Crystal Bridges Collection Takes Turn Toward the Modern

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Jul. 12, 2010 12:00 am  

"We are by mission attempting something quite remarkable, which is to celebrate the American spirit through the presentation of the history of American art and in addition to that trying to comprehensively cover American art history from its beginnings in the Colonial period up to the contemporary moment."


Thinking of the Public

Alice Walton, heir to the Wal-Mart fortune and chair of the board of Crystal Bridges, has been collecting art for at least 20 years. She retains a private collection, a portion of which will go to the museum.

She first called on Wilmerding for advice in 2004. That was the same year that Wilmerding, himself a prominent collector and one of the foremost authorities on American art, donated his collection of 19th century American art to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

In a telephone interview last week from his summer home in Maine, Wilmerding said the call came "really out of the blue. I think it was from her art lawyer, who I think was helping sort of set up the legal and financial structure of the museum. I never have asked her who initially suggested my name to her. It might have come from several sources. We all know each other in the field."

Walton had not yet bought the Durand painting, "but I think the idea [for the museum] was firmly under way at that point, although I think she had no idea of the range and scale."

With the hiring of Bacigalupi as Crystal Bridges director, Wilmerding has stepped back from his active role as adviser.

But in the early days of Wilmerding's collaboration with Walton, "she never was quite sure whether an acquisition would be something that she would want to keep for herself for her lifetime or whether she would be buying for the museum."

However, Wilmerding said, "I think there was always an understanding" that if a piece were museum worthy ultimately it would go to Crystal Bridges.


'She's Tough'



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