For this week's Art Library, I'm sharing a signed first edition of Barbara Kasten: 1986–1990 (Research Art Media, 1991)—a succinct and beautiful monograph in three parts: Architectural Sites, a series of major architectural forms; Juxtapositions, Kasten's work in the Pollock-Krasner house; and New Mexico Site, taken at Santa Clara Pueblo, NM.
These series incorporate many of the unique tools and photographic techniques Barbara Kasten (b. 1936) is most recognized for: geometric reflecting mirrors, lights affixed with brilliant colored gels, plaster forms, and other props incorporated into compositions that appear collage-like, or to today's viewer, almost CGI. They are images that become more complex and mesmerizing the longer you look.
Note: I had to do a little improvising to keep some of the pages open without creasing, so please excuse our coasters popping up now and then!
The sleek black cover includes an inset of Kasten's enormous Cibachrome print The Place (1990) from her Santa Clara Pueblo series is shown again below.
Architectural Sites also includes an essay by Deborah Irmas, "The Artist As Lion Tamer," in which the author separates Kasten from other architectural photographers as an artist who "tackles the brutal newness of contemporary corporate and institutional mega-structures [and] refuses to monomentalize them through generic photogenic views." Kasten instead manipulates, flattens, transforms, and re-imagines these exteriors as surreal "Neo-Cubist" strata, and compositions of strong lines and rich, saturated color.
Juxtapositions, Meg Perlmann describes in the accompanying essay, comes from Kasten's invitation in 1988 to photograph the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton, New York. Many of Kasten's images (like the one below) focus around the paintsplatter-layered wooden floor of the barn that served as Jackson Pollock's studio for his most iconic "action" paintings.
In this image, I love the distorted reflection of the splattery floor on the triangular mirror posed with the gridded panes of glass on the elevated ceiling—like a painterly Milky Way above the purple, spectral image of Pollock at work.
The last section traces Kasten's work in New Mexico—a darker, more contemplative series of images of the adobe architectural tradition of the Southwest. Essayist Michèle Druon, Ph. D. describes Kasten's images as revealing a "spiritual dimension," a hidden layer of timelessness and immateriality reflecting the Southwest Native perspective.
This double gatefold (above and below images) is especially arresting. Haunting tones of UV-like purple-blue, shocks of pink, and washes of unearthly green highlights the form and texture of these spaces so embedded in the geologic and spiritual landscape.
I highly suggest seeing Kasten's work in person if you can—most a large scale, monumental prints of unreal, vivid color. She is in many major collections, and had a recent retrospective at ICA in Philadelphia.
Have any suggestions or requests for next week's Art Library? Leave them in the comments below, or on Instagram: @selavyart