If there ever was a reception that best showcased Sacramento’s art community coming together, it was Robert Ortbal’s latest show, Musical Chairs at Beatnik Studios.

The reception for Musical Chairs was so much more than just an art opening. Held during the opening weekend of Sac Open Studios, it was a kick-off for a whole weekend of arts. The party itself was a major event. Part of Ortbal’s idea was to create a happening-a performance where anything can happen, and should. While the reception was getting started, masked performers started filling the room. An elephant, a Tara Donovan style suit-wearer, a woman with a tentacle engulfed helmet, and others approached guests silently passing out reflective trinkets. Suddenly, a two headed animal sat down to the piano. A chorus began to harmonize and sing softly.

This all led up to what seemed to be the big pinnacle moment of the reception: an actual game of musical chairs. The Sacramento based choir, Vox Musica, returned to lend their voices. As they sang, the participants walked slowly around the line of chairs. The choir stopped. Everyone ran to a seat. The remainder of the crowd cheered on as one by one people were kicked out of the game. Winner, Melanie Bown, got to take a piece of Ortbal’s sculpture, Neverland, home with her.

The physical work kept everyone moving around the space. Ortbal’s sculptures are textural and beg to be touched. He uses materials in a way that makes the viewer second-guess their original use. Flocking is mixed with hard undecipherable material. Hard piping is covered in a glittery haze while recycled paper packaging is deemed plastic and casted. In works Oxygen Shadow and Endless Summer, giant plastic beach balls are hardened and heavy; no longer airy and playful. Somehow they ride a thin line between realistic and dreamed. In Crystalline Jester, cardboard boxes are broken down just to be built back up into one large structure hanging delicately from string. The grouping of cords supports the boxes and transforms them into a mythical bridge that will never be crossed.

The largest and most influential work, Neverland, was split into multiple incarnations throughout the gallery space. Flocked iceberg-like chucks are stacked and multiplied creating different settings. The standout manifestation of Neverland hung from the tall ceilings of the gallery, dangling over the viewers’ head. The pieces were impaled with metal poles creating gridded floating islands. It felt as though anyone could just reach up and grab one although each little hunk was just out of reach. Ortbal solved this problem with a ware cart that was stuffed to the gills with touchable parts. It is rare that viewers are allowed to handle the work, so it was incredibly satisfying to do so after looking at all the luscious sculptures.
While the opening reception is over, the show is up till the middle of October. Robert Ortbal will also be giving a talk at Beatnik Studios on October 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Words and video by Emily Swinsick

Photos Sarah Elliott

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