21c Museum Hotel, a boutique hotel-cum-museum that opened its first location in 2006, in Louisville, Ky., has now come to Bentonville, Ark. The spacious, minimalist structure is designed by New York-based Deborah Berke Partners and is a stone's throw from the center of the small Arkansas town put on the national art map in 2011 by the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

It is the third incarnation of a project that also has a location in Cincinnati, Ohio. All three hotels are designed by Berke, who calls them "figure/ground buildings," because she wants the art and architecture to take turns as foreground and background, an aspiration in which the Bentonville building is largely successful.

21c is the brainchild of Kentucky collectors Laura Lee Brown (of the Old Forester Kentucky Bourbon family) and her husband, entrepreneur Steve Wilson, who wanted to share their contemporary art collection in a more convivial setting than that offered by most museums. Works are commissioned from "well-known and not so well-known artists," Alice Gray Stites, 21c's chief curator, told A.i.A. 

The newest 21c has 12,000 square feet of exhibition space, including high-ceilinged lobbies, the restaurant, several large galleries, a series of smaller spaces that double as event or conference rooms, and outdoor venues, including a pocket courtyard that hosts a fruit tree, modified by Syracuse-based artist Sam van Aken to bear 40 kinds of fruit.

Another site-specific installation, this one indoors, is Turkish artist Serkan Özkaya's all-white whirl, A Sudden Gust of Wind in Bentonville (2013), which refers to a classic print by Hokusai from ca. 1832 and involves a stack of (metal) sheets of paper strewn throughout one of the largest gallery spaces. Rob Wynne, Mattia Bonetti, and Chris Doyle created colorful, eye-catching patterned wallpaper for the upper floors; Anne Peabody provided glass doors, slyly called Hide and Seek, for the restrooms in the lobby; and Dutch artist Daan Roosengaarde contributed an approximately 6-foot-long interactive wall sculpture, Flow 5.0 (2005-09), that is constructed from hundreds of mini-ventilators activated by passersby.

Also on view among the inaugural exhibitions, which opened Saturday, Apr. 20, is a quirky group show, "Hybridity," in which 70-plus works explore the permeable borders between human and other forms of existence. The show features Patricia Piccinini, Marcus Coates, Anthony Goicolea, Juana Vasconcelos and Pieter Hugo, among others. In a collaborative project, Slater Bradley and Ed Lachman presented an elegiac, unsettling video and photography exhibition, "Dead Ringer," in homage to the late film star River Phoenix.


PHOTO: Serkan Özkaya, A Sudden Gust of Wind in Bentonville, 2013.