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Deborah Kass (born 1952) is an American artist whose work explores the intersection of pop culture, art history, and the self.
Life and work
Deborah Kass received her BFA in Painting at Carnegie Mellon University, and studied at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program and the Art Students League of New York. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Jewish Museum (New York); Museum of Fine Art, Boston; Cincinnati Museum of Art; New Orleans Museum; National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute; Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums; and Weatherspoon Museum, among others, as well as numerous public and private collections.
In 2012 Kass's work was the subject of a mid-career retrospective Deborah Kass, Before and Happily Ever After at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA. An accompanying catalogue published by Rizzoli, included essays by noted art historians Griselda Pollock, Irving Sandler, Robert Storr, Eric Shiner and writers and filmmaker Brooks Adams, Lisa Leibmann and John Waters.
Kass's work has been shown nationally and internationally including at the Venice Biennale, the Istanbul Biennale, the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, the Museum of Modern Art, The Jewish Museum, New York, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A survey show, Deborah Kass, The Warhol Project traveled across the country from 1999-2001. She is a Senior Critic in the Yale University M.F.A. Painting Program.
Kass is represented by Vincent Fremont and the Paul Kasmin Gallery.
Art History Paintings 1989–1992
In Kass’s first significant body of work, the Art History Paintings, she combined frames lifted from Disney cartoons with slices of painting from Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, and other contemporary sources. Establishing appropriation as her primary mode of working, these early paintings also introduced many of the central concerns of her work to the present. Before and Happily Ever After, for example, coupled Andy Warhol’s painting of an advertisement for a nose job with a movie still of Cinderella fitting her foot into her glass slipper, touching on notions of Americanism and identity in popular culture.
The Warhol Project 1992–2000
In 1992 Kass began The Warhol Project. Beginning in the 1960s, Andy Warhol’s paintings employed methods lifted from mass production to depict iconic American products and celebrities. Using Andy Warhol’s technical and stylistic language to represent figures in many cases no less iconic, Kass nevertheless turned Warhol’s ambivalent relationship to popular culture on its head by choosing subjects that had an explicitly personal and political relationship to her own cultural interests. Kass painted artists and art historians that were her “heroes”, like Cindy Sherman and Elizabeth Murray, Robert Rosenblum and Linda Nochlin, in the vein of Warhol’s celebrities. In The Jewish Jackie Series she painted Barbra Streisand, a celebrity with whom she closely identifies, after Warhol’s paintings of Jackie Onassis and Marilyn Monroe. Her My Elvis series speak to gender and ethic identity by replacing Warhol’s Elvis with Barbra Streisand from Yentl: a 1983 film in which Streisand plays a Jewish woman who dresses and lives as a man in order to receive an education in the Talmudic Law. Kass’s Self Portraits as Warhol nod to the act of drag performed in her all appropriation of Warhol’s work.
Feel Good Paintings for Feel Bad Times 2002–present
In 2002, Kass began a new body of work, feel good paintings for feel bad times, inspired, in part, by her reaction to the Bush administration. These works combine stylistic devices from a wide variety of post-war painting, including Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and Ed Ruscha, along with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Laura Nyro, and Sylvester, among others, pulling from popular music, Broadway show tunes, the Great American Songbook, Yiddish, and film. The paintings view American art and culture of the last century through the lens of that time period’s outpouring of creativity that was the result of post-war optimism, a burgeoning middle class, and democratic values. Responding to the uncertain political and ecological climate of the new century in which they have been made, Kass’s work looks back on the 20th century critically and simultaneously with great nostalgia, throwing the present into high relief. Drawing, as always, from the divergent realms of art history, popular culture, political realities, and her own political and philosophical reflection, the artist continues into the present the explorations that have characterized her paintings since the 1980s in these new hybrid textual and visual works.
Selected solo exhibitions
- Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY, "Deborah Kass: My Elvis+" (2013)
- Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburg, PA, "Deborah Kass: Before and Happily Ever After" (2012-2013)
- Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY, "MORE feel good paintings for feel bad times" (2010)
- Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY, "feel good paintings for feel bad times" (2007)
- Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC, "Deborah Kass: The Warhol Project" (2001)
- University Art Museum, University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, "Deborah Kass: The Warhol Project" Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, Houston, TX, "Deborah Kass: The Warhol Project" (2000)
- Newcombe Art Gallery, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, "Deborah Kass: The Warhol Project (traveling, catalogue) (1999)
- Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LA (1998)
- Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Kansas City, MO, "My Andy: a retrospective" (catalogue) (1996)
- Jose Freire Fine Art, New York, NY, "My Andy: a retrospective" Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LA (1995)
- Barbara Krakow Gallery, Boston, MA (1994)
- Jose Freire Fine Art, New York, NY, "Chairman Ma" Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LA (1993)
- fiction/nonfiction, New York, NY, "The Jewish Jackie Series and My Elvis" Simon Watson, New York, NY, "The Jewish Jackie Series" (1992)
- Simon Watson Gallery, New York, NY (1990)
- Scott Hanson Gallery, New York, NY (catalogue) (1988)
- Baskerville and Watson Gallery, New York, NY (1986)
- Baskerville and Watson Gallery, New York, NY (1984)
2012: Shiner, Eric C., with Lisa Liebman, Brooks Adams, Griselda Pollock, Irving Sandler, Robert Storr and John Waters, 'Deborah Kass: Before and Happily Ever After,' Rizzoli, New York.
2010: Katz, Jonathan D. and David C. Ward, eds., HIDE/ SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, exhibition catalog, Smithsonian Books, Washington DC
2006: Wagner, Frank, Kasper Konig, Julia Freidrich, eds., The Eighth Square, Gender, Life, and Desire in the Arts since 1960, exhibition catalog, Museum Ludwig, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Germany
2006: Bloom, Lisa, Jewish Identities in American Feminist Art, Routledge, New York, NY
2004: Higgs, Matthew, Likeness: Portraits of Artists by Other Artists, exhibition catalogue, CAA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art and Independent Curators International, San Francisco, CA
1999: Plante, Michael, ed. (with essays by Maurice Berger, Linda Nochlin, Robert Rosenblum, and Mary Anne Staniszewski), Deborah Kass: The Warhol Project, exhibition catalog, Newcombe Art Gallery, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
1998: Bright, Deborah, ed., The Passionate Camera, Photography and Bodies of Desire, Routledge, New York, NY
1997: Schor, Mira, Wet, On Painting, Feminism, and Art Culture, Duke University Press, Durham, NC
1996: Kleeblatt, Norman L and Linda Nochlin, Too Jewish?: Challenging Traditional Identities, exhibition catalog, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ
1996: James, Jamie, Pop Art Colour Library, Phaidon Press Ltd., London, England
1995: Blake, Nayland, Lawrence Rinder, Amy Scholder, eds., In A Different Light; Visual Culture, Sexual Identity, Queer Practice, exhibition catalogue, City Lights Books, San Francisco, CA
1993: Chernow, Barbara A. and George A. Vallasi, eds., "American Art," The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition, Columbia University Press, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA