Firebird by Niki de Saint Phalle

I have been putzing around for most of my summer in Charlotte. I figured it was about time to get off of my butt and do something. That manifested into a trip to visit the Betchler Museum of Modern Art with a friend in downtown Charlotte.

The Betchler is a small museum which grew out of the collection of the Betchler family. Andreas Betchler decided to make his family’s art collection available to the public; his family had collected work for over 70 years. Artists represented include Giacometti, Warhol, Picasso and Ernst. There is a clear focus on 20th century artists and their work. And apparently the museum is a relative baby among museums: it was born in 2010.

The current exhibit is of artist Niki de Saint Phalle, entitled Creation of a New Mythology. De Saint Phalle is famously known for her Nana sculptures and celebration of different mythologies and their associated icons.

I had not heard of de Saint Phalle until a student discovered her while conducting research for her IB workbook. She was researching body image and women and came upon the Nana sculptures. These large scale sculptures feature large scale, round women that resemble ancient mother earth figurines; my student found this take on the female form refreshing.

Aside from investigation of women and notions of beauty, Niki de Saint Phalle enjoyed portraying images from ancient Egyptian culture, Hinduism, and Native American culture, to name a few.

La Cabeza ou Tête de Mort (Grande) by Niki de Saint Phalle

While her work is nothing I would hang in my home, I can certainly appreciate it. I love her use of polyester to sculpt, perhaps reinforcing her investigation identity and womanhood. I love her bright, simplistic coloring and the scale in which she chose to work. I could not photograph artwork installed inside the museum, but they have several sculptures of hers outside the museum. One is in in front of the entrance entitled Firebird and the other is across the street, a skull you can actually sit down inside.

My favorite piece, however, was part of the regular exhibit. It is a piece by Max Ernst: Projet por un monument a W.C. Fields (note: bottom left painting on selected works page) painted in 1957. I felt like it literally glowed when I observed it from across the room. There is almost an opalescence to parts of the work the color is so rich and vibrant. It’s been a long time since an artwork has moved me like this one has. The last time I felt this kind of emotion was when I saw Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp. And all of this from largely a realist painter! There is nothing quite like the feeling of being moved by an artwork, I hope to find it again soon.

Interested in learning more about the Betchler Museum of Modern Art? Visit their website, and be sure to check out the current exhibit featuring Niki de Saint Phalle, which is open until October 3rd.

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