The Firebird, or ’Oiseau de Feu Sur l’Arch (literally, “Bird of Fire on an Arch”) by French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) is the center piece to the entrance of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, located on 420 South Tryon Street. The Firebird is perhaps the most photographed piece of art in Charlotte. At one time the Firebird had a Twitter account. The sculpture was created in 1991 and was purchased by Andres Bechtler specifically to be placed in front of the Bechtler Museaum of Modern Art. Bechtler wanted the sculpture to serve as a counter piece to the geometric lines of the museum that was designed by the noted Swiss architect Mario Botta.
The Firebird is over 17 feet tall and is covered in small bits of mirror and colored glass. It is dazzling when sunlight strikes the surface and glows at night reflecting the sculpture’s spot lights while also reflecting ambient light from the nearby shops, offices, and street lights. It is not uncommon at almost any time of day to see people gathered around the Firebird to have pictures taken or just to admire the artwork. Niki de Saint Phalle was a dynamic figure of the modern art world and her works challenged conventional ideals about the role of women in society. Many of her works were controversial while also being whimsical. Her sculptures are wild biomorphic shapes painted with bold primary and secondary colors or painted all white. She was friends with of many other luminaries of the Modern, Dada, and Pop Art moments such as Jean Tinguely. Tinguely and de Saint Phalle would later marry in 1971.