Crystal Bridges opens to a select audience

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 65 views 

Editor’s note: This story about the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville will be followed by several more stories in the next few weeks. A Monday story will focus on the reviewer’s reflections of the artwork and presentation.

story by Ken Kupchick, special to The City Wire

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art began opening its doors to the world as several thousand museum supporters took advantage of a 24-hour timed entry preview on Wednesday and Thursday to experience the permanent collection of artworks crafted by Americans over the past five centuries.

The preview permitted the first 3,000 museum members to an advance showing of the museum’s permanent collection. The event serves as another step toward the museum’s officially opening tomorrow (Nov. 11.)

On Friday at 11 a.m., a dedication ceremony on the Bentonville Square will be followed by general admission by timed entry commencing at 12:30 p.m.

“Over 30,000 visitors are expected this week alone,” said Curator of American Art Kevin Murphy.

While free general admission has been made possible by a $20 million Walmart Foundation endowment, timed entry ticketing will be required through Jan. 2.

The 201,000 square foot museum is situated in a deep ravine within a 120-acre forested campus and was designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie. Eight pavilions provide 12 distinct gallery spaces. The museum is dedicated to American art and provides a perspective spanning five centuries from the colonial to the contemporary. For the most part, the museum configuration sets up a counter clockwise progression that chronicles the style, focus and direction of American art from colonial settlement until now.

“Don (Bacigalupi) describes it as almost a car wash approach. That doesn’t mean that it will always stay that way,” Murphy explained.

Bacigalupi is museum’s director and a driving force along with David Houston, director of curatorial. The project’s primary benefactor is Walmart heiress Alice Walton.

The impressive museum, with an estimated price tag to-date of $1.4 billion, is still but in its planning infancy. During the last decade, the creation of the world-class museum has been kept secret as anonymous art auctions buys and purchases through special donor relationships have helped amass a collection “north of 1,000 pieces,” according to Bacigalupi. Adding to the collection are several of the most important pieces from the lifetime personal collections of Alice Walton.

“Alice really dreamed of this place,” Murphy said.

When asked why visitors see more emphasis on historical pieces in the museum, Murphy said: “Good art has a long conversation about it. It withstands the test of time and also brings up a lot of associations (for the viewer).”

"This is not the finish line. The collection is barely seven years old," said Curatorial Director Houston.

Continuing, Houston noted: "As a curator, you see the collection breathe and take on an identity only when it is installed."

Antiques Magazine estimates an annual acquisition budget of $15 million.

“Our real work begins on the 12th. We have been so focused on everything that is not part of the day to day operation of a museum. It will be interesting for us to transition into how we will be operating going forward,” Murphy explained.

The museum now has more than 5,000 members and annual attendance is estimated at 250,000 people.

In addition to the permanent collection galleries, there is also exhibition space for temporary installations, additional classrooms, lecture hall, administrative curatorial offices and meeting spaces along with a 50,000-item art research library and archive.

Reception and hospitality facilities with seating for 300 people have no rival in the state. A restaurant, Eleven, will begin full operation on Wednesday.

Over three miles of trails and sculpture installations invite museum goers outdoors to appreciate the grounds.

“We want people to access the museum in different ways all the time. Picnic one day. Go through the entire collection with visiting relatives on another. Or just come visit your two favorite pieces. This isn’t just about going to a museum. It’s about having the art and the nature be part of an experience,” Murphy said.