News__ Walmart’s Art Legacy

June 20, 2011 | By

Is Walmart deeming Bentonville, AK the new capital of modernity?

Over the course of Walmart's reign in the discount department store industry, the empire's legacy has amassed controversial attention from the public for its role in America's culture and economy. Now, two monumental events are happening simultaneously for the infamous corporation. On one extreme, the corporate branch of the multinational breathes a sigh of relief in the wake of a major win for them, and a major loss for over a million women. Walmart has been in involved a sex discrimination class action suit and the supreme has ruled in their favor. On the other extreme, Alice, the princess, if you will, of the Walton family makes her name as one of the foremost groundbreaking female philanthropists in the American art world.

Alice Walton is worth over $20 billion and has been a quiet but forceful collector in the United States for many years. This November, after deliberating with her family, particularly the generation that will inherit her assets, they have unanimously agreed to make the financial and familial investment in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The Walton Family Foundation will gift $800 million, which is perhaps the largest gift from a single family to an American art museum in history, to the 200,000 square foot complex in Bentonville, AK. This is the home of the first Walmart store, the birthplace of the Walton family legacy, and, perhaps the beginning of a new center for publicly accessible art in the heart of the Ozarks. Wonder how long it will take universities to set up an exchange program sending Art History students to Bentonville. Screw Paris, cultural spring break 2012 in Arkansas anyone?

Walton notes that the museum doors will open with many of her ideal pieces missing. However, amongst the museum's 600 paintings and sculptures are Jasper Johns' "Alphabets" painting, Normal Rockwell's "Rosie the Riveter", and a large scale James Turrell light installation at the entrance to the building. Many are still unsure of precisely what will be shown in the museum's opening, but the American art collection covers the colonial to the contemporary period. Unlike most billionaire philanthropist buyers, Alice Walton has veered away from amassing an extensive European impressionist collection. “I never would have thought of collecting anything but American, truly," she said to The Times. “This is the heartland of the country. It’s what should be here.”

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