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The Momentary, a cheese-factory-turned-contemporary-art-venue, reopens its doors

Contemporary Art, Hold the Cheese

The Momentary, a cheese-factory-turned-contemporary-art-venue, reopens its doors

The Momentary, a satellite contemporary art venue of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, reopened early last month—with limited capacity restrictions and safety measures in place—in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas, after being shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic just weeks after its highly anticipated opening. And while Bentonville’s so-called “living room for contemporary arts” waits patiently for the crisis to pass so it can once again host a fuller house, there’s been no opportunity lost in showcasing via photography the adaptive reuse led by Wheeler Kearns Architects. Just a few of the many shots of the compound captured by architectural photographer Tom Harris are featured below and in the above gallery.

In creating The Momentary, Wheeler Kearns, a Chicago-based firm noted for breathing life into overlooked buildings, was tasked with transforming a cavernous, 63,000-square-foot former cheese factory formerly operated by Kraft Foods from 1947 through 2013, into a “multidisciplinary space for visual and performing arts, culinary experiences, festivals, artists-in-residence, and more.” Like a multitude of other civic and cultural projects in and around fast-growing Northwest Arkansas, The Momentary is funded largely by the Walton Family Foundation. Olivia Walton, niece of Walmart heiress and Crystal Bridges founder Alice Walton, serves as The Momentary’s founding chairwoman.

A sign on a brick wall leading to the tower, gallery 3, or the fermentation hall
Old commingles with new at the recently reopened social hub and cultural venue in Bentonville. (© Tom Harris Architectural Photography)

Prior to churning out cheese, the site was also home for several decades to a flour mill and, before that, an apple orchard, and an ancestral hunting ground for the Osage Nation before that. Contemporary neighbors include the 8th Street Market, a 10-acre “community-based food hub“ housed at an old Tyson Foods processing plant; a stretch of the Razorback Greenway trail, and Walmart corporate headquarters. Crystal Bridges is just five minutes up the road.

A gritty (yet comfortable) mix of the old and the new that brings together extensive, expansive indoor and outdoor spaces, with landscaping design overseen by the Tulsa-based Howell Vancuren Landscape Architects. The Momentary, per official project description, “purposefully overlaps social, performance, and culinary activities with art spaces to champion contemporary art’s role in everyday life.”

“Something that was of the utmost importance to us architecturally was to make it clear to the visitors what we’ve added and what was here as part of the plant,” lead project architect Calli Verkamp of Wheeler Kearns told Arkansas news website TD&P during the project’s infancy in 2018. (Verkamp is an Arkansas native and graduate of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas in nearby Fayetteville.)

Inside a white-walled art gallery
Inside The Momentary, a Walton family founded/funded cultural asset to Northwest Arkansas. Pictured are works from State of the Art 2020. (© Tom Harris Architectural Photography)

Major areas of the venue include the 24,000-square foot main exhibition area, the Galleries; the 70-foot-tall Tower, which among other things, features multiple mezzanines for mingling along with a cocktail bar up top offering panoramic views; the Momentary Green, an al fresco hang-out space for socializing and catching live music; RØDE House, a multitasking auditorium for film screenings, musical performances, and the like; and a small black box theater dubbed Fermentation Hall.

The Momentary’s inaugural exhibition, State of the Art 2020, runs through July 12. The State of the Art 2020 exhibition is also on view at Crystal Bridges until July 27, with a virtual tour available on the website. Both are free to the public with timed ticketing. Opening in November is Until, a large-scale work by Chicago-based fabric sculptor and performance artist Nick Cave that will take up all 24,000 square feet of gallery space. Until has previously shown at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), a sprawling contemporary arts complex designed by Bruner/Cott Associates that is also housed in a former factory building and, not surprisingly, served as a direct model for The Momentary.