Stephen Kaltenbach: Verge Gallery and Studio Project

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Stephen Kaltenbach: Verge Gallery and Studio Project
 Stephen Kaltenbach: Verge Gallery and Studio
By Hearne Pardee, May 2009
Known as a pioneering conceptual artist for his works with language and
performance in the 1960s, Stephen Kaltenbach here showed a group of 18 "Time
Capsules" he created more than 30 years ago. These modestly crafted metal
objects with undisclosed contents are more indebted to Marcel Duchamp than to
pure conceptualism. Neatly welded shut and engraved with laconic inscriptions-"Open Before My Retrospective at Pompidou Center," "Content," "Light Weight"-they occupied the imposing central room of the gallery and were flanked by
projects from the past 10 years focusing on Christianity and nuclear technology.
Intentionally or not, these collateral installations cast Kaltenbach's early works in a
new light.
In the more recent pieces, Kaltenbach styles himself as a humble craftsman,
fashioning small-scale ceramics and paintings on paper in service to visions that
range from the sincerely religious to the crackpot scientific: shooting ICBMs into
space to spell "Joy," for example. But there are enough provocative juxtapositions
among formally and conceptually linked works to suggest that Kaltenbach himself is
still meditating on the Time Capsules' meanings.
Echoing through the space were ominous metallic sounds emitted by S'fear,
a large sphere of welded metal concealed in a far corner. Depicted in a neighboring
painting, the sphere is described in a caption as containing a "hard vacuum." Such
radical emptiness contrasts with the interiors of the Time Capsules, which
presumably contain some objects of human significance.
A related "black hole"--a 3-foot-wide, black-felt-lined hole cut in the gallery
wall--provided a tangible embodiment of utter emptiness. Titled Vanity, it was set
opposite a ceramic sculpture of Christ and corresponded to a white circle on the
facing wall, within which a story, handwritten by the artist, segued from an account
of the Crucifixion and the frightening blackness that overwhelmed Calvary into a
redemptive parable of 9/11 involving an atom exhaled by Christ and inhaled by a
financial worker (who thereby becomes a sort of human time capsule). High on the
right-hand wall, a small ceramic angel floated against another circle, sky blue, as
though to answer the black hole with a symbolic view of the heavens, much as the
sturdy Time Capsules themselves preserve human meanings in the face of cosmic
Hearne Pardee "Stephen Kaltenbach: Verge Gallery and Studio Project". Art in
America. FindArticles.com. 09 Feb, 2010.
COPYRIGHT 2009 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning
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