The Grossly Biased Guide to the Berkshires

An opinionated guide to the wonders of Berkshire County, MA

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Circle Museum and sculpture garden

May 7th, 2009by Ethan Zuckerman · 9 Comments

By the side of the road in Austerlitz, New York, there’s a disused body shop. Years ago, strange and wonderful things started appearing on the lawn of the shop: soaring, abstract swirls of rusted metal; primary-colored shapes framed by trees in the background; giant eagles feathered with individual pieces of iron.

The field behind the Circle Museum

I drive past the yard once or twice a month, glancing out my window as I speed down Route 22 to catch a train in Wassaic or Southeast. I assumed that the works were a hobby, the side project of a welder who otherwise worked mending car frames or fences.

But the field got more crowded, year after year, and eventually a sign identified the field as a museum: the Circle Museum. Surrounded by a low stone wall and a fence made from a single steel cable, the yard contains over a hundred installations, jockeying for space around the studio, colonizing the slope behind the old shop up to a shed so disused and precarious, it could be its own sculpture.

Coming back home from New York, I stopped at the museum on a recent Sunday morning. The gate was closed and Suzie explained that the artist, her partner Bijan Mahmoodi, was off in Albany working as a driver for a film produced there. As a result, the museum wasn’t officially open, but I was welcome to explore, as half a dozen others were doing.

Part of the joy of the Circle Museum is that it’s hard to tell what’s art and what’s not. Mahmoodi is fascinated by industrial metalcasting, and some of the exhibits in the garden are nothing more (or perhaps nothing less) than giant brake drums, gears and the stark, lovely insides of industrial machinery. The pieces Bijan has welded look remarkably organic. My favorites include a tall post, surrounded by a cascade of thick, rusted chains, looking like grape vines hanging from a tree. Long twists of rebar nestle in a length of pipe, like pussy-willows in a vase.

Not everything can be welded, and Bijan’s work has expanded to include assemblages of metals and plastics as well as welded, painted steel and iron. One creation is a metal can, stuffed with sheets of plastic, opaque and translucent and textured aluminum - it looks like the scrap bin in an art class for giants. The paint on other pieces adds a sense of currency to pieces - while the steel works could be from any time in the 20th century, a set of pipes, crossed like pickup sticks, topped with a metal sign for Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, looks like the artist raided a scrapyard yesterday.

ravensky23 has produced a lovely video of a stroll through the gardens. She reports that the museum’s circle theme becomes more apparent looking at Bijan’s paintings, exhibited in the garage, turned gallery. I’m looking forward to coming back to the museum, meeting the creator and seeing the rest of his work.

Where: Route 22, in Austerlitz, NY
Open: Indeed, to the elements.
Admission: Donations requested to support the work.

Tags: art · outdoors

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 nancy k // Aug 1, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    How elegantly you have described this remarkable place!


  • 2 chekesha phoenix katsiris // Oct 9, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    hi there, thanks for the background info. my family and i discovered this place recently and i have to say that it was a pleasant surprise. i have linked your entry to my facebook photo album, hopefully others will have the opportunity to enjoy mahmoodis’ wonderful exhibition.

  • 3 bria arponti // Dec 26, 2009 at 9:49 am

    bijan is an incredible artist and sculpture. not only does he weld sculpture, but he is also a profound painter who needs the eye of a good arts museum. prepare to open ones mind free of the usual track of artists and explore the unknown. one will walk away with a new frame of spirit and soul.

  • 4 Chad Wilson // Aug 16, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Saratoga Sculpture Park, Wilton NY.
    Works in metal that varry, open to the public and commissions, Arist’s (miChelle M. Vara) studio (6 Ballard Road Art Studio) is on the property and open to visit. It is a very unique place, offering interesting insite into a living artist life.

  • 5 stephanie // Aug 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Is any of the work for sale? When is it open?

  • 6 Cheryl // Sep 27, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    My friends and I were traveling back from the Adirondack Balloon Festival on Sunday and decided to take the back roads home to CT. We stumbled across this magnificant museum. The artist was warm and inviting. He gave us a tour, answered endless questions and allowed us to take pictures. It was the perfect ending to an already magical weekend.

  • 7 Forgetting to remember « Giving Up The Ghost // Aug 22, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    […] the way home, we stopped to visit the Circle Museum, at the side of Route 22 in Austerlitz. We’ve passed it lots of times, and always wanted to stop. […]

  • 8 Samira // Feb 27, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Love it! I am so proud to have a great uncle like Bijan!!! He is an incredible artist and sculpture!

  • 9 Linda // May 10, 2013 at 9:10 am

    He’s a scultor and he makes sculptures. (Couldn’t resist the spelling lesson.) He’s also a visionary and has profound artistic talent. Paintings as glorious as any we’ve seen in museums and galeries.

    This was a magical find, full of whimsy and delight. We left feeling as if we’d discovered a secret paradise. This work is amazing, interesting, fascinating. We’ve often thought about it and will definitely return.

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