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The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art announced today that Don Bacigalupi will be the organization's founding president. He'll be leaving his current job as president of Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, to join the Lucas Museum on January 15.

Bacigalupi was hired by Crystal Bridges as executive director in 2009, two years ahead of its opening, and became president in 2011. Before that, he was president of the Toledo Museum of Art. He oversaw major construction and start-up projects at both institutions. He has a PhD in art history from the University of Texas at Austin.

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Friday, 10 October 2014 10:58

Crystal Bridges Tackles Contemporary Art

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in 2011 in Wal-Mart's hometown, Bentonville, Arkansas, with a respectable collection of work by famous artists from Norman Rockwell's "Rosie the Riveter" to a George Washington portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

But the museum has just opened a massive exhibition of contemporary art called "State of the Art" that could be a game-changer. The museum is sometimes mocked by critics from outside the region for its location and Wal-Mart connections — its permanent collection was funded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton — but the new show represents a serious effort to introduce contemporary art to a mainstream audience far from the rarefied galleries of hipster neighborhoods and urban centers.

Published in News
Thursday, 04 September 2014 10:38

A Look at the Country’s Best Small Town Museums

The first significant new museum of American art in nearly half a century debuted in 2011. But to view Crystal Bridges' collection—from a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington to Jackson Pollock canvases—you don't travel to New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. You head down a forested ravine in a town in northwestern Arkansas.

As museum founder and Walmart heiress Alice Walton scooped up tens of millions of dollars' worth of art from across the country, thinly veiled snobbish rhetoric began to trickle out from the coasts. Most notably, when she purchased Asher B. Durand's 1849 "Kindred Spirits" from the New York Public Library for $35 million, some culturati bristled at the thought that this famed Hudson River School landscape would be leaving for Bentonville. The controversy raised the question: Who deserves access to great art?

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After a restless cross-country search in which two curators logged more than 100,000 miles in airplanes and rental cars, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art – founded by the Walmart heiress Alice Walton – announced Tuesday that it had finalized its artist list for an ambitious fall show that will present a snapshot of unheralded 21st century American art.

To organize the exhibition, “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now,” which will open at the museum, in Bentonville, Ark., on Sept. 13, the museum’s president, Don Bacigalupi, and an assistant curator, Chad Alligood, spent several months visiting the studios and homes of almost 1,000 artists, most of whom were not well known outside their cities or regions.

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On January 18, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will present the exhibition ‘At First Sight: Collecting the American Watercolor.’ The show will explore Crystal Bridges’ founder Alice Walton’s affinity for watercolors and how her early interest in the medium helped shape her future as one of the most important collectors of American art.

‘At First Sight’ will features some of the works that sparked Walton’s earliest collecting interests including paintings by Thomas Hart Benton, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth and Georgia O’Keeffe. Walton will loan a portion of her private collection to the museum for the exhibition.

‘At First Sight’ will be on view at the Crystal Bridges Museum through April 21, 2014. Admission to the exhibition will be free.

Published in News
Thursday, 05 December 2013 18:29

Alice Walton May Have Purchased Major Warhol Work

It is being rumored that Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress and founder of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AK, purchased Andy Warhol’s Coca-Cola (3) from Christie’s in November. The painting sold for $57.2 million during the auction house’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale. The price is more than Walton has been known to have ever spent at an auction.

The work is one of only four paintings of a single Coca-Cola bottle made by the Pop artist between 1961 and 1962. Coca-Cola (3) was being offered by New York art dealer Jose Mugrabi and was expected to garner between $40 million and $60 million.

A representative for Walton would neither confirm nor deny the purchase.  

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Founded by Wal-Mart heiress, Alice Walton, in 2005, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas was the target of an email hoax that went public on Wednesday. The email stated that the museum would be closed on Black Friday to stand in solidarity with the Wal-Mart workers who are planning demonstrations over the Thanksgiving weekend. The email used fake quotes by Walton including one that said, “We have decided to stand with the workers of Wal-Mart, the source of my family’s fortune, in their Black Friday strikes, walkouts and pickets.” A spokesperson for the museum said that all information stated in the email is false and that the museum will be open on Friday.

The demonstrations held on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, will allow Wal-Mart employees to voice their unhappiness with their powerhouse employer. Many claim that the retail giant enforces unfair labor practices and disregards workers’ requests for better pay, fair schedules, and affordable health care. It is widely known that Wal-Mart has been wary of a unionized workforce in the past.

