This Crystal Bridges Museum that Alice Walton is building sounds better and better all the time. Carol Vogel’s story explains what’s going on in Arkansas:
“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.
Ms. Walton, who has been an art collector most of her life, turned to buying art specifically for the museum in 2005, resulting in a years-long spending spree that has made her a recognized force in the art market. She has been one of those mysterious anonymous buyers at auctions and at galleries who often pay top dollar and has spent many tens of millions of dollars on works like Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington from 1797 ($8.1 million), Asher B. Durand’s “Kindred Spirits” from 1849 ($35 million) and Norman Rockwell’s 1943 “Rosie the Riveter” ($4.9 million).
She has also bought more recent works, including a Jasper Johns “Alphabets” painting from 1960-62 (priced at $11 million) and a 1985 Warhol silkscreen of Dolly Parton and a 2009 Chuck Close triptych depicting Bill Clinton (prices unknown). (She is hoping that both Ms. Parton and Mr. Clinton, a friend, will attend the opening.)
Her museum has commissioned several major site-specific works, including a giant silver tree by Roxy Paine that sits at the entrance and a hypnotic large-scale light installation by James Turrell. […] John Richardson, the Picasso biographer, met Ms. Walton through friends during one of her frequent trips to New York, and visited the Museum of Modern Art with her. “She knew exactly what she was looking at,” Mr. Richardson recalled of their walk around the show “Abstract Expressionist New York.”
“I was surprised,” he said. “When we were looking at a painting by Norman Lewis” — an African-American painter who is relatively obscure compared to many of the other artists in the show — “she not only recognized his work but said the museum already had bought something of his, which is quite adventurous.”
A Billionaire’s Eye for Art Shapes Her Singular Museum (New York Times)