Kevin Murphy, curator of American art at the Williams College Museum of Art (and previously at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art), elaborates on Flight from Bentonville: Ex-Crystal Bridges Curator Kevin Murphy on Why He Left:
I worried slightly when I read your initial blog post, because I do tend to err on the side of candor. The Afghanistan comment riled some Arkansan feathers, but colleagues from across the museum world were overwhelmingly positive [in reaction to Murphy’s comments that were quoted in my above-linked Nov. 19 post].
I think that although my case was extreme, the conflict between the desire of curators and educators to produce exhibitions with rigorous scholarship and innovative design vs. institutional demands for exhibitions heavy on spectacle but light on ideas—of which Crystal Bridges’ current State of the Art seems to be an example—touched a nerve with a lot of us. People seemed to feel I was speaking a little truth to power, which I appreciated.
I was happy that Chris Crosman added his much more measured thoughts about problems Crystal Bridges faces. I felt his vision of the museum was about building community through acquiring the best collection possible, and positioning Crystal Bridges nationally as peer and partner of museums with similar scale and funding.
Instead, more than three years in, it still resorts to a willful provincialism that I believe is defensive, masking its current inability to produce much serious content (beyond the trawling curatorial approach of “State of the Art”).
I feel no ill will toward Crystal Bridges, and still hope that it will develop into an important force in American art (beyond its buying power). I used to say that we had the opportunity, indeed maybe the mandate, to create a community of museum visitors in Arkansas who knew as much about the history of American art as anyone who frequents the American wings of the Met, MFA Boston or MoMA, for that matter.
To that end, significant works from the collection of the Williams College Museum of Art are scheduled to travel to Bentonville as part of Alfred Maurer [organized by the Addison Gallery of the Phillips Academy, Andover, MA] and Landscape Painting in the Americas [organized by the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, Brazil; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada; and Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago].
The hire of Mindy Besaw adds real curatorial experience and knowledge about historical American art to Chad Alligood‘s now wide-ranging understanding of contemporary art. [Alligood, now a Crystal Bridges curator, co-organized “State of the Art” with the museum’s soon-to-depart president, Don Bacigalupi.]