Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The next great American art museum?

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 2:05 PM

New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles. These are the cities we think of when we talk about art destinations in the United States. Taos is the next likely name.

But what about Bentonville, Arkansas?

Set to open Nov. 11 of this year, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is primed to become a new giant in the museum pantheon. Its endowment, according to a recent New Yorker article, is $800 million, four times larger than the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC. By way of comparison, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has an endowment of around $10 million.

Crystal Bridges, designed by Moshe Safdie.

Built in a peaceful spot in the woods, Crystal Bridges features stunning architecture and is rumored to have one of the best collections of American art in the country, spanning colonial portraiture to 19th-century landscapes to modern and contemporary works. Coups include Norman Rockwell's "Rosie the Riveter" and Charles Wilson Peale's portrait of George Washington.

Crystal Bridges is also interesting because of its founder, Alice Walton, who is spearheading this institution. The third-richest woman in the world, Walton is the daughter of the founder of Walmart (also headquartered in Bentonville), though Walton is quick to denote the separation between Crystal Bridges and Walmart, saying that the museum's endowment comes from the Walton Family Foundation.

Wherever the funds come from, they get the job done. Walton is a heavyweight in the art market, says the article, and despite being something of the new kid on the old establishment block, has done very well:

Over time, Walton has earned the respect of the museum establishment, although only those closest to her know the full extent of Crystal Bridges’ collection: just sixty-six purchases have been announced, a tenth of what has been acquired.

You could run a small country on the amount of money put into this venture. Some find this project obscene, likely because of its Walmart connection. One commenter calls Walton "another fabulously rich egomaniac with vastly more money than she knows what to do with or deserves." Maybe folks are turned off by what they see in Crystal Bridges, a symbol that says: In America, you can accomplish almost anything if you have enough money.

Either way, Crystal Bridges will surely do a hell of a lot for Bentonville.

For more on the article, click here.

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