As the new cultural campus takes shape on South Tryon Street, three longtime groups - The Mint Museums, the Afro-Am and the Blumenthal PAC - are moving in. But one completely new jewel springs to life Saturday morning: The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.
Not only has the collection never been presented in Charlotte, but much of the artwork has never been shown in the United States.
Doors open at noon Saturday. Visitors at last can roam the four floors to see about 100 pieces of a nearly 1,500-piece collection donated to the city by Andreas Bechtler, who inherited much of it from his parents, Hans and Bessie Bechtler.
Visitors will see some of the biggest names in 20th-century modern art, such as Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Edgar Degas, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Le Corbusier and Jean Tinguely.
So, just how cool is it that Charlotte has the Bechtler collection? Here's some perspective.
It's not the most wide-reaching modern art museum. You'll have to go to New York's MoMA (Museum of Modern Art - 10 times the number of paintings and sculptures) for that. It's not the deepest collection. You could choose the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (8,000 Andys!) if depth is your thing. It's not even special because it's the collection of one family (see The Barnes Foundation in Philly or The Phillips Collection in D.C.). But you would have to travel more than 200 miles to the High Museum in Atlanta (2,200 pieces) to find the closest substantial modern collection.
Most important, the Bechtler has a special charm. Family members lived among the artists in Switzerland and collected their work because they knew them, visited their studios and entertained them in their home.
"I enjoyed the time with them as friends," says Andreas Bechtler. "It was not just art. It was life, from shopping to just gathering and chatting. But of course, art was always somewhere present."
The term "modern art" refers to art from the 1860s to the 1970s. It began when artists rebelled against a strict Salon system in which juried exhibitions favoring extreme realism and sentimental subject matter could make or break an artist's career. Modern works are often experimental, both in materials and content, but the works vary widely and defy description.
A sculpture might be a tiny bronze bust or moving machinery. A painting might be splashes of watercolor or a scene from the Bible. Furniture, jewelry, architecture and photography are all part of the mix.
The Bechtler collection is but a slice of the modern movement, focusing largely on mid-1900s artists well-known in Europe.
Much of what visitors will see is abstract. To behold it is to see how shapes, colors, textures and materials can excite the senses without being realistic. Some works bring new interpretations to landscapes and figures. Some works are whimsical, some weighted with angst. Imagine what it was like for the Bechtlers to live daily with these daring expressions by their artist friends, seeing how the works were made, knowing the lives they represent.
Adding to the visitor's experience will be the building itself, the second U.S. building designed by world-renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta, also a Bechtler friend. Two intimate galleries on the second and third floors prepare the visitor for the 10,000-square-foot main gallery on the fourth floor, a space dramatically cantilevered over the outdoor plaza.
A four-story atrium provides vistas across the museum. You see works of art from across the building and can anticipate standing close-up.
A lobby café features pastries and light lunch, perhaps some Bechtler family recipes. A gift shop offers the usual posters and books, and some special items, such as a sterling silver fountain pen designed by Botta. It sports a peacock feather, a reference to quill pens of the past.