21C Hotel in Bentonville
The first time I stayed at the 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville I was there for a press trip for the opening of The Momentary in February. I honestly had zero expectations going in, and I didn’t know much about the town other than that Walmart was headquartered there.
I’ve had the privilege (pre-covid) of being able to travel a fair amount, and I’ve been to many lovely hotels all over the world, so it’s hard to have a really unique experience when staying somewhere. That being said, I’ve never stayed at a hotel like the 21c in Bentonville.
When I first walked in I was greeted with a Nick Cave sculpture and right behind them, I noticed multiple Hughe Locke ships hanging next to where you check-in, in the lobby. It truly is a ‘museum’ hotel, there is art EVERYWHERE. And not your standard ‘hotel’ art, it’s art I’ve seen full exhibitions of in New York and beyond, it really includes some of the best emerging artists.
Naturally, I was intrigued about the backstory of the hotel chain, so I did a little research and found the following...The hotel was originally founded in Louiseville, Kentucky by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. If those names don’t mean anything to you, I bet you’ve heard of Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort. Laura Lee Brown’s grandfather was the founder of Brown-Forman, the maker of Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort. The pair is notorious for buying emerging art at fairs like it’s clothing. Thankfully they don’t hide it away in a tax-free bunker in Switzerland (yes those are real), they display it opening throughout their hotels.
They launched the original hotel in 2006 to bring back life and culture to the rural downtown scene of Louiseville. The hotel would support local farmers offering farm-to-table cuisine in its restaurant as well as inject some vibrancy into the cities tourism. After the success of that hotel they six more hotels in the following (mostly) midwestern cities:
Durham, North Carolina
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Kansas City, Missouri
The Bentonville location was the 3rd to open in 2013 and was “named one of the top 15 hotels in the US by Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2017” (source). Because I was there with my family I completely forgot to take photos of the rooms or other facilities like the gym and pool (but trust me they’re lovely). However, I did take tons of pictures of the rotating exhibit so you can get an idea of just how much art they have.
Video of the Exhibit
To see a walkthrough of the hotel and its 4 gallery spaces, skip ahead to 17:31 in the video below.
About the Exhibit - Refuge
After doing some research it looks like they rotate the exhibits between the different locations. This exhibit, Refuge was previously at the Kansas City, 21c location. So if you’re hopping from location to location, check ahead to see what will be there.
Due to Covid, Refuge was extended into Jan of 2021, even though it looks like most of the hotel exhibits last about a year as opposed to the general 2-ish month length of a traditional gallery. The exhibit centers around the theme of how in times of uncertainty and turmoil, artists search for refuge.
“As civil strife, economic insecurity, and environmental crises proliferate, artists from across the globe explore the search for refuge—how, why, and where people need, seek, and create shelter.” (source)
As I mentioned the exhibition starts in the lobby with a Nick Cave sculpture front and center (see above). The sculpture features an object that is central to Nick Cave’s work - “a lawn ornament or other decorative item designed to denigrate African-American identity.”
Nick Cave collects these blackface items from all over America and incorporates them into his sculptures to “to transform these artifacts of hate into multi-valent assemblages that confront past and present.” (source)
If you don’t look closely you can almost miss the tiny details that make Anita Groener’s works extraordinary. Her work ‘citizen’ represents refugees carrying their children and possessions.
Her use of paper represents “emphasizes the vulnerability of those depicted, and the fragility of their lives as they seek shelter.” Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator, Museum Director (source)
Richard Mosse’s photographs capture the movement of refugees from Egypt to Europe in 2015.
“I believe that beauty is the sharpest tool in the box; I think that aesthetics can be understood as the opposite of anesthetic; it can be used to awaken the senses rather than to put you to sleep. We have a moral imperative to adequately communicate these difficult narratives so people can be more aware.” - Richard Mosse
Being a technologist, some of my favorite works of the exhibit are Sterling Crispin’s sculptures. In Sterling Crispin’s sculptures, he “combines references to ancient symbols and new technology” to “Contemplate how we will pursue a better life in the mid-21st century.”
"The works are named after Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science, four industries which the artist says “promise to revolutionize the world as society approaches the technological singularity, a predicted event near the year 2045 in which the rate of technological growth becomes infinite.” - Alice Gray Stites (source)
Hew Locke’s ships, which I was first acquainted with at the Perez Art Museum in Miami, represented global migration, “both sought and forced.”
