Charlotte's boulevard of banking is not known for dazzling displays of creativity, but the Bechtler's resident greeter is an exception.
"Firebird," a whimsical creature roosting atop an arch, welcomes visitors to the South Tryon Street museum with sparkling grandeur.
An 18-foot-tall sculpture by French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle, "Firebird" is covered by thousands of tiles of mirrored glass that spread diamonds of light like a ballroom disco globe.
Saint Phalle created the sculpture in 1991 when she lived in San Diego. "Firebird" ("Le grand oiseau de feu sur l'Arche," or translated into English, "the Large Bird of Fire on an Arch") has been exhibited in Bonn, Germany; Geneva and Basel, Switzerland; Paris, Atlanta and Chicago. Everywhere, it became an amateur photo backdrop.
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Saint Phalle died in 2002. She was married to Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, who was commissioned by Bechtler to create "Cascade," a kinetic piece in the Carillon building on West Trade Street across from First Presbyterian Church.
Andreas Bechtler, a friend of the artists, saw "Firebird" when it was in Atlanta and was captivated by its crowd-pleasing impact. When it came on the market in 2006, he snapped it up from a Swiss collector.
He thought its bold, artistic nature combined with its uplifting appearance would be the perfect piece to welcome visitors to the new Charlotte museum.