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WOLF KAHN a


WOLF KAHN

520 West 21st Street New York NY 10011

tel +1 212 445 0051 www.milesmcenery.com

525 West 22nd Street New York NY 10011


WOLF KAHN: RECENT PAINTINGS By Karen Wilkin Long-lived artists, if they are lucky, can have years of what art historians call “late style”—a heady period of uninhibited work informed by experience and liberated by a sense of having earned the right to do exactly as they please. Wolf Kahn’s energetic paintings from 2018 and 2019 are perfect embodiments of late style. Authoritative and fearless, they sum up decades of improvisation on landscape themes and, at the same time, move into new territory. It could even be argued that they point back to Kahn’s early years, as a young student at Hans Hofmann’s celebrated school. 3

What’s most striking is that even though these recent canvases depend on a lifetime’s accumulated mastery, they seem “artless.”—spontaneous, driven by intuition and by Kahn’s pleasure in moving pigment across a surface and making marks. Paintings such as Two Levels of Green, One of Orange (2018) or On a Green Ground (2019) appear so uncalculated and fresh that they seem to come into being as we look. It’s as if Kahn simply trusted himself, allowing all those years of making pictures to take charge of the enterprise, a state of mind that artists often refer to as “getting out of your own way.” Kahn’s recent paintings ring changes on a freewheeling evocation of New England woods in brilliant light, encapsulated so economically that they verge on abstraction. More than a decade ago, he began translate his experience of Northeastern woods into rhythmic vertical gestures spread


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across the canvas, but the paintings from 2018 and 2019 treat this deceptively straightforward, allusive image even more boldly, and perhaps even more inventively, than before. Kahn’s recent works are as powerfully evocative as their predecessors, but they offer only tenuous clues to the source of the motif. They are also striking for their super-charged color—full-throttle reds and oranges, mouth-puckering greens and yellows, dazzling pinks, and generous helpings of ultramarine blue, seasoned with whites and dull greens. Kahn deploys a personal shorthand of emphatic vertical strokes that conjure up tree trunks, against zones of color that could read as ground plane, hills, and fragments of sky, overlaid with flurries of small, staccato marks suggestive of foliage or twigs, sometimes both. These repeated touches can become a scrawled fabric that asserts the presence of the artist’s hand, while evoking the instability of nature or dazzling light. Sometimes, as in Redwoods (2019), a large-scale exploded—or exploding—web struggles to keep everything at bay. Yet the intensity of color makes these drawn and painted layers interchangeable, creating a lively pulse between “trunks” and “background” in pictures such as Spring Woods (2019), while the near fusion of “trunks” and “ground plane” in Two Levels of Green, One of Orange (2018) or the abrupt ends of the strokes suggesting “trunks” in Woodland Density (2019) all but cancel out allusion. We enter the realm of eloquent abstract relationships of shape and hue that Kahn learned from Hofmann. Is this coming full circle? Perhaps. Kahn’s exuberant recent works may define the concept of late style, but their audacity and vitality claim him a place among the most accomplished young painters working today.

Karen Wilkin is a curator and critic specializing in 20th century modernism.


WOLF KAHN: RECENT PAINTINGS By Sasha Nicholas Approaching his ninety-second birthday, Wolf Kahn continues to push his art into new territory. During the last decade of his long and accomplished career, Kahn has traded in the often-lyrical palette of his earlier landscape paintings for an increasingly brash and assertive chromatic vision. Rendered in electric hues ranging from acid yellow and hazard orange to saturated thalo blue, his most recent, large-scale oils abound with visual energy. This is amplified by a linear dynamism and loosening of form that seem to have emerged, at least in part, from the artist’s growing use of oil stick as a medium. Depicting a line of trees at the wood’s edge, each of these recent canvases juxtaposes strong vertical strokes with dense, horizontal weaves of staccato and calligraphic marks. Together with Kahn’s insistently non-associative color, this recurring formal structure foregrounds the work’s abstract underpinnings even while conjuring the lanky trees, capacious hills, and flickering leaves that are among the artist’s signature subjects. The tension between abstraction and representation has been at the heart of Kahn’s oeuvre since he began his career more than seven decades ago. Born in Germany in 1927, he emigrated to the United States in 1940 and came of age as an artist during the post-war years, when Abstract Expressionism reigned supreme. Kahn’s mentor was the renowned painter and teacher Hans Hofmann, who impressed upon the young artist the importance of formal discipline and luminous color, and above all, a belief in art as a noble calling. But Kahn did not become an Abstract Expressionist. Bucking the rigid mandates of the 1950s and 1960s American art world—which

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compelled artists towards total abstraction or slick commercial subjects—he forged an alternate path. Like contemporaries such as Richard Diebenkorn, Jane Freilicher, Fairfield Porter, and Larry Rivers (all of whom he counted as friends), Kahn combined gestural painting with everyday subjects, eluding the era’s stylistic categories. As he remarked, “I tried to do abstract paintings, and it always seemed to me that I was throwing out a baby with the bath water.” 1

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Even so, Kahn resists the impulse to see his landscapes as literal descriptions. Regarding them instead as inventions, he often has described his work as a springboard for exploring the fundamentals of painting, and, more broadly, how we perceive the world. This continues to hold true. When asked about the paintings in this exhibition, the artist remarked that he is “interested in glow much more than trees” (though he added that he will not object “if it turns out that my trees remind the viewer of nature.”)2 That glow suffuses canvases such as On a Green Ground, with its pungent tangerine thicket, or Serenade, in which the slightly ominous violet copse hems in a swath of orange hillside. Indeed, with their consistent compositional framework, Kahn’s recent canvases stress the boundless possibilities—visual and emotional—yielded by variations in color, touch, and transparency. In a contemporary world where our attention often feels ever more scattered and pulled in multiple directions, these are works that ardently invite, and reward, a sustained and inquisitive gaze.

