Crystal Bridges: Museum of American Art

George Wesley Bellows. Excavation at Night, 1908. Oil on canvas, 34 x 44 inches. Roy Lichtenstein. Standing Explosion (Red), 1966. Porcelain enamel on steel, 38 x 25 x 30 in. © Christie's Images Ltd. 2010. William Merritt Chase. Worthington Whittredge, ca. 1890. Oil on canvas, 64-1/2 x 53-1/4 inches
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art by Linda DeBerry
Arshile Gorky. Composition (Still Life), 1936–1937. Oil on canvas, 34 x 26 inches. Photography by Robert LaPrelle
John Singleton Copley. Mrs. Theodore Atkinson Jr. (Frances Deering Wentworth), 1765. Oil on canvas, 51 x 40 inches Marsden Hartley. Hall of the Mountain King, ca. 1908–1909. Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches. Photography by Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Thomas Hart Benton. Ploughing It Under, 1934, reworked 1964. Oil on canvas, 20-1/4 x 24-1/4 inches
by Linda DeBerry

TOP ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT:
George Wesley Bellows
Excavation at Night, 1908
Oil on canvas, 34 x 44 inches

Roy Lichtenstein
Standing Explosion (Red), 1966
Porcelain enamel on steel, 38 x 25 x 30 in.
© Christie's Images Ltd. 2010

William Merritt Chase
Worthington Whittredge, ca. 1890
Oil on canvas, 64-1/2 x 53-1/4
inches

BELOW MUSEUM NAME,
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT:
Arshile Gorky
Composition (Still Life), 1936–1937
Oil on canvas, 34 x 26 inches
Photography by Robert LaPrelle

John Singleton Copley
Mrs. Theodore Atkinson Jr. (Frances Deering Wentworth), 1765
Oil on canvas, 51 x 40 inches

Marsden Hartley
Hall of the Mountain King, ca. 1908–1909
Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches
Photography by Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Thomas Hart Benton
Ploughing It Under, 1934, reworked 1964
Oil on canvas, 20-1/4 x 24-1/4 inches

The opening of any major new American museum is news, especially when the museum has been designed by world-renowned architect, Moshe Safdie. But the opening of that museum in the heart of the Arkansas Ozarks sends reverberations through the art world.

Located in the heart of the nation, far from the urban art meccas of New York and Los Angeles, Crystal Bridges was founded by Alice Walton, daughter of Sam Walton of Walmart fame. The museum (Fig. 1) is situated at the bottom of a steep wooded ravine on a 120-acre park that was part of the Walton family’s original estate. Alice, who grew up roaming these woods, wanted a museum that worked in harmony with the surrounding forest, integrating the experience of art and nature for its visitors. A natural stream fed by Crystal Spring, which gives the museum its name, flows through the site and is spanned by two copper-roofed bridges housing galleries and the museum restaurant. The stream is dammed by weirs, producing two large ponds around which seven additional buildings are nestled.

Walton’s love of art began with the watercolors she and her young siblings produced while on family camping trips. She has been a serious collector of American art all of her adult life. While her family’s fortune allowed Walton the privilege of visiting major museums around the world, she recognized the absence of such museums in her own “backyard” of Northwest Arkansas. Convinced of the power of great works of art to educate and enlighten, Walton decided to make it her personal mission to remedy the lack. From the outset, Crystal Bridges was intended as a populist venture, centered around making great American art available to everyone, particularly Walton’s home community.

Fig. 1: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Moshe Safdie, architect.
Fig. 1: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Moshe Safdie, architect.

Fig. 2: Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827) George Washington, ca. 1780–1782 Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches Photography by Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Fig. 2: Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827)
George Washington, ca. 1780–1782
Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches
Photography by Amon Carter Museum of American Art

The museum’s permanent collection includes many works from Walton’s personal collection. But the growth of the collection over the past several years has been guided by a team of professional curators with a goal of acquiring the finest examples of American art available. The breadth and scope is remarkable, especially considering the fact that the lion’s share has been amassed in less than eight years.

More than four hundred works will be on view when the museum opens (Fig. 2), spanning the full history of American art, from the Colonial period through today. The works are arranged roughly chronologically—with a focus on thematic groupings and stylistic similarities— to tell the story of America’s history as seen by its artists (Fig. 3). The focus is not on historical events, however; the premiere exhibition of the permanent collection, Celebrating the American Spirit, is about the development of the American artistic character rather than specific moments in history. As visitors move through the galleries, they will experience the evolution of American art through time.

