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Kay Kurt
(American, b. 1944)
Jordan Almonds
1975–79
oil on canvas, 72" x 72"
Sax Brothers Purchase Fund

For 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 contemporary life.

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 early 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.

 
 
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