The art of America through a mart, Wal-mart and Warhol

In the fourth of July weekend, yes, that long ago, we decided to visit Arkansas’s famous town Bentonville. Don’t be surprised if you have not heard of it, neither had I until last year, but bear no doubt that it truly is famous. The origins of the #1 company in fortune 500 from a basic variety store to a general store and finally to the largest retailer in the world definitely counts, and deserves the hall of famous. Bentonville is where Wal-mart had its humble beginnings: flush back from World War II a young American war veteran, Sam Walton, born in Oklahoma (and I should mention, also spent time in Tulsa, for my okie friends who read this) came back from the war to lease his first ‘variety store’in Newport, Arkansas. His Ben Franklin variety store became the top store in the franchise in five years. However, no big journey starts without an obstacle, or should we say 10,0000. Apparently, even dumb obstacles, such as the non-renewal of a lease of a store doing well, only so that the owner can hand it over to his son! Anyway, Sam and his wife Helen, looked for a new location and then bought a store in Bentonville, Arkansas, and the rest as they say and I only recently found out, is history. By 1960, he owned over nine Ben Franklin stores, but he was not satisfied and is quoted to have said, despite skeptics, that discount rates were the future. In 1962, he opened the first Wal-mart in Rogers, Arkansas.

We stayed at the double tree hotel for a night and walked around at the main square, which is also where the Walmart museum, complete with Sam Walton’s office (containing stuffed real animals, his desk and cabinets) and his pick up truck are separately kept on display. In the following photos, you will see the change in the fliers advertising for the good sold in Walmart over the 60s, 70s, 80s and so on and it is very interesting to note how advertising was changing. They are from my phone, so sorry for the strange angles.. The next section of this post, on Andy Warhol and his iconically artistic marketing skills.

Before that, the museum in Bentonville also shows examples of reasons people returned what they bought, and I have to say people are not getting smarter or dumber. One of the photos below shows these, note the broken racket and the ‘possessed mixer (yes, really) and the ‘ink-pen sharpener’.

I do heartily dislike Walmart and its horrible policies for employees, the false image it creates for American consumers and disastrous factory conditions overseas. I have always KNOWN that nothing is actually cheap. If you are getting it cheap, someone is paying the price. And the cheaper it is for you the pricier it is for some hard working people in dangerous conditions.. But this is not about Walmart of today or the past 25 yrs. It is about the (fake) dream that anyone in America can make it big, as it is based on the fallacy that working hard is enough. However, it is success stories of Walton and others that make it seem like anyone can, and I am nothing if not a story-teller.

The Grand Opening of Wal-Mart fliers
The Grand Opening of Wal-Mart fliers

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Some return highlights


Walton’s daughter Alice Walton, decided to bring true American art to the American heartland and used her, not a dismissively small part of, the family fortune to open the Crystal Bridges museum which specializes in art by American artists and I was not so excited at the usual displays ( okay, I don’t appreciate all that is art, or maybe I am just biased), however the architecture is very pleasing and flows smoothly into the surrounding wild. Has hikes and an artificially created pond, but very nice indeed. The high point was the touring Warhol’ Nature exhibit that I have never seen but sometimes missed ( in NYC, I believe). His original prints of the basic hibiscus simply replicated to create a eye catching effect is so elegant that only a simple design could achieve it and yet be that striking. He used to make art from photographs, using negatives of images replicated on plastic with artificial colors to add effect. He even made silver clouds to fortify his whimsical and eccentric personality. So, here is an American or another, who made a huge mark in an entire industry of advertising and could sell. Anything. Just like Walmart. But better and with style ( so he is not a Fortune 500 company of course). He had many great danes and cats, and used (not frequently I believe, but in some measure) sketched and photos of other wildlife like birds. His series on endangered species was on display as well.

Some of his art in photos below.

Walton and Warhol, the two Americans to admire, but hard to emulate in success within a life. Not just because times of surplus are gone, just because vision and the right circumstance with society ripe for its reception is a very difficult mix to have. Not to undermine their vision and talent, but such history can be made only once.

Silver clouds
Warhol under his original silver clouds (who needs a lining when the whole cloud is silver!) at a party

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