Crystal Bridges Collection Takes Turn Toward the Modern

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

In Forbe's 2010 ranking of the world's richest people, Alice Walton came in at No. 16, with her worth estimated at $20.6 billion. Despite her immense resources, she appears to have remained her father's daughter. Sam Walton was never a pushover.

"I do believe it's going to be a dramatic revelation [about] what's been accomplished," Wilmerding said of the museum collection. "And some critics would say, 'Well, it's endless amounts of money.' But to me in a way that's been the most remarkable and admirable thing about her buying is that even with unlimited resources, so to speak, she's tough on what she buys.

"She will not spend 'at any cost.' There have been things that we have passed up that drive me crazy. You think, 'Well, you can afford to buy it; get it. It's going to be worth the inflated price someday.' But she's been really tough.

"It's had an important effect on dealers in the market," Wilmerding said. "Dealers can't just assume Alice Walton is going to buy anything. ... She's exercised restraint all along the way. And I don't mean simply only buying bargains but just being absolutely ruthless on realistic market values.

"She'll do the homework on almost every individual acquisition and will ask for paperwork on market comparables," he said. "She'd be the last person who'd want to be taken to the cleaners on a purchase or sticking her head out at auction. And I think that's something that's very important for people to know."

Nevertheless, Wilmerding said, Walton is seeking quality above all else.

Bacigalupi, who as museum director is now "completely" involved in the acquisition of the collection, said, "The strategy that we employ vis-à-vis the relatively high profile of Alice and the family is that we try to be very circumspect in our acquisitions."

Walton is very conscious of the impact that she or Crystal Bridges might have on the art market if it became obvious what the museum was considering buying.

"That would be both disadvantageous to us, and it would be unfair to other collectors to affect the market in that way," Bacigalupi said.

That kind of discretion is the norm in the world of art collecting.

There are also advantages, however, that come with the high profile of the Waltons and the museum. "This is certainly the case with certain living artists and certain dealers that understand the value of placing a work of art in a museum collection, in a public collection where it will be enjoyed by many, many people," Bacigalupi said.

Take Walton Ford, for example, an artist extensively profiled in The New Yorker last year.



Please read our comments policy before commenting.