World class American art in Arkansas…

As a continuation of  a friend’s birthday celebration, we took a road trip to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Although the name evokes either an annex of the nearby Precious Moments Museum, or a rehab facility, the museum itself houses a fairly impressive collection of American Art collected by Alice Walton, an heir to the Walmart fortune. (The admission is free, thanks to Walmart)

While Alice Walton shook up the art world with her prolific purchasing, she also made the very wise decision to hire Moshie Safdie as the architect. His design consists of eight linked pavilions that border or span two large pools that are fed by the namesake Crystal Spring. You are always aware of the bucolic setting, without distracting from the art.

With great bias, I share New York Time writer Roberta Smith’s observations:

There is one huge blind spot in the collection up to 1900, and it is a very serious one in my book: the almost complete lack of paintings by largely self-taught or folk artists. This country’s folk art is as great and as original as any other art it has produced; its uncanny fusion of abstraction and representation, and of primitive and modern makes it the American equivalent of Sienese painting in the early Italian Renaissance. Leaving it out is like looking at the story of American art with only one eye.

This absence results in a certain unopposed homogeneity dominated by a fairly academic quest for realism. I kept wishing for a quirky, flattened landscape or marine view by the great Thomas Chambers to disrupt the fussy verisimilitude and endless vistas of the Hudson River school paintings.

Overall, the museum is well worth the drive.

There were a few drawbacks…

  • The paintings are hung too close to allow each to breath on its own. It feels as if they were trying to hang every single piece without stopping to edit. “We bought it, we hang it.”
  • The lighting casts huge shadows under the art, adding to the congestion, and not highlighting the art
  • The dining experience is frustrating, with long, long lines and over zealous bussers, although the food was quite good.