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Wal-mart heiress set to share art from Crystal Bridges museum

For a decade, Alice Walton, of the Wal-mart fortune, has quietly planned and astutely acquired artwork for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art that she is building in her Midwestern hometown.

With the just 35,000 residents, Bentonville, Arkansas, will soon host a museum twice the size of the current Whitney Museum building in New York.

While the location is far removed from the typical art hubs, Walton says, “We want to share; we want to borrow; we want to loan; we want to have really active partnerships with museums worldwide,” in a recent New York Times interview.

Multi-million dollar sums secured top-tier works, from Colonial portraiture to contemporary commissions, including Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington from 1797 ($8.1 million), Asher B. Durand’s “Kindred Spirits” from 1849 ($35 million), Norman Rockwell’s 1943 “Rosie the Riveter” ($4.9 million) and a Jasper Johns “Alphabets” painting from 1960-62 9price unknown).

One of Walton’s advisors, art historian John Wilmerding, says she has amassed “in depth” collections of works by key American artists like Martin Johnson Heade, Stuart Davis, George Bellows and John Singer Sargent.

The new 201,000-square-foot museum, designed by Boston architect Moshe Safdie, will be situated on 120 acres. The space might not be filled up when the museum opens in November 2011.

Thus far, the new collection comprises 600 paintings and sculptures, a number that is sure to grow with the $800 million pledge this spring from the Walton Family Foundation for endowment, acquisitions and future capital improvements.

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