He fixes ‘Fire­bird’ in up­town

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY HE­LEN SCH­WAB [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

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.

Joshua Komer

Clay­ton Ven­huizen smashes bro­ken tiles on “Fire­bird” as part of a re­pair process.

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