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Jene Highstein: Rooms, Columns, Impossible Buildings

by Kathleen Whitney

Making sculpture can be a simple and pragmatic matter, an attractive way of delivering a piece of defined space to a viewer using all the ingredients of the classic spatial package—media of a certain color, texture, and dimension. But sculptors who want to push the envelope beyond definitions that confine the experience of sculpture to specific, somewhat predictable arenas have found it necessary to leap into the realm of the hybrid. Over the course of the past half century, a number of sculptors have made this jump to work that combines genres, none more successfully than Jene Highstein.

Much of Highstein’s work exists within the domain of the architectural folly. This concept describes a structure “characterized by a certain excess in terms of eccentricity, cost or conspicuous inutility.”1 The folly shares many aspects of traditional architecture, but, like an artwork, it is useless. The idea of the folly is intensely pertinent to art-making, and it is an inevitable arena of exploration for an artist as philosophically and intellectually inclined as Highstein.
 
Cedar Staircase, 1999. Northwest coast cedar, 16 ft. high. View of work as installed at Madison Square Park, New York City.

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