He fixes ‘Firebird’ in uptown
You’ve almost certainly seen Clayton Venhuizen’s work, and have probably even photographed it. Venhuizen routinely repairs the sculpture that’s become an uptown Charlotte signature: Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Firebird,” in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. As Hurricane Florence bore down on the city two weeks ago, the museum took precautionary measures, wrapping the piece in several layers. (Commented a wit on the Bechtler’s Instagram feed, which routinely features brilliant new angles on the ’Bird: “Niki channeling Christo!! Love it!”) Remarkably, Venhuizen’s regular quarterly repair had been scheduled for the week after the storm passed through – and, remarkably, no damage had been done by Florence. By other people, and their vehicles, though? Well ...
What usually causes the injuries to the sculpture – just people bumping it, or does it take quite a bit of force? An occasional broken mirror can be expected, since the piece is out in the
open, but the majority of the damage seems to come from skateboards, carts, scooters, bikes, runaway luggage or vandalism.
How did you get into this particular kind of work? In 2011, during preparations for the Niki de Saint Phalle exhibition, I was asked to assist with repairs and was shown the tools, materials and methods for making repairs as specified by someone at the Niki Foundation.
What’s most difficult about Firebird reparation? Scheduling can be difficult since we try to do the work when it is dry outside and usually need three dry days in a row to complete the repairs.
How much of your work is this kind of repair? I repair and clean the Firebird about four times per year. It is the only outdoor sculpture that I maintain in this manner and certainly qualifies as an odd job. I mostly do exhibition installation and object handling for a handful of museums and galleries [including the Gantt, Levine, Van Every at Davidson and more]. When I’m not doing that, I’m a dad, a musician – primarily a piano player and aspiring singer/songwriter, and I perform occasionally at open mics in the area, when I can work up the nerve – a marathon runner and an avid tinkerer. I grew up in Rutherfordton, N.C. I have lived in Charlotte since 1990 and have been working full-time in the arts community since 1999.
Clayton Venhuizen smashes broken tiles on “Firebird” as part of a repair process.