State of the Art 2020: Record
This exhibition brings together artists exploring the slippery task of tangling with history, the ways in which art can express concepts when words fail, and how some artists apply rationality to the random.
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.
Recordings preserve information. This could include an idea, a sound, a moment in time—the important outcome remains the same: the record. The artworks in this exhibition reveal a broad expanse of this concept. Some of these artists grapple with the constantly unfolding historical record. Others use their work as a way to record concepts too big for words or too abstract for a simple explanation. Still, others employ their artistic skills to order their surroundings—transforming chaos into something manageable.
These 20 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 “record,” this focused exhibition invites visitors to consider how these artists put this theme in action.
History is a slippery concept. Ideally, it is an unbiased account of the past—a neutral tool used to help us better understand the present. In reality, we know it to be a kind of storytelling that flattens, simplifies, and recasts the past according to the interests of the person telling it. For the artists in this section, their reactions to history differ in approach but speak to related ideas around our relationship to the past.
The artworks in this grouping wrestle with how the past is preserved. The works call out the systems in place that make their recording so difficult, often borrowing the visual languages found in art museums like casework, quilts, and grand paintings. Some of these artists further complicate the conversation around history by also incorporating memory—a concept related to history but often more personal and less concerned with reporting specific facts.
The artworks in this grouping are unapologetically fictional. Each work grounds itself in a real, historical touchpoint but then boldly moves into fantasy. This act of building outward and departing from fact serves multiple roles. On one hand, it reiterates the already fabricated nature of any historical account. On the other, these constructions can offer a do-over and a reimagined world of possibility.
Seeking the Intangible
Not everything artists depict can be easily explained. Sometimes a concept is too big to grasp or too elusive to articulate in words but finds a certain clarity when expressed through visual art. In this section, artists weigh in on a variety of ideas that defy simple explanation. For some, this means venturing completely into the realm of abstraction as a way to employ shape and color as translators of meaning. For others, representation remains essential, but the familiar functions as a point of departure into larger concepts.
The world around us is often messy. However, making sense of disarray through finding patterns among seemingly random facets of life is also innately human. The artists in this section apply a measure of order to otherwise unruly surroundings. For some, mapping, testing, and finding patterns offer that desired clarity. For others, the simple act of breaking an idea, word, or space into its component parts is enough to insert a new rationality. In either case, the artwork developed out of these pursuits offers a new, unique record of the world.
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