Piecing Together Wyatt Kahn’s New Paintings

Though only in his early 30s, artist Wyatt Kahn is something of a jack of all trades. In the past year, he has expanded beyond his painting-focused practice to curate an exhibition at New York’s Rachel Uffner Gallery and conceive a puppet show for a Performa’s performance art biennial. His new show at Brussels’ Xavier Hufkens, however, asserts that investigating the formal boundaries of painting remains one of the artist’s chief concerns. 

  • Installation view, Wyatt Kahn at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. Courtesy of Xavier Hufkens, Brussels.

    Installation view, Wyatt Kahn at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. Courtesy of Xavier Hufkens, Brussels.

The paintings on view cleverly blur the line between abstraction and representation. In some ways, the entire show feels like one big optical puzzle. Though various forms—like a watch and a nose—can be deciphered on each canvas, no paint has been applied to their surfaces. Instead, a variety of sliced linen panels have been placed so that, when viewed at the right angle, the panels’ sides come together to form shapes—edges of canvas doubling as drawn lines. The images that result paradoxically materialize out of nothingness. What’s more, the panels that make up each painting have been placed at different depths, with some flush against the wall and others poking towards the viewer. The sense of space produced by this arrangement contrasts with the images’ pictorial flatness to a dizzying effect.

The images conjured by Kahn’s process of piecing forms together extends the conversation between abstraction and representation that he has explored across his body of work. In each piece in this series, a cartoonish outline of a mundane object (feet, a key) is overlaid with a simplistic pattern of shapes (circles, rectangles). Kahn might be seen as humorously layering the most literal interpretations of “abstraction” and “representation” into a single painting. Particularly clever is Perspective (2015). Here, a single detached eye peers upward, covered by a group of off-kilter squares. The eye is wide-open, suggesting wonder or amazement—perhaps a cheeky analogy between the acts of viewing art (perspective in the painterly sense) and interacting with the world (perspective in a psychological sense).

  • Installation view, Wyatt Kahn at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. Courtesy of Xavier Hufkens, Brussels.

    Installation view, Wyatt Kahn at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. Courtesy of Xavier Hufkens, Brussels.

In their optical tricks, Kahn’s paintings breathe new life into testing the limits of painting. His works show that, though painting is a centuries-old medium, there are still new discoveries to be mined from materials as basic as stretcher bars and canvas.


—Andrew Wagner

Wyatt Kahn” is on view at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, Jan. 26–Feb. 27, 2016.

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