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A Telling Moment For Crystal Bridges

Most reviews of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, including my own in the Wall Street Journal, noted that the best works came in the first few pavilions, before the art from the ’50s through now. I noted that Alice Walton, the benefactor, had passed up opportunities to buy major works by Mark Roth, Andy Warhol and Clyfford Still in the last few years. Her heart, I am guessing, just wasn’t in that period of art — though officials in Bentonville more often bemoaned the lack of opportunity.

Now they have another chance, and we shall see what happens. As reported in today’s New York Times, Christie’s will soon auction many works from the collection of David and Geraldine Pincus. The works on the block include at least two major works that would look great in Crystal Bridges.

One is Rothko’s Orange, Red, Yellow from 1961, an 8 ft by 7 ft painting of orange and red. Estimate: $35 million to $45 million.

The other, possibly more likely, is Pollock’s No. 28 (at right), from 1951, estimated at $20 million to $30 million, which was in the Pollock show at the Museum of Modern Art a few years back.

According to Christie’s, the Pincuses bought the work in the late 60s, “from the famed collection of Mr. and Mrs.
Arnold H. Maremont of Chicago, through Harold and Hester Diamond from whom the Pincuses acquired
the work.” It measures 38 x 54 inches and “is distinguished by its black enamel and silver grey paint with pourings and drips of white, red and yellow. There has not been a Jackson Pollock of this quality or scale at auction since 1997.”

It’s pricey, no question. Crystal Bridges likely could not purchase it on its own, without help from Walton, despite it $325 million acquisitions endowment. Will she come up with the money? Or would Geraldine Pincus, the consignor, do a private treaty sale for less money to see the work go to a museum?




  1. Personally, I would rather have the Rothko, the Pollock, and all the others right here in NY museums, where countless more people would see and enjoy them than will ever go to Bentonville. (OK: I’m a New York chauvinist when it comes to things like this. I always want more.)

    • It’s highly unlikely, in fact inconceivable, that a New York museum would buy these works. A, they don’t “need” them, as Crystal Bridges does, and B, they don’t have the money for them. So what you’re saying is that you’d rather they go into a private collection.

    • Oh Bob G, at least you admit to what you are. That’s the only saving grace of your comment, though. If it were left up to your types, anything and everything cultural would be crammed onto one certain slender island.

      (Background here—I am originally from New Orleans, but have lived in Bentonville, 1/2 mile from CB, for 10 years)

      CB was not built primarily to satisfy the needs of art tourists from far away coasts. It is a resource for the Mid-south and lower Midwest primarily. Yikes! How much more red-state can one get! Based on visit data, the resource is being used well above estimates. An obvious gift to the immediate Bentonville area, it is, however, roughly centered amid the Fayetteville (of which Bentonville is a part), Fort Smith, Joplin, Springfield and Tulsa DMAs, thus serving a relatively nearby (in flyover state perspective) population of well over two million. And that doesn’t even consider the Kansas City market if you cast the net out an easy two hours’ interstate drive north of Joplin. Small potatoes compared to that of NYC, Boston, etc., but still a lot of eyeballs to be served as well as those thousands of nature and folkways tourists and Walmart and Tyson business trippers who come here anyway and would care to see what the country mice have on exhibit.

      One writer from a great city to the northeast, I believe, refers to your types dear Bob, as reverse NIMBYs, asking that such resources as CB be in NO PLACE BUT my backyard. Would you be happy if the artists and agendas from upstate Chautauqua and the distant Aspen Summer Music Festival, just to name two examples, were somehow shoe-horned into Bryant Park and the back door of the library on Fifth Avenue? But again, at least you confess to your prejudice. For that I tip my hat.

      Friendly suggestion Bob. Get off the island. Browse American and United web sites for the random fare deals to our small city when the seats aren’t filled with corporate types coming down here from your tri-state area. Both airlines have non-stops (yes NON -stops) to our airport just minutes from the museum (from LGA and EWR respectively). Who knows, you might even get the notion to rent a car and drive over to Tulsa for the Gilcrease and Philbrook and up to K. City for the Nelson-Atkins and the Kemper. You might even stumble upon some Frank L. Wright architecture along the way as well as that of Mr. Safdie with his CB in Bentonville and his Kaufman music hall in K. City.

