Howard Kanovitz

Visible Difference

26.03.2017 until 28.05.2017

In the late 1960s, Peter and Irene Ludwig began to grapple with contemporary art: with Fluxus and Nouveau Réalisme as well as with European and in particular with American Pop Art. Already the major exhibition ‘Kunst der sechziger Jahre’ (Art of the Sixties) (Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, 1969) presented, alongside works of the stars of Pop Art now fêted as great classics, such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns, works by Howard Kanovitz. With the encouragement of the art dealer Rudolph Zwirner and the future museum director Klaus Honnef, Peter and Irene Ludwig thus became trailblazers for Pop Art in Germany. Right at the start of their new collecting passion, the Ludwigs acquired a number of works from Kanovitz: The Lovers (1965), The Opening (1967), The Painting Wall, The Water Bucket Stool (1968, acquired in 1969, since 1981 in the mumok, Vienna), and Journal (1972/73).

Having graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, Howard Kanovitz (1929–2009) became assistant to the celebrated Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline (1910–1962). In the mid-1950s he travelled to Italy, Spain and Morocco, and had his first solo exhibition in the Stable Gallery in New York in 1962. After his father’s death in 1963, he studied old family photographs, which strengthened his interest in figural depiction and in the complex relationship between subjectivity, meaning and memory and ultimately turned him away from Abstract Expressionism. His exhibition at the Jewish Museum in 1966 is regarded as the birth of Photorealist painting based on actual photographs.

In 1972 the already famous curator Harald Szeemann (1933–2005) invited Kanovitz, together with the Americans Chuck Close (b. 1940) and Richard Estes (b. 1932), the British painter Malcolm Morley (b. 1931), the Swiss painter Franz Gertsch (b. 1930) as well as the Germans Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) and Sigmar Polke (1941–2010) to take part in the documenta 5 exhibition in Kassel as exponents of photography-based painting. Kanovitz also took part in documenta 6 in 1977. He was given solo exhibitions by the Museum Hedendaagse Kunst in Utrecht, 1973/74, the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, 1974, the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, 1979 (to mark his DAAD scholarship), the Kestner-Gesellschaft (Hanover, 1980), the Kunstverein Freiburg, 1980, and the Forum Kunst Rottweil, 1980. In the following decades he was regularly presented in gallery and group shows, for example at the solo exhibition in the Gana Art Center (Seoul, Korea, 1990).

Although he was present on the art scene in Germany at an early date, and had his works bought by Peter and Irene Ludwig right at the beginning of his career, he did not enjoy an international decisive breakthrough comparable to that of other great artists. Instead, Kanovitz taught at the Pratt Institute in New York, at the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts, founded as the ‘School of Vision’ by Oskar Kokoschka, and at the School of Visual Arts in New York. For his part, Kanovitz was seen by many fellow artists as a source of inspiration and a pioneer in the field of media art. Thus the reference to Howard Kanovitz also opens up new dimensions when looking at works by Christo and by Chuck Close.

The exhibition Visible Difference at the Ludwig Museum, Koblenz, is Kanovitz’s first solo exhibition in a museum since 1980. It offers an opportunity to rediscover this old master of Pop Art and Photorealism, to trace his artistic development through exemplary important works from his œuvre, and to conduct a scholarly exploration of his artistic significance in retrospect.

The title of the exhibition refers to Howard Kanovitz’s lithograph Visible Difference (1980), which illustrates in particular fashion how the artist worked. In the foreground, middle ground and background Kanovitz collages three different planes, which stand for different spheres of reality. In the foreground is a woman’s head in three different, semi-transparent views – from profil perdu via a three-quarter view to full face. The middle ground offers an accumulation of objects reproduced in perspective, four books and a beer can, which are reminiscent of trompe l’œil, while the table-top with its grey cross-hatching pattern seems to be tilted so that it could be seen almost from above. The background consists of an ornamental plane, basically in red, yellow and blue, which at the same time recalls the patterned textiles which formed a key element in the pictorial world of Henri Matisse and led to his famous late Cut-Outs.

It is especially interesting that Kanovitz used photographic material at an early stage, took photographs himself, and deployed them in his works, which were produced in a complex process from collage, drawing, cutting, cross-fading and painting, combining different planes, spaces and perspectives. He himself once put it like this: "Now I am making paintings and sculptural works which involve my interest in appearance, illusion, and character. I use a precisionist approach, crystallizing my images so that they go beyond realism into an area that is similar to trompe-l’oeil. I use my own photography as the source of my painted images." (Howard Kanovitz 1989)

The exhibition Visible Difference seeks to provide a deeper insight into these aspects. It is at the same time a reverence towards Howard Kanovitz’s periods in Germany. The show has assembled numerous important works and documents from a span of more than four decades from the mumok Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Wien, the Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg, the Museum Folkwang, Essen, from imminent private collections as well as The Howard Kanovitz Foundation, New York. In addition, some works from the artist’s estate are being shown in Germany for the first time. The focus is on documenting the genesis of exemplary works on the basis of the artist’s own photographs, the first sketches, the line drawings for the figures created by projection, the cut-out and collaged photo series, the coloured drawings, gouaches and watercolours, all the way to his pastels and paintings.

The exhibition comprises more than a hundred exhibits.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a monographic, catalogue in German and English, which will be distributed by Silvana Editoriale, Milan.

Press conference:       Friday, 24 March, 2017 (11 o’clock)

Opening:                     Sunday, 26 March, 2017 (11 o‘clock)




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