“Making art is a unique way of being, which we do not possess – a satisfaction that is needed to make a complete experience at all possible. Art makes life comprehensible – life makes art understandable. The first exhibition is that of the artist, the second that of the viewer.”
The US artist Gary Kuehn, born in 1939 in Plainfield, New Jersey, is in fact renowned for his sculptures from the 1960s, which at first glance appear like Minimal Art classics. At a second glance, however, their playful, personal and often contradictory nature creates a surprisingly subtle tension, which has been a common theme running through his stringent and extensive oeuvre for five decades now and is more reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism.
From mid November, the Galerie Michael Haas will show works by Gary Kuehn from different creative periods. With a great feel for the material and a technical knowledge of its properties, Kuehn plays with wood, metal, plaster, polyester, plexiglass, aluminium and steel.” I try all kinds of different things and like to take risks,” he said “because I only make art in order to discover connections.” In contrast to the impersonal, industrial Minimal Art works, Kuehn’s works often show humour, personal issues and a way of life that thrives on the inherent contrasts. Hence the “compulsion of the either-or and the pressure of the as-well-as constantly lead to new contradictions” wrote Dorothea Zwirner in 2006. With a high level of psychological sensitivity, the field of tension these antagonisms open up tells of the power struggle between “letting go and holding on, liberation and restraint, freedom and compulsion, expansion and capitulation," Dorothea Zwirner continues.
What keeps things together and what makes them fall apart again? What effect do they have on the body? What effect does pressure have and what leads to deformations, disruptions and fusions?
The skilled steelworker, who worked for years on a building site and as a roofer, with which he financed his studies in the 1960s at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, went to Berlin for a year in 1979 on a DAAD scholarship. It was here that his Berlin series was created, which was already shown in a solo exhibition in the Galerie Michael Haas in 2009.
In the context of the exhibition “Gary Kuehn - Five Decades”, the new book of the same name, which has just been published by Hatje Cantz, will be presented on the opening night. In the book, the author Dorothea Zwirner provides an extensive overview of the artist’s oeuvre from the last five decades, from his early experimental works to his later and more recent works, which are still to a large extent unknown to a wider audience. The publication has been supplemented with a great deal of information, as well as an extensive interview with the artist held by Donna De Salvo, head curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Text: Anna Hellner