“Locke investigates the intersections of colonialism, displacement, power, and its historical symbols, conjuring the journeys of explorers, pirates, slaves, missionaries, immigrates, tourists and refugees.” - Alice Gray Stites
In total there are four galleries on the main floor, one off of the lobby, and three off of the main halfway.
In the gallery off of the lobby, your eye is immediately drawn to Robert Diagos’ sculpture. Diago uses found materials like sheet metal, wood, and coffee bags to make tiny houses that represent how Cuban’s find and form shelter.
A gallery off of the main hallway features a video by Mohau Modisakeng titled Passage. The haunting video features three white boats each filled with an individual, meant to represent a refugee alone in dark waters.
Another gallery features these stunning photographs by Fabiano Parisi who photographs deserted locations, preserved in time.
María Ossandón Recart’s drawings are another example of a work whose beauty is in the detail. She reconstructions scenes from broken plates.
The fourth gallery on the ground floor features a series of photographs, dramatically cast in dark lighting.
I’m usually not a fan of photographs, but I did feel quite nostalgic toward this one by David Allee, where he perfectly captured the J Subway Train.
Another work I was drawn to in the room was by Cuban artist, Carlos Caballero. If you look closely you’ll notice the portrait is backward.
Caballero creates “backward-facing portraits as a means to inspired detailed investigation and study of his subjects.”
"Caballero is particularly interested in the power of gesture in portraiture, and its ability to both conceal and reveal a persona. Despite the simple background and reduced anatomical detail, the figure’s identity is ambiguous.” - Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator, Museum Director
There’s also artwork gracing the hallway walls between the gallery spaces.
This mixed media work by Alex Hernández (above) represents the “perils facing Cubans in reaching the United States” in search of a better life.
This paper cut-out work by Dylan Graham of New York City educates the viewer on the origin of the cities name ‘Manhattan.’ The Native American name for the island is Mannah Atin.
Dylan Graham’s works “address a wide range of contemporary issues, including colonialism, immigration, the extinction of species, and the sharing of land and resources during times past and present.”
Hotel guests wandering back to their rooms can enjoy the artworks exhibited in the main hallway.
This work by Daan Roosegaarde that sits right in front of the elevators is made up of ventilators, microphones, electronics, and other media. As the hotel guests pass to return to their rooms they activate the sculpture to move. Overall Roosegaarde’s works “explore the dynamic relationship between architecture, people, and technology.”
This larger-than-life work by Anthony Goicolea takes a more fantastical approach to representing refuge by plunging the viewer into a fairy-tale-like image.
Yoan Capote is an artist I had the pleasure of viewing at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. Capote uses fishhooks in his work to “embody the allure and risk of leaving Cuba by boat.”
“I consider that the sea itself is a permanent mental reference for people that live on an island, and it’s horizon is a constant image that could evoke hope, fantasy, isolation and frustration.” - Yoan Capote
Another artist I’ve had the privilege of seeing exhibited in New York at Marianne Boesky Gallery is Serge Alain Nitegeka.
“Nitegeka spent much of his young life escaping civil strife in Burundi, Rwanda, and Kenya. Now based in South Africa, his multi-media artworks address the plight of the refugee and the migrant, depicting his vulnerable subjects’ innate dignity.”
Since Covid, in an effort to expand The Hive’s (the hotel’s restaurant) seating capacity, the exhibit expands into a wing off of the main lobby.
Featured are two standout works including, but not limited to this installation by Serkan Özkaya - A Gust of Wind.
The installation consists of metallic sheets (400 to be exact), scattered from ceiling to floor.
The sheets represent “beauty found in the moments or sections between action and distractions, control and chaos.
Another favorite of mine is Anthony Goicolea’s Sea Wall which is made up of graphite drawings inside glass bottles.
The work represents the Malecon, the sea wall the “runs the length of the Havana harbor, and which has been a site of both escape and imprisonment for many Cubans.”
The graphite drawings in the bottles are portraits that represent “longing as loss, and an homage to individuality.”
Outside the hotel is Alexandre Arrachea’s basketball tree. The tree has been exhibited in New York, Philadelphia, and Shanghai, and is an “exploration of the relationship between sports and urban street culture.” The tree is visible clearly from the outside of the hotel as well as the lobby.