I’m Chad Alligood, and I’m a curator at Crystal Bridges. You might recognize me from the back of my head on the cover of the New York Times back in February:
That article detailed our journey across America in search of new art for the upcoming exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. I must have really worked that puffy jacket, because a couple of months later an editor at Esquire got in touch with me. Coincidentally, the Esquire team was also taking a road trip: driving from NYC to LA and profiling men who “embody the best of great American style right now.” They wanted to stop in Bentonville, dress me up, and photograph me at the Museum. I gave the only logical response: “Yes, absolutely. And should I wear my octopus socks?”
The road-weary Esquire crew arrived on a Friday afternoon. They piled out of three monstrous vehicles and immediately started scouting locations in the Museum and unloading gear. The senior fashion editor whisked me away to a quiet corner of our curatorial offices with a rack of clothes and a pile of shoes. He eyed me up and down, assessing what he had to work with. I shifted nervously—what if he could tell that I only embody middling American style right now?
“We’ll do Prada for you,” he pronounced. “The cut is quite slim.” “Yes, of course,” I responded confidently, as though I had extensive knowledge of the fit of different design houses. I do not.
I’ve never had someone dress me. I felt like Lord Grantham on Downton Abbey, minus the giant estate and fox hunting and Maggie Smith. Like a cloud, the crisp white shirt settled lightly onto my shoulders. “I could get used to this,” I thought. “This shirt is sublime. It’s $760 retail,” the editor informed me. “Aungghh,” I responded vaguely, intending to sound nonchalant but probably sounding more like I swallowed my tongue. We moved into the galleries, where the photographer directed me. “Just try to be natural, move freely.” At first, I felt quite stiff: six fashion people watched my every move for hairs out of place, wrinkles in the fabric, crumbs in my beard, nervous facial tics, et cetera.
I felt more comfortable, as I often do, when we moved outdoors. I stood in the Museum drive for a shot with Roxy Paine’s Yield in the background. Cars moving through the circle had to pause for each shot. I could read the looks on their faces as they waited: “Who’s that guy in the nice suit with the crumbs in his beard and the facial tics?”
Then for one final shot, the photographer held the lens inches from my face, told me to hold up my hand and cover my left eye. “Look directly into the barrel of the lens,” he told me. Click. That’s the shot you see in this month’s Esquire. See if you can tell if I’m wearing my octopus socks.