Art Museum of Arkansas gears up for April 2023 opening


The countdown is on for the highly anticipated April 23, 2023 reopening of the Museum of Fine Arts of Arkansas (née the Arkansas Arts Center) in Little Rock as it emerges from an ambitious redesign led by Studio Gang which merges a hodgepodge of several, decade-spanning extensions with a central new addition flooded with natural light that forms organic “flowers” ​​along the full north-south axis of the museum complex.

Topped with a fluid pleated concrete roof, the new 133,000 square foot building will house AMFA’s important collection of permanent works dating from the 14th century. The project’s transformative mix of construction and renovation work (including the restoration of the 1937 art deco facade of the original museum building) had resulted in several reimagined key spaces in the venerable institution (the largest and the oldest of its kind in Arkansas), including the Harriet and Warren Stephens Galleries, Windgate Art School with the Robyn and John Horn Gallery, Governor Winthrop Rockefeller Lecture Hall, Terri and Chuck Erwin Collections Research Center, an arts theater of the stage and a restaurant.

Aerial view of the Arkansas Art Museum from the north (© Tim Hursley)

Funded by a successful $155 million fundraising campaign that surpassed its original goal of $128 million to rank as the largest such effort for a cultural project in Arkansas history, the AMFA Reimagined was originally slated to debut in May 2022.

Joining Studio Gang on the core design team is local firm Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects in the role of associate architect and landscape architecture and urban design practice SCAPE, which is overseeing a comprehensive and sustainable redesign of the 11-acre campus. from the museum in historic MacArthur Park to downtown Little Rock. (Studio Gang and SCAPE have also teamed up on a $60 million revamp of Tom Lee Park in Memphis that, as of last month, is halfway done.)

“Our design reinforces the museum’s role as the cultural anchor of Little Rock by bringing together once disparate structures into a cohesive whole and opening the building up to the surrounding city and landscape,” said Jeanne Gang, Founder and partner of Chicago-based Studio Gang. , in a report. “By optimizing its functional spaces and expanding its galleries, classrooms, and social spaces, the building transforms the visitor experience into one that is intuitive, inspiring, and seamless with its setting in MacArthur Park.”

detailed view of a floating ceiling covered with wood
Atrium ceiling detail (© Tim Hursley)

Earlier this week, AMFA leaders, including Executive Director Victoria Ramirez and Capital Campaign Co-Chair Harriet Stephens, along with Gang, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. (via video) and a number The renowned Arkansan native were among those in attendance at a celebratory luncheon held at The Pool, an event space (formerly the iconic Four Seasons restaurant) at the Seagram Building in Midtown Manhattan. The event, which was also attended A and other New York-based art and architecture media, served as the official unveiling of the site-specific exhibitions and commissions that will be featured when the museum, which will continue its free admission policy, reopens next spring. . More broadly, the lunch served as the project’s sort of release party in New York.

The aforementioned Arkansan native, former POTUS and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton kicked off the proceedings with a speech that introduced the project and the team leading the transformation. “Studio Gang… that’s a cool name, isn’t it?” Clinton laughed.

exterior of a museum complex with a large countdown clock
A countdown outside AMFA (© Jason Masters)

“For those of us who lived in and around Little Rock, it was still a very special place even when it wasn’t in such a beautiful home,” Clinton said of AMFA, noting her fondness for the museum restaurant and gift shop, “which was the best place to shop for miles.” (Clinton now has a slew of art museum gift shops at his disposal as an adopted New Yorker, though he noted he “gets jittery” if he doesn’t regularly return to the natural state.)

“I’m here today not only to strengthen my home state, but also because I think this project holds promise not only for Arkansas, but also to embody the kind of things that all of us who care about building and to maintain the community should think. to be done anywhere in the country where it is feasible.

Later over lunch, Ramirez took the stage to detail the installation of the opening permanent collection, which will feature some of AMFA’s key works, including drawings by Paul Signac, John Marin and Georgia O. ‘Keeffe and rare paintings by Diego Rivera and Elaine de Kouning. When it reopens, the museum will also feature two new site-specific installations by Anne Lindberg and Natasha Bowdoin and hold a special exhibition of Chakaia Booker’s work titled Intentional risks. The museum’s New Media Gallery will present an animated work, Tears of Chiwen, by Beijing-based Sun Xun. The inaugural exhibition of the museum banner, Togetheris described as a “celebration of art that explores our connection to each other and to the natural world” and features a mix of new acquisitions and loaned works by artists such as Elias Sime, Ryan RedCorn, LaToya Hobbs and Oliver Lee Jackson.

A will return next spring with a detailed commentary on the reinvented AMFA when the work is complete.

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