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A “woke” museum in the rural and conservative depths of the United States

The place has been called a museum “The most woke” the United States. Lost in the Ozarks, on the edge of Arkansas, the glass and concrete building is an American art museum. Or, more precisely, the American Museum of Art.

The tone is set from the first room, where the preamble to the American Constitution is exposed, We, the People (2015), composed of multicolored shoe laces. Artist Nari Ward, a 58-year-old New Yorker of Jamaican origin, wonders about this Constitution written by and for white men. Today she is speaking to the multitude of Americans, and the works in the room respond to her: portraits of men and women – white, black, Hispanic, Indian – for two centuries. This bias makes it possible to span the chronology, which otherwise leads to exhibiting works produced by or representing minorities only from the 1930s.

We return to the chronological order later, but with additions: here, the jar of a slave, David Drake, in the room on the Civil War; further on, a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, who deported the Indians on the Trail of Tears (which passed through this part of Arkansas) westward in 1830, reworked in 2017 by artist Titus Kaphar.

“Woke”, then? Not in a caricatured way, for the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville brings together more than it opposes, includes more than it rewrites history, unlike the more militant institutions of the East Coast. And because its founder is resolutely American, in this rural and conservative Midwest.

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Opened in 2011, the museum is the work of Alice Walton, 72, the richest woman in the world, with a fortune of 65 billion dollars (57 billion euros). “My parents were very patriotic, and I simply would never have considered collecting anything other than American art”, she confided to New Yorker, during the inauguration of the museum. She is the only daughter among the children of Sam Walton (1918-1992), the founder of Walmart supermarkets. His father was not interested in art, preferring his job as a grocer, hunting and flying.

In her youth, Alice Walton did not have access to museums, except for several hours by car, in… Oklahoma. The young woman is introduced to the beautiful by her walks, often on horseback, in the nature of the Ozarks Mountains: “I never really made the difference between nature and art”, she said, in September, at Wall Street Journal.

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