Monday, August 6, 2012

Road Trip: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Earl Grey in front of one of Roxy Paine's dendroid works nestled on the lawn of
 Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR, photo August 2012
Crystal Bridges, nestled in a beautiful grove of trees and public art, opened last November on the outskirts of Bentonville, Arkansas. Yes, that's right - Bentonville, the home of Wal-Mart.

The museum has had its detractors -- those who despise Wal-Mart, in turn, despise this "museum that Wal-Mart built" simply because an heir of the company's founder funded the project and serves as Board Chair. To read an analysis of why this museum does not deserve its association with the Occupy movement, click here.

Alternatively, some from the art world have proclaimed its goodness - but not its greatness. Judith Dobrzynski wrote a good review of the collection in December 2011 focusing on its above averageness (click here). Roberta Smith, esteemed NYTimes critic, gave a very good review in December 2011 focusing on the collection and its outreach, noting: "The museum also has the beginning of a distinctive mission, which is to tie together American art and history and the immediate experience of nature in a compelling and accessible way, one that still keeps the art very much in the foreground." Smith points out that "Crystal Bridges is user friendly...Admission is free, and it has an ambitious education program that will...reach out to more than 80,000 elementary school students in the area. And in some of the interstices between its has areas outfitted with comfortable chairs and couches and stocked with stacks of art books for browsing. These elements, like the museum they are part of, convey the belief that art, like music and literature, is not a recreational luxury or the purview of the rich. Rather, it is an essential tool for living to which everyone must have access, because it helps awaken and direct the individual talent whose development is essential to society, especially a democratic one. Art, after all, is one of the places where the pursuit of happiness gains focus and purpose and starts expanding outward, to aid and abet that thing called the greater good."

More recently, Crystal Bridges has reached out to the "at risk" Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University to resolve the university's financial crisis by creating a partnership between the two institutions. According to the Museum's director,  Don Bacigalupi: “We are looking forward to working with Fisk University as we begin this partnership and eventually present the Stieglitz Collection to the very large—and growing—Crystal Bridges audience." Alice Walton, the heir behind the Crystal Bridges project further noted, “It’s been many years and we are grateful for the time, effort and final court decision that will enable Crystal Bridges to enhance public access to this important collection. We’re feeling great about the future of the Stieglitz Collection. The Fisk-Crystal Bridges partnership keeps the collection intact and ensures its long-term preservation and access.”

Earl Grey at Asher B. Durand's Kindred Spirits, purchased from the New York Public Library for $35M, now in the Collection of Crystal Bridges.

Having spent an entire day at the museum and on the grounds of the site, I can say that the museum is the real deal. It's worth the trip. Road trip anyone?

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