Huntington Tops Crystal Bridges with 2021 Acquisitions
|Virginia Steele Scott and Alice Walton (Jonathan Scott's Virginia with Red Hat, no date (Huntington); release photo of Alice Walton)
|Glenn Ligon, Untitled (America), 2018. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
|Thomas Cole, Portage Falls on the Genesee, about 1839 (Huntington) and View of Mount Etna, 1842 (Crystal Bridges)
|Charles Bird King, Moanahonga (Great Walker), An Ioway Chief, about 1824 (Huntington) and Shaumonekusse, Oto Half Chief, about 1822 (Crystal Bridges)
|Lockwood de Forest, Bank of the Nile Opposite Cairo, Egypt, 1879–86 (Huntington)
|Kehinde Wiley, A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, 2021 (Huntington) and Portrait of a Florentine Nobleman, 2018 (Crystal Bridges) (c) Kehinde Wiley
Cole notwithstanding, the most Instagrammed Huntington painting of 2021 must be Kehinde Wiley's A Portrait of a Young Gentleman. It was commissioned to mark the 100th anniversary of Henry's Huntington's purchase of Thomas Gainsborough's Blue Boy. Such institutional prerogatives are not generally the best way to sponsor new art, but this case seems an exception. Wiley credits childhood visits to the Huntington as influential in his decision to become an artist. The standing sitter is one of Wiley's best realized, but no less important is the electric ground, rooted in William Morris, 60s San Francisco psychedelia, and maybe even the crypto-feline abstractions of Louis Wain (Wain called them wallpaper patterns).
Crystal Bridges also has a Wiley, Portrait of a Florentine Nobleman, and it too was a museum commission. After the 2014 Ferguson uprising, the Saint Louis Art Museum asked Wiley to depict local Black residents. SLAM bought one painting, and Crystal Bridges another. The pose of the Bentonville portrait is based on SLAM's notoriously akimbo portrait by Francesco Salviati. Still, the Huntington painting is the standout.
These days it often takes half a dozen museum supporters to fund a major art acquisition. The King, de Forest, and Wiley paintings are credited to non-overlapping groups of individuals, funds, trusts, and foundations. This suggests that the Huntington has a back bench of support in addition to the new Ahmanson partnership.
Crystal Bridges is much bigger than the Huntington's American galleries, and it has about twice as many American paintings. Bentonville's quantity advantage is not likely to change anytime soon. But if 2021 is any indication, it may have a real rival for quality going forward.