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Oral history interview with Wolf Kahn, 1977 Nov. 28-1978 Jan. 6

Kahn, Wolf, 1927-

Painter

Overview

Collection Information

Size: Sound recording: 2 sound tape reels ; 5 in.

Transcript: 167 p.

Summary: Interview of Wolf Kahn, conducted by Paul Cummings for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution in his New York City studio, on November 28, 1977 and January 16, 1978.

Kahn speaks of being raised by his grandparents in Germany in the 1930s; coming to England via the children's transport prior to the outbreak of World War II; emigrating to the US after the war; joining the Navy; his art classes at the Hofmann School; his early exhibitions in New York and involvement at the Hansa Gallery; living in Oregon; his artistic influences, including Bonnard, Van Gogh, Kokoschka, and Soutine; the New York art scene in the 1950s, including at the Artists' Club; meeting his wife Emily; the change in his style after visiting Venice; his use of colors and pastels; exhibiting at Grace Borgenicht's Gallery; his experiences teaching art at Haystack and other schools; the idea of the "problem" in formalist art; his working methods; and his impressions of contemporary art and art students. Kahn also recalls Barnett Newman, Meyer Schapiro, Franz Klein, Willem de Kooning, Stuart Davis, Hans Hofmann, Joan Mitchell, Felix Pasilis, Clement Greenberg, Stefan Wolpe, Allan Kaprow, Fairfield Porter, Tom Hess, Richard Bellamy, Grace Borgenicht, Frank O'Hara, Milton Avery, Jim Dine, and others.

Biographical/Historical Note

Wolf Kahn (1927- ) is a painter from New York, N.Y.

Provenance

These interviews are part of the Archives' Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and others.

Funding

Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.

Transcript

Preface

The following oral history transcript is the result of a recorded interview with Wolf Kahn on November 28, 1977 and January 16, 1978. The interview took place in Kahn's studio in New York, NY, and was conducted by Paul Cummings for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. This transcript has been lightly edited for readability by the Archives of American Art. The reader should bear in mind that they are reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.

Interview

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Today is the 28th of November, 1977, Paul Cummings talking to Wolf Kahn in his studio, 813 Broadway, where you've been for 20 years?

WOLF KAHN:  Twenty-seven.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Twenty-seven years now?

WOLF KAHN:  Twenty-six, 26. I'm a beacon of stability in a world of change.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] At least you don't have to worry about where you're going to go.

[Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know, I've been—at least 10 times, I've been threatened to be thrown out.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  In fact, I've—I mean, I've constantly stayed, and the people that I've shared the studio with have constantly been thrown out. One by attacking the landlord, you know, one—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Then I had Bob DeNiro here to listen to a Billie Holliday record, the same record, one of the last ones she did before she died, which was all, you know, down.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Heavy, you know, and he just kept going all night long the same record. Finally, I threw him out.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Anyway, why don't we start at the beginning and do some kind of family background and history? You were born in Stuttgart, right?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  1927, October 4. You just had a birthday.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. Fiftieth birthday. [inaudible]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Good. And you grew up there until 1939 when you went to Britain?

WOLF KAHN:  No. I lived in Frankfurt most of my childhood.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You did?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Ah.

WOLF KAHN:  With my grandmother, because my father emigrated very soon after. He was the conductor of the Stuttgart Philharmonic and lost his job. [Inaudible] for being Jewish.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I see. So you started out with all that.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. And he left—

WOLF KAHN:  He left immediately and went—he conducted awhile for the pope in Rome for recording purposes and conducted for—did the Havana symphony in Cuba, but he didn't like the climate, and finally ended up in the U.S.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh. So you had somebody to come to?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yes. Oh, yes. He got here in 1935. I didn't get here until 1940.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Well, how did you grow up then, with, what, your grandparents?

WOLF KAHN:  My grandmother.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Your grandmother?

WOLF KAHN:  In Frankfurt.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  In Frankfurt.

WOLF KAHN:  And she was a wealthy lady, grande dame. I lived a very sheltered childhood. It was really when we were afraid to get out on the streets, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, what was it like as a child growing up in the '30s in Germany?

WOLF KAHN:  In Hitler Germany? It wasn't very pleasant. I mean, I had a very pleasant childhood anyway, but it was not because of that, but in spite of the conditions.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You had more rules "don't" than—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, you know, you had to be careful about going into certain stores because they treat you nasty. And certain, like, movies after certain—after 1938, they had signs, "Jews are not allowed," things like that. On certain days you just didn't show up on the street because all the Gentile children had Hitler Youth uniforms on, so it was all too easy to see who the Jewish kids were. And they were up for grabs. Anybody could beat them up, you know? In fact, you felt very self-righteous about it. I was beaten up by a bunch of grownups with my bicycle broken on the way to school one day. I mean, it was a very strange period in history.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Sure. A strange, terrifying experience, wasn't it?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it wasn't very pleasant. But as soon as I was home, I was surrounded by luxury and comfort and harmony most of the time, you know. In fact, there was a—when I was 11, there was a period after the famous Kristallnacht, where all the synagogues were burnt and things like that happened. And there was a period when the Jewish school that I attended, perforce, was closed because all the teachers had been taken to concentration camps for so-called protective custody. And my friend Hans Eberstadt [ph] and I were just terribly pleased because it meant we could play with the lead soldiers for an uninterrupted period of two months, you know, three months. So we set up these huge battles on my grandmother's big sewing table, which lasted for weeks on end, you know. And just couldn't get on the street, that's all, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So you just stayed home?

WOLF KAHN:  Stayed home. We thought it was a lark. You know, no school.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And then it was less of a lark, and we finally got back to school. We saw the old teachers, the ones that survived. And their black hair had turned white and things like that. And you could see that everybody had gone through something rather sinister, and nobody would talk about it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative], mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  You know, not a word was spoken.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. To the children?

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, to the children. But grownups in those days had—maybe this is no longer possible. But the grownups in those days had a feeling that there was such a thing as the child's world and an adult world. And the two should be kept separate so that, even though the adult world intruded all too much into the child's—

[Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  I think that happened in—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Victorian? Nineteenth century?

WOLF KAHN:  It happened in the bourgeoisie in Europe, all over.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  It wasn't particularly German. You know, probably in England, too. And certain things children were not supposed to understand, in fact, they didn't and still don't, you know. Such as the breakup of parents, and so forth. And all was hidden from them for their own good so to speak, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And I felt like even though we had fugitives in our apartment—my cousin came in all pale or from Cologne, because he was being hunted by the Gestapo. We put him up in the upstairs attic, you know, all hidden. But I asked why. My grandmother was very loathe to tell me why, you know, because this was the adult world—you shouldn't know. You shouldn't know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No, no. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Of course, it was silly because it was all around. Of course, we knew.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, you lived in a house then?

WOLF KAHN:  I lived in an apartment in a solid middle-class neighborhood in Frankfurt. My grandmother was the widow of a banker. She had lots of money, which slowly, of course, disappeared by confiscation, mostly.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  And she ended up being killed in Theresienstadt, you know, along with a lot of others. My other grandparents, too, you know, because they—somehow nobody really felt it was absolutely crucial to leave. They knew that the young people had to leave because there was no future in Germany.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right, right.

WOLF KAHN:  Old people, they let it all creep up on them. They were in no hurry to leave. You know, that was their city. They lived there. They had money. They had positions, still. We had a maid, until the very end, a Gentile maid. A strange period.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, yeah. Do you think that's informed your thinking either about your art or—

WOLF KAHN:  I'm sure one of the things that it's done to me or for me—I'm not sure which—it's made me into a rather slow-to-change person. You know, I've had all the change I've wanted in my life, you know? What a way to start with. And people who are ready to throw out the present for the future, I have no sympathy for. Because I know the future isn't going to be any better, it's likely to be worse, you know. And so I figure, you know, it behooves me to look at what's around and to treasure those things which I find useful and beautiful, you know? And same thing with friends, I never give up any friends, you know. Even if they sometimes behave badly, I find some excuses for them, you know. I've never—I'm one of the few people I know who has had a perfectly successful marriage, you know. I told my wife the other day I intend to grow old with her, you know. In fact, I already have.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  [Inaudible.] And although I think the, you know, this idea of being a landscape painter might have something to do with it because, after all, landscape is something which might be searching for roots. I've said that elsewhere.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Kind of a close grab onto nature.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. Nature is unchanging, which, you know, gives you solidity.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What kind of schools did you go to?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I went—before I left high school I attended 15 different schools.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  In Frankfurt.

WOLF KAHN:  No, no. In Frankfurt, I only attended seven.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, we were handed sort of from one school to another. And then I went to England. In England, I went to two schools. And then I went to America. And my father was on the move. He lived first in the suburbs.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What kind of schools did you go to in—

WOLF KAHN:  In Germany?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —in Germany?

WOLF KAHN:  I went to very good schools. I went to the—first I went to the Volksschule, which is the Germany elementary school, which was a decent school. Then we couldn't—the Jewish kids were separated, and given a Jewish teacher, but still within the confines of the Volksschule . Then I got beaten up too much in the yard, you know, by the Gentile kids. By Nazi kids.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But you would go to the same building?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You'd just be put in that room?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, right, right. And then it was thought better for our sakes to put us into the Jewish—there was a very old and very prestigious school in Frankfurt called the Philanthropie, which is a gymnasium in which—which was kept by the Jewish community.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I see.

WOLF KAHN:  And it was an excellent school. And of course, since the teachers who worked for the state no longer had positions in the schools, they all, they could only teach at the Jewish school. So we had professors from the university teaching us history and philsophy and so on. Really good teachers.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  The only good place they would have a job.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How many of the students, though, were involved with the Hitler Youth business? Many? A few?

WOLF KAHN:  The German students?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  All of them.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  You had to. Everybody. It's the Jewish students who weren't allowed to be. In fact, my feeling toward the whole Nazi business was feeling terribly left out. I cried tears that I couldn't be a Hitler Youth, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  I saw a parade going down, you know, with the mast standards of, you know—and all the German kids were little militarists anyway, you know, or were in those days. Hopefully, they're not anymore, but I doubt it. But in those days, we all played with soldiers and, you know, we just loved everything having to do with the military, including the Jewish kids, because after all we grew up in, this German ethos. And there wasn't any separate Jewish ethos that we grew up in, but it was sort of forced upon us as we got older.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really? I didn't realize that.

WOLF KAHN:  We grew up and our families were assimilated families, especially in Frankfurt. The religious Jews, who were mostly the Jews from the East, you know, who settled in Frankfurt. And they were riffraff. You know, the German Jews looked down on them.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  The whole [inaudible] business. Yeah. Why is that? I mean, in New York if you belong to the Harmony Club it's better than if you belong to—

WOLF KAHN:  Right.

[Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  That still exists.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Very strange.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And, well, it's because the German Jews earlier belonged to the general culture, you know. The Eastern Jews kept their—they stayed together and kept their individual culture.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  The Jewish culture. But they had their own language. They didn't participate in the general Western culture, which was—and of course now I look at people who grew up within that Jewish culture, and I envy them terribly.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Every time—Meyer Shapiro, I love to talk with him about Jewish culture, you know. One time Meyer and Barney [ph] Newman, we all went to Franz Kline's funeral. And it was a very shameful performance, that funeral, because you could see that all the people got up to speak—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  For their own [inaudible]?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, yeah. Were trying to prove what great friends of Franz's they were. And actually, the lady who had taken care of Franz in his declining days wasn't even there. Because of some kind of envy, spite—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  From some kind of thing. Anyway, all the vibes from that funeral were wrong.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I know, yeah. I remember a lot of people talking about it.

WOLF KAHN:  Barney and Meyer went out and they said—we asked, "Well how come such-and-such wasn't allowed to speak?" It was like Franz's greatest friend. And Meyer said to Barney—"I guess he doesn't have enough yuchas [ph]." So this is a word I'd never heard before. You know, in Germany, words like this don't exist among German Jews. They might know what meshuga means or something like that. But yuchas [ph]—that's already too complex.

And then they went into this long disquisition about what yuchas [ph] is, you know. And I was fascinated. It was a whole very interesting—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So you grew up with German, I mean, no Hebrew, not Yiddish or any of that?

WOLF KAHN:  I learned Hebrew in the Philanthropie.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Ah, yes.

WOLF KAHN:  But I forgot it all.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  I could probably pick it up again quite quickly, if I wanted to.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, you know, living in a nice house with a lot of music interests, obviously—

WOLF KAHN:  Also art, I had art lessons, for example, I always drew. From the time I was five years old, I was known as a prodigy of drawing, you know. When I was five, I drew the Emperor Haile Selassie with his whole family, including the guy who carries the umbrella.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, my, right.

WOLF KAHN:  Because it was the Abyssinian war.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And these came out of newspapers?

WOLF KAHN:  Right, right. And they were even selling soldiers in the—toy soldiers, you know, of the Emperor of Abyssinia and all this stuff. And it was very much in the—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  In the air.

WOLF KAHN:  —in the air.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I drew that. And I drew orchestras. I loved to draw musicians, I suppose because of my father, you know, conductors and so forth. And I was very proud that I knew, for example, how the French horn was held. And I could draw that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yes.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, as against the tuba, which was wrapped around somebody's stomach. I could draw all those things when I was five years old, you know. And I mean, I conscientiously used to go to the promenade concerts in the Botanical Gardens in Frankfurt in order to draw how these people carried their instruments. You know, had a hell of a time with the violin, you know, because the bow arm. And even now it's complicated to draw—you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Was this encouraged? Or did they—

[Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, my grandmother thought it was marvelous. By the time I was nine, I was given private lessons.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  By whom?

