July 31, 2013: Bentonville, Arkansas, corporate home of Wal-mart. I don’t shop there. But a friend told me not to miss the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, endowed by Wal-mart kingpin Sam Walton’s daughter Alice. Since we were driving through Arkansas on our way back to Tucson from Maine, I figured, why not?
Norman Rockwell, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, Andy Warhol, Andrew Wyeth, Mark Rothko, you name the artist — they were all there.
I was excited.
But it was Wal-mart. As soon as we entered the magnificent, modern glass building, Wal-mart greeters accosted us. After politely responding — once — I scurried into the first gallery but that didn’t stop the trademark interlopers.
Looking at art is a solitary activity for me. By the sixth gallery I had been welcomed too many times, plus museum guards were standing around talking loudly. It got to me.
“I really like to look at art quietly,” I told the greeter who walked over to me.
“I’m just trying to welcome you,” she said.
“I’ve been welcomed 20 times already,” I replied (Okay, I’m often prone to exaggeration).
“Humph,” she grumbled, looking at me like I just wasn’t right.
I still enjoyed the spectacular art but something was gnawing at me.
Was I giving in to Wal-mart, the retail giant that tries to make nice to consumers but won’t allow employees to unionize?
Now Wal-mart is coming to our hood in Tucson. I would prefer Trader Joe’s. But I’m in the minority of the population, although the upscale neighborhood association tried to stop the influx of shoppers searching day and night for bargains. Maybe this Wal-mart won’t sell liquor, and we still don’t know about guns and ammo.
Sometimes I struggle with my ’60s determination to right the world. “Choose your battles,” I’ve always heard. So I try to restrain myself. Was I glad to see paintings that I returned to repeatedly in the Wal-mart world of art? You betcha.
In my notes about Andrew Wyeth’s “Airborne,” I wrote, “Life is mysterious and illusory, like feathers in a breeze on Bennett Island, Maine.”
As another 60’s “world changer,” I also find myself in more and more conundrums of ethical issues! You described this one so beautifully, as always, my friend!
Thanks Phyl! This one’s been swirling in my head for a while. I love art.
Look what I just read: http://www.salon.com/2013/08/24/walmart_still_scheming_to_force_its_shoddy_goods_on_the_underclass_partner/
Thanks for the great article.
Thanks for reading!