Travel Guide: St. Louis, MO and Bentonville, AK
October 17, 2019
Art Overload. Is it possible?
Read Susan's detailed travel guide from her July road trip to Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville, AK, with a special stop in St. Louis, MO.
• With my friend Carrie Lannon, we left at 7 AM and drove from Chicago to St. Louis for a Fourth of July holiday weekend filled with art, art and more art! St. Louis? Yes, it is a city that is flexing its art muscles.
• We spent our first night at the Angad Arts Hotel in the heart of the St. Louis Grand Center Arts District. Angad is a boutique hotel built in the 1920’s as a theatre and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It embraces visual arts, literature, fashion and performance and allows guests to select the color of their room. You have four options. Red for passion, yellow for happiness, green for rejuvenation or blue for tranquility. We stayed in a Yellow Room to set the mood for the rest of our trip! After a cocktail and late lunch on the rooftop overlooking the city and the Gateway Arch, I had the good fortune to meet and chat with the curator, Vanessa Rudloff (who also happens to be a fabulous photographer herself). The Angad features work from artists that live within 200 miles of St. Louis. Some of my favorite local artists include: Jo Jasper Dean (the saturated color on her animals!), Jason Atkinson (his installation of doors; those with colorful doorknobs open to reveal a secret inside!) and Cecilia Donaldson (her dream like paintings draw you in).
• That evening we took in a movie (Carrie is an avid movie-goer) and had dinner at the Grand Tavern located within the hotel. Chef David Burke had a whimsical take on classic American dishes and while we did not order his famous appetizer, bacon served on a clothesline, we did covet it and almost asked the table of 12 next to us for a bite! During our dinner, I became immersed in the napkin art peppering the walls of the restaurant. Within the first few weeks of opening, the hotel had a that allowed guests to draw on their paper napkins and submit their “art” to be framed. What a self-expressive statement!
• On the morning of July 4th, we went to the St. Louis Art Museum and spent hours wandering this free museum in the heart of historic Forest Park. A gorgeous stainless steel tree sculpture by Roxy Paine titled “Placebo” was outside the entrance. Inside, we watched an art conservator patiently repairing and preserving a 19th century painted panorama that has taken 2 years and is not nearly complete! There were so many lovely works of art! Some of my favorite European artists include: Wassily Kandinsky, Amedeo Modigliani, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Max Beckman, Eduard Vuillard, Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne, Raul Duffy and of course, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Monet, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer and Pablo Picasso. Among my favorite American artists were Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Kerry James Marshall and Kehinde Wiley. The outdoor sculpture garden can’t be missed either.
• Got back in the car and drove to Bentonville. We stayed at the 21c Museum Hotel, a boutique hotel, contemporary art museum and cultural center all in one. We discovered art in every corner of the property, the exhibit is open daily and rotates with other exhibits from 21c Museum hotels every 6-12 months. On display at Bentonville, along with a random green penguin or two and an old Cadillac festooned with nickels, was “The Future Is Female” exhibit. Curated by Alice Gray Stites, it features female artists that illuminate the consequences and persistence in the struggle for women’s equality that still exists today. Much of the art addressed identity, intimacy, the body, activism and affirmation of personal experience. Simply put: gender roles, sexuality, voice and conscious politics. I enjoyed the hauntingly beautiful black and white photos by South African artist Zanele Muholi and the clothesline photography by Cuban artist Glenda Leon.
• Spent time in the downtown square of Bentonville. Toured the original Walton owned Five and Dime store and the Walmart Museum where all the items for sale (books, games, toys, candy and even soda) had original or vintage labels! I felt like I was back in grade-school. Of course, a chocolate milkshake was in order at the Soda Fountain.
• We walked the trail from the hotel to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in the late afternoon and took a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Bachman-Wilson House. Unfortunately, no inside photos were allowed! In typical FLW style, the home was very austere, inside and out. Made of concrete blocks with clerestory windows, a centrally located hearth and built-in furniture, I found it a bit dreary. However, the symmetry of the home was fascinating. It was designed using an all-in-one floor system. The concrete slabs function as support for the floor and supports the home using a four-foot grid pattern. This home is one of a 60 “Usonian” homes designed by Wright during and after the Great Depression. They were simpler and lower cost than his custom residences and were designed to provide homes to the average middle-class American family. The term Usonian comes from the visible grid pattern and was derived from an abbreviation of the “United States of America”.
• The trail to and from was lush with wildflowers, running streams, sculptures scattered throughout and gorgeous tulip trees, which I had never heard of before!
• Later in the evening we had a Southern country inspired dinner at the Hive featuring James Beard award winning Arkansas chef, Matthew McClure.