WOLF KAHN:  By a lady named Fraulein von Jerden [ph]. She was an aristocratic lady who was a paintress and gave private lessons to a few select students.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What did she have you do?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, she set out a bowl of peaches. And I painted the peaches in oil. And she taught me how to paint the fuzz on the peaches, you know. You mixed up a little bit of white with the glazing medium, and, you know, run it over your peaches that you had painted when they're dry, and you put the fuzz.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So you started very early.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, she taught me how to bind a book. I'll show it to you afterwards. I still have that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's fantastic.

WOLF KAHN:  It was kept by my grandmother, before she went off to concentration camp, gave it to her maid to keep for me till after the war. And I got all these things after the war. It's really quite astonishing.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Very interesting. How did she find you and you find her, though? I mean the maid?

WOLF KAHN:  I don't quite remember how that went. I think my brother, who was in the Army in Germany, looked her up. And then she said, "Oh, incidentally, I have the old drawings that Wolf made." My brother brought them back.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's fantastic. Did he leave Germany with you or before you?

WOLF KAHN:  No, earlier, because he's older.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh. [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Peter Kahn. And he's a painter also. But he teaches at Cornell.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How did both of you become painters? That's kind of unusual.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, my mother was very talented as a painter, also, you know, and drawing. She must have been quite an astonishing woman in general, although she died when I was very small and I never really knew her. And also, my father's uncle was a painter.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Who was he?

WOLF KAHN:  His name was Max Kahn, and he won a prize in the Salon in Paris. But he was very wealthy—you know, in these German upper bourgeois families, it was sort of like that, as long as the business which could be carried on by the oldest, and then the next-to-oldest could follow intellectual pursuits.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And Uncle Max wanted to be a painter, and his brother was—carried on the bank. So he was allowed to do what he wanted, was encouraged to.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  To carry on. Did you read much as a child?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, tremendous, tremendous.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What kind of books were available?

WOLF KAHN:  I was a serious little kid. I read the history of Frederick the Great illustrated by Menzel. And I used to—of course, that was a great inspiration, too, because was all these soldiers.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, and Frederick.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes Frederick, Friedrich der Grosse. And their drawings were really good.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Menzel was marvelous. Adolph Menzel? Do you know him?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  He was a marvelous illustrator.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Was this Munich?

WOLF KAHN:  I don't know if he was or not. He was an Impressionist painter, also. Not even all that bad. And I read Greek myths. And I read—then I remember anytime I was ill, my aunt, who was also a great lady with a huge library, used to come and bring me Knochvoos's [ph] books. Knochvoos made the Kunstlermonographie, which is monographs of artists. And I would get Reubens, Velasquez. Each time I was ill I got another artist. [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What a way to build a library.

WOLF KAHN:  I had a good art library when I was a kid. And some of those books I still have.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Do you?

WOLF KAHN:  I brought them over.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Do you know why they decided to get you out at that time and not earlier?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, at that time—no, I left two weeks before the war began. I was one of the last children's transports. By that time, everybody knew that things were about to bust loose and you'd better get the hell out of there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And the British, in 1939, to their general credit, passed a law whereby German refugee children could enter the country as long as an English family was found that would sign an affidavit that these children would never become charges of the state.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right, right, right.

WOLF KAHN:  And I had a cousin—my aunt by that time was in London. I had a cousin who was a student at Cambridge. And he talked around, and he found a professor at Cambridge University—the University of Cambridge—who took me in.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So you—

WOLF KAHN:  So I came to England in July of 1939. The war broke out on August 1st, I think. It was high time.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You just made it.

WOLF KAHN:  Just made it, with a number around my neck, you know, so that they could recognize who I was.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, what was that like, I mean, to leave where you—to go to—

WOLF KAHN:  It was terrible. It was terrible.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Different languages and countries—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, the language was no problem because I'd had a British governess. I was bilingual.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, you had?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. But the thing that made it hard, first of all, was the first—for the first time I was really on my own, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Had you tried it anywhere before?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. I'd gone to a children's colony, you know, in the summertime before so I wasn't completely scared to leave home or something like that. But what was scary about it was the fact I didn't know these people. You know, and in fact, as soon as they saw me, I could see they were very unfriendly.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And were they, in fact?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yes, they were in fact, because this Professor Wade thought he was doing a very humanitarian thing. And in fact, he was. He was saving my life. But he wanted to have a real refugee, you know, with rickets and dark under the eyes and so on.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I see.

WOLF KAHN:  Here was this fat little kid who had just come from very, a very well-to-do household, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He couldn't really save you.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, yeah. He couldn't do anything with me. I spoke English already, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  There was nothing to do with me, for me, you see. And he felt—and also, my arrival had been anticipated by the arrival of a bicycle and a huge steamer trunk.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  As soon as he saw those things, he felt that his dreams were evaporating in smoke.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That was even worse. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  So then when I came, he said, "Now, I want to see you in my study." And he invited me down to the study. The very first day I was there, and he said, "I see that I'm the victim of a fraud."

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Did he?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. "And your family could very well have kept you or found some other means of dealing with you. And the only way I know how to protect myself is to give you the status of a servant here." This was like two days out of my grandmother's house, you know.

[Cross talk.]

And so I immediately got—he said, "Now, your position will be that you will get up at five o'clock in the morning"—it was like out of Dickens, you know. "You will shine the family's shoes. Then you will go down into the kitchen and ask what needs to be done there. After that, I expect you to work for the gardener," and so forth and so on.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He had a real regime laid out for you.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yes, oh, yes. And I had to take care of the children, be a companion to the two younger children, and so on and so forth, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Did that work? I mean, did you really do all that?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I did it all, because I had no choice. I had nowhere else to go, you know, and that was my home.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And in the meantime, he immediately let the Jewish committee know that he was dissatisfied with his refugee, and he wanted another one, or none at all, just certainly get rid of this one.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Welcome to England, right?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. So at any rate, they found another family for me who were lower middle class, where he had been upper middle class. And the second family was just as nice and sweet as can be. The first thing they said to me is, "I want you to call me Mommy and Daddy." And they had a little boy. And I'm still in touch with them.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Are you?

WOLF KAHN:  And we're, you know. And my class bias come from that, you know. Since then I've always been very dubious about the rich, and much more in favor of the less fortunate.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, how did you go to school in England?

[Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  I started to go to school in the fall. Yes, as soon as I went with the Purposes [ph], my second family. They put me in the Cambridge and County High School for Boys. I immediately started doing very well because I was a good student. I've always been a good student.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And you knew English?

WOLF KAHN:  I knew English. I knew English grammar far better than any of the British boys did, you know? I immediately became number one boy in English in the class.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] How did they all take to that?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, they thought I was a great exotic, you know. Nobody knew how to pronounce my name. You have to realize, in 1939, there were no foreigners in England.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yes.

WOLF KAHN:  You know what I mean? England is a very, very isolated country.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Well, how did you like it? I mean, as far as going to school?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, it was a great adventure. I loved it. You know, as soon as I found a nice home.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But you were only there about a year and you left England?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  In '40?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Well, a year is a long time. I still remember every day of that year, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah?

WOLF KAHN:  Sure.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  A lot of transitions?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. It was very intense.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How did they get you from Germany there? I mean, you have to, what? By a train across France?

WOLF KAHN:  No, through Holland.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Through Holland, okay.

WOLF KAHN:  Then on a boat.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And there was a good transport, childrens' transport. It was arranged by the Jewish committee, joint distribution committee.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So there were hundreds of children?

WOLF KAHN:  Hundreds of children, yeah. We all had nametags, number tags, rather.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Around our necks. You know, we were—herded.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  A strange children's crusade, sort of.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Exodus.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah, there's a lady who writes about—Lottie something or other. I forgot—Laura something, who wrote a book about that, about going to England as a child. I forgot her last name, Laure Blau [ph], I think.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, how did you then get taken from England to the United States?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, then, you see, what happened is that—and the reason I couldn't leave the United States is because—I mean, Germany and go directly to the U.S. was because they had the immigration laws, you see.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  And each country—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Had so many—

WOLF KAHN:  —had a quota. See, the Germans had 10,000 a year. So my number was 60,000. By the time they got me registered in the consulate, I was 60,000. Once I was in England, there was a different quota. And nobody from England wanted to go to United States anyway. See?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Ah.

WOLF KAHN:  So I became—I got in the English quota, and I could leave whenever the hell I wanted to, you see.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Wow.

WOLF KAHN:  It's stupid bureaucratic things that happen. Fortunately, those kind of things don't quite happen like that anymore. There's a little progress, like when they had the Hungarian Revolution and things. That whole border thing I don't think exists now.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah. I mean, if you're a Canadian who wants to live here, it will take you years to get your green card.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, anyway, with my quota number, I would have left in '46. By that time I would have been a pile of bones, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. That's incredible. So, you left England and came here?

WOLF KAHN:  And my father was living in Montclair, New Jersey. And he had finally gotten—by hook or crook, after many ups and downs, mostly downs, he got himself a job as a professor of music at Montclair State, part-time job. And everybody was working. My brothers had jobs. My sister was 18. She was 17, she was a senior in high school. But she kept a whole household. And I sort of helped her.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So you lived in Montclair?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  For a few years?

WOLF KAHN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. For a year, for a year. And then we moved to Caldwell, New Jersey. First we went to another house in Montclair, which meant I again had to change schools. And then we moved to Caldwell, which meant I again changed schools. Then from Caldwell, we moved to New York, where my father immediately called up a Mr. Moskowitz, who was on the board of education, because he wanted to put me in the high school of music and art. And he thought that influence was needed. So he was told that influence would avail him naught. But I passed my test with no problem.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Your influence was [inaudible].

WOLF KAHN:  Right. Virtue triumphed.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, how did you decide music and art? Because that's the sort of free-wheeling [inaudible].

WOLF KAHN:  That had—kind of called a free-wheeling place. Was rather structured, stiff. As American high schools go, very, very solid. But I went to sleep the day I got in there and never woke up till I graduated.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why?

WOLF KAHN:  Because it was so easy. After European schooling, American schooling, on the high school level it's a laugh.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What's the difference?

WOLF KAHN:  There's no work. You don't do any work. You know, I was used to going to school at 7:30 in the morning and getting out in the afternoon at 4:30 at Philanthropie, and even in English public school, you know. And you know, everybody took three types of math, three foreign languages. I think they had something like nine periods of study a day. And in high school, you know, I mean, they don't believe in America in putting any pressure on kids, for God's sakes. They might warp them. Psychologically might ruin them completely, as it undoubtedly did me.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] So did you have painting classes, drawing classes, music and art?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. They had three hours of art a day, which was very nice, you know. And I don't think I learned much, but I certainly practiced a lot of things, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Were there any instructors you remember or teachers?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. There was a good watercolor teacher who studied with Hans Hofmann.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, yes. And her name was Ms. Ridgeway, Helen Ridgeway. And she was—she had the reputation of being a very good teacher. She was kind of a tough old lady, you know. Very enthusiastic when somebody did something wild, you know, colorful, bright, free. And I never—I don't think she was ever that taken with me because I wasn't particularly interested in being free.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What were you doing then?

[Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  Rendering. My big hero all through Music and Art was Norman Rockwell, except later on I decided, well, I really didn't want to be an illustrator. I'd much rather be a political cartoonist. So then my big hero became David Low.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Where did you discover him?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, he was all over. I first discovered him in England. But he was all over.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What did your family think of this?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, my father, you know—my father always took it for granted that I would do something in art.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And later on—and then I did some cartoons, and one of them was published in PM. And my father—at one time when I was at Hofmann's or after, when I was struggling, he said to me—I showed him some work, and he couldn't make heads or tails out of it, it was abstract or something like that, or almost abstract. And he said, "Well, I don't know. I always thought you were going to be a cartoonist."

[Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  With great disappointment in his voice. My father doesn't have much feeling for painting, you know. Knows very little about it. He's entirely wrapped up in music.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What does he continue doing then? Teaching?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, he continued to teach. And now he has a very interesting position. He's conductor of the Senior Concert Orchestra, where all retired musicians play.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really. Where is that?

WOLF KAHN:  All over. They play in Carnegie Hall once a year. And it's under the auspices of the Musician's Union, Local 802.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah. I didn't know they did anything like that.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, they do.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So that kind of keeps him busy?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, he's very busy. And you have to be very, very sensitive politically because he's got all these people there who—all you have to do is say the wrong thing and they never show up again because they don't have to. They're all on pensions. You know, they play because they love to. So it's an interesting job, frankly. He just had his 81st birthday. And he's in marvelous shape.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But he must have some incredible people in that orchestra.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, he does. He has one guy who played under Mahler.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You're kidding?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He's got to be older than 75.

WOLF KAHN:  He's 90, I think. He's got another guy who shakes so hard that all has to do is hold his violin and he gets an natural tremolo.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Oh, that's incredible. Really. Music and Art, you graduated in, what, '45?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Right. And I went directly into the Navy.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why the Navy?

WOLF KAHN:  Because they had the RT [ph] program where you could get a rating right away if you could pass a test.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  The Eddy Test. I don't know if you remember that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No. [Tape stops, restarts.] Anyway, you went into the Navy and took this test?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And so that meant that you went to school to learn electronics and the new science of radar and so forth and so on. And that's why I went into the Navy.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So what did you do in the Navy?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I ended up flunking out of school because—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Oh, you're kidding?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. Because I'd never had a physics course. I only had the lowest kind of math. Just enough to pass that test, and also I don't really have a very good mechanical sense, so that when it finally came to taking radios apart and putting them back together, I didn't do all that well.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And the thing that really hurt me—that really made me flunk out in a hurry, was that I took the general classification test in the Navy that everybody takes. And I got a perfect score on it, which is like one in 12,000 gets a perfect score. Because I'm an excellent test-taker. And as soon as I started doing badly in these specialized electronic tests, the executive officer hauled me in front of his desk and said, "You're a fuck-off," you know, because you got this perfect test, one out of 12,000, and you can't pass this measly radio test.

