This story was originally published Oct. 27, 1991.
WOW! What’s this hanging from the ceiling on cables and chains? A 40-foot-tall arrangement of ... Incredible Stuff! ...
A wheel splashed with yellow and pink paint, a bright red cowl from a Ferrari racing car, an iron balcony railing, a “C” made of yellow metal, antlers protruding from a skull, a set of animal jaws opening and closing, a curve of white light bulbs and more, much more, and all of it turning and moving as motors clank and whir like the motion of time itself. Could it be the contents of some great cosmic closet disgorged for all the world to see?
Or could it be one of the wildest, funniest, most serious kick-in-the-head works of art Charlotte’s ever seen?
It is just that: Jean Tinguely’s “Cascade,” in the lobby of the Carillon building on West Trade Street in uptown Charlotte.
Hesta Properties, developers of the 24-story office tower, wanted to demonstrate a commitment to art and integrate the art chosen with the project. Knowing they had an off-Tryon Street location for a new building, they also sought to create a bit of a stir.
They’ve done all three.
The art works at the Carillon – by Tinguely, Sol LeWitt and Jerry Peart – are fine pieces that work with the architecture. And they’re getting attention, a steady stream of visitors coming to look.
Now is a good time to go see. On view in the lobby, named the Hans and Walter Bechtler Gallery after the company’s founders, is an exhibition focusing on Tinguely, LeWitt and Peart.
Put together by Curator’s Forum in Charlotte, it is an intelligent show. Looking at the exhibit and the work, one thing becomes clear: Hesta sought three artists who would produce contrasting works. The baroque exuberance of the Swiss-born Tinguely sets off the cool minimalism of New Yorker LeWitt, who is represented by a wall drawing of a cube that covers a lobby wall. Outside is Chicagoan Jerry Peart’s 30-foot-tall “The Garden, “ a vividly colored sculpture made of curving ribbons of metal. Peart’s piece does its job, providing a visual marker for the Carillon that can be seen from The Square.
But compared with the smarts and depth in Tinguely’s and LeWitt’s art, Peart’s sculpture seems tame.
His final work
The exhibit is especially good at giving a sense of Tinguely.
Internationally known for his meta-matiques, or painted machine sculptures that move, he died in August shortly after finishing “Cascade.”
Tinguely’s work has had a kind of pessimism. But in “Cascade, “ he achieved a crowning lightness and enthusiasm. It’s all there in the exhibit of drawings he sent Andreas Bechtler of Hesta Properties, many of them describing “Cascade.” The colors are brilliant and wheels and blades spin in the air.
But Tinguely also composed on the spot, finding objects he liked and welding them to supports. His sculpture-machine reveals how it was made. The welded joints are obvious, as are the C-clamps holding pieces together. Yet the piece seems mysterious, some wild homage to Charlotte. This is a piece dedicated to place. The racing car represented is not NASCAR-approved, but in its sleekness it speaks of speed and the racetrack. The iron balcony railing is distinctly Southern. And there’s a lion’s head with water spewing from its mouth salvaged from the Hotel Charlotte, demolished to make way for the Carillon. A historic artifact survives in a city that usually buries history.
Seeing human beings, or contemporary life, as machine-like is one of modernism’s earliest insights. We humans were overcome by the machines that were supposed to liberate us, and we became automatons in the process. Changing, moving, “Cascade” seems to be a giant metaphor – for the human body, for life, for the universe itself. A machine made from cannibalized machines, its scrap parts look funny, even ludicrous. Yet there’s a heroic stubbornness in its unending motion.
Variations on his themes
LeWitt’s piece, “Wall Drawing 683,” is a hovering cube of dark red, blue and gray on a gold ground. It dominates the rear wall of the lobby, but in a subtle, almost chaste fashion. It is a prime example of conceptual art and minimalism.
LeWitt’s insight is that the important part of an artwork is the idea, not the making of it. He wrote the plans for this drawing and left the execution to assistants.
With LeWitt, even the slightest variation counts. For “Wall Drawing 4, “ part of the exhibition, he gives these antiseptic descriptions: “A square divided horizontally and vertically into four equal parts, each with a different direction of lines.” The direction of the lines in this large pencil drawing on a white ground and the slight changes in the space between the lines do have a kind of elegance.
Maquettes, or small models, of various works by Peart are on view.
Artist on view
In addition to the drawings accompanying the Tinguely sculpture are four videos that give a larger sense of what he was about. Next to a color video on the making of “Cascade” is a black and white video on his “Homage to New York,” a famous 1960 installation at the Museum of Modern Art that some credit as being the first “happening.”
Tinguely’s machine sculpture self-destructed and caught fire. At the beginning of the “Cascade” video, Tinguely spots the camera. He hikes the pants legs of his blue work suit, revealing a pair of outrageous blue and white stripped socks, and parades before the camera. With that gesture, he revealed his zest for life, the kind of feeling he caught so well in “Cascade” and that we now have, through the magic of art, permanently enshrined in the Carillon.