The US-American artist Barbara Kasten (b. 1936, lives and works in Chicago) is being honored for the first time in Europe with a museum exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. Over the past four decades, the artist, who can be described as an artist’s artist, has created an impressive oeuvre, at the core of which are her abstract photographs. Although works by Barbara Kasten have already been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions in the USA and also occasionally in Europe, and although works by her can be found in important collections (including MoMA, New York; Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris), her oeuvre as a whole has hitherto rarely been seen in Europe. The show Barbara Kasten. Works now presents for the first time a comprehensive overview—from early sculptures to her constructivist photographs and the latest video installations.

After completing her studies in painting, Barbara Kasten lived and worked in Germany in the 1960s. During this time, she intensively explored the ideas of the Bauhaus and the modernist attitude towards space, the stage, and architecture. When Barbara Kasten returned to the USA at the end of the 1960s to study in California, she initially concentrated on the development of her fiberglass sculptures. Inspired by, among other things, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s photograms, the interdisciplinary orientation of the Bauhaus, and Constructivism, as well as modern photography and architecture, she also began to experiment with alternative photographic techniques, especially that of the cyanotype. For this and all her other works, she used simple materials such as fly screens, Plexiglas, mirrors, etc., which she found in her immediate surroundings. Her central concern here was to incorporate the medium of photography into a painterly concept. For Barbara Kasten, the most important media in the staging of her photographs have been light and shadow. In her Constructs series, the everyday materials used are initially staged in black-and-white aesthetics and later by means of specific, mostly colorful lighting, and thus transformed and relieved of their triviality. The properties of the different haptics of the surfaces of the materials used are particularly emphasized and brought into an exciting dialogue with one another. Barbara Kasten deliberately refrains from concealing uneven surfaces, break lines, or creases in order to leave a reference to reality within the artistically staged, markedly artificial settings. The interaction between the materials and the light is a particular focus of her work—“Light has a lot to do with emotions,” Kasten maintains.

In 1984—parallel to the Constructs created between 1979 and 1986—she began working on her series of Architectural Sites (1984–87). Her motifs for this series of analog photographs were buildings kin the United States related to financial and cultural exchange, such as the World Financial Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Using photographic means, she built a “stage,” so to speak, on site for the real, existing buildings in order to transform these “everyday materials,” which she bathed in surreal light. The results of this artistic investigation are large-format, nearly abstract, intensely colorful photographs, in which illusion and reality coalesce.

In recent years, Barbara Kasten has produced videos with the intention of increasing the spatial illusion of the video by including real objects in the space. She had previously worked with the same conceptual approach in a variety of ways. Her videos are projected onto the sculptures in order to achieve a fusion of different modes of time—between the statics of the sculpture on the one hand and the time-based representation of itself in the video on the other. In her most recent works, she pursues this strategy further by integrating photography into her sculptural reliefs, thus creating new hybrid objects.

The work of Barbara Kasten represents a virtually singular position in the international art world. Especially in the age of Photoshop and the ostensibly unlimited possibilities of digital image manipulation, her works stand for an avant-garde position that focuses on the analog, which is extremely inspiring especially for a younger generation of artists. In their constructivist quality, their at times simple minimalism, their combination of various spatial levels, the ambivalent validity of the materials used, and the almost painterly delicacy of the coloring, Barbara Kasten’s photographs place the possibilities of abstraction within the medium of photography on a new and unique level. The exhibition Barbara Kasten. Works not only offers the possibility of an intensive encounter with the artist’s remarkable oeuvre, but also impressively demonstrates: “it works.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by a bilingual publication (German/English) with texts by renowned art historians and an interview providing in-depth insight into the Barbara Kasten’s extensive oeuvre.

Curator: Andreas Beitin

Credits: Barbara Kasten, Collision 5 T (Detail), 2016, Digital Chromogenic Print / Fujiflex Chrystal Archive, 160 x 121,9 cm, © Barbara Kasten, Courtesy the artist and Bortolami, Kadel Willborn Gallery, Thomas Dane Gallery.