[Cross talk.]

And, "Out you go." So about that time, the war was over anyway. It was in late—early '46 at the time. And so I was put on a detail to make drawings of admirals, in the style of [inaudible] because that was my style at the time, you know, with all the heavy wrinkles and all that stuff?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Because I had done one of the librarian in the Naval Research Lab, where I was flunking, where I was supposed to be studying. And then he passed it around, and from the librarian I got passed up to the commanding officer of the lab and then he showed it to some higher-up. And then I was sort of passed around like a rare vessel from one admiral to another.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, what did you do? Run over to their office and make a drawing?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. I did a drawing. Pencil drawing with all their wrinkles. Which they then kept. You know, it was that period in our war effort. You know, where anything went. Things were falling apart.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's so incredible. So how many people did you do?

WOLF KAHN:  I imagine I did about 30.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, so it was one right after another?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it was over a period of two months, you know. But then I got three-day passes in between. So I mean, it was a very privileged position.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  It wasn't bad at all.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So then you were in for three years, though, in the Navy?

WOLF KAHN:  Thirteen months.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, 13 months? Oh, because I thought you were in for much longer than that.

WOLF KAHN:  No. No, that's probably because I was 17 when I went in and I was 18 when I got out.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I see. So you got out in, what, '46?

WOLF KAHN:  Forty-six. And I went—I hadn't really thought about schooling or anything. But I didn't get expect to get out in such a hurry.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And then I went to New School after that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, but you came out of the Navy and you had the GI Bill then?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So you went to—

WOLF KAHN:  I went first to the New School. Studied with Stuart Davis. And Hanns Jelinek and Hans Seaman [ph]. I took all sorts of courses. It was, essentially, a dilettante period in my life.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What were they like? What was Davis like as a teacher?

WOLF KAHN:  Horrible teacher.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why?

WOLF KAHN:  Because he didn't take it seriously. One night he said that—it was once a week we met. He said, "All right, children. It's 10 o'clock. Let's close the magic portals. We've conjured up enough art atmosphere for one evening."

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Well, he was fairly old by then, wasn't he?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, yes. And he was a lot of fun. He loved to talk about jazz and baseball, you know. If you knew anything about jazz and baseball, you could always get a good conversation out of Stuart Davis.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right, right.

WOLF KAHN:  But he wasn't any art teacher.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He wasn't interested?

WOLF KAHN:  No, no. Certainly not in that class.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. What about the other instructors?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, Jelinek taught me how to do wood engraving. And whom else did I have as an art instructor? Egas, I think.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, Camilo, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And he had a model. But the nice thing about the New School was it was a great place to pick up girls.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, right. Still is.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I mean, that's what I mostly used it for.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Under the GI Bill.

WOLF KAHN:  But I mean, you know, it wasn't quite—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, I don't want to sound like I'm the world's answer to women. In those days I was barely a virgin, and the women that I picked up were just as troubled as I was. It was a whole lot of inept goings-on there for awhile, and you know, during that whole period.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Yeah. But now, how did you get to the Hofmann School?

WOLF KAHN:  I got to the Hofmann School after the first semester at the New School. I could see it wasn't a serious place.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So you only spent how long at the New School?

WOLF KAHN:  One semester.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, just a little—

[Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  And then, you know, the word was around that that was the place to go.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  And I was—and the Hofmann School was—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Handy.

WOLF KAHN:  —accredited for the GI Bill.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right, right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But now, had you worked with—did you work from models or anything before this?

WOLF KAHN:  At the New School?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, even in—I also went—way early I went to the Art Students League and worked on [inaudible].

PAUL CUMMINGS:  When you were at Music and Art?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I didn't know that. Who did you work with there?

WOLF KAHN:  It was just a sketch class, a Saturday morning sketch class.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Like the atelier business in Paris where you just go and draw and don't get criticism particularly?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How did you like that? Or was it useful meeting other people at the League?

WOLF KAHN:  At the League? Just with a couple of friends from M&A. I had a job also. I neglected to mention that. During the war, there was, you know, everyone was off—all the young people were off—and my brother had had a job as a commercial artist's assistant, which I inherited at the age of 14. So I always had money in my jeans.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Who was that working for?

WOLF KAHN:  Worked for Louis Haan's [ph] Studios on 24 Stone Street right near Wall Street. And he worked mostly for the National City Bank and for Child's restaurants. Designed menu covers. Was fun.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right, right.

WOLF KAHN:  Went back to school on Saturdays

[Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  [Inaudible.] I did spots, a lot of illustrations, posters, things like that. Serious stuff.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But it didn't catch?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I mean, I thought it would be great, by the time I was 24, I could say I was a commercial artist with 10 years of experience. I would have been quite a coup. But then somehow, when I went in the service, I started thinking that I really didn't want to be a commercial artist. You know, I knew what it was all about, you know, they all complained about their clients. They couldn't really do what they wanted to do. I thought I was a big shot, you know? I still do. Probably one of my reasons for my general unhappiness.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Not a good way to think about yourself.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You supported yourself very well.

WOLF KAHN:  What?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But you supported yourself.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, see, I always feel like—I mean, I'm programmed to be successful. It's terrible. I mean, ever since my grandmother's house, you know, I used to be invited to show my drawings to the bridge ladies. I mean, all through high school and everything, I was always hot shot, you know. Hofmann's was a very bitter experience for me for that very reason because all of a sudden, here I was. I was in the same class with Larry Rivers and Paul Georges and Joan—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mitchell?

WOLF KAHN:  Mitchell. And a whole lot of people who drew and painted like—you know, [inaudible]. They drew and painted like angels. And they were five years older than me. And Hofmann paid more attention to them than they paid to me. And I could see that I wasn't God's answer to the art world after all.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  There was some competition out there.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. It was hard for me to deal with that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How did you like going to the Hofmann? And what did you do there?

WOLF KAHN:  I did what all the other Hofmann students do, draw straight lines.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] And then he tears it up.

WOLF KAHN:  Right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Did he do that with you?

WOLF KAHN:  Sure. Yeah, I—you know, I got a lot out of Hofmann. I mean, he was a great man. He really was.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Did he speak German to you?

WOLF KAHN:  No. He said—he said to me, "I am a man without a country. I've forgot the German. I know not how to speak English. And French I only know how to say [inaudible]."

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] But he had so much gusto all the time. I mean, there seemed to have been endless supplies of energy.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. Yes. He was a great teacher, of course, as everybody knows. He did what—his teaching method—you just sort of had a feeling that here was a guy who—if you only try to understand what he was saying, you'd have all the answers. He had that much credibility, you know. Who nowadays has that?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, he was always, you know, from the time I knew about him, I guess, the early '50s, it was so above the rest of the teachers around, I mean, in terms of what he was doing and the people who went after him and all—the other stuff. Although—

WOLF KAHN:  And he was always—he was very—he was really—I mean, he wasn't only a great teacher, but he was a superior human being.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  You sort of knew by looking at him and talking to him that you were dealing with somebody extraordinary, you know. I mean, none of us liked his paintings.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  No. It took me many years to get to like Hofmann's paintings. Now I like them rather well.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You're kidding.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

[Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, there's a certain lack of elegance in his painting that's very clear to see, and it's a little off-putting, too, you know. And the things that he taught, I always felt that he taught sort of in spite of what he painted.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But does anybody know what he really taught? I mean, did you—could you understand what he was—?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It was very clear. I once wrote—in fact, I wrote an essay on the Hofmann School, which I presented in front of the CAA convention—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  —and panel, which I think I wrote it down very clearly. I think it's been published in places. I think I have a very clear idea of where Hofmann stood, and at the same time I think he constantly contradicted himself, still. It's like the Bible, you know? I mean, the Bible constantly contradicts itself, and yet, you see, you have a sort of general feeling of where it wants you to go, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So he would say one thing one day and another thing another day?

WOLF KAHN:  For example, "expressionistic" was an adjective that he used, either as a term of extreme opprobrium or praise, depending on—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] The way he felt at the moment?

WOLF KAHN:  The way he felt at the moment or the context, you know. You certainly couldn't take him literally. There was nothing really that could be taken absolutely literally. He was too many-sided for that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. What about the other students that you were in class with?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, there was Rivers, who was sort of a gadfly. I had a lot of respect for him because he was clearly also a very interesting personality, you know. And he was—well, Hofmann used to say, "The first thing about a work of art that you have to remember is it has four sides. Everything is in relation to the four sides." So Rivers brought in a little scrap of a Leonardo drawing that was torn from—you know, it had no sides at all.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  It was torn out of a sketchbook. And when Hofmann was carrying on this way once, Rivers had this thing all ready. And he said, "Mr. Hofmann, is this art? It doesn't have four sides."

[They laugh.]

WOLF KAHN:  So Hofmann looked up, you know. And he said, "[inaudible] Very good. Always you should ask questions. And like I was saying"—

[They laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  He was—you know, he above the battle. He wasn't going to—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why do you think it was that so many diversified personalities would receive from him or were able to get stimulated by him?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I think for one thing, it was an astonishing moment in history. You know, here were all these energies let loose after the war. People who hadn't—I think in general it was just that generation was ready to do something, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. But you can't line up, you know, 10 Hofmann students and look at their mature work and say, you know, "That's Hofmann. That's Hofmann. That's Hofmann."

WOLF KAHN:  Well, no, no. It's because he taught us—the first thing he taught us to do is to look at art history, you know, to look at the works of the past, not just what was happening last week.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh really? He sent you to the Met and the Modern?

WOLF KAHN:  He didn't send us there. He just talked constantly about Rembrandt. Like he made statements—I remember some of the things that he said—he used—I'd be mystified. He said, "The most beautiful thing about Rembrandt are the empty spaces." You know? Well, of course, in terms of Hofmann's context, now I understand what he meant. But I used to go to the Met, you know, and look at the Rembrandt, and say, "I wonder what he means?"

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Where are the empty spaces that he's talking about, what is it?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And then he'd talk about Giotto. And he constantly talked about the great artists of the past. And I think he really got us all involved in a very wide culture, you know, a culture of painting. And from there, of course, you can go anywhere. Once you're involved in that, that liberates you to go in different directions. And one of the sad things about education of the artist, the young artist today, is that they're all educated with attitudes, you know, with au courant sort of—and nobody wants to be on the scrap heap of history, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You go to a school of visual arts today, and you see what everybody saw Saturday. It's amazing how quickly they pick up the new thing.

WOLF KAHN:  And I think that Hofmann fostered is sort of the idea that—and you know, the difficulty of it, that primarily the forging of an artistic personality is something that takes many years. By his example, he had his first show when he was 50 years old, you know? And also, he had a sort of an idea that nobody thought about success. Nobody had it. There was no example of it.

[Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  People who were having success—the Whitney Museum was right up the street, you know. And we used to go there and laugh. You know, we used to laugh at Kuniyoshi, the silly women with their petticoats and straps hanging over their arms, you know. And coming from the heady level of Hofmann, you know, you looked at those things and you laughed. You know, now I can look at Kuniyoshi and I can see certain advantages in it. But in those days, you know, and—who else was there? Spiker [ph]. Thomas Hart Benton. Well, you know, you looked at those things and you said, "Well, what's that got to do with the price of fish?" On the other hand, Hofmann admired in those days, even, Pollock. You know, he was just coming on the scene. And also, I remember him talking very highly about—what's that guy from the West Coast?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Still?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, Still. And we looked at Still and Pollock and couldn't make heads or tails out of that either. You know, because that also didn't fit within the confines of—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —what he was saying?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, we also couldn't understand—Hofmann thought we could understand Mondrian. We could understand Cubism. We could understand, you know, anything that had a basis in art history, that was readily at hand, you know. But Hofmann was up-to-date and at the same time he reverberated backwards, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, yeah. Would he give you assignments to go to museums or to galleries?

WOLF KAHN:  No. He didn't treat us as students at all.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, he didn't?

WOLF KAHN:  No. Nobody had assignments. Nobody—you know, he just—he didn't care whether we worked or not.

[Cross talk.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You had your own self-motivation?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah. Well, of course, of course.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And that self-motivation was no problem. Everybody was just so, so hot in that school. You know, it was an incredibly, a hothouse atmosphere in that school. And we weren't even competitive. That was the funniest thing about it. There didn't seem to be anything to compete over. You know, the trough was nonexistent. So the pigs didn't have to push each other out of the way.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And de Kooning was just—well, he had his first show in '48.

WOLF KAHN:  de Kooning was—yeah, Hofmann didn't know anything about him.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I think I maybe heard his name once or twice.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  It was a strange period.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Where were you living then?

WOLF KAHN:  I was living on the Lower East Side, in a building right—I was living right across the hall from Lester Johnson.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Lester found this apartment for me.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh. You were living on East First Street?

WOLF KAHN:  Sixth Street. East Sixth Street. And the building was full of—it was a real slum. It was full of people who were ill, you know, neurotic, and who committed suicide and did terrible things. It smelled.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  It was a real slum, but it wasn't dangerous, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He talked a lot about that building.

WOLF KAHN:  Lester did?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

[Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  Did he mention me? We had a lot to do with each other. Lester was a big influence. He really was. And in general, a very beneficial influence.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  In what way?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I mean, I was just so troubled as an art student, you know. And Lester was more mature. And I'd just take my things to him. And Lester didn't—he was distant, you know. He didn't want to get involved in my troubles. And at the same time, he responded on some other level, on the artistic level. You know, as a friend.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Where did you meet him?

