Bernard Kirschenbaum has been a creative force since the 1950’s, first in architecture and later sculpture. His underlying motivation has always been a passion for what scientists call “the elegant solution”. For mathematicians this means devising the simplest equation to best explain a certain truth. For Kirschenbaum, it means including technology, industrial processes and new materials in his search for the transcendent object. This is true, whether the creation is useful, like a door hinge, or a monumental art work inspired by nature, as in 298 Circles. [watch the video documentation of 298 Circles]


Kirschenbaum was among the first artists to use the computer as a tool to generate ideas and drawings. To do this, he wrote his own software programs. His knowledge of the industrial world was legendary: he knew what shop did the best galvanizing, where to buy the most beautiful rolled steel; which foundry would cast what sort of metal; the “elegant solution” for attaching a piece of art to the wall.


As a young man, Kirschenbaum was attracted to botany and biology as well as magic and magicians. These ingredients–science, nature and the power to amaze–continue to inform his art.  He began his college experience at Cornell University as a student of ornamental horticulture. His studies were interrupted by three years in the US army during World War II.  Upon returning to Cornell, he became involved in theater, and worked behind the scenes on set design and lighting. This enthusiasm soon expanded into the  larger field of architecture. Unfortunately the architecture program at Cornell soon proved too traditional for him. Given his background in science and technology, he needed a more contemporary view and with fellow student Bill Wainwright, left Cornell for the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1950. The Institute of Design in Chicago, a Bauhaus reincarnation, suited Kirschenbaum very well. At the Institute, Kirschenbaum attended a lecture by Buckminster Fuller: he was deeply impressed by Fuller's philosophy and ideas. He graduated in 1952, and for a few years worked in several architectural firms in Chicago.


In 1954, Kirschenbaum moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, together with several like-minded contemporaries, such as Bill Wainwright and Bill Ahern, he opened the architecture office Geodesics, INC., for which Fuller served as honorary president. The firm developed many domes and architectural models. The project that put them on the map was the D.E.W. Line Dome System, a government commission to build a string of domes to cover radar equipment in Northern Canada.


In 1957 Kirschenbaum moved to New York City and worked at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. When artist Susan Weil commissioned a dome studio in Stony Creek, Connecticut, Kirschenbaum drew up the plans. The design was distinctly his own geometry. It included innovations such as the use of parallel lines, which enabled the dome to rest on a natural base. This was the first geodesic dome built for residential use. During the process, Kirschenbaum designed himself into the dome, marrying his client, Ms. Weil.


Kirschenbaum’s domes were intended for mass production. He made another dome on Long Island. In 1966, he was invited to have a solo exhibition of model domes at the experimental Park Place Gallery in New York. This exhibition generated much excitement.  A group of enthusiasts made a dome city in Colorado, modeling their domes after Kirchenbaum’s exhibition poster. Shortly afterward, he was invited to make a sculpture for a group show at the Park Place Gallery. Thus his amazing sculpture life began.


Paula Cooper, at that time the director of Park Place Gallery, decided to open her own space on Prince Street in SoHo, pioneering this area for galleries. In 1969, Kirschenbaum exhibited two large wall and floor sculptures at her gallery. The pieces, Two Element City and Three Element City, were based on the unique geometric pattern he had devised for Weil’s dome. Many years later the geometer Roland Penrose (re)discovered this pattern and called it the Penrose tile, in honor of himself.


In the 60’s and 70’s, Kirschenbaum exhibited frequently at the Paula Cooper and Max Hutchinson galleries. He also showed at the Corcoran Gallery and Wade Gallery in Washington D.C., and began a long and creative connection with Scandinavia. In the 1980s, he had major shows with Galerie Nordenhake in Malmo, Sweden, and Galerie Aronowitsch in Stockholm, and museum shows in the Malmo Kunsthall and Moderna Museet in Stockholm.


His Swedish connection grew exponentially when he was asked to be professor of sculpture at the Swedish Royal Academy of Art (Kungliga Konsthogskolan) in Stockholm. A hands-on vital force in Sweden’s art life, Kirchenbaum was honored as both artist and teacher by that country in 2004. The government sponsored a huge exhibition of his and his students’ work at Skulpturens Hus, a sculpture museum in Alfred Nobel’s former factory outside of Stockholm. [watch the video documentation of Multiplex]. Kirschenbaum’s piece for the show consisted of a forest of columns laid out in a geometric array. To walk through this forest and sense the whole was an experience similar to the earlier 298 Circles. In these works the viewer becomes an interactive part of the space with its multi-dimensional patterns and landscape references.


Kirschenbaum’s unique sense of space, geometric purity and sensitivity to materials brings a depth of vision and philosophy to contemporary sculpture. Whether it’s an expansive catenary or a seventeen-part self-portrait in cherry wood, his rigorous search to meld truth to purpose and concept to clarity continues to inspire artists and art lovers alike.


--Verlaine Boyd, 2009

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