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.