This week HappeningsCLT got an insider’s look at the newest exhibition at the Bechtlter Museum, Celebrating Jean Tinguely and Santana. This retrospective of the artist’s works includes over 150 pieces making it the largest collection of his work in any American Museum.
Featuring a variety of work from throughout the artist’s influential career, visitors can see the artist’s distinctive kinetic art as well as his development and communication of his ideas through drawings and illustrated letters to the Bechtler family.
There is even a rather large section of the exhibition devoted to his contemporaries in mid twentieth century Paris including Nikki deSainte Phalle, the artist behind Charlotte’s beloved Firebird and Tinguely’s long time lover and wife.
One of the things that the viewer will note right away is that the kinetic sculptures will most likely not be moving when they enter the gallery. Due to the very sensitive mechanical components of the work, most of them are only turned on at specific times a day, or even just once a week to protect the integrity of the work in order to maintain the artist’s original intent. Be sure to ask an attendant at the museum, or at the front desk when you are planning your visit. Based on our visit this week, it sounds like Friday afternoons around 3:30pm will ensure that you see the most action!
The eponymous piece of the exhibition, Santana, is one that has an interactive element. When the pedal in front of the platform is depressed by the viewer the sculpture begins to rock in a herky jerky back and forth motion as if attempting to gain its center of balance. Once the animation of the art has reached its pinnacle, the spinning circle in the center catches a smoother rhythm of rotation. Somewhat anxiety-inducing to watch in the beginning, when the sculpture reaches its final state of regular motion, we almost experience a proud moment – as if watching a young child struggle to catch the proper rhythm for balancing and riding their bike.
Santana is a Sanskrit word for “continued succession, ramification, coherence or connection” which seems fitting after observing (and controlling) the sculpture’s motion. This work was the first in a series of 4 created by Tinguely in 1966, inspired by what is considered the first kinetic work of art – Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel from 1913.
One of the best parts of this exhibition – as is usually the case with the Bechtler – is the plethora of work that demonstrates the close familial relationships that Hans and Bessie Bechtler developed with the artists they collected. It is clear that the Bechtlers held a special place in the heart of Tinguely, as is evidenced by the gloriously colored letters and drawings that include their names and references to their chosen city of residence, Charlotte. There are even sculptures, like the one above, that feature trophies from Hans’ hunting expeditions.
The culmination of the exhibition is a remarkable machine by North Carolina’s own, Hoss Haley. The large Drawing Machine is calibrated to read the movements of the visitors passing through the exhibition, creating a unique record in real time of each visitor’s experience. This machine is reminiscent of Tinguely’s own drawing machines (Machine a dessiner) created beginning in the 1950’s, but with 21st century technology. The juxtaposition of the contemporary work with the Tinguely’s oeuvre makes the viewer realize how far ahead of his own time that the artist was.
See the exhibition tonight at the Bechtler by Night event when the Museum is open for free from 6pm – 9pm. The exhibition will be on display through September and is made possible by a sponsorhsip from the NC Arts Council, media sponsor WFAE, and conservation support from Jimmie & Chandra Johnson, Nelia & Michael A. Verano, & Aundrea and Stephen Wilson.