By Rich Warren, Special to Tribune Newspapers
7:39 PM EDT, September 3, 2013
BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Art lovers heading to Wal-Mart's hometown to see the magnificent Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art now can lay their sleepy heads in hotel rooms also enhanced by art.
"We like to think of ourselves as an art museum first, and oh yeah, we also have hotel rooms and a fine-dining restaurant," said Rick Reed, director of sales and marketing at the new 21C Museum Hotel, which opened earlier this year. It's modeled after the original 21C, which opened in Louisville in 2006 and a second that opened in Cincinnati last year.
Like the others, Bentonville's 21C is a repository of the vast contemporary-art collection of owners Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, who wanted to show their art in a more convivial setting than a museum. That translates into 12,000 square feet of exhibition space where art in all forms — painting, sculpture, installation, video and digital — is displayed in sleek, inviting spaces filled with abundant natural light. It's impossible to walk blithely past the bold, arresting artwork without taking notice.
In the rooms themselves, photographs and prints add splashes of color to the minimalist design. Even the audacious wallpaper in the hallways will have you ogling — are those giant flies? Exhibits rotate regularly, but permanent pieces include a giant orange "tree" in the courtyard with 19 basketball hoops hanging from it. Close by is a real tree modified to bear 40 kinds of fruit.
All this artwork is free for the public to see any hour of the day. Docent tours are available, and programs of artist talks, poetry readings and films also will make Bentonville's 21C a cultural mecca.
21C Museum Hotel, 200 NE A St., Bentonville; 479-286-6500; 21cmuseumhotels.com/bentonville.
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