WILLIAMSTOWN -- For all the emphasis today on digital technology and computer modeling, even the most ambitious projects are sometimes best approached with a ruler and a pencil.
Andy Davis’s work behind the scenes at the Clark creating scale models of galleries, paintings and other objects has been instrumental in helping organize the Clark’s limited space during its renovation and providing visual reference for the museum’s curators and architects.
The 100 or so cardboard reproductions he created by hand for "Clark Remix," an exhibit that consolidated nearly half of the museum’s permanent collection into one room, are featured on their own this month in "Masters of Cardboard" at Gallery 51 in North Adams. Davis is a visual artist and director of Davis Art Services, which specializes in organizing and curating independent art exhibitions.
His workspace at the Clark is actually two doors down from the museum, in a converted stucco home known as the Wall House.
"By the time it comes to me, most of the decisions have been made," he said. Even the precise location of paintings and other artworks in a gallery is often known beforehand. But within that structure (perhaps because of it), unique opportunities can arise.
Usually the museum displays between 150 and 200 works from its permanent collection at a time, Davis said. But when renovations of the galleries began in 2011 as part of the museum’s 10-year campus expansion project, a new approach was needed to keep the museum’s permanent collection on display.
Seventy-five of the signature paintings went on a world tour, travelling to 10 major cities in Europe, North America and Asia, and will return in 2014, when renovations are expected to be completed.
"This building has closed down, but I think there have been two million people around the world who have seen these paintings," Davis said. "But for the remainder, they had to stay on site and there was a big concern about what to do with a hundred something paintings. Eight-five of them were going to have to go in one room Š and that’s where those cardboard mockups came in."
Even with advanced digital technology, he said, making accurate measurements for the exhibit was a concern for the curators, since one computer pixel could potentially represent a quarter-inch of wall space. With as many as 30 paintings lined up on a wall, small mistakes could make or break the arrangement.
"At one point it was suggested that we could print out just a regular photocopy of each painting and tape it to the cardboard, and I said, ‘That’s probably a waste of ink, and it won’t look the same, so why don’t I just draw them all?’"
"So I had to sell it," he said. "Since I get paid by the hour, I had to do them quickly, which is why they look the way they do."
Davis spent about 20 minutes creating each mockup: 10 minutes for measuring and cutting and another 10 to make a quick graphite sketch and then go over it with a black sharpie. The results are faithful and often humorous caricatures of the originals.
"When you’re working on something so fast, it just automatically goes to cartoon," he said, "and you do a little thing to the facial expression that is almost automatic for you because you don’t even have time to think about it, so all of them have funny expressions, and everyone said, this would be hysterical if this was a show somewhere."
As it happened, Jonathan Secor, director of Gallery 51, who Davis knew from working as an artist and curator in North Adams, had discovered the mockups and invited Davis to do a show at the gallery.
In the end, the project consumed between 12 and 20 4’ by 8’ cardboard sheets and a half-dozen jumbo sharpies. Over several weeks, Davis reproduced nearly 100 paintings, most of which are included in the Gallery 51 show.
Davis worked with Ryder Cooley, the gallery’s manager, and two of the gallery’s work-study students to determine the layout of the exhibit. "We crammed it in, in a similar way that it actually is in [the Clark]," he said. "It’s a totally different layout, but it’s just as dense."
The pieces were arranged mostly according to size, with only a marginal consideration for theme, he said.
"And I think that when we were laying out the original room we realized that if we tried to coordinate each painting with every other, we’d drive ourselves crazy," he said. "Besides, a lot of the time we get great new associations just by putting two things together that you would not normally show together."
Directly following the opening for "Masters of Cardboard" on Feb. 28, Davis and several other artists from North Adams headed to New York City, where Davis was organizing a show at the Fountain Art Fair, an annual event that began in 2006 as a way for independent artists around the world to gain better exposure and access to the art market.
As for the cardboard mockups, he said, "I hope they end up in people’s living rooms. Their working life is done, so now they’re just art objects to be enjoyed. And they’re quite affordable, I think. They’re being offered at $25 or $50, depending on the size - so they’re a steal!"
"It’s kind of fun to make something and show something that’s just a sort of a byproduct of circumstances," he said. "It was never meant to be exhibited originally, but it gives people a window into the museum world. And this is how museums do things when they need to."
"I like that kind of Hollywood-ish aspect of it - the make-believe part of it," he said. "I hope this encourages people to see that it’s a good life to get into."