Final ‘Scenarios’ at Aspen Art Musuem

Barbara Kasten’s Aspen Art Museum exhibition in final days

Credit: Simon Klein

Barbara Kasten’s “Scenarios” is entering its last week at the Aspen Art Museum. Closing April 4 after a nearly six-month exhibition, it fills the museum’s second-floor gallery spaces with installation pieces made of video projections, shadow and reflection, fluorescent Plexiglas building blocks of cones and cubes.

Two of the works in the show are site-specific for Aspen, made specifically to come to life in interplay with the architecture of the museum and the sunlight and shadow that enters the building through architect Shigeru Ban’s woven exterior. They’ll never be seen quite the same way again after this exhibition closes. But you could argue they’ve also never been seen the same way twice, as they change with elements light cloud cover and sunlight.

One, an array of pink-tinged Plexiglas pieces, is installed in the hallway outside of the gallery. In mid-morning on a clear day they get blasted with direct rays of sunshine that create a mesmerizing and distorted reflection of the space on the piece, splash pink shadow on the wall and also frame it with boxes of shadow cast from the building’s exterior. The other Aspen-made work, a series of fluorescent boxes in an alcove lit by a north-facing window, emanates varying glow effects depending on the quality of the sunlight outside.

While many of the other works in the show use precise video projection or light effects to manipulate what the viewer is seeing in these category-defying installations, here it’s up to nature.

“They interact with the architecture and it’s changing – instead of video I have these things in a place where the light is moving and changing,” Kasten said in a webinar hosted by the Aspen Art Museum with artist Irena Haiduk. “All that is happening because the light is filtering through the architecture, so it’s like you can’t take one (element) away.”

That sense of interdependence runs through all of “Scenarios.”

She maps the projected video onto installations, combining sculpture and moving image of sculptures and installations from her studio, accentuated and complicated by shadows to an uncanny effect. The viewer often can’t tell what shapes are physical objects, which are shadow effects, and which are video projections — Kasten forcing the viewer to contemplate their accepted reality.

Credit: Simon Klein

“It’s the human element in what the viewer brings to it and I bring to it,” Kasten said, “and this moment in time where it changes according to, well, what I’ve changed. I’ve made a recording that changes and interacts with the objects in that tableau or this tableau. So there’s an interchange and exchange of what’s real and not real.”

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic presented some unusual challenges for hanging the show. Kasten is normally hands-on with her pieces. Best known until recently as an abstract photographer, she often documents the installation process as a performance in itself.

For this show, Kasten oversaw the installation through Zoom calls from Chicago with the Aspen Art Museum curatorial team — installing the Aspen-specific works without touching them and adding yet another (very 2020) layer of unreality to it all.

The work in the Aspen show is recent, all of it made since Kasten’s 79th birthday. It focuses on work she has made since a 2015 career retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. Her first major retrospective, that show drew new art world attention to Kasten’s career and a string of inspired work from the octogenarian in the years that followed, collected for the first time in the Aspen exhibition.

Credit Simon Klein

The exhibition has been of particular interest in Aspen because Kasten’s work emerged from the same creative DNA that birthed the aesthetics of modern Aspen. A Chicago native, she was deeply influenced by the Bauhaus movement that also shaped Aspen’s postwar rebirth and she studied under Bauhaus masters.

As an art student, she studied textiles under Bauhaus-trained Trude Guermonprez and worked as an assistant to Bauhausler László Moholy-Nagy. She also visited the Aspen icon and Bauhaus master Herbert Bayer late in his life in Montecito, California, where he settled for health reasons when he had to leave the high elevation here.

“We were really excited about that connection to the Bauhaus and Aspen through an unusual angle,” museum director Nicola Lees said in November.

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