Thursday, July 7, 2011

Democratic National Convention 2012 Notebook: Charlotte art museums — Bechtler, Mint and Harvey Gantt Center — prepare to impress

Posted By on Thu, Jul 7, 2011 at 10:21 AM

“For some outside of our region,” John Boyer, president and CEO of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art told me, Charlotte has “not traditionally been seen as a place of great cultural richness and advancement.”

That’s an understatement. In national reports after Charlotte was chosen to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention, NASCAR was mentioned, with barbecue close behind. The city’s arts scene didn’t make a vivid impression, though, as Boyer said, perhaps “it should have.”

A recent piece I worked on for Fox News Charlotte’s “Reboot: Charlotte” series showcased South Tryon Street’s Levine Center for the Arts. “We’ve gotten a tremendous response so far from lots of organizations and folks that are connected with the DNC,” with particular interest in Uptown cultural buildings for special events, said Scott Provancher, president of the Arts & Science Council, which is working with the DNC host committee.

David Taylor, president and CEO of the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African- American Arts + Culture, said the museum’s curatorial staff is pulling together the final components of what will be exhibited. “It will be something that Charlotte and North Carolina can be very, very proud of.” Taylor touted the “diverse cultural experience” a visitor can enjoy on the “cultural mile” from the McColl Center for Visual Art to the Gantt.

During the convention, the Mint Museum Uptown is featuring the work of Thornton Dial, a self-taught African-American artist. Kathleen Jameson, president and CEO of the Mint, said of Dial’s work: “It’s not political — either left or right — but it’s about our shared experience as Americans.” Also in the works: a major Mint show that features the permanent collection and will travel to New York and a Randolph Road exhibit around North Carolina pottery. There may be a shuttle between both locations during the DNC. Jameson said the museum is talking with artists about commissioning work in response to the convention “so that it continues to live and that we continue to talk about it after that week.”


The Bechtler plans a major exhibition of the works of Alberto Giacometti “one of the titans of 20th century modernism” during the DNC, said Boyer. The Bechtler’s collection is strong because of the family’s personal relationship with Giacometti, as well as his brothers Bruno, an architect, and Diego, an artist in his own right. Boyer said the exhibition will focus on the brothers, and particularly the accomplishments of Alberto as a painter, a draftsman and — most importantly — a sculptor.

Then, there is the Bechtler’s Obama connection through one of its most important works, a landscape from 1952 by the Russian, later French artist Nicolas de Staël. When the Obamas moved into the White House and like other first families got to personalize the art, they chose a similar work by the artist from the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. “I would love for the First Lady and perhaps even the president to have the chance to come see our beautiful Nicolas de Staël,” said Boyer, “not unlike the one they get to live with every day in the White House.”

A Charlotte museum can hope.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C.-based journalist, is a contributor to The Root, NPR, Creative Loafing and the Nieman Watchdog blog. Her “Keeping It Positive” segment airs Wednesdays at 7:10 on TV’s Fox News Rising Charlotte, and she was national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.

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