Wolf Kahn 1927 —

Biography

Wolf Kahn's work has been deemed some of the most adventurous and dynamic of any contemporary artist.  It is a continuous exploration of tension created by color. "Kahn challenges both avant-garde and traditional expectations, a superb colorist devoted to representation, he's virtuousic enough in his techniques to dare to be mundane in his subject matter ....His beautiful colors continuously astound." (Justin Spring, Artforum, October 1993). Gerritt Henry of Art in America has deemed that Wolf Kahn "stands virtually as a school of one." “He is one of the great painters in the modernist tradition.”

During his early years in New York, Wolf Kahn was inspired by the gestural technique of the Abstract Expressionists and by the expressive colorism of artists such as Milton Avery and Mark Rothko.  Other influences were the suggestive, broadly painted landscapes of late nineteenth century American artists such as George Inness and Albert Pinkham Ryder and the French Impressionist, Claude Monet

Wolf Kahn, an Austrian refugee from Nazi persecution, has said, “I am drawn to paint landscape out of [my] a refugee’s constant search for his roots.”  Though the weight of artistic interest in the late 50’s was dominated by the power of the Abstract Expressionists, he became one of a group of young artists who introduced nature back into art.  He has since emerged as the preeminent landscape painter of the late twentieth century, recognized for his ability to reveal emotion through light, color and form.    

Kahn derives his themes and images from the countryside in the vicinity of his summer home in Vermont, focusing his attention on motifs ranging from barns and farmhouses and simple conditions of the land to minimalist long-focus abstractions of the tenuous line between land and sky, between edge of forest and meadow where color is bundled into form.  These works which have their beginnings outdoors, often developed first in his pastels, are refined and completed in the artist’s studio.  As a result, Kahn’s “best landscapes come about partly from memory…[he uses] the sight of nature to make a picture.”1 in this respect, Kahn’s approach parallels that of his nineteenth century predecessor William Morris Hunt, who also believed that the best landscapes were painted indoors, from memory.  According to Hunt, “when before nature, you are so occupied with representing what you see, that you can’t study combination and composition, you can’ make a picture.”2
 
Wolf Kahn, the youngest of four siblings, was born into a well-to-do artistic family.  His father was the conductor of the Stuttgart Philharmonic Symphony, and his mother came from a family of art collectors.(1)  During 1938, Kahn took his first art lessons, but most of his initial drawings were of military or historical events.  The next year Kahn was sent to England for safety following the ascendancy of Hitler to power, and in 1940, he immigrated to the United States.

In 1942, he entered New York’s High School of Music and Art, and while there, he was employed by a commercial art firm doing illustrations.  After a stint in the Navy, Kahn entered Hans Hofmann’s school, and among his fellow students were Neil Blaine, Jane Freilicher, Allan Kaprow and Larry Rivers.  His initial results were done with a dark palette and abstracted forms, and although Hofmann’s style of teaching was difficult, Kahn has consistently praised him for teaching him the value of control and understanding.(2)  Kahn’s first exhibition was a 1951 group show in a loft with several other artists in lower Manhattan.  From this impromptu show, a group effort evolved called the Hansa Gallery Cooperative.(3)  In 1953, Wolf Kahn had a one-man show at this gallery, which was reviewed by Fairfield Porter, and at this same time bolder, more vivid colors began to appear in his work.  By the mid-1950’s, on a summer trip to Provincetown, Kahn’s paintings indicated a new direction of softening warm colors in the manner of Bonnard.  He was included in Meyer Shapiro’s seminal exhibition, The New York School: The Second Generation at the Jewish Museum, and by the end of the 1950s, he had developed his abstracted landscape style for which he is best known. 

In 1966, he made his first “barn” painting on Martha’s Vineyard that reduced the complexities of detail of the architecture to a more basic shape, a stylistic convention that is evident in the Museum’s painting.  Kahn has since commented frequently on his use of color as a unique and specific component of each work as the situation demands, where the gradual buildup of the colors resembles the beauty and translucent nature of pastels.(4)  Since then Kahn has had one-person exhibitions at the Kansas City Art Institute, Chrysler Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art and the Columbus Museum, among others.  His work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums throughout the United States.

