Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mind Blown At Crystal Bridges

During more than a decade working at Edelman, one of the most challenging opportunities arrived when our team -- a small army of P.R. executives from multiple offices -- began work with a new client you may have heard of: Walmart.

At the time (2007-2010), the Atlanta-based team focused on new store openings in the Southeast and rollout of a health initiative (generic Rx launch) in Georgia and Florida. It was rewarding to represent the world's largest retailer.

Media monitoring was a daily task that put me in position among the first to read print and online reports of a new art museum planned for Walmart's home town, Bentonville, Ark.

Sam Walton's daughter, Alice, announced intent to build what was named Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and as our team had recently wrapped up work promoting the expansion of Atlanta's High Museum of Art, I made a note "get CB as a client."

A few years and a lot of water under the bridge later, it was a sad day when -- after forgetting to pursue the opportunity -- I found those first news clips in a "new business tickler file" while packing to exit the big firm to start a freelance business. And in spite of the renewed awareness of the completed museum near my home state Oklahoma, there was not an easy opportunity to visit Crystal Bridges until one day last month.

Thank goodness for finding chances. I'm writing now to strongly recommend that family, friends and anyone with interest in art should drop everything and head to Crystal Bridges, a national treasure that is not to be missed.

On Mother's Day 2015 as I entered Bentonville and the museum grounds, I didn't know what to expect, and my plan was to stay an hour or two plus time for lunch.

Soaking in the breathtaking architecture by Moshe Safdie, I knew a very special treat was in store.

Man, oh, man. It took all afternoon -- six hours plus time for brunch beneath the dazzling, arched ceiling of Eleven (the café named for opening day 11/11/2011) -- to experience Crystal Bridges' expansive galleries, special exhibition space, extensive gardens and outdoor works, and to explore every corner.
The collection is so amazing, I stayed until after closing time and went through every indoor space twice for good measure and to savor and enjoy. Like the mountainside Getty Center in Los Angeles or the Chicago Art Institute, Crystal Bridges seems to go on and on and on with no end to the amazing architecture and contents.

Crystal Bridges is a superior, world class museum with an astounding permanent collection worthy of a special trip to Northwest Arkansas.

Get thee to Bentonville for the following visual delights:
  • Almost a dozen Georgia O'Keefe canvases, including the recently acquired "Jimson Weed" on view near a large and rare three-dimensional white-lacquered bronze by the artist.
  • Works from the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, including more amazing O'Keeffe works representing lower Manhattan skyscrapers, New Mexico landscapes, bones, masks and abstract paintings.
  • One of the biggest Andrew Wyeth paintings I've experienced; titled "Airborne" this egg tempera piece features a remote Maine island scene decorated with leaves and feathers in windswept chaos.
  • Several monumental works by modern artists of the last 20 years; Northern Wisconsin artist Tom Uttech painted hundreds of soaring birds enjoying a wilderness sunset on a 112-inch canvas.
  • Andy Warhol's portrait of Dolly Parton, Gilbert Stuart's version of George Washington (you may have seen this one in your wallet on the $1 bank note) and Norman Rockwell's depiction of Rosie The Riveter.
  • Works by Jacob Lawrence, Edward Hopper, Frederick Remington, Maxfield Parish, Winslow Homer, Roy Lichtenstein and even a pre-drip Jackson Pollock.
  • Roxy Paine's treelike, polished stainless steel "Yield" sculpture and several other outdoor wonders.
  • Opening soon, a complete Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Usonian home transplanted, with furnishings, to the museum gardens.
Other showstoppers included a bronze female nude holding aloft "The Bubble," an 1880s painting "The Indian and the Lily" and an explosive Lichtenstein sculpture, as well as a set of hand-drawn interstellar images captured through the eyepiece of historic telescopes.

And in a circular staircase beside the O'Keeffe installation, look up for a magnificent three-dimensional piece consisting of multicolored thread strung across the ceiling a few hundred times.

Be sure to view the Jeff Coons golden heart pendant in the aforementioned café.

The temporary exhibition included a Salvador Dalí canvas, Frida Kahlo self-portrait, a Franz Kline and an enormous Pollock drip canvas (a scale like the one used to dress the set in the film "Ex Machina"). Some current and upcoming exhibitions look great.

In the museum catalog, Alice Walton explained that an acquisition of the painting "Kindred Spirits" at auction was the moment that crystalized her goals for the museum.

"I remember us sitting in the room [at Sotheby's, during spring 2005] when we saw ["Kindred Spirits"]. It was a transformative moment for me in terms of taking this [museum] from what I perceived as a gift to the community to what I now think of as a gift to the nation."

She also explained the property on which Crystal Bridges was built was woodland she crossed en route to school as a youngster.

"My experience in terms of getting to where we are today is really about growth and development," said Walton. "I hope Crystal Bridges gives other people that same opportunity."

Crystal Bridges has a great ticket price: FREE.

If anyone from the museum's P.R. department reads this post, please let the powers that be know my hand remains raised to contribute to the communications team for Crystal Bridges, a new favorite art destination.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

1 comment:

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