Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2012

Alice Walton

As a rule, major museums emerge in major cities, places where lots of people and lots of money converge. Alice Walton, 62, didn't have to care about that rule. As one of the wealthiest women in the world, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton could put her new museum wherever she pleased. Where she pleased was Bentonville, Ark., the town where she grew up. She commissioned a handsome ensemble of connected pavilions by architect Moshe Safdie, set around an artificial lake and nestled in woodlands. And she filled them with a phenomenal collection of art, from colonial times on up to the 21st century. With the help of advisers, Walton built that collection smartly and aggressively. (Sometimes too aggressively, as with her hot pursuit of art from cash-strapped Fisk University.) With Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, she has placed a daring bet that a small town can become a big art-world destination. We're betting she's right.

Lacayo is TIME's art critic