The email hoax also stated that the Crystal Bridges Museum would host a temporary exhibition on labor in American art starting on Saturday, November 24. There is no such show expected to be on view at the museum.

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Sometime next fall, the Alfred Stieglitz collection, Fisk University’s renowned art exhibit, will be packed up into crates and trundled off to Arkansas.

It will stay there for two years as part of a sharing agreement that, until recently, was caught up in what appeared to be an unyielding battle between ownership rights and financial distress.

The university, which has long run a $2 million annual deficit, agreed to sell half ownership rights of its $74 million Alfred Stieglitz collection for $30 million to a museum opened last fall in Bentonville, Ark., controlled by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, according to an agreement filed in Davidson County Chancery Court.

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The art world isn't the only community greeting Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton's new Crystal Bridges Museum with skepticism. A group of Wal-Mart employees are planning workshops and educational events in half a dozen cities across the country on Friday to coincide with the opening of the multimillion-dollar, Moshe Safdie-designed institution in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Members of the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart (OUR Wal-Mart), an activist group dedicated to improving working conditions for the company's employees, will team up with branches of the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Saint Louis, Miami, Oakland, and San Francisco to distribute information about the Walton family's labor practices and policies. "If there's ever a case of the one percent, it's the Walton family," OUR Wal-Mart spokesman Ben Waxman told ARTINFO.

The current and former Wal-Mart associates participating in the demonstrations take issue with the fact that Walton has spent millions of dollars on a museum while her family's organization, Wal-Mart, recently raised health care premiums and has capped salaries for many of its employees. "I have a problem with my pay being capped, but somehow there's money to do something of this nature," said Mary Pat Tifft, who has worked at a Wal-Mart branch in Wisconsin for 23 years and says her pay has been capped for six.

In addition to speaking about the recent cutbacks in health care, participating Wal-Mart associates will share their own personal experiences working for the retail giant. "It's very difficult to feed your family on poverty wages," said Waxman. "Many people at the Occupy Wall Street encampments don't have direct experience with this kind of hardship, so I think it should be pretty powerful." (This isn't the first time OWS has linked up with an art-related cause. For the past several weeks, OWS protesters have lent their support to Sotheby's locked-out union art handlers, first by infiltrating the auction house and then by protesting outside.)  

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he era of the world-class museum built by a single philanthropist in the tradition of Isabella Stewart Gardner, John Pierpont Morgan Jr. and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney may seem to have passed, but Alice L. Walton is bringing it back.

Yet her mission is unlike those of her predecessors, or of more recent art patrons like Ronald S. Lauder and his Neue Galerie. They set out to put great works on display in cultural capitals like New York and Boston. Instead, Ms. Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art — the first major institution dedicated to American artists in 50 years, to be housed in a building more than twice the size of the current Whitney Museum of American Art — seeks to bring high art to middle America here in this town of 35,000 that is best known as the home of Wal-Mart.

Ms. Walton, the daughter of Wal-Mart’s founder, Sam Walton, has worked on the museum for nearly a decade, but has said little about it in public until now. In a recent interview at Town Branch, her family home here, she said she wanted to turn Bentonville into an international destination for art lovers when the museum opens on Nov. 11. At the moment the most significant nearby cultural attractions are two hours away: a museum of Western and American Indian art in Tulsa, Okla., and, in the other direction, the country-music magnet of Branson, Mo.

“For years I’ve been thinking about what we could do as a family that could really make a difference in this part of the world,” said Ms. Walton, who is 61. “I thought this is something we desperately need, and what a difference it would have made were it here when I was growing up.”

The 201,000-square-foot museum was designed by the Boston architect Moshe Safdie for a site around two ponds on 120 acres of former Walton family land. Named for the nearby Crystal Spring, the museum will display top-flight works by American masters from the colonial era to the present, with the largest concentrations coming from the 19th and 20th centuries. Although the collection — currently about 600 paintings and sculptures — is still small by the standards of big museums, it is growing at a steady clip.

“She has not just been concentrating on what could be perceived as the greatest hits in American art,” said John Wilmerding, an art historian and professor at Princeton University, who has been advising Ms. Walton for seven years and is now on the Crystal Bridges board. “She has collected the work of some of these artists in depth,” quietly amassing substantial bodies of work by figures like Martin Johnson Heade, Stuart Davis, George Bellows and John Singer Sargent.

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