Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at Crystal Bridges


Jill Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

On view now through April 23, 2018 is the U.S. debut of  Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Admission to Soul of a Nation is $10 for non-members of the museum, and free for museum members or youth ages 18 and under.

Bentonville_Crystal_Bridges_Soul_of_a_Nation_BeardenFeaturing the work of 60 artists and including 164 vibrant paintings, powerful murals, photographs, sculpture, and more, this landmark exhibition is a rare opportunity to see era-defining artworks that changed the face of art in America. Developed by the Tate Modern in London, Soul of a Nation shines a bright light on the vital contribution of black artists to an important period in American art and history.

Crystal Bridges is one of only two U.S. venues to host Soul of a Nation. Following its debut in Bentonville, the exhibition travels to the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

According to a press release from Crystal Bridges, the variety of artworks in the exhibition reflect the many viewpoints of artists and collectives at work from 1963 to 1983. Soul of a Nation examines the influences, from the civil rights and Black Power movements to Minimalism and abstraction, on artists such as Romare Bearden, Noah Purifoy, Martin Puryear, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Alma Thomas, Charles White, William T. Williams and Barkley Hendricks.

“Crystal Bridges welcomes this opportunity to introduce our visitors to artworks created by significant American artists at key moments in our nation’s history, and to tell a more expansive story of American culture,” said Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges executive director and chief diversity & inclusion officer. “We look forward to the much-anticipated U.S. debut of the exhibition, and to continuing the dialogue about the role of art in an ever-changing society.”

Bentonville_Crystal_Bridges_Soul_of_a_Nation_OGradyThe exhibition highlights key events, starting with the March on Washington in 1963, and considers cultural influences such as music, literature, and sports, on the artists of the time. Some artists, galvanized by the spirit of the civil rights movement, created images of solidarity, strength, and resistance, or paid homage to legendary African American figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Angela Davis, musician John Coltrane, and sports hero Jack Johnson; while others focused primarily on color, form, and concept.

“We’re thrilled to host this exhibition and recognize these artists for their momentous contributions to American art,” said Crystal Bridges Curator of Contemporary Art Lauren Haynes. “This is a powerful show that reveals the vastly different ways artist respond to the world around them. We hope our visitors will come away, learning about their new favorite artist and the understanding that there’s no one way to be a black artist.”

The exhibition is organized into 12 sections, grouped by movements, geography, galleries, collectives, or the overall exploration of what it meant to be a black artist during this time. A link to the exhibition guide with section descriptions is available for download here.

More exhibition-related programs can be found on the website here. In addition, the museum offers resources designed to provide access to enriching art experiences:

  • Soul of a Nation Spotify playlist, YouTube watch list, and suggested readings available on the website and in the print guide.
  • Fully illustrated exhibition catalog in the museum store for purchase.
  • Gallery interactives will include videos showcasing speeches from prominent civil rights leaders, digitized Black Photographers Annual magazines, and clips of Just Above Midtown gallery performances.
  • Special tours through Soul of a Nation are planned for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 1:00 p.m. for the run of the exhibition. School tours will take place in the exhibition along with adult tours.

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