WOLF KAHN:  I think I met him there. I think somebody told me that that apartment was available. And Lester had told them. That's how I met Lester, you know. And then our paths went parallel for quite a few years because we took a house on Second Avenue together.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, that's the building I was thinking of.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  The notorious house of—

WOLF KAHN:  And then we got thrown out of there because we tried to fight the landlord when our rent was due.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right, Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  And I've always admired Lester. I still do. I just saw his show the other day.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, the new one at [inaudible]?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, and I think he's still going great [inaudible].

PAUL CUMMINGS:  The paintings get tougher in a way.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, he's a tough egg. He's plenty tough. you know, he's gone through—well, I'm sure if you've interviewed him, you know all the things he's gone through. He was a C.O. during the war. In fact, one of the things that happened to me, because of Les, I avoided the Korean War. Because, you know, I had only been in the service 13 months.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, right, and you were still up for grabs.

WOLF KAHN:  I was still up for grabs. I would have been up for grabs, except I met Lester. And I—in order to get out after 13 months, I was planning to go over into the Naval Reserves.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And get out faster. And then Lester convinced me that I really should be a—or, I became convinced from meeting Lester and meeting his friends that I really should become a conscientious objector and pacifist. So, well, the first things I definitely have to do is to sign out of the Reserves. So I went there, and they give me a long song and dance about "Well, wasn't I afraid to lose my rating" and so forth and so on. And I went, "No, I really don't believe in war anymore." And then when, you know, I would have been called up for Korea. And when the war started, they called me down to the draft board and looked me over, because I was one month over the—if you'd served 12 months, you were no longer subject to the draft. So they were drafting fathers with two children and so forth, you know. And they looked at me. Here I was, you know, a live body. Just one month. They were really frustrated with me.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And you weren't about to go along with it.

WOLF KAHN:  No, sir.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But, you know, going back to the Hofmann School, you know, it was full of very dynamic personalities. How did they affect you? You know, the diversified people?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, we became friends.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Their way of living and thinking—

WOLF KAHN:  We thought alike. We lived fairly, you know, our style of life was fairly close, with some deviations. I mean, I was friends with Miles Forest [ph]. I was friendly with—who else was I friends with at the Hofmann school at that time? Well, Jan. I was good friends with Jan [inaudible].

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And we all thought alike. We all had taken, you might say, this monastic vow of poverty. Nobody cared to—we really didn't care about success.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, I think people were very busy finding out what they were about and what their art was about.

WOLF KAHN:  Right, right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And building a basis to work from.

WOLF KAHN:  Right. And then, of course, what happened later on is that—then when I took this loft here. And met Felix [inaudible] through Jan, and Felix and Jan—they were very eager to start showing. And I didn't feel I was ready to show. But somehow or other, you had this universal discourse because we all went to the Hofmann School.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right, right. But did you have any contact with Art Students League people or Cooper Union or anything like that?

WOLF KAHN:  No, none.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It was pretty much—it was really concentrated on—

WOLF KAHN:  Very concentrated on Hofmann School. Well, actually, I had contact with Arnold Singer, who at that time went and, I think, studied at the League with Barnett.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. How did you meet him?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, he took over Lester's apartment.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I see.

WOLF KAHN:  He lived in Lester's apartment when Lester left. But I felt he was—you know, we thought all teachers other than Hofmann were of a lesser breed, which in fact they were.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] That's true.

[END OF TRACK.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —[inaudible]—side two. Anyway, but to continue on Hofmann a little bit, now, was there any preparation for him because you'd studied with one of his students beforehand with—at music and art, or were you so shocked by the whole thing and startled and delighted, whatever the response was, to really work with him?

WOLF KAHN:  I don't recall my, uh, responses having been—I think we—Hofmann sort of crept up on you. You know? He wasn't that brilliant, uh, charged a character. I mean, there was really little, actually, uh—I think it's the accretion of things that made you into a Hofmann admirer, you know? Because he was—he didn't—he certainly made no fuss over any of his students, you know? Uh, I always felt that—that what—what happened in the school that was most important was meeting the other guys, the other students.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And everybody went to, uh, the coffee places, um—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, oh, we all sat around the Waldorf.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Right. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, uh, well, it was a strange, strange school because, uh, you know, the idea—whole idea of school, it takes a new definition at Hofmann's. I mean, he—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How do you mean that in terms of—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, he was a—he wasn't really a devoted teacher either. I always sort of felt—You know, one felt about Hofmann like patients do who go to a famous doctor. Like, you know, the doctor's doing them a favor to see them. They're not doing—doing him a favor by paying him his fee, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, and Hoffman also, he used to come in [00:02:00] and, uh, you know, the—there was this—before a critique, you know, there was this expectant hush. Now he's going to tell me whether I'm good or bad [laughs]. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And then he'd go down the line and say something to everybody and work on their drawings, and—and, um, everybody cared what he had to say, and students followed him, you know, stood behind him, but you always had this sort of this feeling almost of reluctance on his part, that he'd rather be somewhere else, and in fact, he probably would have rather been in his studio.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How did you like his device of working on your work, because a lot of people resented that.

WOLF KAHN:  At the Hofmann School? No.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Really? They did really resent it?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I talked to several people who left the school because they—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, they deserved to leave it if—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —that's—you know, it was a perfectly reasonably device. [Cross talk.] You know, he knew more than you did. I mean, that's why you went there.  Whatever most graphically, uh, showed his complex ideas was most useful.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  I don't care whether he tore up drawings or—I was a good Hofmann student, I suppose—maybe too good, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Nobody ever made notes in his class, did they?

WOLF KAHN:  No. Although—although later on when, uh, you know, when he got to be a really famous teacher, but I would say he wasn't all that famous a teacher, either. He was sort of like a well-kept secret, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, but then there are those mimeograph sheets that he used to hand out. Did you ever get those?

WOLF KAHN:  No.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That must have been later.

WOLF KAHN:  No, that was later. By that—he didn't take himself as seriously—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No.

WOLF KAHN:  —in the '40s as he did in the '50s and early '60s either. You know? Because after all, what happens to us is when the world tells us we're great, we start taking ourselves seriously.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  No—one of the best things that ever happened to me, nobody's ever told me that. [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Except yourself.

WOLF KAHN:  No. No. No. I don't do that to myself either.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, I don't think I'm great. I think I'm a talented artist, [00:04:00] and I think I'm probably as good as—I'm probably the best landscapist around right now.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  I don't know anybody else who's doing anything with landscape that's as interesting as what I'm doing. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. But now what—what about the—of the interplay—

WOLF KAHN:  Don't publish that. [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What about the interplay with the other students there because, you know, for several years he did have really quite an extraordinary, uh—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, we all—we all went to each other's studios.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  We took an interest in each other's work. You know? I went and talked at the studio school a couple of years back. And, um, like, the topic of my talk—you know, they're so used to having guys coming, talking about themselves—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —which is something I never really think is all that interesting. You know, I mean, I figure they don't have to hear you talk about myself. They can see my paintings.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Look at the work and—right. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, but what art students are really interested in is like how other people went through art school.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, sure. How did they—

WOLF KAHN:  So I—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —[inaudible]—And what did—where'd they find the—[inaudible]—?

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, so I talked to—my subject was, "How to Be an Art Student." And, uh, I talked, first of all, of how all good art schools are very depressing, you know, because there's all this sense of uncertainty. You know? And, um, then the thing—the students became very open with me as a result of this talk. You know? And when it came time for them to, uh, to talk to me and ask questions, they complained bitterly about each other.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And said that what's really bad at the studio school is the sense of competitiveness. That nobody takes an interest in another person's work except in so far as they fear it a threat to their own work.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. [00:06:00]

WOLF KAHN:  But there's none—And in Hofmann there was none of that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, that's a post-1960 situation, I think.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I don't know what it is, but anyway, I think that's one of the really, um, healthy things that happened at the school, is that we all—like, you know, if, especially if Hofmann liked somebody's work, we all, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  —gave him a special look—a special look, and we felt all sort of—this must be an extremely interesting person [laughs], you know, we'd try to get to know—I remember Jean Follett. Do you remember Jean?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Sure.

WOLF KAHN:  She used to make these fisheye drawings then. They were very strange.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Strange assemblages.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, well, uh, you know, we, um, we used to—and she was a very strange girl.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Still is.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  I remember Hofmann used to love her drawings. Whatever she did, he just—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  —adored it. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  And we couldn't quite—we couldn't quite make head or tail, but we became very interested in her. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Instead of saying, Oh, that bitch. You know, like the teacher—she's a teacher's pet or something like that. You know, there wasn't any of that. You know, we were—And the fact is that most people were older. You know? That here was all the GI's who were like 25 years old. You know, Georges and Felix Pasilis—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —and Jan, they were older people. You know? And they were beyond that—that sort of—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But you were young.

WOLF KAHN:  I was very young. Yes, yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But now, there was—It's fascinating because Hofmann really wasn't showing much in those days. I mean, you didn't see Hofmann paintings a great deal. Did you?

WOLF KAHN:  What we did—I did especially because I was his monitor, and I helped, uh, especially in Provincetown.  Uh, he gave me a summer free because my GI Bill wouldn't cover it. Uh, it had already run out. Or it was about to run out, and I didn't want to spend, uh, so I asked Hofmann if I could work for him. So I saw his work pretty—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And what was that like?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I, actually, I had, um—I had a [00:08:00] very close relationship with him, as close as one can have, or as close as I could have being a his student, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, and also he was 50 years older than you were.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, but, um, I—I did his work for him—I worked for him in his studio uh, stretched out canvases and did things like that, and I worked around the house. Um, and I ate lunch with him.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I didn't know that.

WOLF KAHN:  He'd make me lunch. Yes. So I got to know meats very well.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And I got to—yeah, and then I also—but again, the funny—the thing that was nice, is nobody made a big fuss about Hofmann then. So it was—I wasn't awed. I wasn't—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  You know, I was just—I just liked the man. You know? Because he was, uh—He had, like you say, zest. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But didn't it give you, you know, a view of what it was like to be a painter or teacher or somebody who's doing things or—or didn't you think of it?

WOLF KAHN:  I didn't think of it quite like that. [Cross talk.] I didn't think of it quite like that. I mean, Hofmann was—he was pretty out of reach in that regard already too. You know, he had—he lived very comfortably in this beautiful house in P-Town. He was old enough to be my grandfather.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  He had Miró hanging on the wall, Braque, you know, and a whole room of Viven [ph]. Did little primitives, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And he was very much into living in a certain style. And, of course, um, I felt all that goes with age. I didn't feel there was anything being emulated or—of course, I was rather pleased with my own austerity. You know? Asceticism.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Hmm. So what year was that that you worked with him?

WOLF KAHN:  This was 19—summer of '47.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Summer of '47?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But you studied with him from [00:10:00] '40—

WOLF KAHN:  Forty s—I think it was—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —[inaudible]—'49?

WOLF KAHN:  Let's see. The fall—from—from February '46, I studied with him 'till the, um, spring of '48. And the summer of '47 was spent in Provincetown.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Had you been there before, or was that your first time?

WOLF KAHN:  First summer. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And you went there because of him, or—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. [Cross talk.] Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How did you like it?

WOLF KAHN:  It was great. Again, it was terribly intense. Terribly intense.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But now he had different students up there, didn't he? [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  No, no, no. They were the same people, uh, Goodnough was there. The hotshots, I think, that summer were Nell Blaine, and Goodnough and, uh, Jane Frei—No, Jane Freilicher wasn't even a hotshot. She was just—she and Larry [ph] was around, but he was just sort of on the edges of the school. Um, but Georges was there, uh, and I think the big star in that summer was Goodnough because he was working a mile a minute. He used to bring in for a weekly crit 12 paintings, and Grillo, oh, John Grillo, was a hotshot.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah. Right. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? Everybody liked him. And then there was a guy named Alfred Israel [ph] who was one of the real victims of the—[inaudible]—he's still around—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Still around. He's, uh—in fact, now his work is very influenced by Hofmann. They're very stiff and tight. Something happened to him, but he was doing terrific, uh, sort of, neo—neo-plastic paintings.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Very good. Hofmann adored him, and there was Litras Rose [ph] was there that summer.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Also doing very good work. And then as a result of that summer—and Greenberg came, Clem Greenberg came and visited the school. As a result of that, there was an exhibition of students' work. [00:12:00] Uh, at the Seligmann galleries called Summer of Forty-Ei—Summer of '47, Summer of '48. Maybe it was '48. Oh, Provincetown 1948. I think, I wasn't in the exhibition.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And that was all—

WOLF KAHN:  And that was all—it was Georges, Goodnough, guy named Patrick Dynen [ph], who's since disappeared, um, Litras Rose, uh, Nell Blaine. Um, was Jane Freilicher in that show? I don't remember.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I don't even know that exhibition.

WOLF KAHN:  I remember the first time I ever got turned on to pot was at a party at Jane's house. There's a—the usual Mexican bringing a paper bag—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Gosh, yeah. Fantastic. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, and then Clem Greenberg, after initiating this show and selecting the artists also wrote a thing on it in The Nation. He was writing for The Nation then.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And he praised the show, thought it was quite spe—good selection and so forth. [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Clem has a great subtlety I think at times, yeah. Or political savoir faire.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. But you think all those guys that he touts are going to last, I mean, I—?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It's too hard. I mean, it's too broad. It's too, um—

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, you know, somebody like Olitski, I think it's very thin.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Very thin.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Getting thinner.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It's getting thinner all right. Uh, where did the University of Chicago come into all of this?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, then I under—then I underwent a crisis after I got out of Hofmann, and I said to Hofmann, I said, "Look, I'm going to have to quit the school, uh, because I'm in trouble." I became very neurotic. I—my work suffered [00:14:00] and so forth. I used to work on one painting for three months.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, just painting—

WOLF KAHN:  You know, I'm painting—[cross talk]—over and over small paintings, you know, that weighed 10 pounds when I was done with them. And, um—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So painting the images out?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, like, the [inaudible], you know. Something like [laughs] that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh—and then I went up to Hofmann, and I said, "You know, I really have to leave." And Hofmann said, "Ah, this is very good. You have mental indigestion." [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He could get something positive out of almost anything, couldn't he?

