A New Museum Rises


It%26rsquo;s the most watched story in the American museum world, and six weeks ago was the big reveal: Retail giant Walmart has given back to its hometown, region and, in a much broader context, all of America. You see, Alice Walton %26mdash; heiress to the discount giant%26rsquo;s fortune %26mdash; is the founder and board chairman of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. When the doors opened on 11-11-11, this venture turned the unprepossessing town of Bentonville, Arkansas (aka Walmart%26rsquo;s corporate HQ), into a Mecca for a bold, expansive and welcoming vision of American art. At a time when the Whitney in New York is tilting towards the contemporary and other bastions of American treasures, such as the Amon Carter in Fort Worth, are ensconced in slow-moving tradition, Crystal Bridges may do for Arkansas what the Guggenheim Bilbao did for the Basque region of Spain. And like the Bilbao with its dramatic Frank Gehry%26ndash;created sculptural edifice, Crystal Bridges did not play it safe: Instead, it erected a curvaceous, folding and dipping structure, artfully sited in rolling nature, designed by Boston-based international firm Safdie Architects and built by Houston%26rsquo;s Linbeck in a joint venture with Nabholz of Conway, Arkansas. And this is no second-rate collection. Its expansive 201,000 square feet are stocked with icons of American art, from the colonial period to today, including one of the most seminal canvases of 19th-century American painting: Asher Durand%26rsquo;s Kindred Spirits of 1849. This six-years-in-the-making new arrival (whose final price tag has been kept under wraps) promises to be %26ldquo;a very different type of museum,%26rdquo; notes director of collections David Houston. The brilliant, democratic Don Bagigalupi, who served as the Blaffer%26rsquo;s director in the 1990s, takes the helm at Crystal Bridges, which has secured a $20 million gift from the Walmart Family Foundation to ensure that admission is free to all. crystalbridges.org.

Images:

Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AK. Photo courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Asher Brown Durand%26rsquo;s Kindred Spirits (detail), 1849, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Photo courtesy collection Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

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