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.


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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