Culture, Op-Ed

Barbara Kasten’s Architectural Sites

When looking at Barbara Kasten’s “Architectural Sites,” a single word strikes to the front of one’s mind with the force of a charging elephant: abstract. “Sites” demonstrates an unwillingness to be bound by conventions, and in doing so, leads the viewer into an integrated, utterly unique, new form of artistic expression. Each individual piece has been carefully conceptualized using techniques designed specifically to entrance the viewer into believing they have left the real world behind through an unseen looking glass. Bold colors, vivid shapes and expertly utilized mirrors help create a sense of quiet unease; a feeling of unreality and impossibility even while tangible physicality is within arm’s reach.

It is Ms. Kasten’s background in architecture that would allow such structures to take hold, but it is her background in photography that gives them life. The mirrors allow light and color to dance in a neon ballet that takes the eyes hostage. The shapes escape their rigid form when tipped and hung by angles, aided by the nighttime gallery shoots, which elevate the ethereality of the experience. Ms. Kasten’s understanding of what makes a shot perfect coupled with her architectural knowhow allow the pieces to retain their effect from any point. As Ms. Kasten herself puts it, “I deconstructed the postmodern architecture of the 80’s.”


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Barbara Kasten Architectural Site 15, 1986

Barbara Kasten Architectural Site 15, 1986



Indeed, the exhibition’s themes seem most reminiscent of the flash and bright colors of the 1980’s. In “Architectural Sites,” however, the unorthodox pallet and asymmetry of the decade’s art have been liberated from their canvas prisons. Ms. Kasten has stated that she finds inspiration in recording three-dimensional space onto a two-dimensional plane. Here, the opposite holds true: patterns that seem most comfortable confined to paper are stretched and expanded into our world.

The result is an unflinching and daring deconstruction of not only 1980s art and architecture, but 80s culture as well. Synth-pop, heavy metal and hair bands were all musical symptoms of a decade whose art had devolved into a cavalcade of sound and fury. Ms. Kasten exploits this empty significance with a mechanical display of geometry that weaves in and out of itself. The glass and metal snakes around, up and down, trailing the viewer’s eye across the venue’s extent until they can’t take anymore. The endless looping and odd angles reflect postmodernism at its very core: the absence of intrinsic meaning, itself represented by a complex pattern and dazzling appearance intended to simultaneously distract and educate the viewer.

Ms. Kasten’s ambitious “Sites” is more than meets the eye. Her keen ability to inject meaning through color and mirrors makes the exhibition worth a look, but it is her subtle use of themes that creates an experience unmatched in the world of postmodernism.


Words by James Wohr