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Discovering art on the road

JULIE MUEHLEISEN

Julie Muehleisen, Art Advisory’s Collections and Business Manager, recently embarked on a cross-country road trip that took her from New York City to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Taking the southern route from New York past Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., through the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia I made a quick stop in Nashville before finally arriving at my first art destination.  

After 1,500 miles and two days of solid driving I entered the gates of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Sitting on 120 acres of Ozark forest in Bentonville, Arkansas the museum focuses on American art from the early American to the present. The campus features five miles of trails and sprawling woodland and meadows that are filled with gems of outdoor sculpture perfectly situated in its setting.

Designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the shapes of the buildings, with their distinctive convex-curved roofs, respond to the surrounding landscape. These glass roofs bring natural daylight into all the galleries so that you never feel like you’re indoors – instead, you’re always catching a glimpse of the outdoor sculpture, reflecting ponds, architectural bridges, trails, and flora.The outdoors are truly an extension of the overall art viewing experience.

© 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All Rights Reserved. Licensed by Artist Rights Society.
One of my favorite works in the collection is this house designed by Frank Llyod Wright: the Bachman-Wilson House. Even in the gentle evening rain, it was one of those truly uplifting viewing experiences. It’s an example of what Wright called a Usonian style house, a term he coined to describe a house designed for all Americans.  Its design works in harmony with nature. Constructed in 1954, it was originally located in Millstone, New Jersey (Somerset County). The house was dismantled and reconstructed on the museum grounds. Having grown up just a few miles from its original site I was familiar with the house, yet it wasn’t until I began studying architectural history that I learned it was designed by Wright. It was a particular treat to experience this home up-close a thousand miles away from where I first saw it.
While I was at Crystal Bridges, I was able to see the terrific exhibition Crafting America. Here are some highlights.

Nicole Cherubini, Ice Age, 2019, Earthenware, bronze, glaze, PC-11, magic sculpt, steel, acrylic, Courtesy of the artist and Derek Eller Gallery. On the wall: Josh Faught, Laugh All You Want But Someday We’ll Be In Charge, 2011, Sequins, cochineal, spray paint, nail polish, political pins, disaster blankets, and hemp on linen, Collection of Charles Renfro

Ebony G. Patterson, . . .bugs, reptile, fruit and bush. . . for those who bear/bare witness, 2018, Hand-cut jacquard-woven photo tapestry with glitter, appliques, pins, embellishments, fabric, tassels, brooches, acrylic, glass pearls, beads, and hand-cast and hand embellished heliconias, on artist-designed fabric wallpaper, Snacks Family Collection. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery


© 2021 Estate of Ruth Asawa / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S.028, Hanging Four-Lobed Continuous Form within a Form), 1960, Iron wire, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. On the plinth: Françoise Grossen, Embryo, 1987 (modified 2016), Manila and cotton rope, synthetic wrapping material, 18 1/2 x 67 1/2 x 16 inches (47 x 171.5 x 40.6 centimeters), © Françoise Grossen

 
 
Crystal Bridges at night – I took in one last dramatic view before heading back to the hotel.
 
My journey continued with a stop in Bartlesville, OK, which is about 3 hours northwest of Crystal Bridges.  After having experienced Wright’s Usonian home, I had the chance to see Wright’s only fully realized skyscraper, Price Tower. Commissioned by Harold C. Price, founder of H.C. Price Company, a local oil pipeline and chemical firm, the tower was completed in 1956. Built on prairie land, Wright referred to it as “the tree that escaped the crowded forest.”

© 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All Rights Reserved. Licensed by Artist Rights Society.

© 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All Rights Reserved. Licensed by Artist Rights Society.

In the 2000s, the Price Tower was remodeled, and eight floors of the tower were turned into the Inn at Price Tower with a restaurant-bar. If you’re a Wright enthusiast with an adventurous spirit, I highly recommend spending a night at the tower.

© 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All Rights Reserved. Licensed by Artist Rights Society. Lobby, Inn at Price Tower

My next stop was a bit off the beaten path: Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle to see Amarillo Ramp, Robert Smithson’s last work. Smithson, one of the leaders of the land art movement, died in a plane crash while surveying the site. The piece was finished posthumously by his widow Nancy Holt, Richard Serra, and Tony Shafrazi.  

Although the work is on private property, I was able to book a tour through the Holt/Smithson Foundation. I met with a guide in town and followed him out to the ramp. The journey takes about an hour and half round trip and the last 15 miles are on an unpaved rocky road, where we had to stop for cattle crossings.

The guide is wonderfully friendly and shares a lot of stories about the land, the earthwork, and the history of Amarillo. He gives you a lot of time to have your own experience with the artwork surrounded by the indigenous vegetation.

© 2021 Holt/Smithson Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Distributed by Electronic Arts Intermix. Still from Nancy Holt, The Making of Amarillo Ramp (1973/2013) 16 mm film; Color, sound. Duration: 31 minutes, 52 seconds

If you’d like to learn more there’s an excellent documentary made by Nancy Holt, The Making of Amarillo Ramp. This work has inspired many artists, including Lee Ranaldo, guitarist of the alternative rock band Sonic Youth, who in the mid-1990s wrote the song Amarillo Ramp (for Robert Smithson).

Close by Smithson’s Amarillo Ramp is Cadillac Ranch, which you can catch a glimpse of along I-40. It’s an art installation of 10 half-buried Cadillacs, nose-first in the ground created in 1974.

 

Leaving Amarillo, I got back in my Jeep and headed West towards New Mexico for the last leg of my trip. My spirits lifted as the sky opened-up into a vast blue expanse, and the landscape turned from yellows and greens to reds and oranges.  After 10 straight hours of empty roads, I finally arrived at Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch just as the sun was beginning to set. Nestled in the mesas between Santa Fe and the southern Rockies, Ghost Ranch, the setting of some of O’Keefe’s most celebrated paintings, is a magical landscape.
 
 
I took this photo while on a horseback ride at Ghost Ranch.
 
Thanks to Tonga (the horse) for a peaceful ride through some of the most breathtaking views.


Taking a cross-country trip was exactly what I needed to recharge my mind and spirit. I found surprising inspiration and beauty as I traveled over the rolling hills of the Smokey Mountains, through the farms and prairies of the Midwest into the arid sands of the Southwest desert. Experiencing architecture, the landscape and art, these visual stimulations will stay with me and I hope they will influence you on your next art journey.

LIFESTYLE

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