It was as an assistant to Claes Oldenburg, who taught him about the connection to the everyday object, that James Casebere embarked on his activities as a sculptor. Interested by the synthetic work between architecture and sculpture of Siah Armajani, and by the land artists Robert Smithson and Robert Morris, who took views of their in situ installations, he started to photograph small structures which he made with modest materials (cardboard, polystyrene, foam rubber). James Casebere’s altogether unusual photographs display a reality that is manipulated, and completely reconstructed. The artist actually first constructs models before photographing them. These models are the subject of sophisticated, highly worked out set-ups and their content draws from what forms the cultural stereotypes of our environment in its social, psychological, historical and aesthetic aspects. His works from the 1980s focus on the myth of America’s Far West, and the way it was founded: he recreates the scenery and settings, drawing inspiration directly from scenes in westerns recounting the lives of pioneers and describing cityscapes. It was also the architecture of Venice’s ghetto in the 15th century and that of the Enlightenment which then fuelled his research. Influenced by the ideas of Roland Barthes, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Robert Venturi and Michel Foucault he then focused on the history of suburbs, the structures of prisons, auditoria, bunkers, slave ports in the Caribbean, etc., scenes devoid of all human presence and usually stamped with destruction, confinement, flooding and any other imminent catastrophe which we might witness. The theatricality of his works takes on forms other than those of photography: intrusion of images into public places, monumental sculptures looking like enlarged miniatures.
James Casebere was born in Lansing, Michigan, and lives and works in New York. In 1976, he graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where he rubbed shoulders with the sculptor Siah Armajani. In 1977 he went to Los Angeles, where he studied with John Baldessari, for whom he worked as an assistant, and Douglas Huebler. In 1979 he graduated from the California Institute of the Arts with a Masters Degree. He has had many exhibitions in the United States (in particular at the Whitney Museum of American Art, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all in New York), in Canada and in Europe (participating notably in the 1996 Venice Biennale). He has received several awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the John National Endowment for the Arts, and the Simon Guggenheim Memorial.