There are no rebellious youths or angry protesting mobs in this British Invasion at Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Instead, the exhibit — which opened in September — gives viewers a glimpse at 11 influential post-World War II artists. It's a tame collection of 56 works, spanning from the 1950s through 1970s, that includes prints, drawings, sculptures and paintings. On the same floor is the museum's second — and smaller — exhibit, The Firebird: Celebrating Five Years in Charlotte, which gives background information on the iconic work by Swiss artist Niki de Saint Phalle that's stood tall, lurking outside of the museum like a protective Transformer since its placement in 2009.
At the start of the British Invasion, you'll see Henry Moore's Shelter Sketch Book, featuring drawings that detail people sleeping in London bomb shelters during WWII. Moore's colored reclining figures are also worthy of a closer look. Notice how they curve like landscapes.
Across the room sits Barbara Hepworth's "Garden Sculpture (Model for Meridian)," a bronze, abstract statue that makes use of negative space with strange inner foldings. Hepworth was a friend of Moore's — both attended Leeds School of Art — creating a sense of union to the randomly placed works.
Another artist not to miss is Lynn Chadwick, a leading sculptor in England after WWII. We see six sculptures and four lithographs of his, which were loaned for the show from galleries in London, Berlin and New York, and the Estate of Lynn Chadwick. In "Two Dancing Figures," we see bodies dancing with their arms outstretched, reminiscent of airplanes or gliders. Comprised of triangular shapes, their heads turn into cones and their legs are thin and spiky. This piece is stylistically similar to his bronze sculpture, "Two Dancing Figures III." Though both works use different mediums, Chadwick conveys a sense of celebration amidst voidness and hardships. "Teddy Boy and Girl," along with these works, also reflects on a subculture of fashion that included tight-fit trousers that narrow at the ankles (similar to the skinny jeans of modern times).
Chadwick's "Beast VII" is, well, a different beast. The bronze sculpture appears as a cross between both an animal and a war tank. Its general vibe is cold, and it felt similar to those uncomfortable body casts from A Day in Pompeii. (Google, if you missed them when they came to Discovery Place).
Continuing on through the exhibit, we see Bridget Riley's "Fade," a mass of colorfully linear optical illusions. This painting, which was recently cleaned and restored for the exhibit, deserves careful analysis at distance and up close. Riley — a key figure in the op movement — plays tricks on the eyes in this work, as well as "Untitled (Wave)," another featured screen print.
Exiting the exhibit brings visitors to David Hockney's "Brooklyn Bridge," a special highlight of the collection. The crafty photographic wonder uses multiple images and collage to form a vivid picture. A pedestrian stands — see feet at the bottom — looking across the bridge, but it feels more like it's you, the viewer, in those shoes. British Invastion ends abruptly with this work in a room surrounded by works from other non-Brit artists.
But don't forget to mosey back through The Firebird exhibit before you leave. This distinct exhibit features a timeline of the sculpture's many stops (including cities in Germany, France, Switzerland and others) before finding a permanent home in the Queen City. It also explains how the magnificent bird was brought to Uptown, how its final location was determined, and how it is cleaned and parts replaced when damage occurs. (Oh, and in case you hadn't notice the pegs, those were installed around it to keep skateboarders from using the bird as a jumping off point). Viewers who explore this exhibit will also see the sculpture's partner statue, L'oiseau amoureux (Bird in Love), through photographs.
While The Firebird offers interesting details about Charlotte's own shiny outdoor sculpture, British Invasion informs viewers of post-WWII artists from the Brit pool. You can imagine each artist with a lovely accent, if that helps makes the exhibit more enticing in sound. The spectrum of works makes for an impressive collection, despite seeming a bit thrown together.