      As Auntie Mame would say ‘Live, live, live!’ You may recall she was a big believer in getting away from Beekman Place routinely and soaking up culture in distant “else wheres”.

  2. Jim VanKirk says:

    Perhaps AW just doesn’t care about most of what garners the headlines in Post War Art and doesn’t feel free to admit it. It’s her $ and her museum she can make it as personal as she likes. Very Post Modern Attitude that one and her curatorial critics can go fly a kite.

  3. Ted T: Since your comment was directly addressed to me, I hope that Judith will permit me to reply

    I think perhaps you misunderstood my point. I do get out of New York. In fact, I love to visit museums outside Manhattan. Over the years, from west to east I have visited the museums in San Francisco, San Antonio, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Merion, Newark, Montclair, Greenwich, Boston, and Cape St. Ann. (I’ve left some out.) (And I’ve been fortunate to visit many of the major museums in Europe, too.) I love museums wherever they are, and I make a point of visiting the local museum wherever I go. But I always do wish that whatever they hold were in NY.

    • Bob, thank you for the clarification. You have been to many more museums, surely, than I have. My cultural bent prior to CB opening has been performing arts, not visual. One thing, if nothing else, that has resulted from CB opening is that I find myself visiting a museum whenever I can now as opposed to before as I travel on business.

      My reaction to your entry was based on a sensitivity that has developed since early last year when the opening of CB was closing in and so much downright snarkiness was included in some art reviews and downright vitriol towards Alice Walton, Walmart, Arkansas and the South in general spewed forth from internet comment posters. Posters who for the most part appeared to have never even BEEN to Arkansas, much less the lovely Ozarks.

      So I apologize. I do so hope you can come visit some day. Indeed CB is not a big city museum. But the experience of the collection, the setting, the architecture is quite lovely. It’s a mix that is a much different experience than hopping out of a taxi and ducking into a big city museum. Not better, certainly not ‘bigger’…but much different.

      And if you do find yourself making the trip, I urge you to explore the square around Bentonville, old ‘downtown’ nearby Rogers, Arkansas, the Post Office Square in the nearby college town of Fayetteville and also the quirky Ozark artist and tourist enclave of Eureka Springs, about 45 minutes east of Bentonville.
      And don’t miss visiting either the Cooper Chapel in Bella Vista or the Thorncrown Chapel on the way to Eureka Springs. Both are quite similar in design from the drafting table of the late E. Fay Jones, former head of the U. of Ark architecture school and a student of F.L. Wright. Jones also designed the Sam Walton home which is just south of the museum property (but generally out of view). So long before Mr. Safdie dropped in at Alice’s request o envision CB, we had strong, direct influences from an earlier famous architect here in NW Arkansas, SW Missouri and Oklahoma (FL Wright). I guess that’s sort of my point. Art and culture appear in all types and forms and not only do they not need to always reside in big cities but in some cases the forms and substances are very much better off AWAY from the big city.

      Happy travels.

      Oh, and BTW if you do come to this region, consider a side trip to Kansas City or perhaps begin you trip by flying into K.C. As I said, I’m not a veteran art museum-goer. But seeing those large Thomas Hart Benton murals on display at the Nelson-Atkins….right there in Benton’s native region (he is from Neosho, just 25 minutes north of Bentonville)….well, that’s to me an awesome experience!

  4. Another aside: Benton County and Bentonville were named for the artist Thomas Hart Benton’s uncle, a former Missouri senator and statesman. The artist-nephew was named after the uncle. So it was destiny. Art was to come to Bentonville in one form or another. Just glad it wasn’t a black velvet Elvis printing factory.

  5. I do hope some day to visit Crystal Bridges, and Kansas City. I did see both the Rothko and the Pollack when they went on view for auction and they were superb. Judith was quite correct that they would have been spectacular acquisitions for Crystal Bridges. Both went to private bidders, and I believe the Rothko set a world record. We can only hope that some day they will return to public view. But Ted, next time use your influence and make sure that Crystal Bridges gets in on the action!

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