The eagerly anticipated opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will finally happen this November. While of course there’s lots of interest in the art itself, and the massive Moshe Safdie-designed complex it will all be stored in, there’s perhaps even more interest in a) what this multi-million dollar museum, which most people first heard about due to its role in the Fisk University controversy, is doing all the way out in Bentonville, Arkansas (you’ll recall it just received another $800 million last month), and b) who exactly this reclusive billionaire and Wal-Mart heiress, Alice Walton, really is. With a press-shy subject and an interesting story at hand, it was only a matter of time before she’d gotten the New Yorker treatment. Resident world traveling scribe Rebecca Mead penned a profile of Walton, upcoming in the next issue of the magazine, aptly titled “Alice’s Wonderland,” which digs into her past, how she landed in art collecting, and again, what she thinks she’s doing putting a gigantic museum and its collection in the middle of rural Arkansas. If you have a subscription, you can read the story right away online. Otherwise, here’s a bit from the posted abstract:
Walton, whose fortune now stands at twenty-one billion dollars, has become a powerful force in the art marketplace. In 2005, the American Jewish Historical Society commissioned Sotheby’s to find buyers for half a dozen paintings that it owned, all eighteenth-century portraits of members of a merchant family, the Levy-Franks. Walton, who was at Sotheby’s on other business, spotted them and bought the series—one of the finest collections of Colonial portraiture in existence. Over time, Walton has earned the respect of the museum establishment, although only those closest to her know the full extent of Crystal Bridges’ collection: just sixty-six purchases have been announced, a tenth of what has been acquired. The director of Crystal Bridges, Don Bacigalupi, is highly regarded for the work he did as the director of the Toledo Museum of Art, in Ohio, where he oversaw the successful construction of a new building; and his effort to exchange works with the Louvre, among other institutions, has allayed fears that Crystal Bridges’ collection will be simplemindedly nationalistic.