One of the most highly anticipated cultural events of the fall in the United States is the opening (Friday, November 11, 2011) of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Designed by Massachusetts-based architect Moshe Safdie (whose Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, inaugurated in October, continues to gain accolades for its design and acoustics), the building is set in a forest ravine, among 120 acres of park and gardens and consists of nine pavilions over and alongside of two ponds.

What’s inside? A superb assemblage of American art from the Colonial era to the present day: paintings by John Singleton Copley, 19th-century landscape pictures and portraits by Thomas Moran, Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, sculpture by Mark di Suvero and an installation by Jenny Holzer.

The inaugural exhibition, “Celebrating the American Spirit,” showcases 400 works from the collection acquired by Alice Walton, an heir to the Walmart retail fortune and the force behind the Crystal Bridges. Admission is free, but tickets for timed-entry must be reserved in advance online or by calling 479/418-5700. Don’t wait, as of the opening, 35,000 admissions have been booked through the end of the New Year holiday.

Mario R. Mercado is the arts editor at Travel + Leisure

Image by Aker Imaging/Courtesy of Safdie Architects