You are going to hear a lot more about Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas. The New York Times calls it " the art museum Wal-mart money built.” oO you might have heard about the uproar caused by Alice Walton’s purchase of a landmark Hudson River School landscape painting, Kindred Spirits, by Asher B. Durand, from the New York Public Library for around $35 million. Apparently the library needed the money and Ms. Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton and founder of Wal-Mart, had it. How scandalous is that? The real story is how the painting was carried off to a little known neck of the woods in Middle America where a world-class museum was designed and built by renowned, Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie.
On a pristine 120 acre site that features six pedestrian and multi-use trails winding through woods and gardens, sits the Crystal Bridges Museum, connected by the surrounding neighborhoods, parks, and downtown Bentonville. This is how New York Times writer Roberta Smith puts it, “You are never far from the outdoors, never cocooned by a maze of galleries. Moving through the building becomes something of a tour of its remarkable setting. Meanwhile, the art on view defines the museum as foremost an exceptional if idiosyncratic picture gallery assembled by someone with a discerning and independent eye for paintings.”
The buildings that comprise Crystal Bridges are masterpieces themselves, and the way they interact with the environment is stunning. It absolutely gave me goose bumps to have such close contact with such a wondrous collection of art. Rosie the Riveter is there. My favorites were a Winslow Homer work The Return of the Gleaner. You could almost feel the wind blowing through the skirt of a woman standing on the edge of a field. Then there was Thomas Hart Benton’s Plowing it Under, and a wonderful piece by Carroll Cloar titled, Arrival of the Germans in Crittenden County.
In particular I was star struck when standing within one foot of The Lantern Bearers (top) by Maxfield Parrish. Although the painting was originally created to be reproduced as a frontispiece for the December 10, 1910 issue of Collier’s magazine, its visual effect is much like the Grand Canyon, you just have to see it in person to understand the magnitude of depth it presents. Parrish achieved the glowing blues and yellows in this work by layering pure pigment and varnish repeatedly on a blue white background, a time-consuming technique inspired by Old Master painters. In this particular painting the lanterns appear to glow as if they are back lit.
Parrish also took photographs and worked from them; the seated figure in the lower left of the painting is based on a photograph of Susan Lewin, a favorite model who was employed as a housekeeper in the Parrish household for many years. Parrish would build up the depth in his paintings by photographing, enlarging, projecting and tracing half- or full-size objects or figures. Parrish then cut out and placed the images on his canvas, covering them with thick, but clear, layers of glaze. This explains the clarity of the faces of the clowns that are not painted but yet do not look out of place. The painting was purchased for the museum at Christie's in New York on May 25th, 2006 for $4.272 million.
What’s next? Crystal Bridges announces they are launching a four-year collaboration between the Musée du Louvre, the High Museum of Art. Curators from each of the partnering institutions are working together to shape themes and installations, and works will be drawn from the collections of all four institutions. The first installation premieres at the Louvre on January 14, 2012 before traveling to the other collaborating museums, and will explore the birth of American landscape painting through the works of Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand.
In addition to works by Cole and Durand, the installation will include an earlier painting by Pierre-Antoine Patel the Younger which inspired Cole's work after the artist saw viewed the piece in Paris. At each of the museums the works will be displayed within their permanent collection galleries to add new dimension and nuance to the museums' own holdings. The six paintings in the inaugural installation at the Louvre is titled New Frontier: Thomas Cole and the Birth of Landscape Painting in America, while the entire collaboration is named American Encounters: Thomas Cole and the Narrative Landscape. Go see The Lantern Bearers , and the other works if you can. The museum is free, lunch is a pleasure and while it was busy during the week, there were no lines.
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