For years, Edmund Kuehn educated his peers on art history with an “encyclopedic knowledge,” but now it’s his own work in the spotlight.
“Edmund Kuehn: The Abstractions” started Nov. 21 and is set to continue through Dec. 31 at the Keny Galleries in German Village. The gallery features about 20 original abstract works of Kuehn from 1955-2005.
A Columbus native, Kuehn was a contemporary artist known for his expressionist and abstract artwork.
“All of his paintings are various, from representational art to abstract art,” said Timothy Keny, co-director of the Keny Galleries. “It shows the function of sophistication of the artist and the emotional essence of his pieces.”
Kuehn’s pieces follow a modern European tradition, Keny said.
“He might have one foot in French baroque, and another foot in 18th century abstract expressionism,” he said.
Kuehn’s work uses strong colors, lines and shapes.
“Great colorist, playful of lines and calligraphic energy in a lot of his works but they’re well structured as well,” Keny said.
Keny said the exquisite quality of Kuehn paintings motivated him and his brother, James, to hold an exhibition for Kuehn.
“This is comprised from one of the finest private collections that his was ever built,” Timothy Keny said. “We felt like they deserved an exhibition, the quality that was selected over the years.”
Keny said most of the contemporary arts are about the immediate reaction of the viewers, but a lasting interest after the initial reaction defines the quality of the piece.
“We want to know ‘does it have a shelf life of more than 10 minutes?’ These works are sophisticated enough — pictorially in 30 years, 50 years, you can still look at it and be stimulated,” said Timothy Keny. “I think that is the work of classic art.”
Kuehn got his degree from Columbus Art School, now Columbus College of Art and Design, back in 1938. He then started to study at the Art Students League of New York from 1938-39 before coming back to Columbus.
Kuehn was a professor at Ohio State in 1940s, and the university had a great influence on Kuehn’s works and personal life, Timothy Keny said.
“That’s where he met his wife actually,” Timothy Keny said. “She was a student there.
“He was really stimulated by the Ohio State University, especially the environment there,” Timothy Keny said. “Edmund was interested in (Hoyt) Sherman’s knowledge of modern arts and color theory,” referring to Kuehn’s peer in the university who helped inspire the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein.
Kuehn also served as one of the earliest curators of the Columbus Museum of Art, Keny said.
Kuehn was responsible for bringing Picasso’s famous “Guernica” to the Columbus Museum of Art in 1941 to raise money for the war effort, and also enjoyed bringing children to the museum to introduce them to art.
“He is a fascinating guy, really humble but extremely knowledgeable,” said James Keny, the co-director of the Keny Galleries.
“Tim and I got together with him all the time for lunch,” James Keny said. “(We’d have) talks about art mainly — and listen to his analysis of the works. He could walk up to a painting and tell you why it works and didn’t work. The structure, design and used of colors.”
Kuehn, who Tim Keny credited with an “encyclopedic knowledge of art,” died in 2011 at the age of 94.
Scott Cavet, a local artist, said he appreciates the artworks and enjoys the gallery’s intimate environment.
“The gallery is great,” Cavet said. “People are very friendly and welcoming. The home feeling of this place just gives you a kind of warm feeling. You feel emotional when you walk in.
“I like abstract art,” Cavet continued. “It’s all about the emotional feel when it hits to me. (The imagery) really captures my attention and brings me in to it.”
Timothy Keny said there is an urgent need for Ohio to have more high commercial arts galleries and they are trying to play that role.
“People felt they had to go to New York, Chicago and Toronto to acquire the great art,” Timothy Keny said. “We felt that’s not necessarily needed to be the case. It’s important to show high quality works and educate people better by showing them the history of arts and do that with interesting exhibitions.”