Celebrating the American Spirit.

Author:Eakin, Julie
Position:Book review

Christopher B. Crosman (editor), Emily D. Shapiro (editor); CELEBRATING THE AMERICAN SPIRIT; Hudson Hills Press (Nonfiction: Art, Nonfiction: Art) $60.00 ISBN: 9781555953713

Byline: Julie Eakin

Those who cling to the romantic notion that art is unsullied by commerce could stand another hard look at Warhol's soup cans. The pop master would likely have appreciated this rare new endeavor, in which romance and commerce abound: the inauguration of a museum for American art near the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas, at a time when major arts institutions are limiting their hours, and funding for the arts remains low nationwide.

In her capacity as heiress to the country's largest retail chain, Crystal Bridges' founder and primary patron, Alice Waldon, would surely have interested Warhol as a portrait subject, and it's likely that he would have also recognized something of his own agenda in her project's mission: "The museum's simple but vital purpose is to tell the unfolding story of the United States through the lens of its visual arts," explains the introduction to Celebrating the American Spirit: Masterworks from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, "to probe its collections for insights into our national ideals and aspirations, our tragedies and triumphs, our broadly defining characteristics and idiosyncratic traits."

Featuring art from the colonial period to the present, including preeminent pieces of sculpture and photographs, the museum's first publication highlights 150 objects limited to paintings and works on paper. The limitation is not regrettable: delivering on a mandate to "bring little seen works into public view," the display astounds for its quality and range. An uncharacteristically carefree Wyeth, a cubistic Pollack, and an O'Keeffe still life are the icing; dig further, and the connections between works made...

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