Project NameThe Momentary
ClientCrystal Bridges Museum of American Art
|Project Name||The Momentary||Posted in||Art||Location||
Bentonville, ARUnited States
|Area (sqm)||5620||Client||Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art||Completed||2020|
Taking over a decommissioned cheese factory in downtown Bentonville in northwest Arkansas, The Momentary is a new cultural hub where social, performance and culinary activities overlap with contemporary art spaces. Having opened to the public last February, the multidisciplinary venue is a satellite to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, an institution founded in 2011 by Walmart heiress Alice Walton. Chicago-based Wheeler Kearns Architects have masterfully adapted the former factory into a thriving, modern venue without effacing its industrial heritage. In combination with abundant food and drink options, The Momentary’s rich program of art exhibitions, performances and happenings is a reflection of its mission to champion contemporary art’s role in everyday life.
Once the hunting ground for the Osage Nation, the site was turned into an orchard in the 1800s and a flour mill in the early 1900s, becoming a cheese processing factory for Kraft Foods in 1947, which operated until 2013. Mindful of the site’s history, the design of the Momentary is based in the adaptive reuse of the existing infrastructure, an approach centred on authenticity as much as sustainability. The architects have kept intact as much of the existing structure as possible, differentiating additions through the use of contemporary materials like steel and glass which makes their interventions purposefully visible. By embracing the history of the site, the architectural design “maintains the industrial integrity of the building and preserves the connection between the past and present that it represents for the community” as lead project architect Calli Verkamp explains.
Spanning over 2,400 square metres, the gallery spaces are housed in the oldest parts of the existing building, taking advantage of the former factory’s large-scale spaces for the spatial requirements needed for contemporary art installations. Towering steel beams, bare masonry and concrete walls, and exposed air ducts and cable trays imbue the exhibition spaces with an urban vibe and evoke the site’s century-old industrial heritage.
Over 20 metres in height, the site’s tallest building features multiple mezzanine levels connected by an Escher-like network of stairs that provide additional space for exhibitions as well as performance and social events. Underpinned by an all-white colour palette, the space’s industrial sensibility seamlessly overlaps with a sense of contemporary minimalism, while the tower's austere exterior is partly covered in glass panels etched with an arrow-shaped pattern by Osage artist Addie Roanhorse. Titled “Sway”, the pattern alludes to Osage attire, and can be seen throughout the Momentary, etched in smaller and larger scales in glass facades, including in the venue’s entrance and the nearby Container, a glass-enclosed space used for events.
At the top, the Tower Bar is a high-flying social space that combines craft cocktails, wines and whiskey with panoramic views of Bentonville as well as vertiginous glimpses of the exhibition spaces below, courtesy of floor-to-ceiling glazing and a glass floor section. Designed by Jett Butler and Stephanie Leung of Austin-based creative studio FÖDA in collaboration with Wheeler Kearns Architects, the bar’s interior recalls 1960s airport lounges, featuring sinuous banquettes, stripped wood panelling and gleaming terrazzo floors, and is worlds apart from the unpolished aesthetic of the museum spaces.
Additional facilities include the RØDE House, a multidisciplinary 350-seat performance space housed in the old Milk Intake Room with an outdoor bar serving beer, wine and cocktails, the Fermentation Hall, a black box theatre space in the former factory’s massive tank that takes advantage of the natural acoustic isolation of the precast concrete shell, and three dedicated Artist-in-Residence studios. While the Tower bar and RØDE bar cater to visitors’ mixology desires, the Onyx Coffee Lab quench their caffeine fix and the Momentary Food Truck satisfies their appetite with Yakitori-style southern kebabs.
Various sculptures dotting the courtyards, patios and gardens, which were designed in collaboration with Tulsa-based Howell Vancuren Landscape Architects for picnics, social gatherings and music festivals, attest to the Momentary’s cultural ambition to introduce art into our everyday lives. Perhaps what best encapsulates the project’s mission though is Tavares Strachan’s monumental neon sculpture spelling “You Belong Here”. Part of an ongoing series of site-responsive neon artworks that aim to spark a dialogue about how we define communal space, the luminous piece stretches 24 metres across and 7.5 metres high on the venue’s east-facing façade, poetically proclaiming The Momentary’s message of inclusivity to the community.