Fig. 3: Norman Rockwell (1894–1978) Rosie the Riveter, 1943 Oil on canvas, 52 x 40 inches
Fig. 3: Norman Rockwell (1894–1978)
Rosie the Riveter, 1943
Oil on canvas, 52 x 40 inches

Several themes thread through the collection. One of the most evident of these is the dialogue between American artists and the American landscape. Asher Brown Durand’s Kindred Spirits (Fig. 4) is an iconic image of the wide vistas and rocky crags of a vast new frontier. This work is featured among other examples of the Hudson River School in a gallery that opens onto a light-filled walkway with windows offering views of the Ozark forest. Nature is very much present both inside and outside the museum. Windowed spaces between the galleries remind guests of the proximity of the natural environment as they prepare to move to the next gallery.

Impressionism and Post-impressionism influences are evidenced in works such as Under the Willows by John Singer Sargent and landscapes by John Henry Twachtman (Fig. 5). The collection also includes less romantic contemporary interpretations of the landscape such as Roxy Paine’s Bad Lawn, a comment on the suburban environment, and Walton Ford’s much more brutal perspective on nature in The Island (Fig. 6).

Fig. 4: Asher Brown Durand (1796–1886) Kindred Spirits, 1849 Oil on canvas, 44 x 36 inches Photography by The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fig. 4: Asher Brown Durand (1796–1886)
Kindred Spirits, 1849
Oil on canvas, 44 x 36 inches
Photography by The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the museum’s founder, self-assured women appear frequently as subjects — such as Alfred Henry Maurer’s unapologetic Jeanne, with her extravagant costume and cigarette; or Andy Warhol’s dayglow Dolly Parton (Fig. 7). Women as artists are also well-represented, including Joan Mitchell, Maria Oakey Dewing, and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Another theme running through the collection is the artist as subject. Works include John Singer Sargent’s enigmatic portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife (Fig. 8), William Merritt Chase’s tribute portrait of his teacher and one-time rival Worthington Whittredge, and Evan Penny’s oversized and eerily realistic envisioning of himself as an old man.

Fig. 5: John Henry Twachtman (1853–1902) September Sunshine, ca. 1891–1893 Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches
Fig. 5: John Henry Twachtman (1853–1902)
September Sunshine, ca. 1891–1893
Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches

Crystal Bridges has been remarkably successful in assembling a collection that creates a comprehensible flow. This is largely due to the museum’s stated mission to put education at the center of everything it does. The works create an ongoing dialogue — both between and among themselves and with the visitor. Connections can be observed between works of teacher and student, influence and influenced, past and present.

The three miles of walking trails that traverse the museum’s densely wooded grounds feature outdoor sculptures including James Turrell’s Skyspace installation, The Way of Color; Mark di Suvero’s monumental work, Lowell’s Ocean; and Roxy Paine’s treelike dendrite sculpture, Yield (Fig. 9). Each work is placed in a way that complements and is complemented by the surrounding environment, encouraging visitors to include the native forest in their experience. The landscape of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is part and parcel of Alice Walton’s original vision: art and nature hand in hand.

Fig. 6: Walton Ford (b. 1960) The Island, 2009 Watercolor, gouache, pencil, and ink on paper Panel 1: 95-1/2 x 36; Panel 2: 95-1/2 x 60; Panel 3: 95-1/2 x 36 inches © 2009 Walton Ford. Photography by Christopher Burke Studio
Fig. 6: Walton Ford (b. 1960)
The Island, 2009
Watercolor, gouache, pencil, and ink on paper
Panel 1: 95-1/2 x 36; Panel 2: 95-1/2 x 60; Panel 3: 95-1/2 x 36 inches
© 2009 Walton Ford. Photography by Christopher Burke Studio

Fig. 7: Andy Warhol (1928–1987) Dolly Parton, 1985 Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas,  42 x 42 inches Photography by Robert LaPrelle.  Fig. 9: Roxy Paine (b. 1966) Yield, 2011 Stainless steel, 47-1/2 x 45 ft.
Fig. 7: Andy Warhol (1928–1987)
Dolly Parton, 1985
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas,
42 x 42 inches
Photography by Robert LaPrelle.

Fig. 9: Roxy Paine (b. 1966)
Yield, 2011
Stainless steel, 47-1/2 x 45 ft.

Fig. 8: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife, 1885 Oil on canvas, 20-1/4 x 24-1/4 inches
Fig. 8: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)
Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife, 1885
Oil on canvas, 20-1/4 x 24-1/4 inches


Crystal Bridges Museum of Art opens to the public on 11-11-11. For information, call 479.418.5700 or visit www.crystalbridges.org.


Linda Deberry works in the editorial department of Crystal Bridges Art Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas.

All images, unless otherwise noted, courtesy, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Photography by Dwight Primiano.

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