Friday, October 7, 2011

Working overtime at the Bechtler

Galleries in a museum do no one any good when they're closed. But paintings and sculptures can't just be thrown in and yanked out. What's a museum to do?

Get busy, that's what.

"Niki de Saint Phalle: Creation of a New Mythology" closed Monday afternoon, Oct. 3, at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. The museum's next show -- "Geometry and Experimentation" -- opens tonight, Oct. 7. And it isn't as though the Bechtler has acres of space at its disposal. The precise, cool works in "Geometry" have moved into the same galleries "Niki" left behind.

Here's how it played out. As soon as the museum doors closed at 5 p.m. Monday, president John Boyer said, workers went into action. They toiled into the night, moving Saint Phalle's art into other parts of the museum, patching up holes where art had been attached, and repainting the walls.

Over the next two days, the 50-plus works in "Geometry" were uncrated and assembled -- a delicate operation, in some cases. Meanwhile, workers began crating Saint Phalle's works. For the more complex pieces, they used photographs they had taken while unpacking them last spring.

Thursday, a semi stood outside the museum, ready to take Saint Phalle's works back to their home in southern California. One of the last to go was that dramatic wedding-dress sculpture, which took a last look at Charlotte -- and vice versa -- from museum's front plaza before the last piece of its crate was fastened up. By midafternoon Thursday, the new show -- "Geometry and Experimentation: European Art of the 1960s and 1970s," for its full title -- was ready to go.

The lights in the galleries are lower, this time, and Saint Phalle's grand, dramatic fantasies have given way to more compact and controlled works. But that doesn't mean that "Geometry" is sedate. As you can see from even a miniature image of Angel Duarte's "Untitled," art that's carefully wrought can still play games with your eyes.