The art of creating sculpture made from preformed objects or materials is a practice running through the history of 20th century art. Omaha based artist Robert Miller has done a turn with this form in his exhibition, Arranged Music, on view through March 29 in the Sunderland Gallery at Saint Cecilia’s Cathedral.
Pipe organs and pianos, Miller’s primary material source, reference the early musical instrument assemblages of Picasso. As an historical precedent for Miller’s lyrical abstractions, this is a delightful inverse of concept and process. Picasso’s metaphor becomes Miller’s material.
Appearing “playful” at first glance, the rhythm and movement of each piece communicates a unique quality of resonance. The colors and surfaces in “Arranged Music #1” enliven the slow curvature of a dismantled keyboard. Viewed from different positions, the form changes pitch in its sway of direction. The visual frequency of this side-to-side motion is not unlike the auditory vibrations of sound. The form invites further investigation from all sides. While this is unfortunately prevented with the pedestal pushed against the wall, “Arranged Music #1” is still able to excite the imagination.
“Finding a bunch of organ pipes and keyboards allowed the work to become about the instrument, about the movement and possibility of what these things could be,” Miller said. “As I started cutting them up, they took me along in finding the music in the forms.”
The color and repetition visually pulsating in “Arranged Music #10” feels like an energized centipede high stepping to its own jazz band. The voids in the wood pieces punctuate the space, and breathe life into the form’s movement.
While these introductory pieces invite the viewer in, it is the group of wood pieces constructed from angled pipe organ segments which capture the essence of Miller’s intention. “The process lead me to research the instrument,” Miller said. “It educated me about the instrument. Each piece has its own identity.”
“Arranged Music #12” paused in motion, is pointed in one direction. The alternating blocks of trapezoids with circular cutouts, structurally support the curvilinear focused gesture. The balance and proportion of color and material facilitates the overall tenor of the piece. This abstraction of conscious attention slips into a suggestion of alert recognition. “Arranged Music # 13” does also, yet the recognition feels less comfortable. “Arranged Music # 15” lightens the mood, with its visual variables evoking the sound of chimes, or bells.
There are a variety of different ways all the pieces in this exhibition could be interpreted. Each viewer brings their own unique point of view, opening possibilities for discussion. It is the choices Miller is making, in his editing of found material which enhance the versatility of each form, and their potential for interpretive meaning.
The vertical angularity of “Arranged Music # 17” can appear constrained when compared with the forward thrust of “Arranged Music # 23.” Both are wall pieces. Both have a balance of mass and void. Both have rhythm. Yet each communicates a very different sensation of human thought and feeling.
“Arranged Music # 33” hung above the sign-in book when entering the gallery, has a sensation of sound similar to a chorus. The interlocked ivory keyboard pieces simultaneously join together, yet remain individually distinct. The staggered outside edge enhances the movement. There is an indefinable quality in the experience of this piece which holds the attention.
Most of the “Orchestration Drawings” utilize an interlocking system of thinner rectangular shapes of color with thinner rectangular shapes of marks. The two-dimensional work seems to carry more punch when incorporating collaged bits of text and image. “Orchestration Drawing #19” opens a window into Miller’s pleasure in process and sense of humor. The drawings exhibited in Stations, another exhibition of Miller’s drawing and sculpture, used collage to great effect. This exhibition, at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Gallery in Nebraska City during February of this year, also utilized “found forms’ as inspiration.
“The two exhibitions, Arranged Music and Stations, speak to each other,” Miller said. “Arranged Music is fluid and full of motion. Stations is about vertical structure and more objective.” The work in Stations seems an important step for the work in Arranged Music. Utilizing the mechanisms of functional carpentry to create organically fluid forms is no easy task.
The metaphysical forms in Arranged Music accept the human condition as it is, not unlike the work of H.C. Westermann, and other Chicago Imagists. Robert Miller has hit his stride in this exhibition. It is worth visiting, more than once.
Robert Miller, Arranged Music, Found Wood Sculpture, Feb. 10 – Mar. 29, 2013, Sunderland Gallery in the Cultural Center of St. Cecelia Cathedral, 3900 Webster Street, Tuesday – Friday, 11 AM – 4 PM, Third Sunday of the month, 10:30 AM – 4 PM, 402.558.3100, http://www.cathedralartsproject.org/