It's a good year for art lovers this spring, with work by masters from the 20th century and today coming to Little Rock and Bentonville.

What promises to be a spectacular show — Arkansas Arts Center Director Todd Herman's description and mine — is "30 Americans," works by some of the country's greatest contemporary African-American artists opening April 10. The show, which will include works by the late genius Basquiat, the silhouette artist Kara Walker and emerging giant talent Kehinde Wiley, comes from the Rubell Family Collection museum in Miami. Arkansas can thank Darrell Walker, the retired NBA player, art collector and friend of the Rubells; he asked Herman if he would be interested in bringing the exhibition to Little Rock, "and I said, 'Absolutely,' " Herman said. "That started the ball rolling."

Others among the 30 in the show: painters Barkley L. Hendricks and Robert Colescott, mixed media artist Wangechi Mutu, installation artist Gary Simmons and photographer Rashid Johnson.

The exhibition promises to offer a look at how African-American artists address issues of racial politics as well as such contemporary ideas of gender, sex and culture. From Basquiat, a New York graffiti artist who skyrocketed to fame as a painter, will be child-like but haunting figures expressing both inner and outer turmoil; from Wiley, giant paintings casting African Americans in historical roles, set against patterns one might see in tapestry or wallpaper. Some of the work is monumental: Wiley's "Equestrian Portrait of the Count Duke Olivares" is 108-by-108 inches; Walker's "Camp Town Ladies," 97½-by-666 inches, takes up an entire wall.

The exhibit should be the best exhibit of not just African-American art but all contemporary American art in Arkansas this year. The show closes June 21.

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Another museum's art has come to Arkansas for a great exhibition: "Van Gogh to Rothko: Masterworks from the Albright-Knox Gallery" at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. The Albright-Knox, located in Buffalo, N.Y., has one of the most significant collections of 20th century art in the U.S. At Crystal Bridges are works by European masters Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Gaugin, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and, of course, Vincent Van Gogh and Marc Rothko. A large drip painting by Jackson Pollock is getting rave reviews; there is also work by Georgia O'Keeffe, Andy Warhol and, of course, Mark Rothko.

The Arkansas Times will take a bus to Crystal Bridges on May 2 for the exhibition; call 375-2985 for more information. The show, open now, closes June 1.

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