– Wal-Mart Heiress’s Art Museum a Moral Blight: Jeffrey Goldberg (Bloomberg, Dec, 15, 2011):
The brand-new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in the small northwest Arkansas city of Bentonville is the creation of Alice Walton, the daughter of the late Sam Walton, who founded Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), the largest retailer in the world.
Alice Walton, who is worth about $21 billion, has achieved her dream of building a top-tier museum that unabashedly celebrates American art in the American heartland. Crystal Bridges, in many ways, is an aesthetic success.
It’s also a moral tragedy, very much like the corporation that provided Walton with the money to build a billion-dollar art museum during a terrifying recession. The museum is a compelling symbol of the chasm between the richest Americans and everyone else. In 2007, according to the labor economist Sylvia Allegretto, the six Walton family members on the Forbes 400 had a net worth equal to the bottom 30 percent of all Americans. The Waltons are now collectively worth about $93 billion, according to Forbes.
The museum, which opened last month, sits in a wooded ravine a few miles from Wal-Mart headquarters. Two main buildings, referred to locally as the armadillos, for their rounded and ribbed roofs, are linked to a series of galleries that ring what will eventually be a spring-fed pond. Crystal Bridges was designed by Moshe Safdie, who is a fine architect, and his museum in some ways resembles a handsome Scandinavian airline terminal. It is certainly the handsomest building ever built with Wal-Mart money. I suspect it is also the only building associated with Wal-Mart that is devoted solely to American-made goods.