New York

Wolf Kahn

Grace Borgenicht Gallery Inc.

Wolf Kahn’s new work explores the possibilities of outrageous color in otherwise highly traditional landscape compositions. Ranging from tiny pastels on paper to very large oils on canvas, these works were completed in a variety of locations, from Vermont to Mexico. All feature Kahn’s signature explosive color combinations: shocking pink, cobalt blue, bloody orange, and ultraviolet. Drawing on an extraordinary sensibility for the permutations of natural light, Kahn makes the most unseemly and unlikely combinations into beautifully coherent works, so much so that each work seems not just striking, but inevitable. Yet who can recall actually seeing such Schiaparelli twilights, such searing-blue afternoon skies?

In Kahn’s paintings the color values and intensities are pushed as far as they will go and still retain a ready resemblance to landscape. Collectively they suggest 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. The real miracle here is that, in spite of their wildness, these works should seem so consistently pleasing and tasteful.

Kahn challenges both avant-garde and traditional expectations: a superb colorist devoted to representation, he’s virtuosic enough in his techniques to dare to be mundane in his subject matter. It’s hard to think of any other serious artist whose subjects—barns, rivers, trees—are so potentially banal, or whose colors so consistently court decorator schemes. But the beauty of these paintings is that, contrary to all expectation, they are never trite. If this show tells us anything, it’s that no matter how consistent Kahn’s work may be, no matter how complacent he may seem, his beautiful colors continuously astound.

Justin Spring