Gary Kuehn: You Are Free, but Not that Free

Exhibition Dates: 
Wednesday, March 1 - Sunday, April 23, 2017

Opening reception: Friday, March 3, 6-8pm

Gary Kuehn: You Are Free, But Not That Free


1969 Gallery is pleased to present You Are Free, but Not That Free, an exhibition of recent work by Gary Kuehn, organized by RJ Supa.

Starting with new works from the Black Paintings – a series that Kuehn began in 1969 - You Are Free, but Not That Free integrates ideas of containment and freedom and ultimately, free will and determinism. 

Kuehn states, “I don’t paint paintings, I make paintings,” giving us insight into his process, which is born of both a sculptural tradition as well as his history as a construction worker.  

The process of creating the Black Paintings closely resembles that of mold making. A wooden frame is temporarily attached to the outside of the canvas, then steel-banding material is clamped to the wood, creating an enclosure that he then pours paint into with a syringe. Circular figures are forced to adjust to the square format of the canvas, pushing against the constraints of geometry. The biomorphic shapes that occur are the result of the struggle with the material. 

The making of the paintings highlights the tension essential to the work. This translates directly to the sculpture where a more explicit, tangible physicality is present, with two or more forms contending for dominance. Kuehn states that,  “the work has to have authority.” 

"This tension between forms has been evident throughout Kuehn’s career. The integrity of the dominant, geometric object is generally left intact, but it has been squeezed, pinched, twisted, or contorted. Through these manipulations, Kuehn establishes intimate terms with formalism. His works are often binary or frustrated, exploring psychological dualities within the language of formal art. These works defy Minimalism and geometry, revealing pure forms to have imperfect bodies by displaying open systems that oscillate between positions of weakness/strength, male/female, dominant/submissive, and posit uncertain outcomes.”

All of his work struggles, and subsequently succeeds, within predetermined limitations: “His forms do not follow function, but rather the material of which they are comprised, adapting and subordinating themselves, being conditioned or manipulated.”

This is perhaps, best illustrated by Containing the Divide, an earlier work from 1991, consisting of two plaster hemispheres secured within a steel enclosure, leaving the viewer to wonder if this is a matter of protection or entrapment.

Gary Kuehn was born in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1939 and today lives in New York City and Wellfleet, Massachusetts. He received his MFA in 1964 from Rutgers University where he went on to become a faculty member in Fine Arts. Kuehn’s work was included in Lucy Lippard’s 1966 exhibition Eccentric Abstraction, and Harald Szeemann’s 1969 When Attitude Becomes Form. His retrospective exhibition Between Sex and Geometry was held at the Kusntmusem Liechtenstein in 2014. Recently his work has been exhibited at the Fondazione Prada, Venice; the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; the Wadsworth Athenauem Museum of Art, Hartford; Michael Haas Galerie, Berlin; and Haeusler Contemporary, Munich.

Gary Kuehn's CV