Crystal Bridges: The 'Afghanistan of curatorial outposts' | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Crystal Bridges: The 'Afghanistan of curatorial outposts'

Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 4:00 PM

A SUGGESTION FOR CRYSTAL BRIDGES: Acquire my favorite painting.
  • A SUGGESTION FOR CRYSTAL BRIDGES: Acquire my favorite painting.

If you don't check Rock Candy do. Today, arts writer Leslie Peacock delves into executive changes at the Walton-financed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, drawing heavily from another blogger's interview with former curator Kevin Murphy.

Murphy said he'd decided his specialty, 18th Century art, was "too boring" for Crystal Bridges' focus on contemporary art, a move he said seemed designed to encourage a "Bilbao effect." That's a reference to the hugely successful Spanish museum, credited with jumpstarting a lagging region because of it's "wow factor." Downtown Bentonville, with its trendy hotel and restaurants, is an obvious reflection of Crystal Bridges' own stimulative effect.

Murphy, now curator of art at Williams College in Massachusetts, described Bentonville to blogger Lee Rosenbaum as the “the Afghanistan of curatorial posts.” Peacock notes that most of the leaders of the Crystal Bridges startup — not including Alice Walton — have moved on. Murphy told Rosenbaum:

You would get a sense, trying to do an exhibition on certain objects in the permanent collection that I was interested in, that people thought, “Who’s going to come and see that? That’s not going to get people from Branson to come on a bus.”
I would be at meetings and I would hear about Silver Dollar City [a theme park], which is a really big attraction in Branson [MO], and how they market themselves, as though that was equal to what a museum should market itself as. You would be speechless. There was a feeling that the in-depth scholarly thing wouldn’t reach people. And I always disagreed with that.

Confession of an art ignoramus: The 18th century American art trumpeted as among Crystal Bridges treasures in the early organizational days bored me, lovely as some of the landscapes are. I'm an admirer and fan of Crystal Bridges and I've really liked some of the "light" contemporary exhibitions. We've had friends come from other states to tour the museum. The Rockwell show, of course, was a hit with me. Thanks to Crystal Bridges, though, I also learned about Marsden Hartley.

If I have any complaint, it's only that they haven't acquired or mounted an exhibition of my favorite artist, C.M. Coolidge. His signature work is shown above. Talk about "wow factor."

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