BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will open We the People: The Radical Notion of Democracy, placing a rare, original print of the U.S. Constitution — there are just 11 known in the world — in conversation with works of art that provide diverse perspectives on the nation’s founding principles. Original prints of other founding and historical documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the proposed Bill of Rights and the Emancipation Proclamation will also be on view alongside works by influential historical and contemporary artists, including several works new to the Crystal Bridges collection by Shelley Niro, Roger Shimomura and Luis C. Garza. A new Mark Bradford work, in which he shall be, will debut in the exhibition. We the People: The Radical Notion of Democracy will be on view from July 2 to January 2, 2023.
The exhibition encourages visitors to explore the profound influence of Indigenous people and societies on the formation of the United States and gives visitors the opportunity, through art, to explore the significance of the world’s longest-surviving written charter of government and reflect on the relevance of the U.S. Constitution in the lives of Americans today. The interplay of artworks spanning three centuries with the nation’s persevering documents acknowledges the long-contested space of rights and freedom, and the role that art continues to play in representing diverse American experiences of communities seeking justice for all.
Highlighted works in the exhibition, organized by Native American art curator Polly Nordstrand, include historical paintings such as John Lee Douglas Mathies’s depiction of Seneca leader Red Jacket and John Trumbull’s portrait of Alexander Hamilton. The exhibition includes Civil Rights Movement-era works by Elizabeth Catlett and Jacob Lawrence as well as the recent acquisitions advised by Nordstrand that explore constitutional themes of equality, freedom and justice – four black and white prints, Boundless, Borders, Treaties, and Unity, from Niro’s Borders series; a 2015 color lithograph by Roger Shimomura portraying Gordon Hirabayashi, American Patriot; and four prints depicting the 1971 protest La Marcha por la Justicia (We will Not Be Intimidated), by photojournalist Luis C. Garza.
“This is a rare, must-see opportunity to experience such an inspiring and thought-provoking exhibition that speaks to Crystal Bridges’ mission to celebrate the American spirit through powerful art,” said museum executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer, Rod Bigelow. “The strength of our collection has allowed us to put forward a dynamic exhibition that helps us see the ideals of the Constitution anew and envision ways to aspire to them.”
The original print of the Constitution heads to Crystal Bridges following its purchase late last year by Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin, who acquired the historic document with the intention of making it accessible to the public. The sale caught the attention of Crystal Bridges Board Chair Olivia Walton, who suggested partnering with Griffin to bring the document to Crystal Bridges first. Admission to the museum is free.
“I am thrilled to partner with Crystal Bridges to share the founding document of our democracy with visitors from across the country and abroad,” said Griffin. “People of all ages will have the opportunity to explore our Constitution, which ushered in the world’s most radical experiment in representative government at the time. I hope the experience will be enriching and thought-provoking for all who visit.”
The museum is planning a full suite of educational and public programming to complement the exhibition, including panels, workshops, student tours, teacher resources and programs co-developed with some of the nation’s leading civic education organizations, including the National Constitution Center, the Bill of Rights Institute and iCivics, as well as museum-wide activities to coincide with Constitution Day on Saturday, September 17. A virtual exhibition tour, interactive content and other digital resources will be available on the museum’s website for visitors world-wide to explore and experience the exhibition remotely.