WOLF KAHN:  No. Well, he, you know, he was also—no, he called him as he saw them.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I don't think you could call—call him a—unduly. He had a tragic view of life too, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. But, I mean, even out of problems, he would get something that would—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, he felt that you had to go through things.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Which we all know is true. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But how did you pick Chicago? I mean—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, then I decided I—I spent a whole year by myself on the 5220 Club.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  I don't know if you remember that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Um, but, uh, during that year, I just stewed in my own juice, and, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Did you work in the studio? Did—what—

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, yes I worked. That's when I lived with Lester on Second Avenue. And, uh, at the end of the—during that year, I applied to Chicago because I felt, well, I'm going slowly from bad to worse. I better forget about being a painter altogether. You know, because Hofmann had filled me with such a—some exalted idea of what it took to be an artist.  I figured I'd never make it, and, um, you know, I really had a real crisis. I became impotent. I became a kleptomaniac in grocery stores, and I figured, well, you know, nothing's worth becoming a nut over.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  So I better quit.  So last time I felt I had my dignity was when I was [00:16:00] a high school student because I'd always, you know, been a big shot there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Got high grades. That's when I said I'll go back to school. See what happens. So then I applied to Chicago. I always had very good grades in high school. I had no problem getting in anywhere. And I had one more year of GI Bill. And in Chicago, you—under Hutchins's program, you could get your degree in a year.  Which I did.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What did you study then?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I studied the Chicago program, you know? You took tests when you were ready for them. You know? So I got—got my Chicago degree in a year. I was going to go on to, um—I applied for a scholarship to go on to the school of humanities at Chicago.  And go for a master's. But before I went to do that, I decided to go with a friend of Lester's, actually, who was—who'd been Mennonite, uh, to go out West and work in the, um, logging industry in the woods in Oregon.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, that's where the lumberjack business—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And when I was in the woods in Oregon, I got this letter from Chicago saying that you've just been given a full scholarship plus, uh, $1,500 for—toward, uh, room and board. And then I figured, Gee, if I'm that good, I'm good enough to go back to New York and be a painter [They laugh.] [Inaudible.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.] Really.

WOLF KAHN:  [Laughs.] But I was really careful, I let my—my scholarship lapse semester by semester, like first semester I wrote them that I wasn't feeling well and I would like to enter—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Next time.

WOLF KAHN:  —next time. By that time, it was—I'm—it seemed so—so ridiculous to—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —go back to school, even though I was—I wasn't making a cent. You know, and I was—actually, I had a job [00:18:00] by then. I had a job working with kids—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really? [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  —in New York. Yeah, so—you know, I had to make my living. But I painted, uh, all the rest of the time. I got this loft here.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Well, how long were you in Oregon? Just a few months?

WOLF KAHN:  Six months.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Six months?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  In the—in logging.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, and I had a lot of money. I made a lot of money out there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, because—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  They paid the highest minimum wage there for unskilled labor.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Dollar eighty-five an hour. Incredible, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And there's nothing to spend it on?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, actually, there was. In fact, I lived in an in—in—their lumber camp. You know? And I had to spend some. I had $30 a week for my room and board.  But still, I made so much money.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How'd you like, um, lumberjack life?

WOLF KAHN:  It's great. Very romantic.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Healthy. Outdoors.

WOLF KAHN:  Beautiful. And—and I kept drawing all the time, you know, all through Chicago.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  I took drawing. I drew by the lakefront. You know, made pastels.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Did you go to the museum in Chicago?

WOLF KAHN:  Went to museum. Yeah, but no, uh, you know, my thing is always like—like I think, wrongly I'm sure, but I think there's more out in nature than in museums. You know? I get much more of a—of a kick by watching, and a solitary walk than to go see a show.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. But you never really—As I think back on them, the work of yours I've seen, never got to be a, kind of, totally abstract painter, were you?

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, I got very close to it at the Hofmann school.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, but I mean even with the whole Hofmann business.

WOLF KAHN:  But it never—never really—you know? And Hofmann was always—he was strange. He encouraged. He was interested in people who were interested in representation. He used to say that the problem with modern art is it has no human content. That's one of the things he said.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I wonder what he meant by that, though.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, by that, he meant that it didn't say anything, uh, that, uh, fed—that fed the feelings. You know? Uh, you know, he used to hold up Rembrandt and Goya as being [00:20:00] people who had human content.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What did he talk about as far as more contemporary people?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, he talked about space. Mostly, the handling of space. And—and, uh, scale.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Did he talk about it in abstract terms then rather than giving you, you know, referring to Picasso and—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, he wouldn't—he wouldn't even—he didn't even, uh, talk very much in an elucidating way about other artists.  You know? He'd tell stories. Like, one of his favorite stories was—his favorite stories was about Picasso. Uh, it was—Some ladies—You want me to tell it in Hofmann's accent?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Sure. Tell it.

WOLF KAHN:  Well—[They laugh.] He says, "—[inaudible]—and—and lady—[inaudible]—go back to Picasso—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  She see this beautiful still life of an fish. Well, she said, 'Mr. Picasso, one—[inaudible]—and beautiful fish. What are you doing—[inaudible]—How do you paint this fish?' And Picasso say to her, 'Madam, first I eat him, then I paint him.'"

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  And he'd talk. I mean, it's things—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  He would talk about empathy. And he would talk about the symphonic intervals of color and things like that. You know?  And of course, the push, push, and pull thing.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Squeeze the sausage here, it gets fatter there—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —and so forth and all that kind of stuff. Talked a lot about composition in that—in those kind of terms.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But I mean it was never, oh, using other artists' work as—as a reference point.

WOLF KAHN:  Not really.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, no, except he'd say things like, "Now Mondrian," he says, "is a matter of a millimeter [00:22:00] adjustment," he said.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Said to make—to make these areas vibrate is—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But he wouldn't talk about Braque's still lifes or Picasso's, uh, use of other artists' work? [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  He probably did.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Probably did. But sort of unsystematically, and just as—as it came into his head.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  He wasn't a brilliant lecturer, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I know. I know. But he always seemed to be able to—

WOLF KAHN:  But he talked mostly about formalistic problems.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, that's why I was curious about this—[inaudible]—Rembrandt business and—and—you know.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, well, he had a lot of arrows in his quiver, though.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, he really did.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Lot of interests.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, going—going back to, um, to Chicago for a bit. How did you like Chicago, the—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it was an interesting, intense place to go. Uh, it was a very, uh, intellectual atmosphere. It wasn't a rah-rah school at all. I wasn't involved at all in the usual college-type things. You know? And neither were the other kids?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It was like going to a factory or something.

WOLF KAHN:  No, no, it wasn't like that at all. No, I had—I still remember many of the teachers I had. I had very—a very interesting teacher named Joe Schawb who taught a course called, "Organization, Integration, and Interrelation of the Signs of Knowledge." Uh, and, uh, it was epistemology, ontology, and a theory of knowledge course. And, um, very good. Really good—[inaudible]—fantastic teacher. And, you know, I used to bone up, you know, read a page of Aristotle, and try and make sense out of it. It'd take me hours. You know, I got to be able to read really difficult texts like Critique of Pure Reason or something like that, you know? Which now I wouldn't [00:24:00] touch with a 10-foot pole. I've become stupid since—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —then, you know? Art makes you stupid.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Do you think so?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I mean, it develops one side of the brain at the expense of the other.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But would—what do you think that, you know, year of education, Chicago, uh, did—

WOLF KAHN:  Did for me?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, as far as affecting your working or thinking or life in general.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it probably made it easier for me to get jobs, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Yeah, but it's nice to have [cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  —degree and—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But, I mean, did it help you in the studio?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it—it mostly helped me in a personal sense. It gave, gave me back a sense of my own worth. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, so it had a lot of advantages.

WOLF KAHN:  Um, and in the studio, I don't know what it did for me. Maybe it taught me to be more—I'm a very analytical painter. You know, I mean, people always talk, thinking I'm a very intuitive painter. But basically, I think I'm a very analytical painter.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Hmm. Why do you say that and also that people think of you as being that—

WOLF KAHN:  Because they keep telling me.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, that's it.

WOLF KAHN:  They think I'm very intuitive and that—you know, people talk about your work in ways that you can't possibly relate to. Uh, in the same way in which Seurat said, uh, "People talk about poetry. All I do is follow my system."

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know, I mean, that's—I understand that completely because that sort of—you know, I mean, nobody thinks about poetry when they work. I mean, unless you're a real fake. You know? I mean, you think about problems—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —certain—certain relations that you're trying to—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why is this falling off the edge of the canvas? [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, something like that, or, uh, how can I bring more light into that area? You know? I mean, the poetry's there, uh, that's—but it's inchoate.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —something—that—that you bring to bear on everything you do. Uh, [00:26:00] um, but you're not conscious of it. In fact, if you are, you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But, I mean, it's not going to—

WOLF KAHN:  God help you.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. But now, you came back from, uh, Oregon full of money—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —short taxes, logs. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Right. And then I—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  I met, through Jan, Jan Muller, I met Felix Pasilis who was just—who had just rented this loft and was looking for a partner and that's how I came here, 813 Broadway, and Felix was a splendid guy, too, a very interesting guy.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What's happened to him?

WOLF KAHN:  He's dropped out. He really has dropped out.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I haven't seen him in years.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, uh, the last thing, he's known to be in Mexico.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, but he had a brilliant mind, too.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I know. I always liked him.

WOLF KAHN:  It was very strange, very strange cast of thought. And he had a big influence on me, too.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  In what way?

WOLF KAHN:  Because we lived together, and shared, uh, and shared attitudes and bounced things off each other. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But now, he was—he had a quite a different point of view—

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —in an art way.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, he did. Yes, he did, but, uh—we both respected each other's work.  We only had a wall separating us.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  So naturally, there'd be a lot going on. Took an interest in each other's work.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It's really—I had—anyway, so you came back, uh, and set up in this studio with—

WOLF KAHN:  With Felix.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  With Pasilis.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. And then I, uh, started painting like Soutine.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, from [cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, my—I saw a Soutine show, which just absolutely grabbed me. And a Van Gogh show, too. There was, uh, one big Van Gogh show at the Met.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Oh, Soutine's must have been where—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, no, I think it was modern. It was a retrospective of Soutine.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, the museum show.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, those two artists just—just [00:28:00] absolutely thrilled me. And I painted indistinguishable from Van Gogh and Soutine for a while. You know, and you can see in this one here that there's still a lot of that influence. And that was, uh, 1954. That was two years later. Three years later. So I played in that realm for quite a while.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What appealed to you, I mean, about those two people and two—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it's the—the—for one thing, the texture. The—it seemed to me that there I could combine what Hofmann had said about, uh, human content and what—what I'd learned, uh, in school about paint quality and things like that. You know, that's—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. What were you painting, as far as the—[cross talk.]  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, still lifes mostly.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  You know, mostly still life. And self-portraits. And—and then, um, I painted a picture, a great, really nice picture, and I have no idea where it is now, of a tuna fish head. Uh, from the back, you know a head that's been severed from the body.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.] Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, where the—the—the mass of the meat just sort of hangs in—in  formless mass, dripping blood, and then that's contrasted against that sort of real streamlined, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Shape.

WOLF KAHN:  —shape of—of the head. Yeah, that's one of the paintings I distinctly remember from that time.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. You don't know where it is?

WOLF KAHN:  I have no idea where it is. Uh, I painted a sea, uh, dead—dead birds. I painted a lot of—I got—I used to get chickens from George Segal. Segal and—and Kaprow and I were pretty good friends in those days. Allan and I in fact went through music and art together.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And we were very close. We were good friends.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But he's so different than what he—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, Allan and I—Allan, it's very strange what happened with him.  It's a—it's a—a lesson to—to—for all because Allan [00:30:00] used to be sort of in my orbit. You know? And, uh, he ended up, you know, following me into the Hofmann school, following me into the Hansa Gallery.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, and, um, and then he met, uh—spent a summer in Woodstock and met a modern composer whose name presently—Wolpe, Stefan Wolpe.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, Stefan Wolpe.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, sort of, you know, saw clearly the error of his ways in trying to be a painter. Just threw it all up and became an avant-garde personality. And, um, has gone much further than any of us have as far as becoming a culture hero is concerned. You see? But I never had really respect of him because I always felt he was my follower.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] I'll never repeat that. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  No, he was my follower—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —until—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —Stefan Wolpe.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Then—then a whole new, uh, era dawned on him. You see?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah. Yeah. Then he became the prophet and the [cross talk.].

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, that's fantastic.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, but anyway, in those days, Allan and, uh, what's his name?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Segal.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, George and I, we hung out together a lot, and George had that chicken farm.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And all the chickens were dying like—like—like flies from Bang's disease or something.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  And I used to bring them home in—in—in shopping bags, laid them down on the table, and paint them.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Fantastic.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, in that sort of Soutine way.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Sometimes I ripped out feathers by handfuls so as to really make a mess, you know? And I made some paintings of these plucked birds. And, uh, most of them had—still had their feathers, and I also did a dead seagull, which I found on the beach in Provincetown. And I think Nell Blaine has that painting now. [00:32:00] She has—one of the first paintings I saw was—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —[inaudible]—in those, um, objects, you know, subjects? What was—just that they were—

WOLF KAHN:  They just grabbed me. You know? You know, I didn't examine the—I still don't like to examine the symbolic interest.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It's just something. It's there, and—

WOLF KAHN:  Something that's there, it grabs you. I mean, you know, of all the things that are in the world, some things grab me. Some things don't.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. That's true.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's true. So you really—once you started work in this studio is—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —when everything started to go.

