Crystal Bridges

Used with permission for media, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Norman Rockwell, Rosie the Riveter, 1943, Oil on canvas, 52 x 40 in. (132.1 x 101.6 cm)
Roy Lichtenstein, Outstanding Explosion (Red), 1966, Porcelain enamel on steel
Kerry James Marshall, 

Our Town, 1995, Acrylic and printed-paper collage on canvas

Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2010, Appliqued found knitted and crocheted fabric, metal armature, painted metal and wood toy

Walton Ford, 

The Island, 2009, Watercolor, gouache, pencil, and ink on paper

Tomorrow in Bentonville, Arkansas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opens.  That’s the museum started and funded (cost: around $400MM) by Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress, and best of all, it’s considered already to have one of the best collections of American art in the world, NPR reports.

Well, I’ve been following this project for a while — in fact, I was hoping along with a lot of other people that Alice Walton would have swept in to help save the American Folk Art Museum in NYC earlier this year when things looked most bleak (she didn’t).  When I heard Renee Montagne mention that Elizabeth Blair was going to do a report about the museum this week on NPR, I was very happy.

And then, not so much.

Elizabeth Blair rightly points out that the museum really has nothing to do with Walmart the corporation, although the Walmart Foundation did give $20MM so that admission to all could be free.  She smartly pointed out that the collection at Crystal Bridges includes works by Thomas Eakins and Romare Bearden and Andy Warhol.  And that the architect was Moshe Safdie, who recently designed the Kauffman Center in KCMO, and so much more.  The idea is that with outside public attractions like 3.5 miles of walking trails, the museum will generate interest among people who otherwise would not be as compelled to visit.

Rather than go on to discuss, you know, the museum and its collection and goals, Elizabeth Blair interviews a Sam’s Club employee who says, “I have no interest in a museum because it might be full of lies.”  Then of all the other sources to bring in to discuss the museum, she interviews a writer for the French newspaper, Liberation, who rightly points out that, as she says, “…it’s a very nice museum. It’s a place of pure beauty.” But then can’t help herself, and can’t make the detachment from Walmart the corporation to this museum: “It’s just the very opposite of everything Wal-Mart is doing. It’s the focus of the museum is on American art, whereas Wal-Mart stores focus on cheap imports from China.”

…and don’t get me wrong, I dislike Walmart as much as the next person for a large variety of reasons.  And I find the experience of shopping in their stores to be pretty awful, done largely at last resort.  But the fact that Elizabeth Blair couldn’t present this story of a museum, an independent venture, without bringing in reactionary aspects, is pretty distasteful.

Alice Walton, a billionaire, could have spent her $400MM somewhere else, on herself.  It’s her money.  Instead she decided to build a museum.

Thank you, Alice.

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