How One of America’s Best Art Collectors, Alice Walton, Plans to Change the Art World |

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Americans for the Arts celebrates Alice Walton, winner of the 2015 National Arts Awards for the Arts Education Award. (Photo: Courtesy of BFA NYC)

I must have caught my breath after interviewing the daughter and heiress of Walmart mogul, Sam Walton, and one of the world’s greatest art collectors, at the 2015 Americans for the Arts gala on Monday. The glamorous evening (greeting stars ranging from Lady Gaga to Kerry James Marshall) saw Ms Walton, 66, win an arts education award. But education is only beginning to describe the scope of his project, which has practically become an obsession.

The Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas.  (Photo: Courtesy of Crystal Bridges)
The Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark. (Photo: Courtesy of Crystal Bridges)

“Art shouldn’t be restricted to big city dwellers,” she said slowly and earnestly with her drawl and rugged Southern voice. “What matters to me is access to the arts for all people of all economic and ethnic backgrounds. This is far from a speech: over the past two decades, the collector has amassed (often at auction and, at times, amid controversy) one of the largest collections of American art in the world, from portrait of George Washington by Peale to the works of Andy. Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Chuck Close.

She exhibited them at the free-entry Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark., Which she founded in 2011 in the hometown of Walmart, where the company is still headquartered. The magnificent architectural wonder designed by Moshe Safdie has presented an unprecedented treasure of American art since its opening.

Andy Warhol (1962).
Andy warhol Coca Cola (1962), in the Crystal Bridges collection.

That’s not to say Ms. Walton despises big cities. She was clearly enjoying her night out in Manhattan with close friends and big city art performers. Still, she seemed comfortable being out of town, and even her outfit exemplified a fusion of country and city: a vibrant red and black jacket with a pair of matching full-rimmed glasses, a kind of avant-garde fashion mixed with a ranch-handy practice.

She said Crystal Bridges plans to change the way we think about and interact with museums in this country.

“One of the things that really interests us, if you look at contemporary art today, is how the fine art eventually evolved to include everything. There is incredible folk art, crafts, glass and much more all over the country … the main challenges for museums today are to give context to this drastic change in the way we define art. (Witness, for example, the incredible rise of ceramics in the contemporary art world over the past five years.)

'George Washington' 1780-82 by Charles Willson Peale, from the collection of the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art.
George washington, 1780-82, by Charles Wilson Peale, from the collection of the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art.

When I asked her how our New York contemporary art scene fits into her projects, she proudly replied, “We work with all the galleries (in New York), but we also did studio tours. in all the countries.

Walmart is a popular and polarizing retailer, of course, and Ms. Walton’s spending spree has at times been just as controversial, as a few notable works have been purchased and moved to local museums in distress. But works from the Crystal Bridges collection will travel across the country, she said.

Indeed, unifying all the arts within a museum is a complex and intensive endeavor, but identifying and collecting is only part of Ms. Walton’s plan. The second part is to broadcast.

The author and Alice Walton.  (Photo: Courtesy of BFA NYC)
The author and Alice Walton. (Photo: Courtesy of BFA NYC)

“I don’t want to see things in storage,” she said, almost fiercely.

And she won’t.

“Beyond what we are showing in the Ozarks, there is a real need for traveling exhibits that go to regional museums,” she said. “We only started to associate and share our works and exhibitions after three and three-quarters years.

Ultimately, the museum hopes to create a network that will spread the arts and education across the country, she said.

How one of America's best art collectors, Alice Walton, plans to change the art world


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