Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Looking for Art in Little Rock, Arkansas

I was in Little Rock, Arkansas recently, looking for art. My daughter, Isabella Acosta Barna is on the youth Advisory Board (YAB) for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and their Empower Me kid's movement to stop childhood obesity. Her board meetings were held in the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. The Clinton Library is a beautiful modern building with a Platinum LEED environmental rating.

While in Little Rock, I got about a few hours to myself during the afternoons to explore. I visited a few local museums and saw some very nice work. The Historic Arkansas Museum had some art as part of their exhibit: John Ellis and Don Shaw (a sculptor and painter) with the exhibit, Cosmic Interplay - Light and Darkness (ends Aug. 16, 2009); and Custom by Design - Contemporary Furniture Handmade in Arkansas (ends Jan. 10, 2010). The exhibits had their moments, but I wasn't captured by anything. (That "wow - I wish I'd made this" or "this is amazing" feeling).

I walked further south to the Arkansas Arts Center, a complex including a museum, children's theater and studio school. One of the exhibits there was of the French artist Paul Signac. A wealthy early 20th century industrialist invested in Signac's career and built a museum with a permanent collection of decades of Signac's work as the centerpiece. Seeing the artist's life's work through the decades I was struck by how the patronage of one man made this gift to the future (me, and others seeing this work) as well as supporting the artist during his lifetime.

My favorite contemporary work (also in Arkansas Arts Center,) was the contemporary artist Jun Kaneko's large ceramic pieces. Works in a series he called Dango -- a Japanese word for rounded form (he appears to be of Japanese ancestry). Kaneko's exhibit included drawings and smaller pieces also which didn't do much for me. I found his large pieces compelling.

Ben Whitehouse had his exhibit of paintings and photos titled, Ben Whitehouse: Observation. My favorite piece from his was the calendar of paintings of the same ocean scene for every day of March.

When visiting Little Rock, be sure to take the River Rail Electric Streetcar. It's only a dollar or two and it's a fun ride around Little Rock in a vintage (but air-conditioned) electric streetcar. The very charming driver was also a wonderful tour guide, pointing out landmarks along the route. The River Rail Electric Streetcar tour of Little Rock is the best bargain.

For a complete listing of Greater Little Rock Museums and Cultural Attractions see And be sure to eat at least one meal at The Flying Fish. It's a order-at-the-counter, seat-yourself diner with delicious local fare.

Try some Southern style microbrew at Boscos. They offer light and medium bodied microbrews that you can sip on their deck overlooking the riverfront when the weather is good. They're just down the street a short walk from the Flying Fish.

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