Anthony Sonnenberg was living in Seattle in 2014 when Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art presented State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. After its opening at Crystal Bridges, the exhibit traveled to several museums across the country.
“I knew a couple of the artists who had gotten in the [exhibit] and remember thinking it was a huge deal,” he recalled.
In just a few months, Sonnenberg will find out how meaningful the honor really is. He is one of 60 artists from around the country whose works have been selected for inclusion in State of the Art 2020. The exhibition will be on view at the Momentary and Crystal Bridges from Feb. 22 through May 24. It will be free for all visitors. Feb. 22 is the opening date of the Momentary, a multidisciplinary venue that will offer visual, performing and culinary arts, as well as an artist-in-residency program and social spaces for the community.
Sonnenberg, who was born in Graham, Texas, is the only Arkansan among the 60 artists selected for the exhibit.
“I’m a Texas boy, but I’m excited to represent Arkansas,” Sonnenberg said. “I’m definitely excited.”
More than 100 works of art will be featured in State of the Art 2020. Most of them were created in the past three years. Several artists are making site-specific works in response to the interior architecture of both spaces, and the histories of the region. At both the Momentary and Crystal Bridges, the artwork will include paintings, sculpture, photography, video, performance, and mixed media.
Sonnenberg, 33, is a visiting assistant professor in ceramics at the University of Arkansas. He holds a master’s degree in sculpture from the University of Washington (2012) and a bachelor’s degree in studio art with an emphasis in art history and Italian from the University of Texas (2009).
His work has been exhibited widely across the United States, and his first museum solo exhibition, Still Stage, Set Life took place in 2018 at the Art Museum of South East Texas in Beaumont.
His sculptural collections are made using a range of materials including ceramic, fiber, metal, papercut, drawing, performance and photography.
He said he is often asked what has drawn him to ceramics more than other mediums.
“I have always been interested in beauty,” he said. “Porcelain and ceramic make some of the most beautiful objects that I know.”
He said ceramic art is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance in the modern art world.
“I was in MoMA [Museum of Modern Art in New York City] recently after their big renovation. There used to never be ceramics there … never,” he said. “Now, it’s in every gallery.
“I think of [ceramic art] almost like the drawing of a 3D world. It’s as simple as you want it to be. Your 5-year-old can make a figure, and we can fire it. Or, it can be as complicated as you can imagine. That variability keeps me excited. It makes me happy to see my [students] get into it, as well.”
Sonnenberg is midway through a three-year tenure at the UA that wraps up in the spring of 2021. After that, he is looking for other teaching opportunities and arranging other exhibitions. He’s previously taught at the Glassell School of Art, which is the teaching institute of The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
“I don’t know exactly what I am going on to next, but I’m not terrified,” he said. “There’s a lot of options out there.”
Lauren Haynes, curator of visual arts at the Momentary and curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges, is leading State of the Art 2020, along with Alejo Benedetti, assistant curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges, and Allison Glenn, associate curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges. The team visited studios across the country, resulting in the selection of a diverse group of 60 artists from varied backgrounds and at different points in their careers.
“State of the Art 2020 fits our vision for the Momentary and builds on some of what we’ve already done at Crystal Bridges — presenting contemporary artists who are making work that raise topics and important questions about this moment in time,” Haynes said in a statement. “As we traveled the U.S. talking with artists, connections between their work and ideas began to emerge, which drove the selection of themes.”
State of the Art 2020 is the continuation of State of the Art that began in 2014. Haynes said similar to the first exhibit, 2020’s will bring artists to Northwest Arkansas to engage with the community.
“The exhibition will travel, and we are currently building the national tour, with dates and venues to be announced at a later time,” she said. “In addition, we’re excited to commit to the next State of the Art in 2025 and plan to create a new exhibition every five years.”
Bank of America, a partner and sponsor of the original State of the Art exhibition in 2014, is joining State of the Art 2020 as the lead sponsor, in addition to sponsoring the exhibition’s national tour. Additional sponsors are Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, Christie’s, The Coca-Cola Co. and the Crystal Bridges Art Now Fund.