Tobias Czudej at the most recent location of Waldo, the itinerant art residency and exhibition program he founded in 2018
Tobias Czudej at the most recent location of Waldo, the itinerant art residency and exhibition program he founded in 2018
An early December wind storm — not the last one, but the one before — predictably broke tree limbs, knocked out power and so forth. It also toppled a monolithic sculpture of 5,264 plastic egg cartons built by Brooklyn-based artist Carlos Reyes in a Quonset hut on a back road in Searsport.

The piece, titled “saltwaterfarm,” was the centerpiece of the third iteration of Waldo, a nonprofit art residency and exhibition program founded by Tobias Czudej in 2018 as a vehicle for experimental exhibitions of new artworks.

Along with the three-walled egg carton structure, which stood eight feet tall, “saltwaterfarm” included three sculptures made from decommissioned treadmill belts, brought north from New York City gyms and mounted on metal hoops designed to hold each band in a symmetrical “O.” These were suspended from the low ceilings of two self-storage units located on the property with the Quonset hut.

While they lasted, the installations, informed by minimalism, the Arte Povera movement and contemporary art’s embrace of cast-off materials, would have been at home in a spacious international art gallery.

Czudej worked with London branches of two of the bluest blue-chip art galleries, Gagosian and Pace, and over a decade built a reputation as a curator before branching out on his own under the name CHEWDAY’S (a phonetic spelling of his surname). Like Waldo, CHEWDAY’S started as a roving art exhibition series before settling in Vauxhall, London, from 2015 to 2017 with sponsorship from the British Arts Council.

Czudej had spent summers in Lincolnville. His first two exhibitions under the name “Waldo” were at Oakland Park, a 19th-century dance hall on the shore in Rockport. The first, “The Infinite Image,” was built around new impressions from five Mesopotamian cylinder seals — embossed cylinders that can be rolled into clay to form an endlessly repeating pattern — made in collaboration with the Morgan Library in New York City. These were hung alongside works by five contemporary painters in an invitation to reflect on the parallels of artworks from the start of human civilization and, for as much as the future can be known, the end of it — in one case, a demure strip of embossed polymer clay shared a wall with a black trash bag stamped with a bright green reproduction of a horse painted in the caves at Lascaux. Waldo popped up again at Oakland Park later that year with a solo show by Tobias Spichtig that included a thin tower of thrift store keyboards, held together with belts cinched at irregular intervals, pressing clusters of keys in the process. The show was titled “TOTAL HELL.”

In 2019, Czudej brought Waldo to New York City for a gallery show of sculptures by Beth Collar.

When the pandemic landed earlier this year, Czudej and his wife, Catharine, were living in New York and expecting a child. Seeing the city’s medical services overwhelmed, they retreated to Lincolnville.

By then, Waldo had evolved into a one-artist-per-year concept and Czudej invited Reyes based on a work he had seen that stuck in his mind, which he described as a shopping cart coated with incense powder, set alight and casting off its fragrance. Reyes had moved in with his mother in New York City when the pandemic hit, and the plastic egg cartons she saved to organize knick knacks, jewelry and other items caught his eye.

“He hadn’t really been thinking about egg boxes in that way for the show, but they were there, and this idea started to kind of form in his mind, and he was very interested in the kind of the potential for scalability.”

Czudej found the Quonset hut for lease in Uncle Henry’s. Located 10 minutes from downtown Belfast on Back Searsport Road, it was farther up the coast than his previous shows, in what once would have been a true no man’s land for high art, but he figured it was close enough to the midcoast’s art scene that people would make the drive.

“We were actually going to use the dancehall again,” he said. “Because I just put so much money into building walls and stuff for the space, I felt like it made sense to use it again. But then I remembered when I first established Waldo that the idea was that it should be itinerant, and each one should be in a different location.”

Over six or seven weeks, Reyes, Czudej and helpers built the tower of egg cartons. The lower tier of containers was filled with dirt from piles that had been left in the Quonset hut. After experimenting with various bonding agents, Reyes used a silicone glue bought from Hamilton Marine that was designed to withstand cold. After several attempts to build directly on the dirt floor, they had an aluminum plinth fabricated by a shop in Rockport to create a level surface. The structure provided the added benefit of throwing some light up toward the sculpture.

Several dozen eggs, blown, filled and sprayed with industrial chrome and red paint, were placed inside the cartons along a band wrapping the upper part of the three-sided structure.

“Saltwaterfarm” lasted long enough for an opening attended by 30 to 40 people and had some visitors by appointment during its run, along with the occasional drop-in visitor. “The guys that manage the site would come in a few times, and we’d talk about sculpture and stuff, which was interesting,” Czudej said. “They were really engaged.”

Waldo, named for the county with an intentional nod to the hard-to-find children’s book character, will be in a different location next year with a different artist. Both are yet to be determined.

In literature about the program, Czudej connects Waldo to the northward drift of artists from New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania starting in the late 19th century with the Hudson River School and continuing through the 20th century with Louise Nevelson, Marsden Hartley, Alex Katz and others. From there, he draws a line to the ongoing work of art institutions like CMCA, the Farnsworth and Portland Museum of Art and organizations that support the creation of art, including Skowhegan and the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation.

Reyes left Maine before the wind storm toppled “saltwaterfarm.” The show was extended through December 13 but “saltwaterfarm” was never successfully resurrected.

Czudej watched the storm through a weather app and got confirmation of the damage from a friend in the area. When he visited several days later, his reaction was more appraising than distressed:

“It’s very different. It’s actually very beautiful. I think it’s part of the project. It’s part of the design.” He snapped photos on his phone and sent them to Reyes. “It obviously had quite a different presence at scale. It really held the room.”

A press release for the show described the delicate sculpture holding sway:

“Exposed … to fresh ocean air … this flimsy architecture shimmers and sways, each cell reflecting and projecting light.” It continued presciently, “Suspended in fragile homeostasis, these stacks and loops seem like they could go on forever. On the other hand, a strong breeze might knock them over at any second.”