Tuesday, November 16, 2010

James Casebere, House @Kelly

JTF (just the facts): A total of 20 black and white and color works, variously framed and matted, and hung in the main gallery space, two smaller side rooms, and the office area. The works in the main gallery are large scale digital chromogenic prints mounted to Dibond and framed in black with no mat. There are 6 prints in this room, ranging in size from 70x86 to 70x106, each in editions of 5+2, from 2009/2010. The works in the other spaces are vintage black and white works from earlier in Casebere's career. 13 of the works are single image gelatin silver prints and 1 is a photo-lithograph diptych. Physical dimensions range from 14x11 to 28x38, and the prints come in multiple edition sizes (7+2, 10+1, 10+2, 24+3, 60). The black and white works were made between 1978 and 1994. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: James Casebere's new large scale color works are bigger and bolder than ever before. His purpose-built architectural models have now grown to include an entire subdivision of fabricated houses, executed in painstaking, abstracted detail. Displayed in conjunction with a group of earlier, more pared down black and white works, these images show Casebere extending and evolving his artistic approach, adding in additional layers of stylized realism and complexity to tell broader stories.
The new pictures document an imaginary community of homes in Dutchess County, New York, where large multi-story houses painted in pastel colors are clustered closely together over rolling hills. Freshly mown grass stripes the front lawns, while lakes, roads, and specimen trees (in fall colors) separate the landscape. Play structures, above ground pools, satellite dishes, and barbecues dot the backyards. It has the air of a perfect planned community, complete with wind farm on the brow of the hill (clean energy!) and a rainbow overhead.

What makes these photographs successful is their subtle, almost effortless irony. The abstracted nature of the model makes this community a kind of "everywhere", where the American dream of owning a home has happily come true. But it is this undercurrent of the surreal, the mythical, and the hoped for that smacks head on with the reality of the recent housing bubble and foreclosure crisis, making this cozy little community look entirely insane.
Casebere's earlier black and white works hung in the adjacent rooms have a more sinister, haunted quality. In these works, Casebere has constructed and photographed a single home or building, highlighting the contrast of bright white materials and shadowy dark lighting. Row houses, tenement buildings, prisons, factories, and even suburban ranch houses (complete with constructed cacti) have become quiet phantoms, with black square windows and simple boxy geometries. These pictures are more elemental and moody, filled with viewer-supplied memories and anxieties.

In all of these photographs, Casebere is uncovering our complicated relationships with common places. The new pictures dig into questions of what we think (or remember) we want, what has been built to fulfill our supposed desires, how we feel when we see these dreams come true, and the unreality underneath the surface of that cleaned-up sunny life. His light touch makes the satire earlier to swallow, making the images less overtly critical and all the more thought-provoking.
Collector's POV: The prices for the works in this show are as follows. The large color works are generally $70000 each, although one of the images that was included in the Whitney Biennial is marked "price on request". The older black and white images generally range from $16000 to $30000 based on size (with many intermediate prices), with the smallest image (from a large edition) priced at $1800. Casebere's work has become consistently available in the secondary markets in recent years, with a handful of lots available every year for almost a decade. Prices at auction have ranged between $1000 and $60000.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Review: NY Times (here)
  • Interview BOMB (here)
Through December 4th

528 West 29th Street
New York, NY 10001

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