At the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, there’s more than just love in the air. Although “Artistic Relationships: Partners, Mentors, Lovers” cleverly opened around Valentine’s Day, the show is about much more than romantic attachments – it is an instructive look at how relationships affect artistic output.
“Artistic Relationships” counters the myth of the artist as lone genius. This is particularly important for the Bechtler, because the collection celebrates connections among the Bechtler family and the artists they befriended, supported and collected.
The show features 11 pairs of artists, whose relationships run the gamut from distant to enmeshed. Of the 85 works, all but one drawn from the permanent collection, 22 are on view at the museum for the first time. (To date, the museum has exhibited 20 percent of its holdings.)
The exhibition’s most enchanting relationship: Alexander Calder and Joan Miró.
Jolly sloppy Calder and dapper little Miró met in 1928 in Paris. They spent time in one another’s toy-strewn studios, went to galleries and parties together, and engaged in playful, sometimes naughty correspondence about friends, family, politics, food and travel.
Their work shares rich primary colors, amorphous forms, humor and mystery.
While Calder is best known for his huge mobiles and Miró for his paintings, both were creative omnivores. (YouTube “Calder’s circus” for a significant example.)
Showcased are textiles – Calder’s 1971 tapestry “Glacier with Coloured Petals” and Miró’s 1962 rug “Spanish Dancer” – and books – Calder’s “Festivals” and Miró’s “The Lizard with Golden Feathers, ” both from 1971.
While there’s a little too much Gustave Singier and Alfred Manessier for my taste, their relationship neatly illustrates the exhibition’s theme.
Meeting in Paris in the 1920s, Singier and Manessier enjoyed an intense friendship, living and working next door to one another.
Part of their story is a cautionary tale about entanglement, because even as they evolved as artists, it was sometimes in lockstep, resulting in works that look as if they were done by the same artist.
Even though Singier had a spiritual awakening during World War II that changed both him and his work, similarities can still be seen in Singier’s 1954 lithograph “Mistral-Night” and Manessier’s 1954 painting “Nordic Spring.”
The show includes several romantic partnerships.
Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman met in Paris in the 1920s, married, divorced and eventually married others.
Years later, they rekindled their romance after meeting at a cocktail party.
Bergman was a multimedia artist; Hartung created mostly two-dimensional works.
Hartung’s “L100” (1964) and “L101” (1963) and Bergman’s “untitled (Galerie de France)” share strikingly similar, mournful forms. In Bergman’s print, the form resembles a dress pattern, in Hartung’s, a sheaf of wheat.
One of the museum’s defining relationships is that of Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely.
Tinguely is represented mostly by paintings and Saint Phalle mostly by sculptures that share the same palette and passion.
There are several fanciful bits of correspondence to various Bechtlers, ostensibly written (mostly painted, really) by Tinguely, in which Saint Phalle has inserted tiny drawings of her Nana figures, the celebratory images of women for which she became famous.
In the case of Bridget Riley and Victor Pasmore, the notion of relationship seems dubious at first.
When Riley saw a groundbreaking modern art exhibition Pasmore co-curated, it forever changed her path as artist and helped propel her to become a pioneer of Op art.
Pasmore’s “Curvilinear Motif in white, black and Indian red #1” (painted wood relief, 1960) and Riley’s “Fade” (acrylic on canvas, 1972) celebrate the purity of geometry and drafting.
But what seems like a stretch actually represents one of the most important relationships in the art world – the one between a viewer and a work of art.