Crystal Bridges Museum

Alice Walton opens the new addition to The Momentary in a spectacular event that Sharon Lorenzo attended.

Chrystal Bridges of American Art                                                                    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 2011

My husband and I had the great privilege of being invited as the guests of Alice Walton and the Bank of America for the opening of a new addition to the Crystal Bridges complex in Bentonville, Arkansas in February of 2020. Alice Walton was in attendance with a number of her family members at the dedication of a new enterprise located 1.5 miles from the museum known as The Momentary. Formerly a factory for the manufacture of cheese, the complex had been converted into galleries for shows of contemporary art and performances of dance, film and music. In attendance for the blessing of the venture were the chiefs of the Osage, Caddo, and Quapaw tribes who visited with the guests amidst incense and tribal songs. As the former occupants of this region, their blessings were welcomed by the Circe de Soleil group repelling in dance on the façade of a 70-foot tower with an accompanying light show.  Organized by her nephews and their spouses, the Momentary Council will be a vibrant partner to the amazing collection of American Art in the adjacent museum.

                                                                               The Momentary Complex, 2020

As the daughter of Sam Walton, founder of Walmart Stores, Alice received the consent of the family to develop a complex on 120 acres of Ozark Forest starting in 2006. She hired John Wilmerding, the former chairman of the art history department at Princeton University, to help her acquire significant pieces of American art from the colonial era to the present day.  John gave her a list of suggested architects for her museum buildings, and she interviewed each one. John’s story of how she made her choice is adorable.

                                                                                                Alice Walton

“ Why John,” said Alice, “ I took each one around the property in my jeep to see the streams and forest, and one lovely man fell into the water and just waded ashore and got right back on the jeep, and I decided he was my kind of man for this project !!”

John Wilmerding

Alice chose Moshe Safdie, an architect from Israel, who has built spectacular buildings all over the world and been an architectural instructor at Yale, Harvard, McGill and Ben Gurion Universities. Alice chose his design to embrace the water of surrounding streams with construction of concrete, brushed steel and cedar beams for the trim.   It took five years to complete the complex of exhibition spaces, dining facilities, a book store and teaching rooms. Working closely with Scott Eccleston, Director of Grounds and Facilities, the assemblage supports 250,000 native species of plants and trees, along hiking and art trails which wind along the streams and tributaries.  The entire entity opened on 11-11-11 to much fanfare.

                                                                                     Moshe Safdie, Architect
Cedar Beamed Dining Hall

The art collection spans 500 years of creativity beginning with the best of colonial portraiture by John Singleton Copley and Charles Wilson Peale. The next chronological purchase of a work by the artist, Asher Durand, (1796-1886) caused quite a stir as it was being sold by the New York Public Library to fund their new building. Both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery in Washington, DC were out- bid by Alice for the purchase from Christie’s via a private sale.

                                                                      Kindred Spirit, Asher Durand (1796-1886)

Another work by Georgia O’Keeffe was acquired as an arranged joint ownership agreement with Fisk University of Nashville, Tennessee who needed money for the college to survive. The federal court approved a joint contract to allow title to remain at the University, since the painting had been a gift from Georgia and her husband but provided for six months a year of visitation at Crystal Bridges.

                                                         Georgie O’Keeffe, Radiator Building-Night, New York, 1927

In addition, when a major O’Keeffe floral painting came for sale in 2015 , Alice Walton said to John Wilmerding, “ I just have to have it John even though it is so expensive,”  and she paid the record price of $ 44 million dollars making O’Keefe the most expensive female artist in the world today.

                                                                       Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, 1932

In addition to stellar works of art in the galleries, there are peripheral pieces that stand out as wonderful icons of Americana. The Robert Indiana work of LOVE is a tribute to this artist who died in 2019 having not filed for a copyright on this work during his lifetime. He is known to have said that when he drew the first rendition of this work for use by the Museum of Modern Art for a Christmas card, it never occurred to him to consider such an idea. He also told many that he was flattered that so many interpretations have arisen from his idea including the famous image of President Obama and HOPE.

                                                                               LOVE, Robert Indiana, 1966
LOVE with a Visitor!
Poster of Candidate Obama, 2008

Alice was fortunate with her resources to be able to have the artist James Turrell design a Skyspace on her art trail that shows a 30-minute light show each evening. It is called The Way of Color and can be viewed in a small enclosure through a raised oculus as a computer controls the light emitting diodes each day.

                                                                              James Turrell, The Way of Color

A visit to the Crystal Bridges complex is a treat for all ages in a family, as the local hotel and small town offer relaxed dining and a country store with ice cream cones and a movie about Sam Walton and the history of his successes. A flight into Bentonville is available on American, United, and Delta Airlines from many U.S. cities and the drive into town is an easy 20 miles.  The staff and leadership of both the Museum and the Momentary will make your trip to this part of the southern USA a delight for all.

                                                                                 Museum Galleries at Night
Charles Wilson Peale, 1780-2, George Washington
                                                                     Crystal Bridges Art Gallery- Interior View
Town Branch Creek View of Crystal Bridges Museum

Crystal Bridges is currently closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  They are offering virtual tours of many exhibits and the museum itself that look great.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas

Sharon Lorenzo – June, 2020