Alice Walton purchased her first artwork when she was just ten years old—a reproduction of Picasso’s Blue Nude from her father’s five-and-dime store for $2. Walton’s father, Sam Walton, went on to found Walmart, and as Alice’s love for art grew, so did her budget. In 2019, Walton reportedly bought a record-breaking $88.8 million Robert Rauschenberg silkscreen work from 1964 at Christie’s New York. In 2005, she dropped $35 million to acquire Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits (1849) from the New York Public Library, a purchase steeped in controversy. Many other controversial purchases have followed, and Walton has been accused of using her immense wealth to mine struggling institutions for significant works to fill the walls of her Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Kriston Capps, for example, wrote in the Guardian that “Walton collects art with the same disregard for fair practices and competition that Walmart shows in the retail sector.” Regardless, Crystal Bridges, which opened in 2011, is an undoubtedly philanthropic endeavor. Situated in the middle of Arkansas, it provides free access to the arts for a population that is both sizable and underserved by the art world. Walton herself, is as dismissive of critics of her art collecting as she is of critics of Walmart. “I haven’t ever heard of anything that Walmart hasn’t been blamed for,” she told the New Yorker in 2011. She also founded Art Bridges, a 501(c)(3) foundation that supports exhibitions of American art at institutions across the United States.
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