Musically-trained Los Angeles-based artist Chris Kallmyer juggles traditions, ritualistic references and conceptual art ideas with his Museum of Art show “Ensemble,” including audience-participatory performances.
Chris Kallmyer: Ensemble
When: through September 15
Where: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State St.
Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, Free Thursday evenings, 5 to 8 p.m.
Information: 963-4364, www.sbma.net
“Ensemble” is a perfectly pithy and fitting moniker for the current Christ Kallmyer exhibition at the Museum of Art. The young, music-minded minimalist sculptor and installation/happening artist from Los Angeles responded to a call from SBMA to create a work and a show. The result is a deceptively simple, beguiling invention, with a cohesive set (or ensemble) of artworks built around the main event, a large “communal bell-ringing/carillon” object called, yes, “Ensemble.”
And then there is the implied, mostly invisible and interactive cause for an “ensemble,” in the more-or-less traditional sense of a musical aggregation, these being you and I and whoever happens to be in the gallery space, led by the artist and others in meditative bell-ringing events. These planned performances (including a “guided meditation” this Saturday from 10:30 to 11 a.m.) encourage the practice of the many giving life to the singular, hinting at associations with religious-spiritual practices, Native American rituals and the artworld-blessed absurdities of the ‘60s Fluxus movement.
In the world according to Fluxus, which has been impressively documented by SBMA in years past, lines of demarcation between conventional art, artworks, performance and other idioms in the margins blur. For Mr. Kallmyer, he takes cues from the liberation of strict media or “isms” while also embracing the less-is-more minimalism.
“Ensemble” is a large but intimate sculpture/instrument, made from a wooden A-frame structure and its bell-ringing design made of aluminum, steel and cotton. The central piece, we’re informed, refers variously to “ancient ritual sources, from Japanese tea gardens to Amish barns, sweat lodges and utopian communities,” not to mention hallowed and contemporary art-embracing public art spaces such as the SBMA.
Encircling “Ensemble,” and evoking at least a musical language and mapping system, are the hundreds of colorful performance guides known as “Everyday Melodies.” The 360 stamped and colored-coded “scores” wrapped around three gallery walls take the form of vintage Americana shaped note musical notation into a modern art context, with John Cage aesthetics and the avant-garde idea of “graphic notation” also embedded in the simple mini-scores.
Special days, holidays and anniversaries are sometimes noted on specific dates, such as birthdays of John Cage and Freddie Mercury (September 5), impish conceptualist Yves Kein, Nina Simone, Muddy Waters, Carolee Schneeman and new music composers James Tenney and Pauline Oliveros (a supreme meditative musical conjurer). Through these notices, we get a bigger picture of Mr. Kallmyer’s artistic-musical values, and influences behind the work in our midst.
Although impromptu performances on the piece are prohibited in the gallery, on the “don’t touch the art” (except when asked to) plan, music makes its way into the gallery space via large projected video of the first performance on the structure, from May 19, 2019.
Humor is allowed here, as well, in the form of the artist’s “Rough Energy Maps” on one wall. These acrylic paint, pastel and pencil on paper works inject sly music-related in-jokes linked to related imagery, such as “a sentimental performance that touches some but not all,” and “Celine Dion in three different landscapes.”
In “Bell for an Entry, not an Exit,” a series of earthernware bells, made from the clay of the Mississippi River, suspended at different heights from the ceiling, suggests a miniature, aerial sculpture garden, but without a musical function.
With or without a musical component and sound vibrational source, a visit to the realm of “Ensemble” invites a strange sense of calm. He ushers in a sense of communal experience, but also a contemplative delving within, yet with mild modernist irony overtones in the experiential mix. In that way, the idea of “ensemble” may also touch on the multiple sensations buzzing in our inner ear/mind.