Preview of Wal-Mart Heiress's Crystal Bridges Museum

  • Mary Cassatt, The Reader, 1877.  Oil on canvas, 32 x 25 1/2 in.  (81.3 x 64.8 cm).  Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.  Photography by Robert LaPrelle

    Mary Cassatt, The Reader, 1877. Oil on canvas, 32 x 25 1/2 in. (81.3 x 64.8 cm). Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Photography by Robert LaPrelle

    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

The press preview for the new Crystal Bridges museum, in Bentonville, Arkansas, revealed some 450 works from the American art collection recently assembled by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, in 200,000-square-feet of curvaceous, light-filled buildings designed by architect Moshe Safdie.

Safdie's architecture, accented by copper roofs and connected by bridges, is a tour de force, according to Bloomberg's James S. Russell. The site is streamside in 120 acres of rural woodlands owned by the Walton family, near their company's headquarters.

Twelve galleries in four separate buildings house the collection, which is arranged chronologically, offering a survey of American art from colonial times to the present with prime examples from every period, some bought at premium prices by Walton.

Among the newly announced acquistions is Mary Cassatt's "The Reader" as well as a Thomas Moran landscape, a few Jackson Pollocks and a large Alexander Calder mobile, according to Arkansas Business' Managing Editor Jan Cottingham.

"Celebrating the American Spirit" is the inaugural exhibition showcasing the museum's permanent collection. One early masterpiece is Asher Durand's 1849 “Kindred Spirits,” which was purchased for $35 million. Other well-known images include Maxfield Parrish's "The Lantern Bearers" and Norman Rockwell's "Rosie the Riveter."

Seminal portraits of Washington by Charles Willson Peale and Gilbert Stuart mix with works by lesser-known 18th-century artists. The 19th century galleries are strong with notable paintings by Cropsey, Heade, Moran, Eakins, Sargent and Homer.

The largest gallery suite is devoted to blue-chip modernist works by the likes of Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Stuart Davis. The contemporary section is growing with recent acquistions such as Nick Cave's "Sound Suit" of 2010.

The Walton Family Foundation has given $800 million to support acquisitions and operations as well as the museum's construction. Another $20 million was contributed for free admission.

Alice Walton heads the museum board, says Executive Director Don Bacigalupi, but professional curators guide display and acquisition.

Russell writes, "Walton’s lower profile may also blunt the widespread and condescending perception that she is a rube using bucks ill- gotten by dad’s retail rapacity to haul the nation’s patrimony to this remote Xanadu, where the rednecks won’t appreciate it."

Even while located in Bentonville, a town of 35,000 residents and numerous big-box stores, the museum has already secured 5,000 members before its opening.

"One of the most important things will be the amount of repeat visitors," Walton told reporters.

The location is far removed from major cities and typical art hubs which may detract visitors from coming more than once. To keep a flow of interest and visitors, Walton said, “We want to share; we want to borrow; we want to loan; we want to have really active partnerships with museums worldwide,” in a recent New York Times interview.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opens to the public on Nov. 11. Timed reservations to view the museum on opening day have been filled.

"I never expected people to be so excited," said Walton to reporters during the press preview.

[Please note: An earlier version of this article showed an incorrect image.]

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