New York

Barbara Kasten

Barbara Kasten’s elaborate photographic interpretations of prominent buildings require a daunting amount of research and preparation. Her strategy is first to select a building and identify one of its public areas. She studies, observes, draws, and begins to envision a particular photographic occurrence in that space. Aided by props such as mirrors and gels, she uses photography to expose an alternative, non-iconic dimension of the building that is ostensibly her subject. While the residuals of the process—the photographs—are frequently fascinating, I was far more intrigued by the artist’s theatrical process itself and by her challenging ideas about architecture.

For Architectural Site #17, 1988, an interpretation of Richard Meier’s High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Kasten made outlandish adjustments to Meier’s white space. Colored gels turned the stark, inclining ramp into a shocking pink plane. One area was bathed in a golden glow, and a carefully situated mirror thrust a sharp, thin triangle bearing an image of a classical sculpture into the disrupted picture plane. Next to the final photograph were the artist’s sketches, preliminary Polaroid shots, as well as a video (produced by Lucinda Bunnen) of Kasten’s elaborate preparations for the shoot.

Although she is usually concerned with public spaces and cultural institutions, Kasten made a far more intimate series of studies in the Jackson Pollock-Lee Krasner studio in East Hampton, New York. In Juxtaposition: Sites #1–3, 1989, Kasten presents three photographs that share a symbiotic relationship. All of the prints include slices of window, wall, natural light, and paint-splattered floor. The photograph on the left includes a grainy black and white found image of Pollock at work; the right print includes a comparable photograph of Krasner in the site. The middle print is solely about space and light at night; a record of the powerful inhabitants is nowhere to be seen. With modest means, Kasten suggests both the serenity and volatility of the creative environment.

Kasten calls into question the common experience and perception of buildings and spaces. She shakes architecture from its formal rigor mortis in order to engage the viewer in a deeper dialogue with architectural form. Her temporary occupancies of major cultural sites are quiet occasions of sabotage that challenge the final word of the architect and the inflexible authority of the monumental building.

Patricia C. Phillips