Charlotte: Bechtler Museum is state-of-the-art

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is a small but elegant gallery that features the private collection of Andreas Bechtler which was donated to the city. Photo: Bechtler Museum, Charlotte (Photo: Bechtler Museum)

CHARLOTTESeptember 1, 2012 — Visitors to Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention can treat themselves to one of the finest modern art exhibitions in the country.

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is less than three years old, but already the collection — and the stories behind it — have made the museum a national treasure.

The entire collection, which was donated to the city by entrepreneur Andreas Bechtler, was amassed by his family over a period of 70 years. What makes the contribution unique, and more personal, however, is the cross-cultural dynamic between Switzerland and Charlotte that represents more than 700 years of democracy and artistic philosophy.

Bechtler Museum’s main gallery

Swiss democracy traces its roots to 1291 when a loose confederation of states united as protection from outside invasion. Over the centuries Switzerland never had any form of royalty similar to its surrounding nations, and that played a major role in the character of the country as it exists today.

In the year 1661, the city of Basel purchased the private collection of a local lawyer, Basilius Amerbach, and opened the Kunstmuseum (Fine Arts Museum) Basel. In so doing, the Amerbach collection became the core of the world’s first public municipal museum.

Since that time, and without royalty to pay commissions for extensive private art collections, the Swiss have had more than 450-years of sharing their artistic heritage and making it available to the public.

It was only natural then for Swiss-born businessman Andreas Bechtler to be influenced by that same spirit of bringing high quality art to the masses for everyone to enjoy.

Andreas parents, Hans and Bessie Bechtler, also played an instrumental role in the journey that led to the creation of Charlotte’s jewel of modern art. Typical of the Swiss, it is a major aspect of their cultural heritage to incorporate art into the workplace to provide added quality of life to the business environment.

Not only was the Bechtler’s home filled with art, but so, too, were their offices, hallways and conference rooms of their businesses

It is here that the story becomes more personal, and it is the primary reason why the Bechtler Museum in Charlotte is so unique.

The vision of Hans and Bessie that was later instilled in Andreas was the concept of developing long-standing friendships with the artists they collected. Andreas’ parents frequently visited their studios, invited them into their homes and provided financial and promotional support for both well known and emerging artists.

As John Boyer, president and chief executive of the museum, puts it, “They formed a collection that is not overwhelming or all encompassing, but personal, intimate and whimsical. It captures a time—a remarkable era for art—and a place, not the dominant art centers of Paris and New York, but Switzerland, where art thrived in the center of Europe.”

Hans and Bessie sought out art and artists with diversity. A key factor in their collection was being able to know something about the artist personally which gave each of their pieces an intimacy with a story behind it.

In true Swiss style, Andreas carried on the family tradition. After inheriting a portion of his parent’s modern art collection, Bechtler began amassing his own works of art before expressing his desire to share his acquisitions with his adopted home. His dream was to create a museum that would honor the art as well as the way it was collected.

Firebird at Bechtler Museum

In the process, Charlotte became the added beneficiary of one of the finest architectural structures in the United States. Again using his artistic connections, Bechtler commissioned master Swiss architect, Mario Botta, to design the museum.

A soaring glass atrium that extends through the core of the building diffuses natural light throughout the museum until it reaches the fourth floor gallery where the art is boldly and dramatically displayed.

Botta is famous for his minimalist designs that exhibit a contemporary viewpoint. Though his buildings are unique, they also blend within an urban landscape. As a result of Andreas Bechtler’s artistic associations, Charlotte lays claim to one of only two Botta buildings in the United States. The other is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The Bechtler Museum is a continuous work in progress. Only ten percent of the collection is ever on public view and any given time. As such, visitors can return again and again to savor new works that reflect most of the important art movements and schools from the 20th century.

Artists represented by various media include Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miro, Jean Tinguely, Picasso and Barbara Hepworth, all of whom were friends of the family at one time or another.

Gallery at the Bechtler Museum

Among Andreas’ personal favorites is the work of Jean Tinguely, who brings a sense of serendipity, surprise and energy to the gallery. Be sure to view the Tinguely paintings which are actually letters written to the family.

To be sure there are some who will say they have no use for modern art because they cannot understand it. But the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is different because its intimacy is magnified by the personal relationships between the artists and the collectors.

And, who knows, since only ten percent of the collection can be viewed at any one time, the DNC may have to return for nine more conventions. (420 South Tryon Street; 704-353-9200;

Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. He played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club , which creates, and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

To date he has visited 69 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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