Pioneering Conceptual Artist Stephen Kaltenbach Explores Time, Fame, Anonymity at Manetti Shrem Museum

First U.S. Solo Exhibition in 40 Years

Stephen Kaltenbach, Personal Appearance Manipulation, 1970. Photocollage, 14 x 16 inches. (Courtesy of the artist).

Quick Summary

  • Exhibition “Stephen Kaltenbach: The Beginning and The End” opens in January
  • Coincides with 50th anniversary of artist “dropping out”
  • UC Davis alumnus has become known for public sculpture

The Manetti Shrem Museum at the University of California, Davis, traces the arc of California Conceptual artist Stephen Kaltenbach’s career in a new exhibition opening Jan. 26, 2020.

“Stephen Kaltenbach: The Beginning and The End” is a timely exploration of the artist who famously withdrew from the New York art world 50 years ago, only to re-emerge as a California regional artist. His unique engagement with time is one of the principal themes that unites his pre- and post-1970 artwork.

Kaltenbach graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UC Davis in 1966, followed by a master of arts degree in 1967. He moved to New York shortly thereafter, where he established a reputation in the emerging international field of Conceptual art. In addition to a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1969, his work was included in a number of important group exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe. Then, in 1970, just as he was achieving career success, Kaltenbach abruptly withdrew from the New York art world and returned to California’s Central Valley.

Check Out Public Art on Campus

Public artwork is often obvious — sculptures, murals, Robert Arneson’s Eggheads — but Conceptual artist and UC Davis alumnus Stephen Kaltenbach had the opposite idea in 1968.

Inspired by the municipal signage he encountered when he lived in New York, Kaltenbach created a series of Sidewalk Plaques intended to be installed in public places. Now, five of these bronze plaques are embedded on various sidewalks around campus, to be encountered by visitors or passersby who walk over them. There are no explanatory labels or plaques.

ART WORKS appears near the Manetti Shrem Museum, which will open a Stephen Kaltenbach exhibition in January.

The others — EARTH, WATER, FIRE and AIR — turn up near other key locations as Easter eggs of sorts for the community to discover. The remaining four will be within the galleries during the exhibition.

He seemingly abandoned his Conceptual work in favor of the more traditional mediums of painting and sculpture. He became known for his public sculpture commissions in Sacramento, including for the Sacramento Convention Center and Capitol Mall, and his monumental painting, Portrait of My Father (1972-79), which appears in this exhibition on loan from the Crocker Art Museum.

Only in the past decade has Kaltenbach revealed that he continued to produce Conceptual work on the sly, and that his seeming about-face was actually part of a calculated, decades-long “Life Drama.” Guest curators Constance Lewallen and Ted Mann explore Kaltenbach’s fascinating trajectory through his enigmatic time capsules, whose contents remain fully concealed; his anonymous bronze Sidewalk Plaques, inspired by municipal signage; and the anonymous advertisements that he placed in 12 consecutive issues of Artforum magazine in 1968-69, which consist of short, enigmatic phrases such as “Perpetrate a Hoax” and “Become a Legend.” These “micro-manifestos” not only described works that Kaltenbach had already produced, but also provided a roadmap for his future activity.

An accompanying catalog will provide comprehensive consideration of Kaltenbach’s career, with scholars contributing essays on different aspects of the artist’s complex, 55-year body of work. “Stephen Kaltenbach: The Beginning and The End” is on view through May 10, 2020. The Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art is free for all.

Sidewalk art
Stephen Kaltenbach, ART WORKS (Sidewalk Plaque), 1968. Bronze, 5 x 8 inches, approximately. Edition of 100. Courtesy of the artist.

Visitor information

Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art

254 Old Davis Road, Davis, California, 95616

Museum hours
  • Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday: Noon–6 p.m.
  • Thursday: Noon–9 p.m.
  • Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m.–5 p.m.
  • Monday: Closed
Art Wide Open

The Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at the University of California, Davis, opened its doors in November 2016 with a commitment to making art accessible and approachable to all. Offering engaging experiences that reflect and serve the UC Davis community, the museum shares the university’s core values of innovative research, interdisciplinary experimentation, and a dedication to educational programming, and builds upon its legacy of exceptional teaching and practice of the arts. One-third of the museum’s 50,000-square-foot space is dedicated to educational programming, including a 125-seat lecture hall, classroom space, and the Carol and Gerry Parker Art Studio and Art Yard, which exemplifies the flow between indoor and outdoor space that is a central characteristic of the structure’s distinctive architecture.

Presenting exhibitions and public and educational programs year-round, the Manetti Shrem Museum provides an unparalleled cultural resource for students, faculty, visitors and the extended community.

Photos and captions for publicity use are available here.

Media Resources

Laura Compton, Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, 530-304-9517,

Karen Nikos-Rose, News and Media Relations, 530-219-5472,

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