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Selling American Culture to Wal-Mart

Kindred Spirits

Kindred Spirits, 1849
Asher B. Durand
Property of Wal-Mart

The New York Public Library recently sold an icon of American landscape painting, Kindred Spirits (1849) by Asher B. Durand, to Wal-Mart
heiress Alice Walton for a proposed museum of American Art in Arkansas. If the Library was a private seller this would have been a disturbing but not unethical breech of public trust. As a public institution, however, the NYPL cannot do whatever it wants. Conservatives love to screech and howl whenever their beloved flag is treated badly yet here we have an authentic cultural heirloom going to a corporation that has shown over and over again they have little regard for America or its people except to suck every last dime out of the economy.

But, then again, both are institutions dedicated to accumulation and dispersal of information. And when the grand American cultural institutions were being formed in the last decades of the 19th century they were in competition with the great merchants and robber barons. Visitors prefered the exotic (and obtainable) goods offered by B. Altmans over those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Men like Frick and Carnegie were buying up European cultural artifacts at rock-bottom prices. So why not let Alice Walton have her painting, especially since she's willing to fork over $35 million for it?

For one it will from now on be branded with the Wal-Mart name, installed in a museum dedicated to Wal-Mart principles: low wages, inhuman working conditions, unaffordable health care not to mention an asthetics based on consumerism.