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Pretty and precious to distorted and creepy 

Mint and Bechtler exhibits showcase compelling pieces

Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World's Fairs 1851-1939

Back before the age of the Internet and before we had too many stores to choose from, there were world fairs. From 1851-1939, these fairs unveiled a world of elegance and what were then state-of-the-art designs and global wonders.

Mint Museum Uptown spotlights these shiny, pretty things that are both decorative and functional. Comprised of extravagant glass, furniture, jewelry, ceramics, metalwork, textiles and other objects, it's a showcase very worthy of roaming (come with no time constraints).

Upon entry you'll see "The Tennyson Vase," a huge piece intricately decorated with symbols of British chivalry and Arthurian legend. Nearby is a baby blue 1867 glass punch bowl with goblets and a tray. This one, designed by Baccarat, features a pictorial narrative of figures, dragons and griffins.

I wavered, probably for too long, over a peacock perfume bottle, a Tiffany & Co. flower brooch, a René Jules Lalique 1903 necklace with a leafy design, glass enamel and precious and semi-precious materials, and a Fabergé tiara fashioned from hundreds of tiny, rose-cut diamonds and set on knife-edge mounts, giving it the fragile appearance of woven lace.

Chairs, a piano, tables and other furniture also reside in the exhibit, in both classic and modern designs. Larger objects of note include an 1850s gothic bookcase with intricate carvings, woodwork and stained glass, and a 1915 Japanese silk screen called "Morning Sea."

Exhibit continues through Jan. 19, 2014. Mint Museum Uptown, 500 S. Tryon St. $5-$10 (Free admission on Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; also free for Mint members and children 4 years old and under.) Hours: Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. 704-337-2000.

Modernism in Changing Times: Works from 1968

The exhibit, featuring 101 works that include sculptures, paintings, sketches and textiles, highlights a year when pop art movements were bustling. Among some of the most compelling in the exhibit are those that fall into the realm of op art, meaning they create optical illusions from a distance. Among these is Adolf Luther's spherical light-like beam made of glass, metal and plexiglass and Victor Vasarely's acrylic "Tridem K," full of diamond shapes and colors that distort it into a 3D-like construction.

There's also a huge tapestry of a man in a yoga-like pose, designed but not weaved by Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol's world-famous "Marilyn" on serigraph paper.

Of particular note is a small room of linocuts by Hansjürg Brunner. These, containing names like "Wailing People" and "Devil's Kiss," are styled after his 19th century novella, The Black Spider. Creepily detailed, these black-and-white inked pieces invite viewers to get tangled in the web of this story. Not for anyone who suffers from arachnophobia.

Following the 1968 thread, Bechtler Museum's current film series is screening films from that year. Upcoming screenings include the following:

Nov. 10: Sympathy for the Devil

Dec. 1: Flesh

Dec. 8: House of Cards

Dec. 15: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Exhibit continues through Jan. 24, 2014. $4-$8; Free for Bechtler members and children 10 years old and under. Hours: Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. 704-353-9200.

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