Published: August 29, 2017
Dr Margaret C. Conrads, known to colleagues as Margi, joined Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in April 2015 as the museum’s director of curatorial affairs. A recent change adds “and strategic art initiatives” to her title, signaling an expanded role to oversee strategic collaborations with national and international art museums and partner institutions. A recognized authority on American art, she leads the curatorial, collections management and library and archives teams at the Bentonville, Ark., museum founded by Alice L. Walton. Conrads spent 20 years at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and most recently served as deputy director of art and research at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. Crystal Bridges opened in November 2011.
What did you hope to accomplish when you began your job?
My goals complement the museum’s mission to welcome all and create engaging art experiences. This museum is a young institution with all the excitement and possibilities that involves. The curatorial program here is evolving. Helping guide the evolution was one of the best reasons for coming to Crystal Bridges.
What do you hope to acquire for the collection?
We have a superb foundational collection. Its greatest strengths are in American painting and sculpture up to about 1960. We also have wonderful works on paper. Our current focus is on acquiring more post-1960 art. Making the collection more inclusive, using that phrase extremely broadly, is very much at the heart of our acquisition considerations. Rather than creating a systematic, chronological march through the history of art and a list of names, we are interested in telling important American stories. We had more than 620,000 visitors last year. We hope every visitor finds something here that is relevant to their lives.
Is architecture a focus?
Our three pillars are art, architecture and nature. For architecture, of course, our largest object is our fabulous Moshe Safdie building. You can say it is the largest object in our collection. We have acquired and installed a Frank Lloyd Wright house and now have the Fly’s Eye Dome by Buckminster Fuller. The Wright house and the Fuller dome have particular importance in that they embody the mission to connect visitors with the power of art and the beauty of nature. Architecture shows will also be part of our exhibition menu.
How do you select potential acquisitions?
The curators are always searching for appropriate acquisitions, and we have an approval process that includes a subcommittee of our board of trustees and the board of trustees. A number of our board members are collectors, as is our chairwoman Alice Walton, so we have wonderful conversations. Two relatively new acquisitions – “Cerulean” by Carmen Herrera and “The Garbage Man” by John Biggers – are examples of paintings that extend the stories of our collections. Our commitment to Native American art is also growing. In the coming months, we will be including historical Native American art through loans and have recently announced that Crystal Bridges is organizing an exhibition for 2018 of contemporary Native American art. We have always collected the work of contemporary indigenous artists, something we will continue to expand upon.
How do you inform the world about the museum and its collections?
Our visitors to date split fairly evenly between local and regional guests and destination travelers. Our professional colleagues are getting to know the museum more and more. Loan requests have nearly doubled since I arrived. “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1,” a 1932 oil on canvas by Georgia O’Keeffe [1887-1986] that we acquired in 2014, was recently on view at the Tate Modern and the Art Gallery of Ontario as part of a major retrospective of the artist. The painting was chosen as the cover image of the book and signature image of the exhibition. And, we have a top-notch communications team. Five years in, we are doing well in getting the word out.
A broad selection of the museum’s holdings, including recent acquisitions for the “1940s to Now” Gallery, can be viewed under the Art tab at www.crystalbridges.org.
-Karla Klein Albertson
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