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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Whether seen in daylight or at night, the complex is impressive.
Alice Walton has her own art museum. You might not recognize the name immediately but she's said to be the 16th wealthiest person in the world. She lives in the small town of Bentonville, Arkansas. Maybe you've shopped in one of her stores--Walmart. No, it's not called the Walmart Art Museum. It's called the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and it takes its name from its architecture rather than the heiress and the family foundation which has endowed it. Guesstimates of that endowment add up to around a billion dollars, give or take a few million (specific figures are long since outdated). In any case, with a Forbes estimate of $26.3-billion, she can afford it.
The museum is within easy walking distance from
beautiful downtown Bentonville, Arkansas.
There's a lot of ugliness in art circles about Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges, the country's newest major art museum. It is controversial simply by its existence. It exposes the hypocrisy of the art world. The kind of art that gets into museums is surrounded by all manner of expectations and myths. Artists and their critics often want art to be some kind of social critique or revolutionary force. Others want it to preserve aristocratic values in a world of populist conservatism. In reality, what museum grade art does most (and best), is to decorate the lives of the fabulously wealthy. Art is not an anarchic force, or an engine of social change. Art entertains, it enlightens, it enriches, whether in Alice Walton's foyer or her environmentally responsible bastion of American good taste. Walmart epitomizes much of what the cultural elite hates, in terms of both capitalist exploitation and tackiness. So of course lots of self-important artists and other arty folks are going to make snide remarks about a Walmart-funded art museum. In doing so they are, in fact, exposing their ignorance of the economic and social position of museum art in our society today. In effect, they are perched on an elite and precarious scaffolding, which can only stand with the financial support of people like Alice Walton.

The museum opened in 2011 so it's permanent collection is not large, but it is extremely well curated.
Alice Walton's vision for a great art institution in a small corner of Arkansas was as ambitious as it has been successful. Because this is an American art museum in middle of the country, one might expect to see several Norman Rockwells as well as many American landscape and genre painters. There is only one by Rockwell, Rosie the Riveter. Likewise, the American scene painters, while present, were not overly represented. Instead, there is work by Georgia O'Keeffe, Charles Willson Peale, Josef Albers, Mark Rothko, Jeff Koons, and Asher B. Durand's famous Kindred Spirits (above, upper-right).

Inside the museum is a pleasant mixture of curves
and angles topped by an exposed-beam ceiling.
Museum gift shop, Marlon Blackwell, Architect
The Crystal Bridges, was designed by Israeli/Canad-ian /American architect, and urban designer, Moshe Saf-die. The museum's glass-and-wood design features a series of pavilions nestled around two creek-fed ponds. The complex includes 217,000 square feet of galleries, sev-eral meeting and class-room spaces, a library, a sculpture garden, a gift shop designed by architect, Marlon Blackwell, a restaurant and coffee bar, named Eleven after the day the museum opened, Novem-ber 11, 2011 (11-11-11). Crys-tal Bridges' meeting space can accommodate up to 300 people. There are also outdoor areas for concerts and public events, as well as extensive nature trails. The museum employs approximately 300 people. Like Walmart stores, admission is free.

 7--Art library, 8--Loading docks, 9--Art collections, exhibits and vaults,
10--Auditorium, 11--Administrative offices, 12--Arrival terrace, 13--Pond terrace,
14--Visitor orientation, 15--Dining, 16--Pedestrian entrance, 17--parking garage.
Crystal Bridges may be the one and only museum to own a Frank Lloyd Wright original. Known as the Bachman-Wilson House (below), this structure is an example of Wright’s classic Usonian architecture. Wright coined the term "Usonian" to describe a distinctly American style of residential architecture he developed during the Great Depression to be within the reach of the average middle-class American family. The house was originally built in 1956 for Gloria and Abraham Wilson along the Millstone River in New Jersey. It was meticulously restored in 1988. Threatened by repeated flooding at its original location, in order to preserve it, the house was sold to Crystal Bridges and relocated. The museum acquired the house in 2013 whereupon the entire structure was then taken apart, each component labeled, packed, and moved to the museum, where it was reconstructed two years later.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Bachman Wilson House as
reconstructed on the museum's grounds in 2015.
Sculpture also figures prominently in the collection, both in the interior galleries and along outdoor sculpture trails. Sculptors represented in the permanent collection include Paul Manship, Roxy Paine, Mark di Suvero, and James Turrell. Leo Villareal’s lighted sculpture Buckyball (below) was added to Crystal Bridges' permanent collection in 2013 to become a featured element in the museum's extensive sculpture garden.

Bucky Ball, 2013, Leo Villareal
Crystal Bridges' museum complex lives up to it's name. It's complex.
And this is where it all began.


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