Shape shifter: artist Barbara Kasten dons an architect’s cap in a new body of work

Barbara Kasten Parti Pris exhibition Bortolami New York
Progression Six, 2017
(Image credit: TBC)

She might be entering her eighth decade, but Barbara Kasten is still going strong. On Friday the American artist opens an exhibition at New York’s Bortolami gallery, showcasing new photographs, a sculpture, and the photo-sculpture hybrids she’s been working on of late, which relate to her freestanding sculptures and Amalgams of the 1970s.

As ever, architecture is at the heart of Kasten’s thinking as an artist. The show’s title, ‘Parti Pris’, refers to the common term for the big idea behind an architect’s design, usually presented as a diagram. Kasten’s parti pris here might have been ‘bridging dimensions’, but this being art, not architecture, it’s all left open to interpretation.

Progression Two

Progression Two, 2017

(Image credit: TBC)

What you will see at Bortolami is plenty of dimensional play: in Collisions, a series of grand, colour-rich Fujiflex photographs of acrylic fragments started in 2016, with new additions presented at ‘Parti Pris’, 3D structures are perceived but flattened – an ambiguous space in between. Kasten’s works are a constant guessing game – what is surface, and what is image? What was really there, and what wasn’t? Her artworks have a dimension of their own.

Meanwhile, in Progressions, 2D arrangements protrude out and enter space. Reversing her Amalgams of the late 1970s, (photograms of transparent objects translated into a two dimensional suffusion of photograms, drawing and photograph) she turns the flat representations back into abstract shapes that cast shadows over the gallery. Kasten calls them ‘temporary photograms’. This is geometry as its most mesmerising.

The show-stopper, though, is Parallels, a vast sculpture of cantilevered components, in Kasten’s favoured translucent fluorescent palette. It’s really in these transitional seasons that Kasten’s work comes into its own, shifting in sync with the light as it starts to change outside – and with it, our perception of space and where we are within it.

Left, Progression Five. Right, Progression Three

Left, Progression Five, 2017. Right, Progression Three, 2017

(Image credit: TBC)

Progression One

Progression One, 2017

(Image credit: TBC)


‘Parti Pris’ is on view from 8 September – 10 October. For more information, visit the Bortolami website


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Charlotte Jansen is a journalist and the author of two books on photography, Girl on Girl (2017) and Photography Now (2021). She is commissioning editor at Elephant magazine and has written on contemporary art and culture for The Guardian, the Financial Times, ELLE, the British Journal of Photography, Frieze and Artsy. Jansen is also presenter of Dior Talks podcast series, The Female Gaze.