The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Acquires New Work by Walton Ford

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has acquired a major new work by Walton Ford, an artist winning international acclaim for his highly detailed, monumental watercolors of exotic birds, reptiles and mammals. In The Island, Ford presents a writhing pyramidal mass of Tasmanian wolves (thylacines) grappling with each other and a few doomed lambs. The violent extermination of the thylacines, which were hunted to extinction in the early 20th century, calls into question who is hunter and hunted in this savage tableau.

Walton Ford, The Island, 2009. Watercolor, gouache, pencil, and ink on paper. Panel 1: 95 1/2 x 36 in. Panel 2: 95 1/2 x 60 in. Panel 3: 95 1/2 x 36 in. © 2009 Walton Ford. Photo by Christopher Burke Studio

“Thylacines were mysterious terrifying phantoms in the minds of Tasmanian settlers,” Walton Ford said via email. “I wanted to create a delirious image that suggested the thylacine’s doom. The painting could be interpreted as the hallucination of either the man or the beast.”

Chris Crosman, chief curator for Crystal Bridges, describes the 8-feet-high by 11 ½-feet-long triptych as a “tour de force” that is considered to be Ford’s largest and most ambitious work to date.

“The Island works on a number of different levels, from the sheer technical virtuosity of producing a watercolor at this scale to the seductive way he composes these things and the psychological and social content – all are wrapped up together in a way that’s completely unique to his sensibility,” Crosman said. “Ford’s work is really going to be one of the sleeper experiences when people come to the museum. When you see his paintings in the flesh they just blow your mind . . . there’s so much to see.”

European audiences will have the opportunity to study The Island this year, as it is included in the exhibition Walton Ford, on display at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin January 23 – May 24 and at the Albertina Museum in Vienna June 18 – October 18, 2010. Walton Ford’s creation of The Island was discussed and illustrated as a work-in-progress in a January 2009 New Yorker profile of the artist by Calvin Tomkins.

Born and raised in Larchmont, N.Y., Walton Ford studied filmmaking and painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and produced landscapes on wood panels early in his career. He hit his stride in the 1990s with large watercolors formally inspired by John James Audubon and earlier scientific and naturalist illustrators, but newly invested with psychological content entirely his own. Ford also cites Gericault, Delacroix, Goya, Bosch and Homer as influences on his work.

Crystal Bridges is one of a select group of museums to have acquired work by Ford. To date, his work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum, both in New York City, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., among other institutions.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is envisioned as a premier national art institution dedicated to American art and artists, learning and community gatherings. The museum takes its name from the unique glass-and-wood building design, created for the natural setting by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie. The entire complex will encompass approximately 100,000 square feet of gallery, library, meeting, and office space, a Great Hall, areas for outdoor concerts and public events, as well as sculpture and walking trails. In addition to expanding access to art, cultural and learning resources, Crystal Bridges will also spur the continued economic development of Northwest Arkansas.

Crystal Bridges
Museum of American Art
P.O. Box 1169
Bentonville, Arkansas 72712
Telephone: 479.418.5700

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