Art Beat

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Venice, Alice Walton, funding the opera, and being a bitch.

And the survey said! I'm a bitch. Yes, 46 percent of you who logged in to last week's on-line opinion poll, which my editor thought would be cute, voted for, "Nah, he's still a bitch." At first, my paranoid self thought it was some sort of organized scheme headed by Llee Heflin and Al Pryor to get back at me, until I realized the people who hit the bitch ballot, were probably good friends who know me too well.

  Anyway -- Venice to me, is the most beautiful, interesting city in the world, and it really helps to have close family living just north of that beautiful city, only an hour away.

  On my recent fourth trip to the sinking city it did seem a little strange not to see any art by Bellini, Titian, Veronese, or Tintoretto, the Venetian masters of the Italian Renaissance.

  This trip was all about contemporary, cutting edge art that will impact the very few who rule today's modern art scene. The Biennale di Venenzia is probably best described as the World's Fair of contemporary art, and as most know or can guess, it happens every two years in the city of Venice.

  Quite luckily we, (Bill and I) arrived in time for the Biennale's press preview. I don't think I was ever so glad to have my Citizen press pass, except for maybe that time I was about to be busted at a local crime scene.

  With more than 70 countries represented, it was more than a little daunting to view or even attempt to view the entire scope of what was happening -- some of it so incredible and, frankly, some of it shit.

  For my free press pass and tote bag, the French and Canadians stole the show. Sophie Calle's multi-media, obsessive homage installation to the Dear John letter she received and shared with over 100 women -- artists and friends of the artist asked to respond to the letter -- was brilliant. (If you want more -- it's why they invented Google).

  On arriving back in Arkansas, I was handed the June 18 issue of Newsweek, which featured an article on Alice Walton and the multi-million dollar Crystal Bridges museum she's building to house a vast and important collection of American artists.

  Apparently the very rich, hick-chick from Arkansas knows her stuff and is pissing off the established American art clique, which is getting very annoyed that she can pretty much buy anything she wants off the auction block. Her recent attempt at scoring Thomas Eakins masterpiece "The Gross Clinic" for 68 million bucks sent the city of Philadelphia into quite a tizzy. Alas, the richest woman in the country learned she can't always get what she wants and had to settle for a lesser known Eakins work she snapped up for a mere 20 million.

  Like art and Arkansas, opera and the Ozarks are concepts the general population of this country have a hard time putting together. This year marks the 57th season of Opera In the Ozarks at Inspiration Point, and it's very impressive to open its centerfold program and see listed every opera performed to date since 1950.

  While we obviously can't compete with Venice's rich cultural past, (50 years versus 1,000) it's hard to watch our "long-standing" opera tradition continue to struggle in less than desirable conditions.

  Like all art and art institutes, Opera in the Ozarks relies on patronage for survival. Without corporate sponsorship or government funding (that's a whole other column), even well-established institutions are suffering or going down the tubes.

  So while the prospect of a world-class museum in our back yard is very exciting, it's also a little disheartening to see some of Eureka Springs' art institutions struggling, hand-to-mouth, year after year, vying for those all important patron dollars.

Maybe we could ask Alice to spend some of the $48 million she saved on the Eakins deal and throw Eureka a tiny bone, like a new opera house. Or at least enough money to keep it going for the next 50 years. It would probably make her recently deceased mom, Helen, a big opera fan and supporter, proud. And, I would personally end my boycott of Wal-Mart and encourage my friends to do the same. Perhaps while writing checks she could also pony up a little cash for Main Stage, ESSA and the Writer's Colony.

  Or ... Jack Moyer's probably looking for bigger fish to fry. Maybe we can send Jack over to Bentonville to lure Alice into buying our quaint little city from its current owners, the Roenigks. After all, billions trump millions, and doesn't Alice Springs have a nice ring to it.

  You see, I am a bitch.

  P.S. Don't forget about this Saturday's Second Gallery Stroll. See you on the street.

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