Kahn has had numerous solo exhibitions, organized by such institutions as the San Diego Museum of Art (1984, 1987), the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute (1982), the Arts Club of Chicago (1981) and the Rhode Island School of Design Museum (1979).  He is also the recipient of many awards and prizes, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1966-67).  Wolf Kahn’s work can be found in the permanent collections of over 100 museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, to name only a few.

Notes.

1. Lawrence Campbell, Wolf Kahn: New Landscapes, exh. Cat. (Santa Fe: Gerald Peters Gallery, 1988), p.
2. See William Morris Hunt, Talks on Art  (Boston: Houghton Mifflin)
3. Much of the biographical information is drawn from Justin Spring, Wolf Kahn (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996).
4. Spring, 21. Wolf Kahn draws this from a 1973 address to the College Art Association.
5. This group included Jane Wilson, Allan Kaprow, Richard Stankiewicz, John Chamberlain, Lucas Samaras, George Segal and Robert Whitman. The name paid homage to Hans Hofmann.
6. Wolf Kahn, “Notes 1990-1991,” Wolf Kahn: New Landscape Paintings and Pastels (Charlotte, NC: Gerald Melberg Gallery, 1991), unpaginated.  In a 1995 catalogue, Wolf Kahn, New Paintings – Celebrating Color (New York: Grace Borgenicht Gallery, 1995), Kahn goes on to state that the “use of color, especially bright color, requires the strict exercise of tact and decorum…art must not be allowed to degenerate into stroking.”

Submitted by the staff of the Columbus Museum, Georgia

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WOLF KAHN  Selected Museum and Public Collections:

Amerada-Hess Co., New York NY
American Express, New York NY
ARCO Chemical Corp.
Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago IL
The Bank of New York, New York NY
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA
Brandeis University, Waltham MA
Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn NY
Carnegie Mellon Institute, Pittsburgh PA
Charterhouse International, New York NY
Cheekwood Fine Arts Center, Nashville TN
Chemical Bank, New York NY
Chase Manhattan Bank, New York NY
City Art Museum of St Louis, St Louis MO
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland OH
Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus OH
Continental Grain, New York NY
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas TX
Dominion Bankshares, Roanoke VA
El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso TX
Ernst and Whitney, New York NY
Farragut Resources, Washington DC
First National Bank of Boston, Boston MA
Flint Resources Company, Inc., Tulsa OK
Fort Worth Museum of Art, Fort Worth TX
Hickory Museum of Art, Hickory NC
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC
Hood Museum, Darthmouth College, Hanover NH
Hublein Incorporated, Farmington CT
J.C. Penny Company, New York NY
The Jewish Museum NYC
Johnson Gallery, University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque NM
Cahill, Girdon, Reindel, New York NY
Kaye, Scholler, Fierman, Hays and Handler, New York NY
Jack Lenor Larsen New York NY
Lehman Brothers, Kuhn and Loeb, New York NY
Loch Haven Art Center, Orlando FL
Long Term Credit Bank of Japan, Ltd New York NY
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles CA
Mellon Bank, Pittsburgh PA
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York NY
Mint Museum, Charlotte NC
Morton Foundation, New York NY
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston TX
Museum of Modern Art, New York NY
National Academy of Design, New York NY
National Bank of Tulsa, Tulsa OK
National Museum of American Art, Washington DC
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans LA
Paul Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, New York NY
Penn Central Corp., New York NY
Performing Arts Center, Tulsa OK
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Prudential Corporation
Prudential Life Corp., New York NY
Prudential Life Ins. Co, Newark NJ
R. J. Reynolds Company, Winston-Salem NC
The Rockefeller Group, New York NY
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham MA
Salomon Brothers, New York NY
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego CA
Seagull Industries, New York NY
Signal Corporation, New York NY
Signet Bank Corporation, Richmond VA
Sovereign American Arts Corporation, New York NY
Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield MA
State University of New York at Albany, Albany NY
State University of New York at Purchase (Roy Neuberger Museum)
Summit Art Center, Summit NJ
Times Mirror Corp., Los Angeles CA
Triangle Industries, Inc., New York NY
Union Carbide Corp., New York NY
Union Trust Bank, Baltimore MD
University of California, Berkley CA
University of Illinois, Urbana IL
University of Nebraska, Lincoln NE
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM
U.S. Trust Co. of New York, New York NY
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond VA
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York NY
The Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown MA
The Williams Companies, Tulsa OK
Worcester Art Museum, Worchester MA

 

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