Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum Bought Georgia O’Keeffe Painting for Record $44 Million

Georgia O'Keeffe, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 sold for $44.4 million at Sotheby's American art sale this past November
Courtesy the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe.

The Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, is responsible for last year’s record-breaking Georgia O’Keeffe sale, as well as a major Jasper Johns purchase, reports Lee Rosenbaum on CultureGrrl. Clearly, the Qataris aren’t the only people attempting to keep news of their big-ticket art purchases on the down low (see Paul Gauguin Painting Sells for Record $300 Million to Qatar Museums in Private Sale and Does Qatar’s $300 Million Paul Gauguin Acquisition Hide a Dark Secret?).

O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 sold for $44 million at the Sotheby’s Evening Contemporary sale in November. This set the record both for the artist and for a work by a female artist (see O’Keeffe Painting Sells for $44 Million at Sotheby’s, Sets Record for Work by Female Artist), topping Joan Mitchell‘s Untitled, which sold for $11.9 million at Christie’s New York this past May. The work nearly tripled its $15 million high estimate. Crystal Bridges also reportedly picked up Johns’s Flag (1983) at the same auction for $36 million.

Founded and primarily funded by Alice Walton, the Crystal Bridges museum opened in late 2011 after a flurry of major, high-priced American art purchases by the Walmart heiress. Many of these acquisitions remained a secret until the museum’s public unveiling, a lack of transparency that upset many in the art world.

Although the museum’s collecting has slowed of late, the purported O’Keeffe and Johns sales demonstrate a renewed commitment to acquisitions, and a return to secretive practices. Rosenbaum is critical of the museum’s decision not to announce the purchase of either painting, arguing that it “demonstrates a misunderstanding of the responsibility of museums to make information about the works in their collections (not to mention the objects themselves) available to the public.”

The sale cemented O’Keeffe’s place at the top of the marketplace for female artists and landed her among the year’s most impressive auctions (see Who Are the Most Expensive Women Artists at Auction? and The 10 Most Expensive Auction Trophies of 2014).

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