The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (pictured above) is opening this week in Bentonville, Arkansas. Much has already been written (see this for example) about the significance of this new museum and I doubt that I could add much to that discussion.
What I can do is highlight an artist, Thomas Hart Benton, whose work I love and is part of the Crystal Bridges collection. Benton’s work, such as Plowing it Under pictured below, was part of the Regionalist art movement in the 1930s. As Hart described the Regionalist movement in his autobiography:
We came in the popular mind to represent a home-grown, grass-roots artistry which damned ‘furrin’ influence and which knew nothing about and cared nothing for the traditions of art as cultivated city snobs, dudes, and aesthetes knew them. Regionalist we became and the victims thereby of a lot of odd and inaccurate definitions which the word suggested…I [became] just an Ozark hillbilly. We accepted our roles.
It is strange that some have criticized Crystal Bridges for drawing great works of art away from big coastal cities (see this for example) to semi-rural Arkansas. More accurately, the big coastal cities often drew great artists away from mid-America.
Thomas Hart Benton was born in Neosho, Missouri — just 40 miles from Crystal Bridges. The city of Bentonville Arkansas was actually named after Thomas Hart Benton’s great uncle. Benton painted and taught in New York and Paris, but eventually settled back in Kansas City. It is entirely fitting that his work should be on display in a beautiful gallery in the heart of America.
In case you are ever in Kansas City, be sure to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum, where you’ll find Benton’s wonderful take on the story of Persephone (pictured below).