Nonprofit Puts Art On Road 'For All'.
The nonprofit, founded by Alice Walton, the founder of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, will partner with museums and other institutions throughout the United States to share works of American art. Art Bridges was founded a year ago but only announced last month.
Access is "the whole purpose of any inter-museum loan or temporary exhibition or special interpretive program or any grant that's designed to support any of that," said Robyn Peterson, executive director of Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana, which is already displaying works on loan from Art Bridges.
"It's all about access. And what we're particularly pleased about is that Art Bridges recognizes that access is deserved in more places than just the big urban centers that already have all the resources.
"The fact that they're pairing with us, a midsized museum in a remote part of the country, is pretty tremendous."
But it's not just access; it's access backed by tremendous resources and a name--Alice Walton--that opens doors. This makes Art Bridges, based in Bentonville, novel in the museum world.
"The reason why there aren't a lot of opportunities like this already is because nobody's got the resources to do it," Peterson said. "Most museums have what they need for themselves, and many foundations certainly will provide programmatic grants, but they don't necessarily have collections that go along with it that they can lend to you along with their support."
With the recent death of L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, Wal-Mart heiress Walton is the richest woman in the world by some reckonings, with a net worth of $40.6 billion as of Thursday, according to Forbes. The collective fortunes of the Walton family, many of them deeply involved in Crystal Bridges and sharing Alice Walton's devotion to making art available to the public, total another $100 billion or so.
The value of Crystal Bridges' collection of art easily totals more than $1 billion. But Art Bridges has its own collection, numbering about 40 pieces so far, according to Niki Stewart, program administrator at Art Bridges and currently its only staff member. "These objects were collected with the idea that they would be used in museums all across the country, not at Crystal Bridges at all," she said.
The Art Bridges collection itself is extremely valuable. For example, Arshile Gorky's 1945 painting "Child's Companions," on loan to the Yellowstone Art Museum, sold for $8.9 million in 2014, according to the website of Christie's auction house. The price set a new record for the artist, Art News reported. Another example: "One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series)," a 1985 work by Jeff Koons, which sold at Christie's for $15.3 million in 2016.
Visitors to Crystal Bridges will be familiar with Koons' work. His "Hanging Heart (Gold/Magenta)" hangs in the museum's restaurant, Eleven. The museum didn't reveal a purchase price for the 3,000-pound heart, which was installed in 2014, but an almost identical piece, Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold), sold in 2007 for a reported $23.6 million.
Tapping 'Cultural Treasures'
"Our country's significant works of art should be available for all to see and enjoy," Walton said last month in announcing the formation of Art Bridges. "Outstanding artworks are in museum vaults and private collections; let's make that art available to everyone, and provide a way to experience these cultural treasures."
Throughout the country, great art sits unseen, either in the storerooms of museums or in private collections. Alice Walton, through Art Bridges, seeks to get that art before the public.
"There are fantastic private collections that nobody ever has any access to, and there are museums that have vast collections that they don't even begin to have enough gallery space or human resources to share and interpret, so this is a very interesting middle ground to solving some of those problems," Peterson said.
"There are many museums in America where the works that you're seeing in the museum are only in some cases as little as 2 percent of their holdings," said Pauline Willis, director of the American Federation of Arts. "There's a lot of art in museum storage."
The federation, based in New York, is collaborating with Art Bridges to bring exhibitions to museums throughout the country. In the first partnership, Art Bridges will provide funding for the exhibition Selections from the Studio Museum in Harlem, which will visit six museums, in Seattle; Charleston, South Carolina; Kalamazoo, Michigan; San Francisco; Salt Lake City; and Northampton, Massachusetts.
Lack of space is not the only barrier to displaying art, particularly when it comes to sending that art on the road to other venues. The cost of insuring what is sometimes multimillion-dollar art while it's traveling or on loan "can be astronomical," Willis said. In addition, costs are associated with crating the work, shipping it and conserving it, ensuring that it's protected. Funding from Art Bridges will defray some of these costs.
"These six venues that are taking the Studio Museum exhibition would not have been able to do it without the financial assistance of Art Bridges," Stewart said. In addition, she said, the nonprofit will invite each institution to apply directly to Art Bridges for funding for programming and other costs.
Stewart, who is also chief engagement officer at Crystal Bridges, where she has worked for the past nine years, began working at Art Bridges about six months ago. She spends about half her time working for Crystal Bridges and the rest for Art Bridges.
Stewart said there were two sides to Art Bridges, the collection side, in which the nonprofit lends its works to museums, and the sharing side, in which Art Bridges helps museums take their objects "out of the vault and share them across the country."
"The idea... is to share these collections with museums that typically would not be connected, say, with the Museum of Modern Art on their own, because they're smaller or they're in a regional area instead of a large urban area," she said.
Art Bridges, with its resources and a big-name founder and collector in Walton, will serve as the go-between, opening doors, connecting a big urban museum--names mentioned also include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American
Art Museum and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum--with smaller, regional museums.
Art Bridges is privately funded, with the Walton Family Foundation currently handling its financial affairs. (The Walton Family Foundation is the largest nonprofit in Arkansas, as ranked by assets. See list, Page 23.)
Walton's creation of Art Bridges was inspired by the warm reception that Crystal Bridges has received, particularly locally and statewide. The museum has been "such a success here in northwest Arkansas that others were saying, 'How did you did you do that and how can we do that without building a new museum? Do we really have to start with that?'" Stewart said.
"And I think the lesson of Art Bridges is, no, you don't have to start with something new. Start with what you already have and think differently about how to do it. And so that's what we're hoping to inspire people to do."
Caption: Paintings in the collection of the newly formed nonprofit Art Bridges include "Lost Boys: AKA BB," by artist Kerry James Marshall, "Child's Companions" by Arshile Gorky and "In Exaltation of Flowers: Petunia, Caladium, Budaya," by Edward Jean Steichen.
By Jan Cottingham
Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.