Texas Ties: The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts’ Grand Opening

by Caleb Bell May 24, 2023
Architectural rendering of an art museum in Arkansas

Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts park entrance, architectural rendering. Courtesy of Studio Gang and SCAPE

On Saturday, April 22, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, formerly known as the Arkansas Arts Center, opened the doors to its newly updated campus in downtown Little Rock. Breaking ground in late 2019, the expansion has been conducted under the leadership of executive director Dr. Victoria Ramirez.

Dr. Ramirez joined the AMFA in the fall of 2019, following her stint as the director of the El Paso Museum of Art from January 2017 through August 2019. Prior to that, she was the director of the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. She has also previously served as the education director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and an absolute honor to be a part of this historic reimagining of an institution with a history of community development going back over a century,” said Dr. Ramirez.

Photo of Dr. Victoria Ramirez, director of AMFA

Dr. Victoria Ramirez. Courtesy of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts.

AMFA’s new building was designed by Studio Gang of Chicago. Among many key features, the design preserves the original structure’s 1937 Art Deco facade, returning it to its original role as the building’s north entrance. The 133,000-square-foot building also includes a new 20,000 square foot gallery space, the Windgate Art School, a performing arts theater, a museum store, and restaurant. The building is surrounded by an 11-acre greenspace designed by the New York-based landscape architects SCAPE.

Included among the many exhibitions and programs surrounding the opening is an installation by Houston-based artist Natasha Bowdoin. Selected as the institution’s inaugural Art Perch artist, Bowdoin was commissioned to create the site-specific installation Spring Song, which is viewable from outside the building through a 32-foot-long window on its northern facade. Created in the artist’s signature style, the installation consists of bold, three-dimensional florals paired with complementary wall graphics, creating a fully engulfing, nature-inspired environment.

“It’s been a real honor to be invited to envision and install new work for a specific site never before experienced,” said Bowdoin. “The Art Perch, in particular, has a unique advantage of offering up a visual experience from both an extreme near and far. From the outside, viewers on the street can catch a much smaller view of the work that, when viewed in closer proximity, offers up something quite different. Since much of my work as of late has played with notions of bringing the outside in, this site offers a different kind of exchange that is more back and forth, cultivating a sense of the wild inside the museum space while bringing it back to the elements outside.”

Two women standing in front of a large painted mural

Natasha Bowdoin (right) with AMFA curator Theresa Bembnister in front of “Spring Song.” Artwork: Natasha Bowdoin (b. 1981), “Spring Song” (detail), 2022 – 2023, acrylic on wood, gatorboard, and drywall supported with molded plastic brackets and aluminum pipe, 186 × 241 × 708 in., Commissioned by the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, 2022 – 2023. © Natasha Bowdoin

A selection of books related to the artist’s interests and inspirations will be available in the gallery for visitors to peruse. Additionally, a number of related performances will be held in the space throughout its run. Spring Song will remain on view through spring 2025.

“Our intention is that everyone who visits the museum sees a reflection of themselves in an artwork — or a play or program — and that as an institution we are fostering connections in a creative space where diverse voices are heard,” commented Dr. Ramirez.

With free timed tickets, guests can explore the new museum and its inaugural exhibitions, including Drawn to Paper, Together, Chakaia Booker: Intentional Risks, and Sun Xun: Tears of Chiwen.

The museum is located at 501 East Ninth Street in Little Rock. Regular museum hours will begin on Tuesday, May 2. AMFA will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m.

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