Randy Kennedy at the Times has a great piece about the cross-country travels of curators from the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art–Alice Walton’s Bentonville, Arkansas institution–as they prepare for a 100-artist group show in September. (Kennedy terms it “a show that will inevitably be seen as a kind of heartland response to the Whitney Biennial,” referring to next month’s contemporary art bonanza in New York, which includes artists like Laura Owens, Jacolby Satterwhite, and the late David Foster Wallace, and is not sponsored by Walmart millions).
At first glance the Crystal Bridges “biennial” might sound like a project to uncover the next Thomas Kinkade; after all, the mission’s mission statement is to invite visitors to “celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of nature.” But as Kennedy relays, it’s a bit edgier: Cocaine-addled artists! Las Vegas creatives whose work is like “Henry Moore meets a piñata”! That said, as ARTNews notes, “84 percent of the one million visitors who visited Crystal Bridges from the November 2011 opening through August of this year came from Arkansas and nearby states….The exhibition program has been designed for this demographic: this spring, for example, “American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell.” Those folks not be ready for the kind of art made by the aforementioned Satterwhite, for instance, a gay African-American multimedia artist spotted at last year’s Miami Basel wearing sci-fi-inspired costumes much like this one. But hey, maybe Arkansas is more open-minded than one would assume.
And for anyone appalled at the thought of Walmart money propping up arts and culture, keep in mind that our “respectable” cultural institutions also have to kowtow to corporations in order to pull off mega-shows at the Whitney, the Tate Modern, and elsewhere.