by Max Brantley
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is the subject of another article and slide show in the New York Times today. It's a review following the opening and it's a rave.
Much more than just a demonstration of what money can buy or an attempt to burnish a rich family’s name, Crystal Bridges is poised to make a genuine cultural contribution, and possibly to become a place of pilgrimage for art lovers from around the world.
The review credits the "brilliance" of the design and meshing of museum with its natural setting. But the art is ultimately the thing.
Meanwhile, the art on view define the museum as foremost an exceptional if idiosyncratic picture gallery assembled by someone with a discerning and independent eye for paintings. The collection has an appealing aesthetic populism, which is to say that different paintings provide points of entry for different levels of sophistication, and their groupings offer the immediate means to sharpen that sophistication as you move from work to work.
Reviewer Roberta Smith finds one flaw, an absence of folk artists from the years before 1900. She also notes some confusion and arbitrariness in galleries with postwar American art. But these are relative quibbles. She notes well the spaces equipped with places to sit to browse through art books.
These elements, like the museum they are part of, convey the belief that art, like music and literature, is not a recreational luxury or the purview of the rich. Rather, it is an essential tool for living to which everyone must have access, because it helps awaken and direct the individual talent whose development is essential to society, especially a democratic one. Art, after all, is one of the places where the pursuit of happiness gains focus and purpose and starts expanding outward, to aid and abet that thing called the greater good.