James Casebere. Fugitive

12 Feb 2016 – 12 Jun 2016

Event times

Press Viewing Thursday, February 11, 2016, 11 am
Opening and Artist Talk (James Casebere with Okwui Enwezor) Thursday, February 11, 2016, 7 pm

Haus der Kunst

Bayern, Germany


Travel Information

  • Tram: Vollbild Nationalmuseum Hau der Kunst

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In the mid-1970s, when James Casebere (born 1953 in Lansing, Michigan, United States) began his career in art, the medium of photography was in a state of transition, as artists were formulating different approaches to the medium.


Casebere belongs to a generation of artists who have questioned the veracity of images from the beginning and for whom a photograph is something other than a document.

Casebere's early representations questioned the established codes of American Midwestern middle-class value system. A well-known work from this period is the latently violent and somewhat morbid photograph of a refrigerator penetrated by an oversized fork (Fork in the Refrigerator, 1975). In general, the detailed images depict architectural models made by the artist using materials such as polystyrene, paper and plaster. The models are clearly models, i.e. they do not conceal their construction. Over the years, Casebere has created his own distinctive visual language through the use of his cinematic and architectural approach.

"I am trying to create something that embodies or dramatizes the kind of psychic space that exaggerates certain ideas and experiences," is how Casebere describes his pictorial understanding, a strategy in which the models exemplify what might be characterized as the architectural unconscious of a given spatial system.

With over 50 works produced in a variety of formats and techniques, the exhibition covers all periods of his 40-year artistic career: large single and multi-part colour photographs, black and white silver gelatin prints, dye destruction prints, and waterless lithographs. For the first time, Casebere will also present work- and sketchbooks, as well as an extensive selection of previously unseen Polaroid studies, thereby revealing the development process of selected works, from the various production stages to the finished frame.

For the exhibition Casebere has created site-specific works for the large staircase of the exhibition space: four friezes that refer to the Haus der Kunst's complex political history as a representational National Socialist structure. The new works, which also explore the ceremonial system of the Albert Speer-designed Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg, are thus part of the continuing confrontation with historically burdened architecture - a topic that both James Casebere and the Haus der Kunst have long been investigating.

Considerations of problems related to the representation of architecture and ideology have played a role in Casebere's other works, including his examination of Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello in Virginia, the arena of the Acropolis of Athens, the slave dormitory in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and mobile prison cells in the state of Georgia.

Flooded and desolate spaces, whether illuminated or dark, are recurring illusionistic motifs in series of works from the late 1990s and early 2000s. In "Monticello No. 3 "(2001), Casebere presents the entrance hall of Jefferson‘s house as a dark space flooded by ankle-deep water. "We need to look beyond the myth of what Jefferson represents, and that's what the darkness you see is about," says Casebere.

The artist came up with the idea of flooding rooms with water on a trip to Berlin, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall of 1989. Although - or perhaps because - the prevailing mood in Berlin at that time was especially optimistic and enthusiastic, Casebere studied the neglected parts of the city with particular attention, including the sewage system and the metro stations linking West and East Berlin, which he believed especially clearly expressed "the historical unconscious of Germany."

Initially, with the flooding of rooms, Casebere also thought of prison toilets and sewers. Research led him to early 19th century model penitentiaries in the United States such as Auburn, Sing Sing and Eastern State Penitentiary. At the time, reformers tried to manifest Quaker ideas of redemption in prison architecture. For example, solitary confinement was intended to inspire the occupant to contemplation, prayer and self-reform. However, this method led to the devastation of the prisoner's mind and became something monstrous. Charles Dickens visited the Eastern State Penitentiary in 1842 and recorded his impressions of it in his travel journal ("American Notes"), in which he denounced solitary confinement.

In Casebere‘s depictions of cells, light often falls into the spaces from outside and from above, in a single beam. In reference to Quaker thought, this might be interpreted as the possibility of redemption through divine grace. The water, however, is a metaphor for transience and the passage of time, and also, in the flooded prison cells, for a system subject to decay. For the artist, the previous methods of punishment and the deprivation of liberty illuminate a tension in the architecture of prisons.

Casebere's images do not refer to stable, existing objects. Rather, compressed in them is a system of political and associative references, even to things such as volatile memories or dreams. Thus, he was also fascinated by mosques, madrassas, caravanserais in Istanbul built by Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan (1489/1490-1588) - in part because their aesthetic, bright interiors were human in scale despite their height. His research on Islam's complex history has lead Casebere to eras and cultures that represent the coexistence of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, as well as mutual cultural enrichment, such as Spain in the period from 711 to 1492. With works such as "Mosque (after Sinan) # 2", "Spanish Bath" and "La Alberca", Casebere makes viewers aware of these epochs and sublime moments.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, edited by Okwui Enwezor; with contributions by Okwui Enwezor, Caleb Smith und Brian Wallis (Prestel Publishers).

"James Casebere. Fugitive" is curated by Okwui Enwezor, assisted by Anna F. Schneider.

Made possible with major support by the Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung.


Okwui Enwezor

Okwui Enwezor

Exhibiting artists

Anna F. Schneider

James Casebere


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