Get to Know Our Collection
Did you know there are over 1,400 art works in the Bechtler Collection? Get to know the artists and the stories behind their art as we dive into our online collection. Each week we will feature a new artist.
(May 25, 2020) On this Memorial Day we would like to draw your attention to a poem by the American poet and curator, Frank O'Hara (1926-1966) tited, "Memorial Day, 1950" read by Bechtler Curator, Anastasia James.
In 1960, O’Hara was appointed Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art where he helped prepare travelling exhibitions of modern art. Because of his employment as a curator at MoMA, O’Hara became prominent in New York City’s art world and he is regarded as the leading figure of the New York School, an informal group of artists, writers, and musicians who drew inspiration from jazz, surrealism, abstract expressionism, and action painting. In addition to writing art criticism, O’Hara was a prolific poet whose work was generally autobiographical and based on his observations of life in mid-century New York.
Remembered for his passion and warmth, O’Hara firmly believed in the diplomatic potential of art to bridge gaps between foreign cultures or to prevent rivalries from escalating. In one of his earliest poems, “Memorial Day, 1950,” O’Hara references a number of modern artists in the Bechtler Museum’s collection such as Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, and Paul Klee. For O’Hara art is about life, how we live it, what we believe in, and who we love. His poetry, like many of the works in the Bechtler Museum’s collection, seeks to reveal the experiences of life in all of its complexity and point to the way that art both teach us and simultaneously transform the world.
(May 11, 2020) The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is home to a number of significant works by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966). Hans and Bessie Bechtler first met the artist in 1957 at an opening of his work at Galerie Maeght in Paris where they purchased the sculpture Femme Asisse(Seated Woman), 1956. The Bechtler’s continued to collect his work and also the work of his brother, Diego Giacometti, for many decades.
We would like to draw your attention to two small sculptural works by Alberto Giacometti titled Aube and Naissance du Jour, both dated 1936 and measuring only 1 ¾ inches in diameter. The small bronze medallions, or buttons, were the result of a collaboration between Giacometti and Jean-Michel Frank, a French interior designer known for his minimalist interiors and connections to the French fashion world. The two buttons were designed for the French-Italian fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli (best known for her work with the Surrealists).
We are not certain what year the Bechtler’s purchased these works or if these buttons were ever attached to a clothing item, but a version of one of them is documented on a Schiaparelli tailored jacket which belonged to Marlene Dietrich. Ten examples of each were authorized by the artists, so they are in essence 1 of an edition of 10. The first one, titled Aube (left) is a representation of the Greek Goddess Eos, who rose from her home in the ocean to begin each day. The second, titled Naissance du Jour or “daybreak” (right) depicts a female figure with uplifted arms and legs bent at the knees - a convention used in Greek art to indicate that a figure was running. Many of Giacometti’s decorative works from this time evoke forms from ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian excavations reflecting the artists admiration of these civilizations. Photographs from the Bechtler’s home in Zurich indicate that they were prominently displayed on the mantle in the living room alongside a necklace and two small figurines also by the artist.
Image credit: Alberto Giacometti (Swiss 1901-1966), Aube (left) and Naissance du Jour (right), 1937, gilded bronze, Collection of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
(May 4, 2020) Georges Rouault, Paysage biblique (Biblical Landscape), ca.1950, oil on canvas on wood. Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.
Born to working-class parents in Paris, Georges Rouault (1871-1958) first studied at a Protestant school before becoming an apprentice in a stained-glass workshop at the age of fourteen where he worked closely on the restoration of medieval stained glass. At night, he studied at the École des Arts Décoratifs for a few years before enrolling full-time at the École des Beaux-Arts, the official art school of France, where he studied under the symbolist painter Gustave Moreau. Rouault’s earliest works demonstrate a devotion to Moreau’s teachings. By 1895, Rouault took part in major public exhibitions, most notably the Salon d’Automne with other Fauvists, the leader of which was considered to be Matisse and his style from this period is characterized by spontaneous line and use of stark contrast. In 1907, he began a series of paintings dedicated to courts, clowns, and prostitutes which were interpreted by critics as moral and social criticism. During this period of time of searching, he became drawn to the writings of philosopher Jacques Maritain and dedicated himself to religious subjects. By 1917, he had dedicated himself exclusively to painting religious subjects and has been called by critics, “the most passionate Christian artist of the 20th Century.”
Paysage biblique, or Biblical Landscape, was completed ca. 1950 near the end of Rouault’s life. In this work, Rouault applied paint in a thick impasto with many layers and glazes revealing luminous, rich colors. The forms, such as the people, trees, temple, or house, and sun are outlined with wide black lines, like the lead that encases stained glass. While the biblical reference is non-specific, one can identify the figure of Christ in the lower right-hand corner. This small painting hung in the dining room of the Bechtler’s house in Zurich as one of their most prized artworks.
Image: George Rouault, Paysage biblique (Biblical Landscape), ca.1950, oil on canvas on wood. Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.
(April 27, 2020) Gregorio Vardenega - Colors et étincelles sonores, 1963/70, Metal, plexiglass, steel, colored lights, and motor.
Gregorio Vardenega (1923-2007) was an artist of Italian origins who worked in Argentina and France. From a young age, he was fascinated by light, in relation to color, space, and movement. After completing his studies at the Instituto Universitario Nacional de Arte in Buenos Aires he he permanently relocated to France where he developed a reputation as an important practitioner of kinetic art.
Colors et étincelles sonores (Colors and Twinkling Sounds) is an excellent example of Vardenega’s work from the 1960s. A very similar sculpture from the same series belongs to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This human-scale kinetic sculpture features six steel and acrylic cylinders with multicolored lights in yellow, pink, and turquoise, mounted on a black painted base with a row of on and off switches. When turned on, the colored bulbs inside the acrylic cylinders flash on and off, changing colors in seemingly endless patterns. At the same time, a set of sounds, based on music box technology, plays in concert with the blinking lights. First exhibited at Galerie Denise René in Paris, an early champion of kinetic art, this work was purchased by the Bechtler’s in 1970 along with another kinetic sculpture by Julio le Parc titled Continuel mobile lumiére.
His early work exhibited a strong desire to move away from the Abstract Expressionist movement and towards a more conceptual and minimalist form of art making. Inspired by the writings of Samuel Beckett and Michel Butor and the serial photographs of Eedweard Muybridge, LeWitt’s work began to emphasize the development of a structure as predetermined by an initial concept. By the the mid 1960s, the cube became the primary building block of his “structures,” a term he used to describe his works which he considered neither painting, nor sculpture. His first modular cube structure was made in the winter of 1965-66 and was shown at the Jewish Museum’s exhibition “Primary Structures,” in Spring 1966, the first major exhibition devoted to Minimalism in New York City. And in July of that year, he published in Art in America an essay titled “The Cube” which helps illuminate some of thinking behind the inspiration for the Bechtler’s 2/2 Two Two-Part Pieces Using a Cube with Opposite Sides Removed, 1968:
“The most interesting characteristic of the cube is it is relatively uninteresting. Compared to any other three-dimensional form it lacks any aggressive force, implies no motion, and is least emotive. Therefore, it is the best form to use as a basic unit for any more elaborate function, the grammatical device from which the work may proceed. Because it is standard and universally recognized, no intention is required of the viewer.”