Must-see Amazon rainforest exhibit now at rebooted Momentary

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 941 views 

Photographer/Image courtesy of: Nathan K. Lujan, PhD

As its fourth anniversary approaches, a lot is happening at the Momentary in Bentonville — a new director, remodeled spaces and a new exhibition.

Jill Wagar, a member of the founding executive team of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, is the new director at the Momentary, a satellite, contemporary art space to Crystal Bridges.

Museum officials announced Wagar’s appointment on Nov. 7 following a national search of nearly two years. Lieven Bertels was the founding director when the Momentary opened on Feb. 22, 2020. He departed in the spring of 2022.

Wagar was the interim director for several months as the venue hosted several events, including Format Festival and Live on the Green. She will continue to work at Crystal Bridges as a senior director.

“It is an incredible honor to lead the Momentary, a space that continues to explore ways to connect communities with exciting and engaging music, art, and food,” Wagar said. “I am deeply committed to building on the foundation of innovation and creativity the Walton family and our dedicated team have established to maximize the Momentary’s potential.”

Wagar takes the helm as the Momentary continues to rebound from a blunted opening. The pandemic arrived in March 2020, just a few weeks after the venue opened. Most museums nationally have not seen attendance return to what it was, but Wagar said that’s not the case in Bentonville.

“Crystal Bridges [which opened in November 2011] is going to reach its peak attendance this year, and the Momentary is doing really well,” she said. “We’ll welcome about 850,000 guests between the two this year, the highest we’ve ever had.”

A project to remodel the Momentary’s interior started this past spring and has just wrapped up. It included renovating the atrium, lobby and The Momentary Shop retail space.

The design firm Lambert McGuire of Austin, Texas, led the interior redesign, which did not impact any programs or gallery visitation.

Wagar explained that a need to “warm up” the venue spurred the upgrades. The Momentary was transformed from a 63,000-square-foot decommissioned cheese factory.

“We kept it very industrial, very raw,” she said. “We needed to warm it up a bit to make it feel more welcoming. We’d always hoped that the Momentary would be a living room for the community, where people would come and hang out and spend time.”

Wagar said the Momentary’s beauty is that it provides untraditional spaces to experiment with artist installations. That advantage is underscored by the venue’s newest exhibit.

“Enduring Amazon: Life and Afterlife in the Amazon Rainforest” debuted  in late November. Through light, sound and imagery from multiple artists, it highlights the delicate balance of life in the Amazon rainforest.

“Our hope is that visitors move through the operatic sequence of still imagery, sound-infused video, flora, fauna, and spaces animated purely by light and sound, absorbing something of the majesty of the Amazon, but also the mortal threat its collapse would mean to global ecosystems and Indigenous culture,” said Joe Thompson, the Momentary’s curator-at-large and co-organizer of the exhibition. “It’s a complex story, full of back-to-back culpability and great beauty.”

An ultra-high-definition film from humanitarian and environmental photographer Richard Mosse anchors the new installation. It also includes a multi-gallery soundtrack by award-winning composer Ben Frost, a new video and sound installation by Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris, and a living sculpture drawn from the forest’s basin by David Brooks.

“It was designed with the Momentary space in mind,” Wagar said. “Our curators worked really close with the artists to create things to do here. And the artists are so appreciative. Many have said they haven’t had the opportunity to have this kind of scale before in other installations.”

The exhibit is on display through April 14. It is free, and no ticket is required. Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine and Kate and Greg Schaffer of Bentonville sponsor the exhibition.