Henry Klimowicz at Berkshire Museum
Opening January 15 - 5 - 7 p.m.
When you walk into the soaring Art Deco Crane Room at the Berkshire Museum, you’ll do a double take because the new exhibition, Henry Klimowicz: Constructs, looks like it belongs at MASS MoCA. The centerpiece of the exhibit is Disc II: Bright Star, a dramatic, 20-foot-diameter site-specific sculpture made of cardboard, hot glue and wire that hangs from the ceiling. “I was scared of showing in the Crane Room,” admits Klimowicz. “It’s hard to know how to be an equal to the grandeur of that room.” But clearly, Klimowicz figured it out magnificently. When the museum’s director of interpretation Maria Mingalone invited him to show, she simply envisioned hanging eight of his lacy-but-dense circular cardboard sculptures on the walls. But Klimowicz quickly realized that they would be dwarfed by the space and proposed creating the hanging sculpture. “Maria and director Stuart Chase were very trusting, encouraging and willing to do something that had never been done here before,” he says. They had gotten to know him well last summer when he created Paper and Light, a site specific work for the museum’s Wider Window Gallery. “That was the warm up,” he says.
Once he got comfortable with the Crane Room, he was inspired to create two unplanned wall installations—the Milky Way Constellations—made of hundreds of individual cardboard sculptures. “They’re a breakthrough for me, a collection of singular creative acts that come together as a piece that complements the very large object in the room that is really a singular creative act.” After Mingalone and Chase saw how well his mostly abstract work complemented the museum’s permanent collection of scientific and natural history artifacts, they decided to dedicate an additional gallery (above) for the exhibition.
Klimowicz has been making cardboard sculptures since he moved to New York City from Wisconsin 25 years ago. “I’m still working with a utility knife and glue gun,” he says. Ten years ago, when he and his wife, Dr. Kristie Schmidt, a family physician, moved to Millerton full-time, Klimowicz devoted himself to setting up the computer systems for his wife’s solo practice and caring for their young daughter, Ella. (Patients get to admire his sculpture in his wife’s waiting room.) “For five years, I didn’t really make art and then in 2007 I cleaned out our barn and got back to work,” he says. For the past two summers, he has created new work for The Wassaic Project that helped lay the groundwork for the show at the Berkshire Museum. “The piece I made last summer changed from opaque to transparent with the light as you walked around it,” he says. “I thought I had hit on something.” He also turned his barn into a gallery called the Re-Institute and invited the public to tour his studio.
Putting together the exhibition has been a labor of love. Mingalone is an old friend from New York, who was once married to one of Klimowicz’s best friends, Chris Regan of Millerton’s Sky Farm, who spent two days helping Klimowicz install Disc 2 (see video above.) “It was great to work with people I have known so well for so long,” he says. He also fell head over heels for the Berkshire Museum. “I always loved natural history museums and the Berkshire Museum’s collections relate to themes in my work.”
Why cardboard? “Cardboard is simple and straightforward. It has an ever-present cultural bias related to its past uses as a container or its present use as waste,” says Klimowicz, who gets his from Herrington’s in Lakeville and Millerton, where they save cardboard packing materials for him. “I love it when the material transcends its cultural confines. If I can make something beautiful from cardboard, I have then said that anything can be made valuable, fruitful, or hopeful. “
How does he feel about seeing his work in such formal surroundings? “I am shocked by how accessible it is,” he says. “It’s conceptual and abstract, which can be difficult. But it does not push you away. It’s not pretentious. You don’t have to be smart about art to understand it.”
Henry Klimowicz: Constructs (January 15 - March 27)
39 South Street, Pittsfield, MA; 413.443.7171
Klimowicz will conduct hands-on workshops for all ages at the museum on February 12, 19 and 26 at 2 p.m.