WOLF KAHN:  That's when it starts. Things started to go.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And I very—you know, then they started the Hansa Gallery, and—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Now how did that come about because you were early involved with that?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, well, it's happened right here at this—probably—this table were we're sitting now is—Jan, Felix sitting around, and—and me reluctantly, um—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —sort of listening to—to these older guys, uh, getting hungry to—to—for recognition and exposure. And then Felix said, "Well, what about you, Wolf?" "You—you're a good painter.  Why don't you come in?" I said, "I'm not ready." Anyway, I didn't think they were ready. You know?  I—I knew those guys much too well, uh from the hour of least contempt, uh—and I thought, "Well, if it's just Jan and Felix and me, there's no—no need to do anything. We'll just go in— "and get excited about that." And then Felix met Stankievich [ph].

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, right.

WOLF KAHN:  And we all went down. Felix came in all excited. He says, "Well, I met this sculptor. I used to know him at Hofmann's, but he's really doing some crazy work. And he's living with Jean Follett."

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  "And she's doing crazy work, too."

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  "Why don't you come down, and take a look at it?" And I went down. I was immediately fascinated, of course. They were doing crazy work, and then—then Felix said, "Now—now they're going to be part of the gallery, too." And I said, "Well, if they're going to be part of the gallery, [00:34:00] I want to be part of the gallery, too."

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, fantastic.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, that's how I met them, then we, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What made the change from your point of view?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I mean, I—I figured, you know, like—like if—if this—this new, this eye-opening work was going to be part of the gallery, then I want to be in on it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  If it's just Felix Pasilis and Jan Muller, the hell with it. Wasn't enough. Wasn't enough.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  And then we went around. We see—we looked at Jane Wilson. And we liked her work. And, um, and Miles Forst and Jacques Beckwith and couple of other people that—that I also felt sort of—well, you know, big deal.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. But where did—where did the name Hansa ever come from?

WOLF KAHN:  I invented that. I invented that. I told them that, uh, the reason it is called Hansa was, uh, what—First of all, because of Hofmann, because all of us had gone to Hofmann's school. And, uh, secondly, because the Hansa was a league of independent cities—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —in the Middle Ages.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hanseatic League.

WOLF KAHN:  Right? That got together for commercial gain.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  And that was us. That was us. Defense against a hostile outside world and commercial gain.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How marvelous.

WOLF KAHN:  And to give each other, uh, privileges and—and advantages. See? So I figured that's us.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, terrific. That's smart. But you did an exhibition here.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, the 813 Broadway show.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How—How did that—

WOLF KAHN:  It was before we painted the place when we first, uh, when we were first, um, here. All that was Felix. He was a great entrepreneur. He was the, uh, great impresario of that one.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. But that was like your first public—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, right. And we also got together the people that we admired.  Like, I invited Lester Johnson.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And Felix invited, uh, John Grillo. And then there [00:36:00] was, I think, Miles Forst, and Felix and I, and maybe—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Six of your—

WOLF KAHN:  —one other person.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, six?

WOLF KAHN:  Who else was there? Jan.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, I—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How'd you like it 10 years later when Zabriskie reconstructed it?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it was instant history, you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Nowadays there's a lot of that. Now—now they're going to have more of it, uh, this winter in SoHo, they're going to have the whole, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —[inaudible]—'50s.

WOLF KAHN:  —10th Street thing.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? And you're doing it, too. I mean, we all conspired to make instant history.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] But you know, now, you were around the 10th Street galleries, but you were never really involved with any one particular—

WOLF KAHN:  Only with the Hansa.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, the Hansa was a 10th Street gallery, although we were on Frost Street.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And then we moved up to 59th Street.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  59th Street.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, but still, basically a 10th Street gallery.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Now who—who worked in the Hansa, because various people worked—

WOLF KAHN:  You mean, who were directors of it?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, in the beginning, uh—the first director I got through Tom Hess—Tom, incidentally, I, um—I think it's got to be recorded that Tom was a big help right from the start. And another person was a big help right from the start was Meyer Schapiro. He came to our first show.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. [Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  —my—my drawings—[cross talk]. I—I didn't really know him except from afar. I'd been an auditor in one of his courses at Columbia that Allan was taking, and he invited—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  —Allan to go and be an auditor. And I was—I used to go home fascinated and—and eager to get to work, you know? Just because he was talking about art in a way that, uh, made me feel like painting. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, where did Hess come into it? How did you meet him?

WOLF KAHN:  And Tom came down. I don't know through whom—through whom did Tom come down? I think through Fairfield.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Porter.

WOLF KAHN:  Fairfield was the guy who—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Ah.

WOLF KAHN:  —who we knew. And he was already a friend of Tom's. [00:38:00] And Tom came down right away, and right away took an interest in the gallery.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How did you know Fairfield, from—from where?

WOLF KAHN:  From—from around. From—you know, he was one of the boys. I knew him through Larry Rivers.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Larry sort of discovered Fairfield, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, he took a house in Southampton because he was so going crazy. And when was that? In '53.  And he introduced Fairfield to Johnny Myers, and then Johnny gave him a show. But Fairfield first got to know us. He was also writing for the ARTnews as a critic.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And Fairfield gave me my first good write-up. In fact, the first write-up I ever had for my first show was right away Fairfield Porter giving me a good write-up.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Interesting.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That was the Hansa exhibition?

WOLF KAHN:  Hansa exhibition in '53. [Inaudible.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How did that—you know, anyway, you were going to tell me who the first person was—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, uh—anyway, Tom got this—this big huge girl from, uh, Sarah Lawrence, just graduated college—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —uh, to be the director of the gallery. Her name was Anita—Anita Coleman in those days. And her father was a very rich man, and, uh, she was very shy, but she had marvelous friends like—like Barbara Walters was one of her friends, and—and she got a lot of people to come down—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Is that so?

WOLF KAHN:  —and take an interest in the gallery. But she's now Anita Manshel and her husband is a, um, publisher. He publishes Foreign Policy magazine and The Public Interest. And he's a nice fellow. They're big collectors of my work, and, uh, we're still good friends. Although she's completely out of the art world.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah. Who followed her?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, uh, after her there was a lot of—a lot of, sort of, [00:40:00] people who didn't last very long. And then we hired Richard Bellamy. Dick Bellamy, who came with a rose behind his ear.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Where did you find him?

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, he was a friend of Miles's.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But now was that downtown or uptown?

WOLF KAHN:  No, by that time we'd already moved uptown. Anita was there all the time we were downtown.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I see.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, but she, uh, I think—no, she got married is what it was. And, um—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I mean, because Dick used to live in the gallery more or less, didn't he—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, yeah, a bit.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, you know, Dick—Dick—Dick is an ambiguous person.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Doesn't quite know what he does. At least he was then. Maybe he's less ambiguous now, although he's still plenty ambiguous.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And then he couldn't do it full time. And he, I think, he and Ivan got together, Ivan Carr [ph].  And then these two subsequent stars of dealer-dom got their starts at the Hansa Gallery—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —sharing a job, at which that I'm sure they didn't make any money. Well, [cross talk] they got paid $25 a week.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And then—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Each of us, split $25.

WOLF KAHN:  I think they split it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That wasn't really much of anything [laughs] in those days.

WOLF KAHN:  No, no, uh, but they very soon got—got benefits.  I'm sure they got good benefits from that job. They met a lot of people and—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I know Walter Gutman used to hang around there I remember—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  But Walter was a friend of—of—of Dody's, Dody Muller—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yes.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Always a pretty girl with a connection with Walter. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You know, I don't remember the gallery downtown as much as I do uptown, for some reason.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it was right here at the corner. It's still standing, the building, but not for long. It looks like it's going to be torn down any day now.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, they've taken down part of it, the one behind it.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What was it like being involved with a [00:42:00] gallery?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it was—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  —was exciting. At the same time, it was a pain in the neck because, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Big responsibility.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, and we had to go, you know, like the usual co-op gallery stuff. People wanted to be in the gallery and we had spaces for them. We could never agree. We figured nobody was good enough, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  One meeting—in one meeting, uh, Felix got so disgusted. And he said, "You know if Cezanne came here with his paintings, we'd vote him out." [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why do you—you know, it's fascinating because you're implying that the—the choosing became more difficult or more demanding or are you—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, because we were all into such different things—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, you couldn't agree.

WOLF KAHN:  —and we couldn't agree on anybody.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Hmm. What did you think of the 10th Street situation through the '50s because, you know, it became very lively and lots of galleries—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, we were always a little contemptuous of it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  All the people can participate in the 10th Street gallery.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  If I would have been uptown—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Well, but you got up there pretty soon.

WOLF KAHN:  I got up—The only reason I got up was because, uh, I had all these jobs to support myself. And, um, then I had a chance in 1955, I was invited, uh, by a wealthy lady who had a hacienda in Mexico to take care of her hacienda while she wasn't using it. And, uh, I wouldn't have had to—had to have jobs so I could paint full time. So it would have been the first time I could paint full time aside from the summer.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, that's what got you to Mexico.

WOLF KAHN:  So I went to Mexico then. And before we left for Mexico, I said, "Well, I'm not going to have a job. I'm not going to have the 15 bucks a month which it takes to be a member of the Hansa Gallery. By that time it was quite expensive. You know? Fifteen dollars in those days was money. And [00:44:00], uh, you know, I got paid, I think $1.60 an hour. You know, $15.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What were you doing then? I mean—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  I was teaching, um, first, in the Manhattan Real [ph] Neighborhood Center in Harlem, and then at, uh, Downtown Community School. I was a shop teacher.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Oh, yeah. That's where my friend studied.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah? Who was that?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Josephine Stewart, [ph] who now lives in California—

WOLF KAHN:  Really?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —very good architect.

WOLF KAHN:  Huh.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I had all sorts of very interesting kids.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. How long—How many years were you there?

WOLF KAHN:  Two years.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  I was two years at, uh, at the Manhattan Real [ph] Center. I had a black girlfriend then. I had all the credentials for being a good left winger.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What happened to left wing life? [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Huh? Well, I did a little block busting. I got my black girl in the apartment in lily-white Bank Street before Pearl Bailey bought her house.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  So I was—so I was living on Bank Street all right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, terrific. So, well, you were painting. You were working at the school and—

WOLF KAHN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And I had shows.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And you had shows.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Everything was—

WOLF KAHN:  And I was—I was very, uh, very well thought of in those days. I—I remember, um, de Kooning came to my show my first show.  And sent down, um—what was the guy's name? Richie [ph] from the Modern because they had—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh—[inaudible]—Richie.

WOLF KAHN:  They had shows upstairs—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —[inaudible]—from Youngstown [ph].

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I remember. Yeah. [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  And Richie—Richie didn't like it. Too much work.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Never. You were in one of those.

WOLF KAHN:  No, I wasn't.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Weren't you in one of those exhibitions?

WOLF KAHN:  No, I was never involved in those.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  No. And then he sent Egan down. Because he thought Egan might be interested in my work. Because Egan had dinero.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, I think in de Kooning's mind, I was definitely, you know, one of the, uh—and [00:46:00] de Kooning said to me, he said, "You know I'm very envious of you," when he saw my show. Met him on the street afterwards—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —because he had a studio right on the corner—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? Um, says, "I'm very envious of you because you manage to paint everyday life," which was a very interesting statement coming from de Kooning.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  From him.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? And that was—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's amazing.

WOLF KAHN:  —before he exhibited the women, too.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, but he was clearly—You could see he was thinking in those kinds of terms.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Hmm.

WOLF KAHN:  So that was a thread, you know from Hofmann's human content to de Kooning's everyday life.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, I was very—I was—a lot of people were very, uh, excited by my first show.  Fairfield gave me a marvelous write-up. In the first page of the ARTnews, you know, you can—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, right.

WOLF KAHN:  —always tell where—where the biggies were because—or new shows—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Because they were always on the first page.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Hmm. Well, that must have been very exciting.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, it was.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, it was. It really was. And I started right away selling a few things. I think Meyer Schapiro sent people down. Tom sent somebody down.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  And, um, yeah, I had a good start.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How—[inaudible]—you had a couple of shows at Hansa?

WOLF KAHN:  Right. And the second show—the second show was, if anything, more successful than the first because I sold quite a few things out of it. And, um, by that time people already knew my work from the Stable annuals and—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —so forth. And a lot of people came.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Those were very exciting shows, the Stable annuals.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh-huh. Uh-huh [affirmative].

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why do you think that was? I mean, the people or the organization or the juxtaposition of—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, well, the, the democratic thing. You know, that the young upstarts like myself would hang next to a Franz Kline or something like that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? And then in the photographs, [00:48:00] I remember in the ARTnews there was a photograph of just a wall. They took a whole wall. You know, and there—there we all were together. You know, I think I was next to Gottlieb or somebody like that you know, who was already a very established person.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, they talked about the artists. They said we were all, um, of the same weight, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  Which—which is very good, you know, because in the meantime some terrible kind of hierarchical arrangement has—has—has interposed itself. And you no longer see anything like that where—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, the business became so important. I mean, the money and the investments—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —and art became expensive.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, and you no longer have any opportunity to see heavies and lightweights side by side. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, people are scared to do it.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You can't get curators to do it.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And you can hardly get a critic to write about young and old or big and little, whatever the contrast style.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  They're terrified of it. You know?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Well, it was—I mean, I'm sure you've heard this over and over again, but the art world was a community in those days. You know, at least—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, it was smaller.

