Dotted along the array of skyscrapers in Charlotte’s Uptown stands a collection of museums that make up “Museum Row,” the Queen City’s premier hot spot for cultural immersion. Immediately recognizable
Dotted along the array of skyscrapers in Charlotte’s Uptown stands a collection of museums that make up “Museum Row,” the Queen City’s premier hot spot for cultural immersion. Immediately recognizable by their unique architecture, the Harvey B. Gantt Center, Levine Museum of the New South, Mint Museum Uptown, and Bechtler Museum of Modern Art are hard to miss — and even harder to resist.
“This is a golden opportunity, whether you’re a local resident or a visitor, to come and experience world-class art,” says Todd Smith, executive director of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Ready to plan a visit? Read on for your guide to exploring Museum Row, from the outside in.
Inspired by African textile design and African American quilting patterns, the Harvey B. Gantt Center was designed by Charlotte’s own Phil Freelon. On the exterior, bold diagonal steel channels stitch together metal panels, a nod to the quilts once used to direct slaves to freedom during pre- and post-abolition. Inside, design elements on the center’s stairs, escalators, and central atrium take inspiration from the skyward stairway at the “Jacob’s Ladder School,” once a fixture in Charlotte’s historic community of Brooklyn, where the Gantt Center now stands.
“Brooklyn was a well-to-do African American neighborhood that was disenfranchised by the lack of civil rights over the years,” explains David Taylor, president and CEO. “Although our representation Uptown shows that Charlotte is evolving, there is still much work to be done. With continued gentrification and segregation, the Gantt Center serves as a reminder of the past and a proponent of change for the future.”
Anchoring the center’s rotating exhibits is the standing John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African American art, gifted by the Bank of America in 2009. These works include paintings by master artists such as the Charlotte-born Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Ann Tanksley. “When people visit our museum, we hope they’ll find the humanity in each of our pieces on display,” Taylor says. “We hope they’ll feel connected.”
Visitors at the Levine Museum of the New South entrance are met with a bright red display. “What is the New South?” the sign asks. More than just a place or a time — areas in the southeast that began to flourish after the Civil War — the Levine Museum shows its visitors that the New South is a spirit. “Ending slavery forced the South to re-invent its entire economy and society, and it’s never stopped reinventing,” the display explains.
Through interactive and immersive exhibits that share stories of the Reconstruction, the Civil Rights era, and the South’s transformation from an agrarian to industrialized economy, the Levine Museum tells the stories that define Charlotte’s reinvention.
In addition to a robust digital component that includes lesson plans for grades K-12, the museum’s centerpiece exhibit, Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Reinventing Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South, invites visitors to step inside a one-room tenant farmers house, play a game of checkers on the front porch of a mill house, and even sit at a local counter and hear personal accounts from local sit-in leaders.
“Understanding history gives you a lens to deepen your understanding of critical issues,” says Courtney Whiteside, director of marketing. “It also helps you to engage with others in productive dialogue, foster empathy, and inspire action toward a better future. If we can understand our history, we know how to ask the right questions to effect real change.”
Filling the Mint Museum’s four-story-high atrium with light, life, color, and larger-than-life figures is a 62-foot by 60-foot, hand-cut collage constructed from vibrantly colored vinyl. Foragers, by Brooklyn, New York, artist Summer Wheat is meant to empower women and tell their stories from a different perspective.
According to Jen Sudul Edwards, chief curator and curator of contemporary art, Foragers creates a bridge between the two aspects of the Mint Collection: the Mint Museum of Art through its use of color and line, and the Mint Museum of Craft + Design because each of the vinyl pieces were hand-created and cut to achieve a stained-glass effect.
Opening April 17, an exhibit titled Silent Streets: Art in the Time of Pandemic showcases art by local, regional, national, and international artists to “grapple with the most urgent issues of our day, providing viewers with both solace and insight.” Like the selection of nationally syndicated comics that replaced months of material and created new strips to address the pandemic. Or the Diary of a Pandemic photography collection from snapshots of life and landscapes from around the world during the pandemic.
With each carefully curated work of art, the Mint Museum works to achieve its mission of showcasing innovative international art and design that engages and inspires.
Miro, Picasso, Warhol, Le Corbusier — these are just a few of the influential artists of the mid-20th century whose work is part of the collection at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta, who is known for his sacred spaces, such as a church in Switzerland and a synagogue in Tel Aviv, the Bechtler was conceived to be a place of contemplation.
“We’re surrounded by very tall buildings, and immediately you notice an intimacy of scale to our building — a nice respite from all the other architecture around us,” Smith says. “As you walk inside, take a few minutes to slow down, catch your breath, and remember what it means to be human.”
Four floors display collections of 20th-century works by European and American artists. In the second-floor gallery, Josef Albers’ The Interaction of Color features 42 double-page screen prints. “Albers, who came from the Bauhaus school in Germany, was one of the key artists in the 20th-century modern movement,” explains Smith. “He and his wife, Anni, spent time teaching at Black Mountain College, just outside Asheville, before teaching at Yale for the latter part of their careers.”
The entire third floor is made up of artists of Swiss nationality. And on the fourth floor, an expansive exhibition titled Twentieth Century Women includes more than 100 works from more than 22 artists. “Walking through our museum, you get a feeling that you are outside of Charlotte, and even outside of the U.S.,” Smith says. “It’s very much about a European aesthetic.”
Before you head home, commemorate your tour of Museum Row with a selfie in front of the Bechtler — “Our signature Instagram-able moment with the Firebird statue by the artist Niki de Saint Paul has come to define people’s experiences here,” Smith says. “It speaks to the excitement of art in Uptown Charlotte.”