PBS plans ‘State of the Art’

After an exhilarating journey of artistic discovery – covering more than 100,000 miles and 1,000 destinations – 100 under-recognized American artists were selected for one unforgettable exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. “State of the Art,” a one-hour documentary premiering nationally at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST on Friday, April 26, on PBS, captures the personal stories of seven diverse artists from this groundbreaking exhibit who are redefining the American aesthetic.

The curatorial team of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art crisscrossed the nation to find extraordinary contemporary art happening in unexpected places: the woods of North Carolina, the deserts of Nevada, the backstreets of Pittsburgh, the foothills of Arkansas and the riverbanks of New Orleans. The art and artists found by the Crystal Bridges team led to the exhibition “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now,” which showcased 227 works, many of which might otherwise have never been seen.

“Art has always reflected the place and time in which it’s made, and artists engage deeply with issues relevant to their communities and culture,” said Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer, “As a young museum, recently opened in the middle of the country, we felt we had a unique opportunity to showcase today’s artists creating the art of our times.”

“State of the Art” captures the personal stories of seven diverse artists:

  • Vanessa German, Pittsburgh – A poet, performer, photographer and sculptor, Vanessa creates works that explore the power of transformation and healing. Her intricate mixed-media sculptures reclaim objects and words to symbolize the oppression of African-Americans for generations, creating serene and surreal figures that call to mind religious icons.
  • Carl Joe Williams, New Orleans – Carl Joe Williams’ paintings – colorful, musical, and improvisational – reflect the character of New Orleans, where the artist was born and continues to live. Williams uses everyday objects from the streets of his neighborhood to create images that hover between realistic depiction and vibrant abstraction.
  • Justin Favela, Las Vegas – Drawing from the material culture of his Latino background, Justin creates sculpture that questions the line between art and everyday life. His large-scale work incorporates the familiar materials of piñatas: multicolored tissue paper and cardboard. Born and raised in Las Vegas, the artist also uses visual elements of casino culture in his work. The attention to surface, the obsession with glitz and the outsized nature of his sculpture all point to characteristics that define the visual experience of his hometown.
  • Peter Glenn Oakley, Banner Elk, N.C. – Peter’s refined, hand-carved marble sculptures invite close viewing. The North Carolina artist’s humble subjects include a stack of Styrofoam takeout boxes, a Singer sewing machine and a tower of cassette tapes. In his hand, the marble sculpture becomes a solid ghost of what it references – full of physical presence but removed from the functionality of the object.
  • Susie J. Lee, Seattle – A multidisciplinary artist and tech entrepreneur, Susie adds a new dimension to portraiture studies with her series of video portraits. These portraits – of workers in the oil and natural gas “fracking” industry in her native North Dakota – are intimate acts of observation, at once uncomfortable and voyeuristic, but also empathetic and relational. They present their subjects in all their human physicality: yawns, scratches, breaths and fleeting expressions that change from moment to moment. Lee recently and unexpectedly became a new mother, and her daughter, Hana Inza, has been both a challenge to, and a wondrous source of, creative expression.
  • Linda Lopez, Fayetteville – Linda’s ceramic objects almost appear to grow and propagate. Her squat, globular forms sprout rounded appendages and elaborate trellis-like crowns. Lopez’s work takes inspiration from her mother’s imaginatively fragmented English describing the world around her, which helped create for the artist a place in which everyday objects became magically alive. They are displayed in carefully orchestrated arrangements with a distinctly domestic atmosphere.
  • Teri Greeves, Santa Fe – Growing up in her mother’s trading post on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, Teri absorbed a deep knowledge of Native American art forms. She was especially drawn to the intricate beadwork of various tribal traditions. Blending the abstract, geometric tradition of Kiowa beadwork with the more pictorial style of the Shoshone, Greeves has developed her own visual language. She stitches beaded imagery to two-dimensional surfaces and to everyday objects from the non-Native world.

    SOTA featured artist Linda Lopez outside her studio in Fayetteville. (Photo courtesy of Philip Thomas, Novo Studios)


From award-winning filmmakers Craig and Brent Renaud and the Arkansas Educational Television Network, “State of the Art” tells a story of diverse artists driven to communicate with work that is intensely personal, firmly rooted in community and inseparable from the lives they live. Their work offers a window into not only what concerns Americans, but also what lifts them up.

“Extraordinary art is being created in communities all around this country, and what excited us most was the opportunity to tell in-depth, personal stories about artists living off the beaten path,” said Craig.

Funding for “State of the Art” was provided in part by the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation Inc. Additional film resources, including a trailer, photos, bios and more, are available at aetn.org/stateoftheart.

The Renaud Brothers (renaudbrothers.com) have spent the last two decades telling human-centered verité stories from around the world. They have covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the earthquake in Haiti, the political turmoil in Egypt, and the drug wars in Mexico and Central America. Their most recent feature film, “Shelter,” told the inspiring stories of homeless youth living in New Orleans. The Renaud Brothers have won dozens of major awards, including a Peabody in 2016 for their Chicago-based series “Last Chance High.” Craig lives in Little Rock with his family, and Brent is a 2019 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.

The Arkansas Educational Television Network is Arkansas’s only statewide public media network, which enhances lives by providing lifelong learning opportunities for people from all walks of life. Additional information is available at aetn.org.