Categories: Serving Communities

For museum, picking the right paint is an art

"The House That Modernism Built" is on view at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

Even the most design-conscious homeowner can become paralyzed with indecision when selecting paint colors. Imagine if you have a world-class collection of art and furniture to show off, and you’re expecting thousands of visitors. That was the challenge facing Jennifer Sudul Edwards, curator of “The House That Modernism Built,” on view at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, through Sept. 11.

As the museum prepared to showcase its extensive mid-20th-century art holdings along with furniture, textiles and ceramic works on loan from across the country, Edwards knew the gallery walls had an important role to play. Basic white – the go-to approach for modern art since the 1960s – wouldn’t do. She wanted something more playful that would both connect with and enhance the pieces on view. So she turned to mid-century textile designer and architect Alexander Girard for inspiration, selecting hues from his fabric pattern “Feathers,” with its overlapping greens, yellows and purples.

And then she turned to Lowe’s to bring the vision to life.
“The idea was that when you stood in the first gallery and looked through the window [into other galleries within the exhibit], you’d see first soft peach, then gold, then purple – all colors superimposed on top of each other that were found in the textile.”

Edwards selected 13 colors from Sherwin-Williams, Valspar Signature and Olympic Assure, ranging from Antique Coral and Hotel St. Francis Spirit Blue to French Violet and Crystal Oasis. Lowe’s, which has supplied paint to the Bechtler for several years, donated the paint for this exhibit and served as one of its corporate sponsors.

The museum’s process for finding just the right shade will sound familiar to anyone who’s selected a paint color for their home: bringing an array of chips back from the store and holding them up against the stuff that’s going to be in the room. Just in this case, the “stuff” included invaluable artwork, ceramics and furniture. Allyson Burke, exhibitions and collections coordinator, started by taking a book about Girard’s work to Lowe’s, comparing the photos with the available palettes. She picked the chips that best matched, then returned to the museum to see what would work best with the art in the space.

The final result? “The colors make the whole gallery pop,” Edwards said. A bold purple allows the streamlined design of a Murphy bed to take center stage, while coordinating with framed works by James Rosati on the wall. A bright yellow brings out facets of ceramic tile that retreat when it’s shown only against white. And moving from coral to maritime blue to olive to orange rooms becomes an experience in and of itself for visitors.

As Edwards said, “Each new room is a concert for the eye.”