Newsday published this feature article on the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s inaugural outdoor sculpture exhibition, Wendy Klemperer: Wrought Taxonomies, on April 17, 2023:
‘Wrought Taxonomies’ outdoor exhibit brings 20 animal sculptures to Vanderbilt Museum
By Beth Whitehouse
Wendy Klemperer and Paul Rubery hoist an African-crested porcupine from the back of Klemperer’s pickup truck, trying not to be pricked by the animal’s long, sharp quills. They clamber out of the truck and carry it to a spot on the grounds of the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Centerport.
It’s not a live porcupine being set free in the great outdoors — it’s one of more than 20 sculptures Klemperer created from found rebar, steel, and wire that will be part of the museum’s first outdoor exhibition. It opens on April 22, in time for Earth Day, and will remain in place for a year.
Other sculptures include a red fox, a kudu (African antelope), a maned wolf, and mythological creatures such as a Cerberus (a three-headed dog) and a Pegasus (a winged stallion). “There will be sculptures situated in every scenic view,” says Rubery, director of curatorial affairs at the museum. Silhouettes of marine life will be suspended from the trees on the museum’s mile-long Solar System Trail through the woods, including a lionfish, an octopus, and a shark.
The exhibition is titled “Wrought Taxonomies” — not to be confused with taxidermy. Taxonomy is the science of classifying organisms. The exhibit aims to combine art and science, just as the Vanderbilt Museum does in its indoor exhibits.
Wrought Taxonomies outdoor sculpture exhibit
WHEN | WHERE Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium, 180 Little Neck Rd., Centerport
COST Included with museum admission of $10 per adult, $9 for seniors (age 62 plus) and students with ID, $7 for children 12 and under, and free for military & children under 2.
INFO 631-854-5579, vanderbiltmuseum.org.
“Our board and staff have discussed placing an exhibit like this for a decade. We have finally been able to reach this goal,” says Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, museum executive director.
The Robert David Lyon Gardiner Foundation funded a good deal of the exhibition; it also made the match between the museum and Klemperer, 64, a fitting choice because the Brooklyn artist holds a degree in biochemistry from Harvard and one in fine art from the Pratt Institute.
Klemperer created new sculptures for the exhibit and is reworking sculptures from previous exhibitions, she says. “I’ve been working on this all winter,” Klemperer says. “It’s a very ambitious thing to have an outdoor sculpture show with so many pieces.”
ONE MAN’S TRASH …
Klemperer finds her materials at scrap yards and construction sites. Most of what she uses is rebar, which is the reinforcement rods used in buildings, bridges, and highways, but she’ll also use car parts and 50-gallon drums. She scavenges for evocatively shaped pieces.
When working on a sculpture, she’ll don welding gear — a leather jacket, gloves, and a full face mask. If she needs to further bend a shape, she’ll use what’s called an oxyacetylene torch to cut the metal or heat it to red-hot so it can be bent. She’ll then use an electric arc welder to tack the piece in place.
Klemperer says it can take her a month to sculpt a large piece. She stores the materials at a family home in New Hampshire that her grandparents had purchased decades ago, where she has built a studio as well.
Rubery and Klemperer have planned out placements to take advantage of the Vanderbilt’s landscape, including hills where visitors will be surprised to suddenly come upon a piece, or where they will see the water through a sculpture. “There will also be sculptures hidden in nooks to create a sense of discovery,” Rubery says.
The museum will provide a key to lead visitors to the artwork. The museum will also be coming up with a search geared toward children who visit, and a range of complementary programs such as forest bathing and bird walks. Klemperer will also participate in a panel discussion at some point during the summer.
Klemperer says she is looking forward to seeing how the sculptures change during summer, fall, winter, and spring. “They’ll look different with the changing seasons … when sunlight is hitting them or snow is on them … which is something really exciting about outdoor sculptures,” Klemperer says.