WOLF KAHN:  —my—my work was.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —but you knew people who were not just figurative painters. They were, you know—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, of course. We knew everybody.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Very diverse.

WOLF KAHN:  We knew everybody.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  The Cedar Bar was around the corner.

WOLF KAHN:  Right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  People drifted by there.

WOLF KAHN:  Right, I mean, Fairfield, you know, was—and de Kooning were good friends. And Fairfield and I were good friends. And—and—and Franz Kline and I were good friends, and—and—and Felix Pasilis and—and, uh, and—and I was good friends in those days with—with Dickenson [ph]. You know, I mean, it was all like a very, you know—and Milton Avery and I were good friends because through Emily when I married her, you know? There was a sense of camaraderie, which has since kind of g—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Changed.

WOLF KAHN:  —gone by the board.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Where did you meet Emily, by the way?

WOLF KAHN:  At the Artists' Club.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You're kidding.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, sir. It's the only good thing that ever happened at the Artists' Club. [They laugh.] [00:50:00]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I've never heard of that happening at the Artists' Club.

WOLF KAHN:  Sure. Well, and you know, I'm sure—I'm sure there's quite a bit of fucking going on—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, but—

WOLF KAHN:  —as a result of those evenings, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But nothing much else came out of it.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I remember—I remember, for example, Jerry [ph]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —used to come down and always bring a girl that was too tall for him.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  Pretty girls.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? And some guy would always come and take her away from—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —under his nose, you know? And then he'd have to spend the rest of his life not talking to this guy.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  And I come in. No, I was one of them.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Finally there was nobody else to talk to him. [They laugh.]

WOLF KAHN:  No, no, he—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, I know, but—

WOLF KAHN:  He's—he's—you know, he's got many friends.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, but it did reduce his, uh—

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. But there was a great deal of vitality around, and people seemed to be very adventuresome, and, uh—and nobody was making any money. Your exhibition was obviously—it didn't produce enough for you to live on—

WOLF KAHN:  No.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —so you could stop teaching and all?

WOLF KAHN:  No, the first exhibition, I did that was in '56 when I went uptown with Grace Borgenicht.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And how did you come to meet her? Where did you—[inaudible]—?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I mean, when I came back from Mexico, I had nothing.  See?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Which was what year now?

WOLF KAHN:  1955.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].  

WOLF KAHN:  And, um, at this—in the meantime, while I was in Mexico, uh, ARTnews  annual came out, in which Tom Hess had a thing called, "Recent Directions in American Art." In which there was Rauschenberg, Rivers, Felix Pasilis, myself, Helen Frankenthaler. You know? And, like, I was one of the—touted as being one of the comers. And, uh, then another, uh, time—Uh, no, no, that was later. Uh, another ARTnews annual came out the next year, had a drawing of mine illustrated Richard Eberhart poem.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And so forth—and—and, uh, I guess—And then they had a big show at [00:52:00] The Stable. Again called "Recent Directions," in which a painting of mine, big painting, was—was, uh, exhibited, which was then reproduced in the Times. The Sunday page. So I figured I was ready to try uptown, and I let it be known. I went to—I went to, uh—Let's see. Who'd I go to? Kootz, Martha Jackson. And as a backstop, I went to Borgenicht. And, um, Martha Jackson liked my work, but John Hoffberg [ph] was—was—was her—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —um, her darling.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, [cross talk] my girlfriend.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  So—so Hoffberg—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It was a little too—

WOLF KAHN:  Hoffberg, uh, put uh, a stop to that because he still hated my guts. And, um—And Kootz was—he was playing with me, couldn't make up his mind, you know? He didn't know whether he wanted to have anybody, you know, representational—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —in his gallery and so forth. And so—so I'd left, um—so Borgenicht—I'd left some paintings at Borgenicht's. All—I left paintings in all those places. I had lots of paintings. [They laugh.] You know, I was fresh from Mexico.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  I came back with 30 paintings. And, uh, I'd left some at Borgenicht, and she immediately sold them. Sold one to Roy Neuberger.  She—I guess she—She decided she really wanted me in the gallery. She marshalled all her forces. And, um, I didn't have a telephone up here. And, uh, I remember a telegraph—telegram came, saying, um, "Sold such and such to so and so. And sold X to Y. And, uh, uh, gallery very excited. Great things are in the offing. Call me." You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  So I called her, and she says, "Well, we really want you at the gallery. Come up, and we'll talk." So she took me out to lunch and feasted me [00:54:00] and gave me a drink. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  All the glory—[inaudible]—.

WOLF KAHN:  And then—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Then I forgot about the thought of her as a backstop.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  I really wanted to be with Kootz. I said, Gee, if anybody wants to do all that for me, I better go with.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? And Borgenicht was a reputable gallery, and she still is.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Oh, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —[inaudible]—good gallery. And, uh, she had, in those days, it was, uh, Jimmy Brooks and Baskin and Avery and—and these are all people, you know, of weight, and I figured it was just about the kind of company I'd like to keep.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. [Cross talk.] Rivero [ph] was there already.

WOLF KAHN:  He still is.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You know? Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Lots of people.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So 21 years with Grace Borgenicht.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. That's another seed—[inaudible]—.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  No more changes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But she's done really well for you then over the years. Hasn't she? I mean, kept things going.

WOLF KAHN:  She's kept things going. I've made a living. Ever since I went with her, I made a living from my work.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  You know, I never had to take jobs.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I took a job teaching.  And then things started getting bad, uh, when I came back from Italy because my style changed. And all these paintings didn't sell well.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Startled everybody.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And they didn't sell well.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And then, fortunately, I, by that time, I had a good enough reputation that I could apply to, uh to—to the Guggenheim. I got a grant.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  And things were really hitting bottom then. Then I taught at Cooper, and I could always get more classes or less because I was a good teacher. You know? Depending as I needed them.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well—

WOLF KAHN:  Years.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  I—I really, you know, wasn't a very—wasn't what you'd call a successful artist. Although the first—first two shows at Grace's I did very well. First one I sold out altogether.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Before it was even on the wall.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's really extraordinary.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, and it's on basis of that that I went to Italy to chase Emily.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Why was—Why? Had she gone there?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, she—You see, I met her [00:56:00] in the previous spring before I went to Borgenicht.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So that was '55—

WOLF KAHN:  '56.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  '56.

WOLF KAHN:  Spring of '56. And, um, started going out with her, and then we decided to spend the summer together in Provincetown, but she had won the Fulbright, and she was about to go to Europe in the fall. See? So I figured, well, we'd just have a good summer together, but then I fell in love with her.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, I didn't like the idea of her, you know, spending—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Wandering around by her—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  —with all those horny waps.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  All by herself. So as soon as I had my show, I had my opening— The paintings were already all sold. I had $8,000. Incredible.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know? [Inaudible.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And it lasted about the four hours—[inaudible]—.

WOLF KAHN:  Right. I—I had—I had—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —nothing else, and I had $8,000.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Good gosh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  So—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And that was a lot of money in those days.

WOLF KAHN:  It was. It was. So I went to Italy. I went to—I had a big party the, the night of the opening, in which we had 300 people in here.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  In here?

WOLF KAHN:  In here. Three hundred people, including, uh, Frank O'Hara, who got so drunk that he couldn't make it down the stairs.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  I had to let him sleep overnight.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  He was just one of many who had—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —to sleep over, yeah. [They laugh.]

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, de Kooning was here. Kline was here.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Everybody.                   

WOLF KAHN:  Everybody was here. And I had a band, David Amram.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Okay, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —[inaudible]—played with his jazz band.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And we all danced. There was—it was tremendous. Best party I was ever at.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  And I gave it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, fantastic.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Sounds like—[inaudible]—.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Cost me $300, that party. It was, you know, a fantastic expenditure of money.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Ah.

WOLF KAHN:  Felt that's what I needed to do in order to—to stay in good terms with everybody because by then the word was around that I had—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Got to prove it, right?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, that's true. When did you start going to the Artist's Club?

WOLF KAHN:  Um, when I came back from, uh, Chicago.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, so that was—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. In the early '50s.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  '51 or so, two, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  '52, yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How—Who got you in?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I don't know. Jan was there, Felix, those people.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. And they just said—[inaudible]—come along, yeah. [00:58:00]

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, I wasn't a member. We just sort of got past Pavia [ph] and—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So Littlefield and all those—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  But I mean, I knew all these people.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, Littlefield actually had been a Hofmann student. And he rather admired me because Hofmann thought I was, uh you know, promising young artist. So—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And he was always ready to, sort of, help people.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. And Fred McDarrah who became the doorman at one point.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Right. Right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Irving Sandler was around?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. I just had a letter from Irv today. He's going to reproduce four paintings in the book he's writing on the '50s.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  You know about his book on the '50s?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Sure. Sure.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, terrific. I think that's great. Um, what did you think of the club? I mean, what—You know, what did it mean to you in those days, or did it have any meaning, or does it have a different one now?

WOLF KAHN:  It's—I don't know. I can't wax moist, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —moisty-eyed over it, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And I—we used to get drunk there.  We had fights. Uh, I remember, uh, oh, seeing, um, Franz Kline kicking John Hoffberg in back of his foot because he was being nasty—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —and Hoffberg having to be carried down the stairs because he broke his, uh, Achilles heel. His Achilles tendon. Uh, and I used to listen to the—to the, um panels with a certain amount of boredom. You know, it was very few people.

PAUL CUMMINGS: Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, it was all entertainment. We—I don't think we were interested in ideas. You know? We got our ideas from somewhere else. I don't quite know where.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, you know, it's—it's interesting because some of the club seems to have been totally different to every person. I mean, there's very little overlap.

WOLF KAHN:  Hmm. We went every Friday night. You know? Went to the Cedar all the time too.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And yet we felt—everybody felt like an outsider. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Club, uh, had a big black cloud of hostility hanging over it. All—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Pavia's little black book.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, over the whole proceeding. I—I remember, uh, in'49—[inaudible]—Excuse me. In '54, Elaine de Kooning and I painted a portrait of Tom Hess. Tom sat for both of us at the same time.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Ah, fantastic.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, [01:00:00] we were talking about who was an insider. You know, and I thought Elaine, surely, was the queen of us all because—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —everybody adored her. You know? And she said, "No I'm an outsider, too." And—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —feeling, [laughs] clenching up my shoulders.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, who were—who were the insiders?

WOLF KAHN:  There weren't any insiders.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  That's the thing because the club managed to create such an atmosphere that there were no insiders.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Not the members—[inaudible]—that didn't even belong.

WOLF KAHN:  No, they belonged. Right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. But it's fun—You know, Lewitton, [ph] I think is a fascinating character, who people don't talk about very much. But I think as a, uh, provocative character.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, I remember Lewitton came up to us, to—to me at a show of mine, and he said, um—no, it was Pavia, excuse me. Pavia came up, and he says, "Why don't you move all your painting up a little bit, like six inches higher? Get rid of that little strip of sky. You'd be an abstract painter." [They laugh.] "It's the horizon that's holding you back," he said.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, no. What do you think—just to finish on Lewitton here. Um, what do you think it was about him that was so—so curious? Did you know him well, because Lewitton—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, he—he had a certain Egyptian quality.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, it's the way he looked at you—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. That—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —[inaudible]—eyes.

WOLF KAHN:  That sort of—sort of, yeah. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But he was very smart.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, he was. But I never—I never got close to any of those. And I never—I guess I was essentially not very curious because, you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, they were all so aggressive and tough.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. I—I always sort of felt, well, he was like Cerberus at the gate. He takes an interest. Yeah, I'm in—I'm interested in getting to Hades. I don't want to go—worry about Cerberus.

PAUL CUMMINGS: [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know? That's true. I mean, he would like that image, too.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Snapping at everybody.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But they made it—I think they were very aware or if they weren't they really made their generation difference apparent.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You know? I mean, you knew they were older and you were younger, and you sat there and listened it was fine. If you got too snippy or something, they—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, that's where Franz Kline was great. He wasn't like that at all.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No.

WOLF KAHN:  No, he was a genuine democrat—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —as Felix would say.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Genuine democrat.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Okay, great. —[inaudible]—after this. [01:02:00]

[END OF TAPE 1 OF 2, SIDE B.]

This is tape two of two, side A.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  This is the 16th of January 1978. This is side three. Paul Cummings talking to Wolf Kahn in his studio of 813 Broadway.

WOLF KAHN:  [Inaudible]—coats.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It was Frank McDarrah.

WOLF KAHN:  That was Frank. [They laugh.] And he had to stay the night because he couldn't make it—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —down the stairs. [Cross talk] You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  He'd took one look at those stairs, and he came charging back up.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] And he couldn't do it.

WOLF KAHN:  Couldn't face it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That was a great party. Have you given a party like that subsequently, and was that—

WOLF KAHN:  No.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That was the la—

WOLF KAHN:  A lifetime in my Bohemian existence.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Once was enough.

WOLF KAHN:  No, I just—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  —uh, I came—the next thing that happened to me is I got married. You know, I went off to Italy, and I came back—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  —with a wife, with Emily, and—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Who you had met before, though, right, when she had gone—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —on a grant to—

WOLF KAHN:  Right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How did—

WOLF KAHN:  I met her in Provincetown, and we lived together that summer. And, um, that was a great summer incidentally. Did I talk about it somewhere?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What year was that?

