Stephen J. Kaltenbach: Another Year in La

Article excerpt

Recording Conceptual Art, Alexander Alberro's 2001 edition of Patricia Norvell's fascinating 1969 audio interviews, helps recall the mellow Other to Conceptual art's frequently stern diagrammatics: Dennis Oppenheim's sunburns, Robert Barry's belief in telepathy and the invisible, and Stephen J. Kaltenbach's experiments with astrology, ESP, and weed. Norvell taped Kaltenbach talking about smoking pot for the first time: "I could remove myself from my ego a little bit and see myself and my work more clearly." A year later, in a lengthy interview for Artforum, Kaltenbach located the moment's art in relation to the munchies: "For conceptual work, the taste buds are mostly in the mind."

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From Couch Painting, 1969, of the proto-Jim Shaw-ish "Lord & Taylor" series, to "room construction" plans and more recent projects, this forty-year minisurvey operated as if another of the artist's notorious time capsules were finally opened. Canvas Drapery Arrangement, 1967, a neutral "canvas to be arranged differently every day," was spread again like an abandoned picnic blanket from a dejeuner sur l'herbe, with photos documenting its various historical situations. In interviews, Kaltenbach has emphasized the "drapery" aspect of the piece--fabric's relation to artists' models or a still life's ground--rather than its timely but uninterrogated beige commentary on ready made painting in relation to sculpture. Initially Kaltenbach himself would arrange the drape; then, in good Conceptualist fashion, he made diagrams of different folding and placement possibilities for others to carry out with any piece of fabric. By the time it appeared in the remarkable Robert Morris-curated warehouse show "Nine at Leo Castelli" in 1968, he had "reversed" the process, "providing the shape of the material" but no diagrams for its arrangement, relinquishing almost all artistic control.

Relinquishment is key to understanding Kaltenbach's work and its dissolution, even disappearance: "You are really limited in what you can do by what you are. The thing that I have been looking for was how to get around that. One possibility is giving the work to other people to do." His series of ads, run anonymously in Artforum from November 1968 through December 1969, began to explore such strategies of circumvention. …