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The Artist's Eye: Wolf Kahn as Curator

February 6 - April 11, 2004


In The Artist's Eye: Wolf Kahn as Curator, the acclaimed painter has selected approximately fifty works from the collection of the National Academy of Design, with a particular focus on what he broadly defines as landscapes. Ranging in date from 1840 to 1996, the paintings chosen reflect "those pictures which it seemed important to show at this time." Included are many of the major figures in American art: Winslow Homer, George Bellows, Richard Estes, Frederic E. Church, and Altoon Sultan, among them.

As curator, Kahn particularly sought to highlight the Academy's rich collection of 19th century landscapes, with selections by such artists as Asher B. Durand, Frederic E. Church, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran and James A. Suydam. He also explored the wide range of mood and techniques of contemporary landscapes, particularly those from the last three decades. Among his 20th century selections are works by Rackstraw Downes, Jane Wilson, Paul Resika, and Esteban Vicente. Romantic visions of the Hudson River School are presented, along with the lyrical abstractions, cityscapes and super-realism of contemporary painters. Relying primarily on his eye, Kahn used such criteria as: "Is the picture coloristically exciting?" or "Is it the carrier of strong feeling?"

A highlight of this exhibition is the display of Asher B. Durand's Morning of Life and Evening of Life, 1840, which, because of their size, are rarely seen together. Typical of the Hudson River School style, the paintings present a moralizing message, an allegory of life as landscape. In the Morning of Life, we see a luscious landscape and lively youthful figures. In contrast, Evening of Life reveals a solitary inactive figure, seated among architectural ruins echoed by a lone dead tree in the verdant landscape. (right: Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886), The Evening of Life, 1840, oil on canvas, 49 3/8 x 83 3/8 inches, Gift of Mrs. Frederick J. Betts, 1911, 387-P)

Conversely, Altoon Sultan's Tractor and Disc Harrow, Pawlett, Vermont, 1987, presents a landscape interrupted and controlled by man. Here Mr. Kahn was interested in the compositional elements of the work, rather than its message. He stated, "The knowing disposition of the elements of this picture is to be noted. Great structure!"

Indeed, most of the works in the exhibition were chosen for purely aesthetic reasons. Wolf Kahn's predilection for loose brushwork and bright colors drew him to similar works, as in Robert DeNiro Sr.'s, Blue Barn in New Hampshire, but he also selected works with artistic concerns totally unrelated to his own. He remarked, "The show is called The Artist's Eye. Let my eye, therefore be the surrogate for yours - we may end up shaking hands in agreement - sometimes."

This exhibition is the seventh in a series initiated in 1990 by the Academy's Council of artists and continued by its Exhibition Committee. Approximately every two years, Academicians (artist members) select one of their own to curate an exhibition of works drawn from the Museum's collection of approximately 2500 paintings, 300 sculptures, and 3,000 works on paper. Past artist-curators include Will Barnet, Paul Cadmus, Jacob Lawrence, Philip Pearlstein, and Wayne Thiebaud. Each has approached the collection from an entirely different point of view.

A special exhibition of Wolf Kahn's own work will also be presented in an adjacent gallery. Wolf Kahn: Nature and Color features approximately twelve landscapes from different phases of the artist's career. Devoted to oils on canvas, this selection will showcase Wolf Kahn's important contribution to the art of landscape painting at the end of the twentieth century. Best known for his depictions of barns and landscapes in brilliant color, Kahn has actually explored a wide range of subjects in a variety of treatments, from the more expressionist mode of his early works to the serene, quasi- abstract vision of his recent work. (right: Wolf Kahn, Pond in November, 1977, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 inches, Gift of Donald S. Crook 1980.15)


About the Curator

Wolf Kahn was born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1927 and immigrated to the United States in 1940. After studying at the Hans Hoffman School, he earned a BA at the University of Chicago. Recent exhibitions include Museum Fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg; Morris Museum of Art, GA; Neuberger Museum, Purchase, NY; American Academy of Arts and Letters, NY; Boca Raton Museum of Art, FL; and the New Britain Museum of Art. Wolf Kahn is represented by Ameringer/Yohe Gallery. He lives and works in New York City.


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