For this exhibition, Kahn presents two recent bodies of work, both employing mediums new to the artist: gelatin silver prints and lead paintings.
For his new series of paintings, Kahn has reproduced eight earlier abstract works—made from complex shaped MDF panels and originally stretched with his signature unpainted linen—using milled lead. Taking his prior compositions as a lexicon of forms to be reworked, Kahn here has swapped out the refined, pale surfaces of his older works for the darkness of elemental metal. The sheet lead Kahn employs reveals the marks of its machine milling in shifting gray surface striations, augmented by the occasional prismatic shimmer.
Lead is the metal from which the ancient alchemists hoped to make gold, but today it is utilized in a wide range of rather more prosaic commercial applications: to dampen noise and mechanical vibrations in buildings, to shield the human body from radiation, to store electrical current in batteries. Kahn’s more typical choice of panel covering, high-gauge linen, is a more refined textile version of the cotton-duck canvas typically used by oil painters from midcentury onward—similarly a common industrial material, used in drop cloths, tent covers, rucksacks, and sandbags. Like the Minimalist sculptors who used industrial fabrics and the postwar European artists who employed lead to engage with notions of gravity and somberness, Kahn’s use of these materials in their raw state underscores their inherent aesthetic, historical, and commercial properties. The artist’s older linen compositions remade in lead take on a weightier cast, their abstract fields of curves and lines coalescing into allusively figurative and architectural shapes.
Along with his re-production of prior abstract compositions, Kahn has revisited his highly personal alphabet of representational subjects—hands, feet, light bulbs, telephones, and clocks, among others—in a series of gelatin silver prints. In the photograph “Untitled”, 2017, Kahn’s own hand appears arrested while reaching across a bare table, the thumbnail conspicuously ragged. Partially obscuring the image are two out-of-focus interlocking squares, each cropped by the picture’s edge, which have been superimposed not via digital editing, but physically: Kahn drew the simple geometric design on a clear lens filter and shot the image through its intervening composition. The squares’ trapezoidal field of overlap provides a rough frame, highlighting where the artist’s fingers meet the palm of his hand, an area of adjoining planes, distinct lines, and muted arrays of tonal value—not unlike the formal qualities of Kahn’s wall constructions featuring this same vocabulary of objects, in which representation and abstraction frequently merge, resolve, and dissolve again. Cloaked by the varying patterns of their respective lens-filter drawings, these familiar sights appear mysterious, riddle-like: quiet, intimate forms that seem to suggest a particular kind of studio-based solitude and engagement: the light bulb a stand-in for inspiration, the hands and feet supports for the hard work of wrestling with obdurate materials, the telephone an emblem of connection or communication.
Accompanying the exhibition is a hardcover catalogue featuring an essay on Kahn’s work by Terry R. Myers.