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Wolf Kahn. Photo: Miles McEnery Gallery.
Wolf Kahn. Photo: Miles McEnery Gallery.

Wolf Kahn (1927–2020)

German artist Wolf Kahn, whose controlled, atmospheric oil and pastel landscapes fused realism and Color Field painting, has died at the age of ninety-two. In addition to his seventy-year painting practice, Kahn cofounded the Hansa Gallery, one of the many midcentury co-ops on Tenth Street, which showed the work of George Segal, Jane Wilson, and Lucas Samaras, among other artists. Kahn’s wife of more than six decades, the painter Emily Mason, died last December.

Richly infused with explosive color combinations, his representational paintings of traditional landscape subject matter—hillsides, trees, barns—were described by Justin Spring in the October 1993 issue of Artforum as a “particularly chemical experience of nature: no gentle Keatsian or Wordsworthian ode, but, rather, something primal, bizarre, perhaps drug-induced, a moment when either from sheer fatigue or total derangement, rational thought gives way to an unconscious absorption of the world in its full complexity.”

Kahn was born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1927, and emigrated to the United States in 1940. After graduating from the High School of Music & Art in New York, he spent time in the Navy and went on to study under Hans Hoffman on the GI Bill, eventually becoming the Abstract Expressionist’s studio assistant. Upon completing an art degree at the University of Chicago, Kahn returned to New York in the early 1950s and founded the Hansa Gallery while establishing his own practice.

In a feature titled “Painters Reply” in the September 1975 issue of this magazine, Kahn wrote: “Painting continues to be image-making at its highest, most direct and most flexible level. It is at once furthest removed from the everyday world . . . and at the same time painting can include the most intimate symbolic correspondences with life rhythms and life experiences in general, as well as with human aspirations of the most rarified kind.” His work has been collected by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.