Since it opened in November 2011, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded in Bentonville, Ark., by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, has become the destination for Kansas City area art and nature lovers seeking a quick respite. The roughly four-hour trip is a straight shot down I-49/U.S. 71.
The museum’s Ozarks setting is spectacular, and the low-slung building, a series of pavilions spanning two man-made ponds designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, makes the most of it. Admission is free.
The Crystal Bridges collection traverses a broad swath of American art, from colonial portraiture to the Soundsuits of Nick Cave. The museum’s multiple works by George Inness, John Singer Sargent, Marsden Hartley and Albert Pinkham Ryder are reason enough to visit.
James Turrell’s “The Way of Color,” a chamber for viewing the sky through a round oculus in the roof, heads the list of outdoor art attractions. The museum also presents special exhibitions — through July 7, you can see 60 works from the acclaimed modernist collection of CBS founder William S. Paley, which includes works by Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse and Edgar Degas for an $8 ticket.
There’s a museum store and a cafe that specializes in American comfort food, including shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles.
If you get an early start, it’s possible to do the trip there and back from Kansas City in a day, but many choose to stay the night at Bentonville’s 21c Museum Hotel, part of a chain known for collecting and exhibiting contemporary art.
The Bentonville collection includes an animation by Chris Doyle, creator of “The Moons” outdoor video installation at Kansas City’s Sprint Center, and the hotel is displaying one of Jamaican-born Ebony Patterson’s shimmering photo tapestries inspired by her country’s dancehall culture. (You can get a preview in an exhibit of Patterson’s work at JCCC’s Nerman Museum through June 15.)