• I loved being in a quintessential small town for the holiday as we watched the fireworks from our hotel!
• We woke up and spent the day touring Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It is truly like no other museum- a combination of art, architecture and nature, all perfectly in sync. The grounds outside and the architecture of the museum itself are as much a part of the Crystal Bridges experience as the art inside!
• Crystal Bridges takes its name from a nearby natural spring and the bridge construction that supports the building. Architect Moshe Safdie designed a series of pavilions nestled between two spring fed ponds that house the art galleries. He also provided rest stops along the way… much like a palette cleanser between a seven-course meal! As always, the element of water fascinated me. Interspersed amongst the steel and wood buildings were many glass pieces by Dale Chihuly as well as a pair of striking blue chandeliers inside. The outdoor pieces that most captured my attention were the floating glass spheres in the ponds. They were reminiscent of my time spent in Sweden with glass artists in their galleries.
• Located outside the main entrance was another stainless-steel tree sculpture by the same artist Roxy Paine, only this one was titled “Yield”.
• The Fly’s Eye Dome, a fiberglass geodesic dome conceived in 1966 by R. Buckminister Fuller that was originally intended to be an inexpensive and efficient home also sat outside on the grounds.
• Lunch at the restaurant, Eleven, named after two of the tallest trees on the property that stand side by side like the number 11.
• Some of my favorite artists included: Nari Ward, Maya Lin, Julie Mehretu, Hary Bertoia, Monica Aissa Martinez, George Segal (depression Bread Line sculptures), Alfred Stieglitz, Sol LeWitt, Leonardo Drew, (sculpture wall of found objects), Ursula von Rydingsvard (sculpture wall), Karen LaMonte (glass dress), Jeffrey Gibson (a punching bag of which I saw another installation in a private art collection in NYC last fall), Fredrick Eversley (Big Red Lens of which I saw at LACMA last spring), Joan Brown, Louise Bourgeois, Neil G. Welliver,
• And of course, more of my favorites: Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Jim Dine, Agnes Martin, Kerry James Marshall
• There was an exhibition of women artists and their rise from the 1960’s to 1990’s- the pioneers of the field. I was fascinated by Mary McCleary’s collage, Carroll Cloar’s acrylics and Faith Ringgolds quilts.
• We got up very early and drove from Bentonville back to St Louis. We spent the afternoon gallery hopping in the Central West End neighborhood on McPherson at Houska Gallery, Duane Reed Gallery and Projects + Gallery. While there, we met artist Edo Rosenblith as he was completing his black and white mural in a cartoon vernacular that examines the historical and personal narratives of trauma – an interesting juxtaposition. He and a collective of 12 other artists showcase their work at Monaco USA Gallery.
• A lovely lunch around the corner at Café Osage at BoWood Garden Supply and Greenhouse where I tried to purchase a tulip tree, but realized it was too tall for my condo nor would it fit in my SUV!
• We checked back into the Angard Arts Hotel, only this time we requested a Blue room! The Angard is within walking distance to the Contemporary Arts Museum, The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and the historic Fox Theatre with its ornate “Neo-Byzantine” exterior. So, off we went for a late afternoon visit!
• The Pulitzer Foundation of the Arts is a strikingly simple, yet beautiful building designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Ironically, the concrete construction was very similar to that of Crystal Bridges Museum as it too has a water element. Ando wanted the museum to be a place of possibility so that visitors could expand their consciousness. It has many wide-open spaces which, as a designer, I appreciated the use of negative as well as the positive space (that which had artwork). You would think that the concrete structure would be heavy but in fact it was quite light and airy inside and the Ancient Egypt art exhibition was worthy of the architecture.
• The outside courtyard plays host to Richard Serra’s massive torque spiral sculpture, titled “Joe”. Eight years ago, I experienced my first walk through the interior of one of his pieces and was delighted to do so again! Closer to home, Tadao Ando also is known for designing Wrightwood 659, a vintage Lincoln Park apartment that he transformed into a gallery and space for exhibitions of which I have visited a few times in the past year since it opened.
• A quick visit next door to the Contemporary Art Museum where we viewed Eric Ellingsen’s Tool Shed. An interactive, pink structure in which one is to experience the soundscapes in a neighborhood. Not only do you want eyes on a street, you also need ears on a street!
• We changed into our jeans and t-shirts and walked down the street to Pappy’s for the best BBQ dinner I’ve ever had. DELICIOUS! Get there early – we arrived and stood in line to place our order at 7:30 PM and they had already run out of a few items on the menu. No worries, as everything on the menu is perfection. Fair warning, you will have sticky, yet lick-able fingers after eating!