Finding the art in Wal-Mart

We definitely had mixed emotions about going to Bentonville AR. I mean, the home of Wal-Mart? Evil kingdom or rural savior? Friend of the people or enemy of all things good in mankind? Opinions are divided.

We pulled up to a very sweet town square, which was more affluent looking than I had expected. Charming, in fact. And right on the square is Mr. Sam’s store, the front of which contains vintage merchandise and the rest of which is the museum.

Can’t deny the success and the work it took to get Wal-Mart to be the world’s largest company. And there seems clear evidence that Mr. Sam was a beloved figure. It’s just hard to reconcile all those part-time minimum wage jobs and no benefits with American heroism. Though, in the video of him presenting Sam with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, George H. Bush really seemed to tear up when he talked about how successful the company was. The thought of all those billions can do that to you.

Anyway, lots of good artifacts, including Sam’s actual office and pick-up truck.

So what use has some of those billions been put to? Well, art, of course – just as the nouveau riche of the 19th century manifested their wealth. Alice Walton created the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and set out to find the best American art that money could buy. Yes, I guess we are still sore about the trustees of the New York Public Library selling Asher Brown Durand’s “Kindred Spirits” to her for $35 million.

We left one gallery when a guide was patiently explaining a Joan Mitchell painting to a bus tour of people even older than we are. She went on about about the work as an example of “abstract impressionism,” which is why “it makes a different impression on different people.” Hooray – a new genre of art has been created. And so on. Abstract expressionism may never be the same after hanging around there for a while.

The museum itself is rather brutal on the outside, but once you have descended from the parking lot level, the design by Moshe Safdie does integrate well into the environment, and the most dramatic areas do not interfere with the art. (Let’s not consider the steps art.)

Two parts of the Wal-Mart story. And it’s all here in Bentonville AR.

5 thoughts on “Finding the art in Wal-Mart

  1. I’d like to make a contribution to your new art genre collection.
    In France last week we came to a town on the Baie de Somme where there were lots of street posters celebrating a local artist Alfred Manessier. ( New to us but maybe not to you connoisseurs).
    Anyway, one of them had wording to the effect that in his early 20’s, he’d left them down on the farm and gone off to Paree. There he’d discovered symbolism. Which, so the poster, said ‘made a great impression.’
    So, can we add the Symbolic Impressionists to the gallery, please?

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    • Don – who actually does know Alfred – thinks he would be appalled by this posterization of his work!

      But maybe we are coming at this all wrong. Perhaps there is a great opportunity here to rewrite art history and get a few book deals going. How can we “dollarize” this now global ignorance? We are on the cusp of a trend! (Of course, it’s not really a new trend…)

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  2. Tell Don that they were very tasteful ‘posters’: more like display boards on a sort of art trail. And Manessier’s stained glass windows look very beautiful.(Add Amiens and Abbeville to the itinerary for next spring to see more.) He was in good company :Degas and Boudin both painted in the same town. Hugo wrote ‘Les Mis.. ‘there, and Jules Verne wrote ‘20,000 Leagues under the sea’ .
    William the Conqueror set sail from there to annex a neighbouring island.
    (I blame you for encouraging this kind of detail!)
    The town’s called St Valery sur Somme.

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  3. Oh, I forgot …..Joan of Arc passed through on her way to be tried by the English.
    Meanwhile, some other Bentonville related news. UK supermarket chain ASDA likely to face a legal challenge for paying women staff less than men for doing the same job. ( So this is news???). As the ads say, ‘ASDA is proud to be part of the Wal-Mart family’

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    • You know, we were driving down the road sniveling about how we are experiencing Wal-Mart while some people are popping around French villages rubbing elbows against buildings that Joan of Arc touched. We were feeling a bit sorry for ourselves and then we read your ASDA news, and realized how the balance of power in the world has truly shifted. Bentonville AK is affecting people’s lives around the world every day. What exactly has St. Valery sur Somme done for us lately? There, now we feel better.

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