Innovative Crystal Bridges Exhibit Highlights Superman, Wonder Woman

The region’s world-class art museum pulled together a new exhibition that’s certain to inspire creative conversations in Northwest Arkansas.

Called Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, the exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville focuses on Superman and Wonder Woman. It continues through April 22.

“We are excited to debut of Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, which continues our commitment to organize fresh and innovative exhibitions that inspire creative conversations,” said Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer of Crystal Bridges. “Through the lens of Superman and Wonder Woman, these artists invite us to explore these characters and reflect on our own shared humanity.”

The cost to see the exhibition is $12, but it’s free for members and youth ages 18 and under. Tickets may be purchased at this link.

The exhibition features approximately 70 artworks, including paintings, photography, video, sculptures, performance art, and more, created by over 50 U.S. and international artists,  including Renée Cox, Mel Ramos, Laurie Anderson, Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, Dara Birnbaum, Roger Shimomura, Jacky Tsai, Enrique Chogoya, Michael Ray Charles, Raymond Pettibon, Pope.L, Norman Rockwell, and more.

Men of Steel, Women of Wonder is organized by Crystal Bridges and curated by Crystal Bridges’ assistant curator Alejo Benedetti. It is the first major exhibition to analyze art-world responses to Superman and Wonder Woman.

After the debut at Crystal Bridges, the exhibition will travel to the San Antonio Museum of Art in San Antonio, Texas, and The Addison Gallery of American Art: Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. A full-color catalog, published with the University of Arkansas Press, will accompany the exhibition and is available for purchase in the Museum Store.

“This is a dream show for me,” Benedetti said. “These are characters I’ve loved for years, seen through the ever-watchful eyes of artists. Superman and Wonder Woman may be superheroes, but the issues they tackle are innately human -- and whether heralded or critiqued, these characters are as relevant as ever. It’s a project our team has worked on for years and one we’re thrilled to finally share with the public.”

The exhibition is organized thematically with four large sections. The exhibition opens with a section called “The Heroes We Know,” which features familiar depictions of Superman and Wonder Woman―meant to reaffirm that these characters are known to all visitors. 

The second section, “Origin Stories,” places the characters into the cultural contexts from which they emerged (Great Depression, World War II). The third section, “Glimpsing Humanity,” considers Superman and Wonder Woman as American gods, much like Zeus and Hera of Greek mythology. Artists frame these heroes as all-powerful symbols to respect (or fear), yet also explore their vulnerabilities and the ways the characters are humanized by them. 

The exhibition concludes with “Defender of Innocents,” where artists explore the ethical and moral values these characters represent. Artists use these two icons to explore feminism, racial discrimination, gender and sexuality, immigration concerns, ideas of national identity and the United States’ ethical responsibilities in global politics.

Exhibition Programs

Throughout the duration of the exhibition, Crystal Bridges is offering a full roster of programs inspired by the show with many classes that feature Men of Steel, Women of Wonder artists as the instructors.

Pictured at the top: Fahamu Pecou, Nunna My Heroes: After Barkley Hendricks’ ‘Icon for My Man Superman,’ 1969, 2011. Acrylic, gold leaf, and oil stick on canvas. Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; Gift of Marjorie and Michael Levine.