Sasha Nicholas is an independent curator and art historian specializing in Modern American art.

1. Wolf Kahn, quoted in “In Conversation: Wolf Kahn with David Kapp and Robert Berlind,” The Brooklyn Rail (2 May 2007), https://brooklynrail.org/2007/05/art/wolf-kahn-with-david-kapp-and Accessed May 27, 2019. 2. Wolf Kahn, in email conversation with the author.


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Olive Green, 2018 Oil on canvas 52 x 52 inches 132.1 x 132.1 cm


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Slowly Downhill, 2018

Oil on canvas 10 x 14 inches 25.4 x 35.6 cm


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Tending Toward Gilded, 2018

Oil on canvas 30 x 40 inches 76.2 x 101.6 cm


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Blue Stage, Orange Wings, 2019 Oil on canvas 52 x 60 inches 132.1 x 152.4 cm


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Serenade, 2019 Oil on canvas 52 x 52 inches 132.1 x 132.1 cm


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Confetti, 2019 Oil on canvas 28 x 28 inches 71.1 x 71.1 cm


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Deep Blue Curve, 2019 Oil on canvas 24 x 24 inches 61 x 61 cm


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Dense Tree Row, 2019 Oil on canvas 24 x 26 inches 61 x 66 cm


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Exchange, Orange and Blue, 2019

Oil on canvas 48 x 52 inches 121.9 x 132.1 cm


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On a Green Ground, 2019 Oil on canvas 30 x 52 inches 76.2 x 132.1 cm


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Redwoods, 2019 Oil on canvas 52 x 52 inches 132.1 x 132.1 cm


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Two Levels of Green, One of Orange, 2018

Oil on canvas 52 x 68 inches 132.1 x 172.7 cm


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Woodland Density, 2019 Oil on canvas 52 x 52 inches 132.1 x 132.1 cm


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Green Interstices, 2018

Oil on canvas 22 x 28 inches 55.9 x 71.1 cm


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On a Base of Red (Small Version), 2019 Oil on canvas 22 x 20 inches 55.9 x 50.8 cm


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Spring Woods, 2019

Oil on canvas 30 x 40 inches 76.2 x 101.6 cm


SELECT PUBLIC COLLECTIONS Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, St. Joseph, MO Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

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Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, NC Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, University of California, Berkeley, CA

The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH Canton Museum of Art, Canton, OH Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA Castellani Art Museum, Niagara University, NY Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, Nashville, TN Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College, Winter Park, FL Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
 Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Sedalia, MO David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University, Providence, RI Davis Museum, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, OH


Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, TX

De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA


Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FL

Dubuque Museum of Art, Dubuque, IA

Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI


El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, TX

Hofstra University Museum, Hempstead, NY

Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg, MA Fleming Museum of Art, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT

Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Fogg Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL

Fort Worth Community Arts Center, Fort Worth, TX

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO

Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY

Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MS

George Segal Gallery, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ

List Visual Arts Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA

Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY Hickory Museum of Art, Hickory, NC Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, MA

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Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, MA

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX

Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

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National Academy, New York, NY National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO

Middlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury, VT

Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York, Purchase, NY

Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO

Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV

Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI

New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA

Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, MN

North Dakota Museum of Art, Grand Forks, ND

The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC

Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA

Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, AL

Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Ogunquit, ME

The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, NY

Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA

Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY

Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, MA

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA


Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA

Newark Museum, Newark, NJ


Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ

Syracuse University Art Galleries, Syracuse, NY Tufts University Art Gallery, Medford, MA Tulsa

Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, MA

Performing Arts Center, Tulsa, OK

Rahr-West Art Museum, Manitowoc, WI

University Art Museum, State University of New York, Albany, NY

The Raymond Jonson Collection, University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, NM

University of Colorado Art Museum, Boulder, CO

RISD Museum, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI

University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, FL

The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA

Utah Museum of Fine Arts, The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY

Vero Beach Museum of Art, Vero Beach, FL

Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

The San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA

Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA

Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA

Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto Saint Francis University, Loretto, PA

Yosemite Museum, Yosemite Valley, CA

Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS

Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, Summit, NJ

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Miles McEnery Gallery 520 West 21st Street New York NY 10011 525 West 22nd Street New York NY 10011 tel +1 212 445 0051 www.milesmcenery.com Publication © 2019 Miles McEnery Gallery All rights reserved Essay © 2019 Karen Wilkin Essay © 2019 Sasha Nicholas Photography by Christopher Burke Studio, New York, NY

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Color separations by Echelon, Santa Monica, CA Catalogue layout by McCall Associates, New York, NY ISBN: 978-1-949327-19-9 Cover: Woodland Density (detail), 2019


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