An expression that I’ve always liked has particular resonance in these times when nothing seems certain about whether or when we can resume life as we once knew it. Derived from a Yiddish proverb, this saying was popularized by Woody Allen:
If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.
[Yiddish Proverb: “Der mentsh trakht un got lakht.”—Man thinks. God laughs.]
Since the Virus Crisis struck, I’ve made very few plans for outside activities, other than taking regular walks with my husband and embarking on masked visits to our three Long Island grandchildren. When we’ll next get to see our two California grandchildren is anyone’s guess. The framed recent photos of all five of them that I received for my birthday last month help to brighten my dull days.
But interrupting my ennui, three emailed invitations recently lit up my inbox: Two of them involved participation in virtual panel discussions, for which I would reprise my long-standing role as the self-styled Deacccession Diva.
If and when those plans are formalized, I will give you (and our laughing deity) advance notice of when to fire up the Zoom app (or whatever technological methodologies are being used to enable these virtual group discussions).
Although the third invitation I received was the most intriguing, I politely and promptly declined: It came from someone who said he was “working on a television series by Adam McKay for Netflix about Alice Walton,” which is “supposed to come out 2022.” One of the three female leads is to be played by Amy Adams, who worked with veteran director McKay on “Vice”—the smart, engrossing movie about Dick Cheney, in which Adams played the VP’s wife, Lynne.
No word yet on who will play Alice Walton, the deep-pocketed founder and funder of the nine-year-old Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, who is almost exactly my age. (She’s one month older.)
Any resemblance? At least I got the hair right:
But enough fantasizing about my future as a movie star. Back to journalism: The Netflix researcher, who wanted to pick my brains as part of his work in “reporting some story lines” about Walton, said he had found my own “reporting about Alice and the museum” [my links, not his] to be “very helpful.” I wrote back that my participating in his project “might complicate and conflict with my role as a journalist who may cover Alice Walton and Crystal Bridges in future stories.”
In response to my request for more information about the project, he said he was assisting with a planned docudrama, “Kings of America,” described by Netflix as “center[ing] on the stories of three powerful women whose lives were inextricably intertwined with the world’s largest company: a Walmart heiress [Alice], a maverick executive [Amy Adams’ character?], and a longtime Walmart saleswoman and preacher [Betty Dukes] who dared to fight against the retail giant [my link, not Netflix’s] in the biggest class action lawsuit in U.S. history.” (I have thrice sent a query to Netflix’s press officers requesting more detailed information about this project, but I have not heard back. If I learn more, I’ll update.)
The questions he wanted to ask me, he said, “have to do mostly with some of the personal details” [uh-oh] that he had been “finding out about Ms. Walton, and if those square with what you heard or found. I am interested also in any blowback from the Waltons that you encountered during or after your reporting.”
So let me dispose of those issues now: I received absolutely no “blowback from the Waltons,” nor was I in the least bit interested in writing about the Walmart heiress’ “personal details,” which are easily found in online searches, but have nothing to do with my focus—Alice’s Crystal Bridges Museum, its collection, and the professional steps (and missteps) involved in its creation and operation.
Netflix and its researchers can find on my blog all that I have to say on those subjects. In my own reporting and visits, I never did manage to speak to Alice directly (not for lack of trying). I doubt she ever got over my having described her (in my 2007 Wall Street Journal article) as “a hovering culture vulture, poised to swoop down and seize tasty masterpieces from weak hands” (i.e., her 2005 purchase for Crystal Bridges of Asher B. Durand‘s “Kindred Spirits” from the financially challenged NY Public Library):
The only update I’d add to what I’ve previously published is that the Crystal Bridges has managed to compensate for its professional lapses and the departures of its founding curators and director with some distinguished later appointments and collegial relationships with other museums. Its opening of a satellite facility for contemporary art in downtown Bentonville—the Momentary (which I’ve not visited)—has given a culturally underserved area another rich resource. That facility’s community-minded curator of contemporary art is the estimable Lauren Haynes (formerly of the Studio Museum in Harlem), whom CultureGrrl readers met in New York (at 2:32 in my CultureGrrl video).
Interestingly, Walton appears to have abandoned her deliberately low profile at the museum. As I wrote here, when Crystal Bridges first opened:
Alice Walton chose not to make this project about herself. There’s no photo of, let alone tribute to, the founder/donor—a bit of self-aggrandizement that has come to be standard practice at other single-donor cultural enterprises.
But as of Sept. 11 of this year, the museum has been offering a 33-stop, hour-long audio tour, narrated by its founder. Speaking about “Kindred Spirits,” she says: “It was owned by the New York Library and the New York Library’s mission was books, not art.” Please, don’t get me started!
Okay, do get me started. Here’s what I wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the Durand’s importance to the New York Public Library’s collection:
A library’s lifeblood is books and manuscripts, not oil on canvas. But the departing art had deep roots in the library’s and New York City’s history and identity. “Kindred Spirits” had a direct relationship to the library’s holdings of Bryant’s papers [writer William Cullen Bryant and painter Thomas Cole, are depicted in the painting] and its large trove of Durand’s letters, journals and drawings, as well as some 400 of his engravings.
What’s more, in her 1904 donation of that painting, Bryant’s daughter Julia took pleasure in the appropriateness of the library’s site—the eponymous Bryant Park, where, as she wrote, it would “be more at home than anywhere else.”
Maybe one day I’ll return to Bentonville, AR, to revisit and reappraise the museum, but I doubt it: Most of my future travels, should they ever resume, will center my two California-based grandchildren. Early last March, I did manage get there to cuddle my newborn granddaughter, just before everything shut down because of Covid. At 8 months, she still always has a big smile for me, even though she knows me only as an image on a screen. (Maybe she thinks I’m a cartoon.)
But back to serious matters: I clearly should be the one to play Walton on Netflix. Almost exactly her age (I’m one month younger), I’ve got the acting chops, having played second female lead in “Guys and Dolls” when I attended summer camp as a Bronx kid in need of some fresh air. (No? Let me know on Twitter who you think should really get this thankless role.)
I now envision a flurry of hits on Alice Walton’s Wikipedia page, as curious readers try to ascertain the age of CultureGrrl (soon to be updated and downgraded to “CultureCrone”).
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