Now on View: Kreg Kallenberger

Jenna Gilley, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

A couple weeks ago the museum unveiled three new exhibitions that will fill our galleries through the spring: Miró in New York, 1947: Miró, Hayter and Atelier 17; William S. Dutterer, Below The Surface: A Deep “See”; and Natural Appeal: Differing Approaches to the Landscape. As the title suggests, Natural Appeal introduces viewers to the many ways artists approach the landscape. Whether through medium or style, the exhibition draws from works throughout art history—just in time for the long-awaited return of greenery! One of my favorite works in the exhibition, and arguably one of the most unusual, is Kreg Kallenberger’s Spike’s Head from the Osage series.

At first glance, one may wonder how this piece fits in a landscape show. From one angle [first picture, above], this wedge-shaped sculpture appears clear, with a little bit of rough green hewn from the end. When one walks around the sculpture, however, the piece reveals itself to be an optical illusion [second picture, above], and a landscape of brown and green hills appears!

Kreg Kallenberger describes himself as a landscape illusionist and painter that uses glass as his medium. He actually planned on being a mechanical engineer, receiving both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Tulsa before his career switched to art in 1972. While working on his graduate degree in ceramics, he became interested in the spontaneity of glass. After graduation, he established the school’s first glass studio and taught courses there for over 10 years.

Kallenberger’s initial series, titled Cuniform and Interlock, focused on geometric shapes, turning chunks of glass into polished blocks or sliced spheres. Kallenberger was exclusively interested in form, and drew from his background in mathematics and machinery acquired during his engineering studies. His following series, Reservoir and Shackleton, began to incorporate both the landscape and narrative into his work, inspired by the vastness and silence of the Antarctic. It also explored the optical effects of cast and cut crystal as the jagged, ice-like forms captured inside each sculpture are seen only from certain angles. When asked about his shift in subject and form, Kallenberger stated, “Quite frankly, the glass is so damn beautiful to begin with that I’m always fighting to add some organic, natural, rough edge to it… some mark to distract the eye from just how pretty the material is. I’m not big on just pretty.” The FWMoA also owns one of these stunning works, pictured above, currently on view in our Glass Wing.

Kallenberger’s work took another turn when he moved his studio to the Osage Hills. The artist’s website describes, “The Osage Hills of Oklahoma stretch north and west of Tulsa looking much the same as they did a century ago. This is in fact the Osage Indian Nation, which even today seems frozen in an earlier time.” There, he renovated a dilapidated hundred-year-old dairy farm and opened Hundred Monkey Ranch & Studio, surrounded by the vast prairie lands and scrub oak groves. [On the name, Kallenberger wanted to move immediately to the farmhouse, but his wife wasn’t keen on leaving her job at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa. She said when she owned one hundred sock monkeys, a collection in the works for forty years, she would make the move. While the sock monkey’s numbers never reached one hundred, the name stuck.]

 Kallenberger’s fascination with this landscape embraces its serenity while the optical qualities of his sculpture underscore its quiet beauty. The drama of the sculptural landscape is revealed almost incidentally as the viewer walks by, just as a spectacular roadside view may be glimpsed and lost in a rear-view mirror. Spike’s Head is a particularly important piece in the series as it was the first to explore the wedge shape, which became a favorite for the artist. This linear composition also lends to its function as a landscape, which also describes a horizontal format. Later pieces add native sandstones at the wedge’s rough point, suggesting the glass is emerging from the rock itself, or asking viewers to question if it is the glass or the rock that creates the stunning interior reflections. Spike’s Head never had such an inclusion. Without competition, the “painted” and carved glass makes itself known as the source of optical magic.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, British, 1775 -1851. Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On). Oil on canvas, 1840, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. Photo by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain. Notice how the transition of red, to yellow, to orange in this sunset is hinted at in the transition image of Kallenberger’s Spike’s Head above. The colors can be seen at the work’s “horizon line”, just as the clear glass shifts to reveal the inner greenery.

Kallenberger acknowledges a kinship with the 19th century painters of the Hudson River School. These artists expressed a belief in something wondrously vital within the uncontaminated landscape, which not only resists man but imbues him with its spirit. Rather than replicating a literal landscape, Kallenberger’s methods recall more specifically the work of Romantic artist J.M.W. Turner, who abstracted elements of the landscape to focus on the scene’s power and emotion (more on Romanticism and its approach to the landscape can be seen in the exhibition!). Turner’s landscapes portray light and color as expressive cosmic forces. Glass allows artists to explore these two terms even further, as glass directly interacts with and is altered by light waves. By using optic crystal, which is known for its clear and prime ability to refract light, Kallenberger carries the manipulation of imagery with light to its ultimate degree.

Kreg Kallenberger, American, b. 1950. Spike’s Head,from the Osage series. Cast, cut, and polished glass, 1989. Purchase, 2015.02. Two different views of the sculpture. Photo courtesy of the FWMoA.

Natural Appeal: Differing Approaches to the Landscape, is on display through July 16, 2023. Interested in more glass? The Glass Wing is now open, with works periodically changing, during normal museum hours.

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