Andreas Bechtler is proud of the studio where he makes art and he wants to give a tour.
Here's a stack of the photographs he works with, pictures of trees or fields of snow. Using a large printer, he manipulates them, enlarging, cropping, blurring. Some are framed; others printed on cloth.
To one side is a keyboard with speakers and a set of drums. Bechtler has always been involved with music. As a student in Switzerland, he played piano with a Dixieland band called the Hot Potatoes. These days, he and friends jam every Tuesday night in his studio at Little Italy, the art colony he built on Mountain Island Lake about 13 miles from uptown.
Bechtler is eager to get back to his studio, to have the uninterrupted hours he needs. Soon, he will.
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The project that has vacuumed his time for almost 10 years is complete. The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, housing a portion of the Bechtler family collection including works by Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miro and other modern masters, opens Saturday.
The flowerpot-orange building, designed by internationally known architect Mario Botta - like Bechtler a Swiss native - was financed by the city and county and built by Wachovia/Wells Fargo for $17 million as part of the cultural campus on South Tryon Street. Bechtler contributed an additional $3 million to the construction costs.
Fit and trim from a daily swim, Bechtler, 68, has purposely pulled back from the museum recently, letting staff take over, although he's been asked about the many details that piled up as opening day approached - what about the lighting, what about the labels?
Now, he feels he's done. "My role was just to find a home for the collection, to hand over everything as good as I could," he says. "It has to take its own motion."
Bechtler had a vision for the museum and held to it through years of discussions and negotiations. Built of his and his family's experience with art and artists, it will continue to influence Charlotte's newest cultural organization, how it functions and what it exhibits.
Art and business
Digging around in the piles of material Bechtler inherited from his parents, curator Michael Godfrey came across a letter from British painter Ben Nicholson to Hans Bechtler, Andreas' father. Wrote Nicholson about an upcoming exhibit, "Tell your son he will see I took his advice."
The son was then just a teenager. But he had no problem making a suggestion to an established artist. After all, Andreas Bechtler, who had his first exhibit when he was 15 years old, was an artist himself.
He had around him a great resource for learning. His parents, Hans and Bessie, were avid collectors, as was his Uncle Walter, his father's business partner. More than that, they were friends with artists in Zurich and Ascona a resort town with an artists' colony where they had a vacation home.
"My Dad was with them as a collector, says Bechtler. "I had a chance to be with these artists as artists."
He peppered his tutors with questions about what paint they used, what brushes, even what frames. Some of the relationships lasted a lifetime.
He met Niki de Saint Phalle, creator of the "Firebird" sculpture that stands in front of the museum, when he was a student.
Life to Charlotte
Bechtler's life, however, had another side: business. He was expected to one day help run the family company. The subject of his doctoral work at the University of Fribourg, was not art, but economics.
Business brought him to Charlotte in 1970. His father, who had studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for Carrier Corp., thought his son could benefit from some seasoning in America.
A vice chairman of Pneumafil Corp., which made air filtration systems, Bechtler made the rounds of nearby textile mills to talk with managers and push new products.
Businesspeople do certain things in Charlotte, and he conformed, joining the City Club so he could lunch with clients, and Quail Hollow Country Club for golf outings, although he doesn't enjoy the game.
But Bechtler, who comes across as shy, never sought to be part of the establishment.
He continued to make art, exhibiting at local galleries. "You can't deny yourself, the core is the core," he says.
Eventually, he sold his business interests. In 2001, after his parents died, he and his sister inherited the family art collection - thousands of paintings, sculptures, prints and books. He chose works with one idea in mind: building a museum. And although he retains Swiss citizenship and keeps an apartment in Zurich, he wanted it in Charlotte. "My heart is here," he says.
Always a collector
Bechtler knows some may see putting the family name on the museum as self-aggrandizing. He doesn't get defensive when asked about it, saying it may take people a while to get it - just as it took him a while.
He did not want to use "Bechtler," preferring the "Charlotte Museum of Modern Art."
"My interest was not about the name," he says. "I had these artists with their names and their stories. That was my focus." Says museum board chair Cyndee Patterson, "It's never been about Andreas."
He was persuaded because the museum is not only about mid-20th century modern art, rarely collected by institutions and individuals in the Southeast, making the Bechtler unique. It is also about his family.
On the museum's ground floor hang portraits by Andy Warhol of Bechtler, his parents, sister, former wife and three daughters. Other works tell of relationships, pieces inscribed to his parents - and to him.
One is a drawing by Jean Tinguely for what became "Cascade," the artist's exuberant kinetic sculpture in the Carillon building on West Trade Street, a project the Bechtlers developed. Tinguely was once married to Saint Phalle. Such connections also are part of the museum.
Through an arrangement negotiated with the city, Bechtler agreed to give the 1,400-piece collection to a foundation that would keep it on view as long as Charlotte provided a facility to house it. Bechtler guaranteed the collection would be worth at least $20 million.
One work on view is especially personal, "As for Appearance II," an abstract painting by American Sam Francis. Bechtler bought it as a teenager, his first, saving money from his allowance.
He still has the bug. "As long as I'm alive I'm a collector," he says. "You can't stop."
Since striking the agreement with the city, he has bought additional works such Saint Phalle's "Firebird." He won't say how much he has spent. Seeing the collection needed some larger pieces, he bought tapestries by artists such as Fernand Léger and Roy Lichtenstein.
Such works reveal how artists work in different media, something Bechtler wants to highlight.
Bechtler's collecting will be a continuing source of art for the museum. He also has contacts in Europe, with other members of his family who own art, and institutions such as the Giacometti Foundation, the one in Zurich and the one in Paris.
These resources may be used to flesh out the Bechtler's exhibition focus: its collection.
The museum is not designed to house big, traveling exhibits. It will create shows based on the collection.
Curator Godfrey sees possible exhibits focused on, for example, female sculptors, British artists, or the School of Paris, artists who were active in Paris after World War II, especially well-represented in the collection.
The opening exhibit of about 110 pieces will be up for at least six months. "We'll give Charlotte time to digest and think before we see what comes next," Godfrey says.
Bechtler says the big shows will be left to the Mint Museum, under construction next door. What he's after is something smaller, more intimate. He sees the Mint, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and the Bechtler each offering distinct experiences.
"Three different museums," he says, "you can't wish anything better for a city."