James Casebere (American, born 1953)
74 1/8 x 104 5/8 x 3 in. (188.3 x 265.7 x 7.6 cm)
Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2011 (2011.39)
Casebere, originally an architecture student, is part of the disillusioned, skeptical generation that came of age in post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America, and in his art he uses the assumed truthfulness of photography against itself to question how we are acculturated through images. Beginning in the mid-1970s the artist made dramatically lit black-and-white photographs of three-dimensional tabletop sculptures that he constructed of plaster, Styrofoam, and cardboard. His early subjects comprised a ghost world of instantly recognizable, yet eerily indistinct, social spaces—from courtrooms and libraries to an empty storefront or a suburban street at night. In the 1990s he shifted to color and enlarged the scale of his works; his subjects ranged from hospitals and jails to tunnels, corridors, and flooded rooms that called to mind unsettling assocations with discipline, circulation, and control. This majestic work is made from a model of a suburban subdivision (of the kind recently decimated by the foreclosure crisis) that took the artist a year and a half to complete. Its dewy sunniness, however, is deceptive and unnerving: with computer graphics, Pixar, and CGI, the world may have caught up to and surpassed Casebere's analogue sleight-of-hand, but the isolation bred by both a fatal attraction to illusion and the competitive consumption of "keeping up with the Joneses" continues to erode our collective potential and happiness.