Crystal Bridges Museum, Alice Walton’s (a Walmart heiress) attempt at ennobling Arkansas, is great. Its architecture is striking, its setting is beautiful, and its art is provocative. If it was just a park that you could wander through, it’d be amazing. The museum and reception venue put it over the top. But here’s the best part: it’s free.
I hated the Hearst Castle because it felt like a money grab, like robbery. $25 per for tickets and then constant merchandising and up-selling for the entire visit. Crystal Bridges does the opposite — it’s just a peaceful place to visit and look at art. There’s no through-the-gift-shop exit. There’s no ‘recommended’ donation ticket. There’s not even a fee for parking or much advertising for Walmart or the other sponsors. It’s exactly as a rich person’s spectacle should be. If you’re trying to show off your money, don’t make me pay to see it. Don’t cheap-out.
That said, it was a bit busy and cramped by crowds, but you can hardly hold popularity against a place like this. It also felt like some of the best artwork was exhibited in some of the worst places — a Lichtenstein was hung in a back corner along with a Hopper. Maybe these were purchased as token, big-name pieces instead of for their artistic value. Other absolutely spectacular works could have used a bit more breathing room — especially a watercolor by George Dombek titled A Few Water Drops. Meanwhile, a series of portraits of unclear provenance seemed to get top billing in the main room instead.
All of that, however, is forgivable. I’d go again. I want to go again. I want to explore the grounds more. I want to see how light moves around the architecture (it was cloudy when we visited). Crystal Bridges is a great reason to visit Arkansas. The museum is a tremendous asset to the area. Thank you, Alice Walton, for giving us a wonderful museum.