A second museum designed by Mario Botta has just opened in the United States, bearing all the hallmarks of the world renowned Ticino architect.
The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art – named after its benefactor, the Swiss Andreas Bechtler – is situated in the centre of Charlotte, North Carolina.
The terracotta coloured exterior strikes the eye, as do the geometric shapes and the convex, 15-metre-high column at the entrance.
The roof of this entrance area is the floor of the actual exhibition space. “We have created a little plaza here,” Botta told swissinfo.ch.
The Bechtler Museum is like a design for a theatre and a city museum under construction, he said. Together these form a culture campus. The main north-south highway runs directly past the new Botta building, which has four levels and a total floor space of 3,000 square metres.
The 1,000-square-metre exhibition area dominates the construction.
By European standards, it is an imposing building. But by American standards it is rather modest. “It is an intimate space,” said Botta. That becomes clear when you view the building from a distance, and see it surrounded by skyscrapers.
A Swiss gift
The impetus for the museum came from industrialist Andreas Bechtler, who moved to Charlotte in the 1970s and inherited with his sister his parents’ art collection, including important 20th century pieces.
As he wanted to make the collection accessible to the public, Bechtler donated around 1,400 pieces to the city of Charlotte, 116 of which are now on display. These include works by Andy Warhol, Alberto Giacometti and Jean Tinguely as well as Picasso, Jasper Johns, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Le Corbusier, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder and Ben Nicholson.
The museum was built by the city and district of Charlotte at a cost of $17 million (SFr17.33 million), with financing from the Wachova/Wells Fargo bank. Bechtler contributed an additional $3 million of his own.
When it came to the choice of architect, he appears to have had the right to nominate someone. “I received the commission from the city of Charlotte on Bechtler’s recommendation,” Botta explained.
Second US work
In the entrance area stands the large Firebird sculpture by the French-American artist, Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), which dates from 1991. Bechtler was convinced that this rounded sculpture would be the perfect counterweight to the linear-geometrical museum building.
“The Firebird is both exciting and a symbol of a warm welcome to all visitors to Charlotte and to the Wells-Fargo-Cultural-Campus,” writes museum president John Boyer on the Bechler Museum website.
For Botta, it is the second building he has erected in the US. His first work was the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1995. Both his US buildings are modern art galleries.
“That is really coincidence,” laughed Botta, adding that he has no other projects in the US at present.
Gerhard Lob in Lugano, swissinfo.ch (Adapted from German by Morven McLean)
Born on April 1, 1943 in Mendrisio, canton Ticino, where he still lives. He is married and the father of three grown-up children.
At 15, Botta began an apprenticeship as a draftsman with Tita Carloni. He spent time at the Liceo Artistico in Milan before finally studying architecture in Venice.
Botta is one of the best known architects in Switzerland with buildings all over the world. His office is in Lugano, but will move to Mendrisio from the end of 2010.
In 2010 the Trento and Rovereto Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea will stage a retrospective of Botta’s work to mark his 50 years as an architect. The roving exhibition, designed by Botta, will thereafter be shown in museums throughout the world.
The largest city in the US state of North Carolina, it is situated on the border with South Carolina.
The city has around 700,000 inhabitants, with more than two million in the wider Charlotte area.
Charlotte is one of the biggest US financial centres. The Wachovia banking group, which partly financed the building’s construction, had its headquarters here. Following the financial crisis, it was completely taken over by Wells Fargo at the end of 2008.