JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 large scale color photographs, framed in dark brown wood and unmatted, and hung against white walls in a single room gallery space on the lower level (down a set of stairs). All of the works are Cibachrome dye destruction prints, made between 1995 and 2005. Each of the prints is roughly 58×47 (or reverse), in an edition of 5+2AP. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: This show is a small sampler of James Casebere’s mid-career greatest hits, spanning the decade between 1995 and 2005. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that this period was a transitional one for Casebere, when many of the ideas and methods that formed the foundation of his early work were evolving in new directions. While the exhibit doesn’t offer us anything we haven’t seen before, seeing these now famous images together helps to clarify the subtle incremental changes that were taking place in his overall approach, making the arc of his career more defined.
If we look back at Casebere’s late 1980s and early 1990s work, what we find are his signature table top constructions, executed in stark (and often shadowy) black and white, generally depicting pared down architectural exteriors. His models turned buildings into abstract representations, with empty black rectangles (holes) as stand ins for windows and doors. By the middle of the decade (and the beginning of this show), he had begun to turn his attention to the formal qualities of prisons, and Arcade (from 1995) is one of a handful of pictures that signal a departure from his earlier style. Casebere made two important changes here: he moved “inside” his dollhouse models and started to make interior images, and he began to shoot these photographs in color (even though they were still constructed in monochrome materials). The effect is a softening shift in mood, with greater attention paid to the echoing, closed-in emptiness found in these cells/rooms and a subtle broadening of his palette.
Over the next few years, Casebere would slowly pivot from lonely images of rooms to views down hallways and corridors, introducing “flooding” as another mechanism (beyond light) for creating suffocating distortions; Flooded Hallway from 1998 brings together all of these compositional innovations. By 2001, he had expanded these ideas to include more realistic architectural interiors (like the Colonial moldings of the blue room at Monticello) and views that incorporated stairways and checkerboard marble flooring (all still flooded), bringing in new narrative threads connected to the history of America. Suddenly his subjects were no longer generic featureless spaces, but echoes of specific, vaguely recognizable places. The last work in the show (from 2005) depicts a soft almond colored view of Moorish arches, inspired by a visit to Spain, drawing in even more historical and cultural allusions.
While many of these prints have now become highly sought after by collectors, I think this show is intriguing more for its step by step tracking of Casebere’s artistic thinking than for its celebration of a parade of winners. There is something fascinating about deliberately following an artist’s logic, seeing how he made the transitions and decisions that led him from point A to point B and beyond. Like a companion tagging along on his twisting journey, tracing the process was much more rewarding than praising the end products.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $65000 and $90000 each. Casebere’s work has become consistently available in the secondary markets, with a handful of lots available every year. Recent prices at auction have ranged between $2000 and $75000.