(American, b. 1944)
oil on canvas, 72" x 72"
Sax Brothers Purchase Fund
over thirty years, Kay Kurt has consistently painted and drawn
variations of a single subject: candy. Her preoccupation is
with texture: oily licorice, creamy chocolate, jellied “gummies,” gem-like
hard candies. Here it is the silky surface of Jordan almonds,
filling an ornate silver dish. Like the 17th century Dutch
masters of still life who delighted in replicating the sensuous
surfaces of fruit, flowers, game, fish and crystal, Kurt’s
super-realist depictions are so convincing that we can almost
literally feel, smell and taste them. Their tremendously exaggerated
scale – which mimics the abstract color field painting
trick of overwhelming the eye with color and paint – immediately
gives them away as billboard-size illusions. Given their large
scale it is obvious that the artist is not simply attempting
to create tromp l’oeil (“fool the eye”) images.
As Kurt says, she is more intent on “getting the candies
right,” thereby allowing viewers to experience sensations
of their color, weight, translucency, and texture.
Kurt made the first of these large-scale paintings in 1961
while a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
At that time, her new direction was inspired by a chance encounter
with a box of white chocolates in a store, the search for a
signature subject, and by the Pop art movement of the day,
which had the effect of leveling the playing field between “high” and “low” art,
making anything and everything a worthy subject for painting.
Beginning in England in the mid-1950s, where Richard Hamilton’s
collages of magazine photographs and ads epitomized it, Pop
art took as its subject the places, people and objects of everyday
American artists like Andy Warhol and Roy
Lichtenstein expounded upon these themes in works that simultaneously
celebrated and critiqued consumer and media culture, often
imitating the bold, “hyper” look and feel of advertising
imagery. Because their time frames and use of banal subject
matter overlap, Pop art and Super-realism are inextricably
linked. Where many Super-realist painters’ work from
photographs or projections and use airbrushed acrylic paint,
Kurt works with brushes in oil from a loose sketch on the canvas.
Beginning in the center, she patiently finishes each object,
a process by which it may take as many as five years to complete
a single painting.
As Kurt was just beginning to make her large-scale candy paintings,
she joined a host of other American and European artists already
producing photographically real imagery, among them Audrey
Flack, James Rosenquist, Chuck Close, Julia Fish, Malcolm Morley,
John Baeder, Robert Cottingham, and Franz Gertsch.
as 1968, Kurt began showing at Kornblee Gallery, New York,
which represented many young Pop and super-realist painters.
She lived in Germany in 1968–69, and was included in
Lucy Lippard’s 1969 landmark Pop Art exhibition at the
Hayward Gallery, London. She moved to Duluth in 1969, when
her husband, the Medieval scholar Klaus Jankofsky began teaching
at the University of Minnesota. In 1973, her work was included
in the prestigious Whitney Biennial exhibition. In 1980 the
Walker Art Center of Minneapolis organized Kay Kurt: Paintings,
which traveled to the Tweed Museum of Art. Acquired in 1980,
Kurt’s Jordan Almonds continues to be a popular and engaging
painting for museum visitors.