Can Crystal Bridges Turn Arkansas into a Contemporary Art Mecca?

A Kraft Foods plant is the museum's latest acquisition.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of Contemporary Art's new facility.Photo: Mike Sinclair, courtesy Crystal Bridges.
The Crystal Bridges Museum of Contemporary Art's new facility.
Photo: Mike Sinclair, courtesy Crystal Bridges.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is upping its commitment to the contemporary by turning a disused Kraft Foods plant into a cultural venue. The 63,000-square-foot building, abandoned by Kraft in 2012, will play host to visual art as well as music, film, theater, and an artist-in-residence program, and is slated to open in 2018. It’s located just a mile and a half from the museum, in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas.

Heading up the new venture will be Steuart and Tom Walton, grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton and his wife, Helen. Collaborating with Crystal Bridges on programming is the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA), another art venue housed in a former industrial facility, this one in North Adams, Massachusetts.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of Contemporary Art's new facility.<br>Photo: Mike Sinclair, courtesy Crystal Bridges.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of Contemporary Art’s new facility.
Photo: Mike Sinclair, courtesy Crystal Bridges.

The Kraft site becomes just the latest in a long line of similar sites transformed into contemporary art venues, taking advantage of relatively raw industrial settings and spacious buildings. London’s Tate expanded into a former power station, opening Tate Modern in 2000, which boasts more than 84,000 square feet of gallery space. In 2003, the Dia Art Foundation expanded from New York City to upstate Beacon, where it occupies a former Nabisco box factory with 240,000 square feet of exhibition space. 

Chicago firm Wheeler Kearns Architects is charged with rehabbing the facility, which was erected in the 1940s. The plan is to maintain something of the building’s industrial feel.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of Contemporary Art's new facility.<br>Photo: Mike Sinclair, courtesy Crystal Bridges.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of Contemporary Art’s new facility.
Photo: Mike Sinclair, courtesy Crystal Bridges.

Opened in 2011 and devoted to American art since colonial times, Crystal Bridges was founded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton and holds works by artists including Asher Brown Durand, Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, and Andy Warhol. The museum made headlines in February 2015, when it snapped up O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 for $44.4 million at Sotheby’s New York, tripling the the $15 million high estimate. It expanded its reach into contemporary art with the 2014 surveyState of the Art: Discovering American Art Now,” and it added a Jeff Koons sculpture to its collection that same year.


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