I finally made it to see the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas while I was up visiting Mom back in December 2013. I’ve been sitting on this post since January, and since I forgot all about Black & Wednesday yesterday, and since this post has a couple of neat-ish B/W Hipstashots in it, I’ll toss this off.
Before I give you my impressions of the museum and its collection, enjoy a few Hipstamatic shots on this lovely
Phoneography Friday Thursday, in lieu of yesterday’s missing Black & Wednesday post…
iPhone 5, Hipstamatic. Various lens/film combos.
And now on to the museum…
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is the brainchild of Walmart heiress Alice Walton, and if you’re familiar with Walmart, you might notice a few similarities between the museum and the big box store.
First up: upon entry of either one, you’re likely to be greeted by a cheerful greeter person. In other museums, the docents tend to stay out of the way and only speak to you when you stray too close to a painting, or when you ask for directions to the shop or the restroom. Not so at Crystal Bridges, where the docents are your friends!
They hasten to ask you if this is your first visit, and are quick to point out the best way to traverse the collection. They’ll also cheerfully lay down the general guidelines for looking at museum art and gently nudge you toward an audio guide, the nearest exit, and/or the restrooms, depending on where you are in the galleries, and are always happy to discourse on a variety of topics—I was privy to a lengthy discussion of one docent’s Number Obsession-type OCD; another discoursed on the weather, its local and regional outlook for the day (it was turning colder), his lack of a heavy coat, and his travel arrangements (his wife would be picking him up).
I’m not complaining, here, and I’m sure the casual visitor will find nothing odd or out of place in the greeters’ demeanor, while others will find it a refreshing change from the usual bored (under)graduate art or art history student one might find in other museums. But I for one sorta enjoy the usual, quiet-as-a-tomb atmosphere of the staid, white-box museum with its largely invisible docents, and was a bit thrown by the hyper-friendly and more or less helpful staff at Crystal Bridges.
Lest anyone think I’m just another East or West Coast art snob… well, I did receive a Master’s degree in Art History and Criticism from Stony Brook University, and did at one point look forward to working in the museum world. But that is long behind me now, mostly (not the degree, which I can’t ever shake, and not really the desire to work in museum land either, but I’m a bit more sober now as regards the art world…), and I applaud the efforts of Ms. Walton to bring Great American Art to Bentonville, Arkansas. And I sort of tsk tsk the East and West Coast art worlds for refusing to sell famous works to an upstart museum in the middle of nowhere (don’t tell anyone in Bentonville or surrounding counties I said that, though many people there would agree with me and happily so).
That said, if I was an established museum or a University or a collector that happened to be down on its luck due to the market downturn following the so-called Great Recession, I would think twice about selling parts of my collection to Wal-Mart, to be shown in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. True, my art would be seen by the hundreds of thousands or millions of people who now flock to Bentonville for the ‘art scene,’ but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of millions who visit New York or Chicago or LA or Paris or London just (or mostly) for the art, and Bentonville doesn’t have the history, the architecture, the parks, or other attractions of one of the world’s great (or even mediocre) cities, and it will likely be many decades before it can even come close.
Where New York has Wall Street and 5th Avenue, Chicago the Miracle Mile, LA the movie stars, London the Queen (and the Beatles), and Paris the food, Bentonville has the Daisy Air Rifle museum and the Duck Dynasty something and about 1000000000 WalMart-related sites…
On the other hand, the south-central US has a right to some great art too, and the big metropolises shouldn’t have a monopoly. That’s where a traveling museum would be helpful, one that occupied 2-5 semi trailers that could be fitted together to form a set of galleries, and travel around, maybe set up for a week or two in small towns, following the carnival circuit or someting. This is something that I think would be a great thing. Sort-of a Book-Mobile for Art.*
But I digress…
And I originally had some plans to continue on with this discussion/review of Crystal Bridges. I have some notes here on the Light/Atomosphere, with a plan to compare it (likely unfavorably) to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX. If I recall, I also had designs on talking about the restaurant/cafe—I don’t much remember the food, but the music was some swinging 50-s and 60’s hard bop jazz, perhaps with vocals, at about two notches above comfortable background noise level, and overall rather different than what one might find in the usual sort of art museum. The food was acceptable, and our trio was able to find plenty to eat, despite various dietary restrictions (we were a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim, all more or less practicing).
I also had some ideas to talk about serial-type photography projects (like the 365, my 7/52, this year’s set) vs. other sorts of photography projects, but this post is getting overlong (and I’m editing/writing it from work… tsk tsk), so maybe I’ll post on that later, maybe tomorrow as part of the as-yet un-written and unshot Phoneography Friday post.
*I hereby trademark/copyright/patent the idea for a traveling museum of the type just described, if no one else has already done so…