New York

Stephen Kaltenbach

Whitney Museum of American Art

A work of art that literally jams you against the wall can safely be called aggressive. Stephen Kaltenbach’s Room Cube, at the Whitney Museum, deliberately does so and the effect, if a bit overwhelming, is also interesting. Kaltenbach’s Cube is like a white Don Judd gone quietly mad, distended to a size so monstrous that it leaves only a narrow corridor around the walls connected by a thin space below the ceiling. A room so wrenched is so shocking that it takes a while for a first strong reaction—delight, bewilderment, or outrage—to subside. Then, from gimmick, the room grows into art.

Cube reveals, because it challenges, the way a room is felt—as a totality, even when ninety percent of it is hidden. Though always obscured by the oppressive cube, the three other walls are always sensed; you never lose your feeling of overall place. It is this strong sense of orientation that keeps the work a room piece instead of its becoming a maze. Kaltenbach’s room alterations, of which several other plans are shown, remind us that as private individuals, not architects, we can do far more with a room than just paint or paper it.

Jean-Louis Bourgeois