State of the Art 2020: Constructs


This exhibition features groupings that explore the human impact on the environment, the ways place informs identity, and how people build their own personas and sense of self.

State of the Art is an exploration into how contemporary art – produced all across the country including regions outside traditional art centers – reflects the present moment. It began in 2014, when Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art presented State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, which was seen by 175,000 visitors in Bentonville, Arkansas before traveling to five additional museums.

State of the Art 2020 – featuring a fresh new group of artists selected by a new curatorial team – opened at the Momentary and at Crystal Bridges in February 2020 and is now ready to be experienced across the country.

In its original presentation, State of the Art 2020 displayed more than 100 recent works, by 61 artists working in paintings, sculpture, photography, video, performance, and mixed media. The artists represent a cross-section of makers working in the United States today. To travel to Art Bridges partners, the show has been divided into three different exhibitions of approximately 5,000-8,000 square feet each, called Locate, Record, and Constructs.

A construct is a summation of parts. It’s the relationships between a network of small ideas coming together that build any single, weighty concept. The artworks in this show tackle extremely complex topics—from those affecting humanity as a whole to more personal but no less complicated questions of self.

The exhibition begins at a macro level: looking at artists concerned with environmental issues on a global scale. From there, the lens narrows, focusing on artists investigating specific locations and their relationships to people. In the final section, all eyes are on the individual, with artworks that explore personal identity.

These 21 artists, a group of the 61 artists from the original State of the Art 2020 exhibition, represent a taste of American art created in recent years. The approaches, backgrounds, and details of these artists’ practices vary widely, but the echoes across works and sections of the show speak to broader trends in contemporary art in this country. Reorganized around the theme of “constructs,” this focused exhibition invites visitors to consider how these artists put this theme in action.

In the current era, humans are responsible for the biggest impacts on the environment. The artists grouped in this section emphasize our outsized impact on the world. While all of the artworks investigate the interwoven relationship between humanity and our planet, the methods and tone vary widely. For some artists, their works function as somber reflections on the current moment. For others, their works speculate on the future, looking back on the mistakes of recent years.

Locations often carry threads of memory and tradition. This links people and objects to specific places and frequently aids in the creation of identity. The artists in this section re-contextualize objects, highlight particular details, and explore changing histories, but always with a connection back to a specific place. For these artists, the sites they reference are more than just a spot on a map. Each one is the summation of ideas, sounds, people, and stories—the small parts that collectively reveal the fullness of a place.

For the most part, we control our identities. While we can’t alter certain aspects of our origins, part of being human means having the agency to build your own sense of self. For the artists in this section, the construction of identity plays an important role in their work. For some, their work reflects their relationship to cultural norms and how they incorporate or deflect those influences. For others, this construction takes the shape of an additional façade or persona—a chance to bring out certain elements through their practice.

The national tour of State of the Art 2020 is sponsored by Bank of America with additional support from Art Bridges.


Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art


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