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An image of Crystal Bridges under construction in July of this year. (via

Let’s all agree on one thing, if you have to use the term “world-class” then you probably aren’t, but that’s not to say that Arkansas’s “world-class” Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art isn’t going to make a splash next month when it opens in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post gets the first look at the institution and has this to say:

While millionaires and billionaires before her have created museums, Walton’s Crystal Bridges — with its mix of contemporary and classic art, and its origins in the frugal, self-made ethos of the Wal-Mart empire — feels decidedly different from the museums of the Gilded Age, or the boomtown art collections of mid-century Texas. There is no anxiety about the status of American art, no looking to Europe for validation. There’s no embarrassment about the immense fortune that made the museum possible, no old-fashioned cultural money-laundering in the manner of Carnegie or Mellon. Nor is there any worry about whether the art is too conservative or too edgy. It is a mature, serious, relatively progressive museum launched at a time when increasing numbers of people consider themselves socially tolerant and fiscally conservative. It is a museum for people who are as comfortable with art as social experiment and provocation, as they are with untrammeled, winner-takes-all capitalism.

Lovely, and just in time for #OccupyWallStreet.

In general, I wish the tackled the art story-telling more, but hey, this is the Washington Post, if anyone can dumb down arts coverage and be an apologist for American hubris, it’s them.

Does America, particularly the American South, need to do more national naval gazing at a time when the world is getting smaller and the nation should be looking at building more than crystal bridges with the rest of the world? My thinking is no, but I’m glad the people of Arkansas and the surrounding region will have access to a free museum that has the resources to expose potentially new audiences to art.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

8 replies on “Scrutiny of Arkansas’s Rich New American Art Museum Begins”

  1. I’m curious, when you write: “Does America, particularly the American South, need to do more national naval gazing at a time when the world is getting smaller and the nation should be looking at building more than crystal bridges with the rest of the world?”  Why the “particularly” the South?

    1. I admit, I base that on anecdotal evidence, but my experience is that the American South has a tougher time dealing with foreigners, like with Alabama’s latest laws meant to hinder undocumented workers. Also, on some stats, like the fact that southern Americans are least likely to ever leave the country or own passports: I think international travels opens people’s minds to the world. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

      1. As a preface to what I’m about to say, let me mention that I’m
        an artist and a curator living in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee who might
        be a little over-sensitive to the way people tend to unintentionally cast
        casual aspersions towards the inhabitants of our region.  (I might also be an anomaly in that I have a passport.)  As a person from the South I find that most
        of my conversations with people from other places are framed by their points of
        pop-culture reference.  They think we’re
        all racists who talk like Foghorn Leghorn, drink moonshine, and aren’t used to
        paved roads or indoor plumbing like the Dukes of Hazzard.  Part of my job as someone who brings in
        artists from more metropolitan locations is to undo some of that typecasting
        and show them that we’re like the other regions of the country in all the good
        and bad ways.  (We do drive and talk
        slower and eat more bar-b-que but that’s another story.)  Regarding the new museum in Bentonville, I
        think it is and should be burdened by the myriad baggage that inherently comes
        along with the Wal-Mart Empire.  But as
        someone who revels in the cultural benefits of art, I have to admit that
        something amazing is about to happen there in the hills of north-west Arkansas.
        Here we have a family who, like the Kimbells and the Fricks before them, put
        together a collection of art that they wanted to share with their
        community.  I am looking forward to seeing
        what they do there and what its long term impact will be on the region.  Think about how many artists’ stories start
        with “my mom took me to the museum when I was a kid.”  I think of the people in that region and how
        their lives will, if even in some small way, be better because of this
        project.  I think it’s tough for people
        in NYC, Chicago, and LA to acknowledge that the country is made up of vibrant regions,
        rich in their own histories and vernacular. 
        (Just ask my neighbor Bill Eggleston, for whom people are currently
        working on creating a museum for here in Memphis.)  I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new and
        that you realize that travel here in the vast United
        States broadens one’s mind to the world as
        well.  Come on down to Memphis Hrag, we’ll
        feed you well and show you some good art while you’re here.  

        1. No, anecdotal. I know people who live or have lived there. And I’ve certainly seen to the South many times. You’d could imagine when you have a name like Hrag, how attitudes change towards you, and let’s just say parts of the South have had some interesting reactions.

          1. Now Hrag, as someone with an unusual name myself I can only imagine how someone whose name is Hrag could be a little sensitive to people’s reactions.  I’m a fat guy from Memphis whose name is Hamlett and sometimes I get that when I’m up in New York, all that means is that they don’t come across too many fat guys.  From Memphis.  Whose name sounds like a Shakespeare play.  That doesn’t really mean anything.  I wonder how did the attitudes of these individuals change?  What kind of responses to you get from folks in (*insert name of insular New York or New Jersey neighborhood here*) when you tell them your name is Hrag?  I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss or cast judgement on an entire region of the country from the vague replies that some attitudes changed towards you when you told them your name is Hrag.  (Now I realize that there might be more to the story here, maybe some redneck spit in your coffee or keyed your car when you were in here in the South and if that happened, well, that sucks and I’m sorry that happened.) 

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