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Bechtler exhibition explores a year in the life of a collection

By Barbara Schreiber

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  • 1968: The year in art

    “Modernism in Changing Times: Work from 1968” through Jan. 24, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

    Details: 704-353-9200; www.bechtler.org.



While 1968 was a year of political unrest, there is little evidence of such tumult in “Modernism in Changing Times: Work From 1968,” now on view at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

For this show, as intended, 1968 is less a theme and more a moment; like 1957 and 1973, it was a year when Hans and Bessie Bechtlers’ collecting activity spiked.

The pieces on view vary wildly, with abstract and representational works in an array of mediums including painting, sculpture, printmaking and artist books. Some are vivid, some subdued.

For the museum visitor, “Modernism in Changing Times” is mostly an opportunity to see something different – of the 101 works on display, 75 percent have not been exhibited at the Bechtler before.

Among them are Picasso’s “L’Acrobate“ (The Acrobat), a wool on cotton tapestry based on his painting of the same name. Only three were made; the firm that produced it kept one, Nelson Rockefeller received one, and the third was sent to Paris for sale through a gallery.

In such a personal, idiosyncratic collection, you’ll see your fair share of minor pieces by major artists. But many of these, as well as work by lesser-known artists, stand out in the Bechtler’s quiet galleries.

There is a charming New Year’s card from Alexander Calder to the Bechtlers that turns into a paper mobile.

Henry Moore’s “Untitled: The Shelter Sketchbook” is a set of six lithographs on parchment. Moore’s bronze sculptures, which hover between the figurative and the abstract, are so ubiquitous that it’s easy to become inured to them. But these tiny lithographs, which include forms familiar from Moore’s sculpture, are fresh and engaging.

Similarly, for those who find Sol LeWitt’s rigorous minimalism a little chilly, his “2/2,” a pale green enamel-on-steel sculpture that clocks in at a diminutive 12 inches tall, is intimate and poetic.

The exhibition includes selections from “Art for Research,” a portfolio of prints that was sold to benefit a cancer center in Zurich. Among the participating artists was Oskar Kokoschka, whose expressionistic “Longevity” depicts a tortoise and a caduceus that look more foreboding than life affirming.

Also in this portfolio is Alfred Hofkunst’s appealingly weird “Eggsplosion,” featuring a corpulent hen and an egg containing a coiled extension cord instead of a yolk; this print teems with tiny, easily missed images representing fertility, including several that can’t be described in this wholesome family newspaper.

The final gallery is dominated by Hansjurg Brunner’s “The Black Spider,” 36 linocuts clearly inspired by the German expressionists of the ’20s and ’30s.

These prints are based on Jeremias Gotthelf’s 1842 novella, which tells the story of a woman who makes a deal with the devil in which she must hand over an unbaptized baby from her remote Swiss village.

These nightmarish black and white prints, depicting a battle between good and evil, provide a satisfying end to an exhibition of work created in a time of seismic social change.

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