WOLF KAHN:  That was fif—no, it was, uh, fifty—the summer of '56.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Because the show was in '56. It must have been—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —the fall.

WOLF KAHN:  Right. No, the show was around, I think, it opened on the fourth of December.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  At the end of the year.

WOLF KAHN:  And I embarked to chase Emily into Italy on the eighth of December. In other words, I made a quick getaway before—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —people, uh, you know, could—could, uh, shoot me down for having had a success.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Which was not the proper thing to happen those kinds of days.

WOLF KAHN:  Not the proper thing in those days at all.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why do you think that was, just because this—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, because all was very simple—because all the people we respected hadn't had any, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  That was, um, when they were young, uh, there were so many people around [00:02:00] whom we respected who—who hadn't started to make it even then. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  In '56.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, and all—none of the ones who had already had success had had a success when they were young.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  de Kooning got his success late. Mondrian got—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —his success late. Uh, um, Kandinsky even got his success—I mean, art history was, was replete with examples. Very—I mean, in the history of modern art—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —it was very rare for anybody start making money early. And in America, of course, where there was this double confusion about commercial success and, uh, quality which were not sensed to be, uh diametrically opposed to each other.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Do you think that's still true?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, I—I haven't figured out this moment.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  I haven't figured out this moment.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You don't worry about that.

WOLF KAHN:  But I must say, I get a lot of satisfaction from the fact that I'm successful.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Keep things going and—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it just—it seems to be like—like this moment, uh, that things switched around 180-degrees and you almost feel that your—you get your, uh, justification by the fact that, that you get—make money and get play in the press and so forth. You know? Because you really don't know too many people who were, uh, who you think are good who are not getting it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  You know? Do you know anybody?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No, that's true. But some people are good who don't—maybe personality reasons or quirks don't have a good—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, the last example that—that I was very involved in was because of Alice Mason.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Alice Trumbull Mason.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? [00:04:00] Uh, but she was a raging alcoholic, and nobody could deal with her.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —[inaudible]—they knew it was—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Um, but, uh, I—I think it's a very different moment from—from—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Twenty years ago.

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, it is 20 years.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Some—some tremendous roundabout turn has happened in my consciousness, and I have a feeling that I'm only reflecting what's—what really in the air. Um, people almost take it for granted that if they haven't heard your name oh, you can't be any good—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —you know, as you go out into the art world.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, that's true.

WOLF KAHN:  And, and, uh, I don't think that was the—that was that way 20 years ago because there were too many examples of—of new people who'd been around a long time uh, whom nobody had ever heard of before.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, there wasn't also the gallery, dealer, curator, critic, historian, magazine structure.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it—it is—it certainly wasn't as heavily, uh, seeded.  I mean, it—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  It wasn't as dense, you know, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  As now.

WOLF KAHN:  As now, sure.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But you know, going—going back to your, uh, trip. You went off to Italy, right?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  After Emily.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, no, let me tell you about that summer.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I forgot to tell you.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  That summer I met, like—uh, through Emily who had been good friends of—of the family, I met the Averys. And I spent a lot of time with Milton.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  And he had, I think, a very salutary effect on me.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really? In what way?

WOLF KAHN:  He drove a lot of the shit out of my mind.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What kind of—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, this business that the artist has to be unhappy, that he has to, uh, suffer that—that—that you can't lead a normal life and be an artist and so forth because he was a fair person who, um, was nice. [00:06:00] He was quiet. He was—he wasn't pushy. He wasn't particularly interesting as a personality. You know? He only became interesting as you got to know him really. And you found out what—what quiet reserves of humor and—and, um, appreciation of things he had.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. But he had Sally, who was sort of a little bird that jumped around and talked. [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, but she couldn't—she couldn't have done anything if he didn't have the goods, too—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —somehow.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's true.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's true. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Or if he disappointed, the expectations that she raised, which she invariably didn't do—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —because he really was a, you know, quite a fantastic guy. But he lived—I mean, they always lived a very agreeable life. And, uh, they—they sort of felt that, uh, it's hard enough to be an artist without—without looking to live in garrets and looking to—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Having a terrible life.

WOLF KAHN:  —to have a terrible life—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —so as to you went to the most-pleasant places you could and lived as well as you could. And it didn't hurt—it certainly didn't hurt his work. You know? And I went out with him and painting. We went—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  —went to, um, to a—we did a whole series of—of pictures side by side in Pamet, in Truro.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So he did watercolors usually then, didn't he?

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, he did oil—oils—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Or was he drawing?

WOLF KAHN:  [Inaudible]—paper. Now outside, he did mostly drawings—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And then he, he had a whole system, you know? He did stuff outside. Then he took it in inside and transferred into watercolor, and then finally made a painting, you know, from that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I thought the watercolors were done outside sometimes. So it was a drawing first, then the watercolors—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. He made drawings with color indications. Or sometimes not even that, you know? He'd carry around with him a little book. It wasn't even a book. It was just sheets of paper that were sort of—sort of, uh, clipped on a clipboard and, uh, made—made felt tip—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Right. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —pen [00:08:00] drawings very fast without any particular, uh, care, you know that they would be works of art. They were notations.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Real kind of little quirky sketch.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Notes [ph] for him.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And, uh, he—I know he made a series of—of me painting. I had an outdoor easel, you know?  And I had it set up on top of a dune, and he had me standing on the dune painting, [laughs] you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  With one of those long, narrow pictures. And I was in the middle, and the picture stuck out on either side of me—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —like a crucifix.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know? [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Now there's a lot of imagery somebody could work on.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. But he was—I mean, you know, he's like one of those—those people who jolted my, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But what other—and, you know—what other examples are there of his influence on you? I mean, besides Avery—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, uh, Hofmann, of course, had a great influence on me. He also was a person who always liked to live well.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, wasn't at all involved in being a Bohemian.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Always dressed well, looked elegant. [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I wouldn't say that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No, but he—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  No, he was—he looked like a German tourist.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, wore rings—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, I mean he didn't—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  —or wearing those heavy sandals and—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Somebody who was always—I mean, at least in New York where I knew him.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  No, he was sort of—he had a feeling that he was—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, he was—he was genuinely a great man. You know? Tremendous insights into life—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. But didn't he put—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Very, very sharp.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —off many times?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. But what about Avery? I mean, what was it like to go out painting with him 'cause you hadn't done that with anybody, had you? You never painted—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, I went out painting a lot with Lester Johnson.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, Lester was—didn't I mention Lester earlier? That he was—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, briefly, but not that you went painting with him.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. We went out painting together a bit.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Whereabouts?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, in the, um, uh, you know where—where, um, Co-op City now stands?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Over in there. [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, we used to go over and do, [00:10:00] uh, swamps and bridges and things like that. And this was way early. This was around 1950, something like that, '51.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I didn't know that.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. So all that scenery's gone. I mean, I know it's—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  You know, and then I went out, and I used to go out painting and drawing with Jan, Jan Muller. I always liked to go with people, you know? It's a lot of fun, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Even now I go out with Frank Stout up in Vermont.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  We go out a lot—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —together. Yeah. And, uh, I'm going to go up next—next spring. I've gotten friendly with Jim Dine and he's—he wants to do landscape all of a sudden. You know? He's into, uh, rediscovering in his own terms the old tradition of paintings, painting still lifes now. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  After the nudes, he's now—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —painting still life. Well, he always he had a certain still life—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, but now he's really painting it in a sort of a painterly way. He's all involved in Morandi and people like that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Objects on a table—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Objects on a table. He's got him—this whole—whole bedroom in—in his hotel where he's painting now. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Its full of still life objects.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Thought that I'd lend him a couple.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What'd you lend him?

WOLF KAHN:  A fajalauza teapot—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —and, uh, um, well, actually the next one I'm going to lend him, it's—it's this thing here. The—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, that's, um—what do you call it? Um—

WOLF KAHN:  Sheet metal work. You know, tin, tin work with a cream—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, but it said—yeah. A little [cross talk] cream, um—

WOLF KAHN:  But it's a nice object.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, fantastic.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right out of Morandi. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, actually it's got a—Morandi is more elegant. This is a—got a kind of American clumsiness that I don't think this object would have—would have pleased Morandi really.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He would've put it—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  The color of it's nice.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —see the handle or something.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, that's [00:12:00] marvelous.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. So anyway, you know, I mean, uh, it's—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But then you stayed friendly with Avery for the last, what, few years of his life—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah, and I'm still very friendly with Sally.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And every time I make like a life move, any kind, like consider changing galleries, anything like that, I always talk with Sally because I have a feeling of all the people around, she's got—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  —the—the—the most perfect grasp on reality, you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Sure.

WOLF KAHN:  —in a really tough way.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. She smiles, but go underneath that—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Straight, straight line. [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What other things happened that summer? I mean, you got, um—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, uh, well, I started selling a few things out of my studio.  Um, there was a collector named Horace Richter. I think I mentioned—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —him. Did I mention him on the other tape?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What ever happened to him? No.

WOLF KAHN:  He's now a dealer. He's a very rich man, too.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He's a dealer now?

WOLF KAHN:  He's a dealer in Israel. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I wondered what happened to him.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And he wants me to come over there and paint landscape in Israel. Uh—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Because he used to be here on Madison Avenue or something in a different kind of business. [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  He was in the shirt—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's right.

WOLF KAHN:  —in—in—in under—ladies' underwear or something like that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Something like that.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And his father was the peach king.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, he—he controlled the peach harvest from, uh, North Carolina or South Carolina all the way up to, uh, to New Jersey.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, fantastic. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  He used to a—he was a Southerner with a Jewish accent. So his accent was atrocious. It was a Southern accent with Jewish overtones, which—which is impossible for me—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hard to make up. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  [Inaudible.] His name was Moses Richter [ph], and he used to say—once I met him at Horace's house, and he—he—he, uh, said this, "I don't know who's crazier—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —"the [00:14:00] people that paints the paintings or the people that buys them." [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, amazing. Hoo! But what—Richter's gone to Israel then?

WOLF KAHN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I didn't know that. He's disappeared.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. But he was very heavily into collecting the group that—of which I was a party. He has a lot of—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —Jan Mullers and Richard Stankiewicz and, um, I led him to Lee Bontecou—bought some things of hers. And, um—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And where did you find her?

WOLF KAHN:  I met her in Italy. She had a Fulbright at the same time that Emily did.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I see.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Now what happened in Italy? That's—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, in Italy I got married. And, um, my style changed.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But you were living where?

WOLF KAHN:  Living in Venice.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  In Venice, oh.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. We had a beautiful place overlooking the maritime passage between Venice and the Giudecca. We lived on the Giudecca. And my—my painting became empty. You know? It started out being, at that time, sort of, you know very expressionistic—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —and bright and with, sort of Bonnard-esque overtones.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, it's like the painting that was here then.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And, um, in—I got more and more interested in—in being a sort of an overall painter of—of almost—I think my—the big influence at that time on me really was Guston.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. And, um, my paintings became gray. And—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, 'cause he was then doing the abstract—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —good things, yeah. But you never got away from the image, even—

WOLF KAHN:  No, I never got away from the image. I was—then I painted lands—exclusively landscape. I got away from painting the figure. Toward the end of my stay in Italy, I wasn't painting the figure at all anymore.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why was that?

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It wasn't there, or you didn't—

WOLF KAHN:  It didn't—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —work anymore [00:16:00] or—

WOLF KAHN:  —fit in anymore. I, um—I have a story, very funny. Uh, actually that was in my second—I—I kept on trying to reintroduce the figure.  And in my second stay in Italy, this story, uh, goes—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  This was later, right?

WOLF KAHN:  This was in '63.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Um, I was very broke.  And I had this huge painting that I'd been working on all summer long, which was based on a painting by Van Gogh where—where he's walking down an avenue carrying his easel and—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —his canvas. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Famous painting, right.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. And I—I think, uh, Bacon [ph] made—made some—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —some strike-offs [ph] from it, too.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And I was—instead of going down this avenue, I was going down this path, which led from our house into a whole series of olive orchards. And the path had cypresses and olive trees along the side of it, and very heavy blue sky I had in it. And I was this little figure carrying a canvas under his arm. [They laugh.] And, uh, a box of paints and the other. And that was me a la Van Gogh with a hat. You know? And I couldn't make that painting work. Oh, I changed the scale of the figure.  I change the scale of the trees—I—I—over and over again. So one day, Jack Zajac, who's a very fine sculptor who was working in Rome—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —terrific guy, too. He sounds—sounds like—like, uh, Jimmy Stewart. You know, he's got sort of—[inaudible]—. Uh, and he let me say to him, "You know, I like your work, Jack." He says, "Gee, thanks." You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  [Inaudible.] You know, and he got a—got hair hanging into his eyes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  He's really sort of like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  But he brought a [00:18:00] a fellow named Taubman who built—the big rich guy from middle west—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, the supermarket guy.

WOLF KAHN:  —Made his money—yeah, you know him.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Alfred Taubman.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.  

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  He brought him over, and we were practically broke.  And I—and this guy Taubman was supposed to buy one of my paintings. And I brought out this big painting, and—and he loved it, and he said, uh—he said, "Well, uh," he said, "I want this painting." I said, "Well, Mr. Taubman, I'm sorry. You can't have it because, um, it's not done." And, uh, and then he said, "Well, when it's done, how much is it going to be?" And I said it would be a thousand dollars or $1,200, something like that. And—and he said, uh, "Well, let me give you the money ahead of time, and when you've got it finished, you just send it to me in St. Louis," or something—or was it Kansas City? I don't know where [cross talk]. Yeah. And I said, "Oh, gee, I can't do that because that would inhibit me in working on the painting."

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And meantime, you should have seen the grimaces—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] [Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN: Jack—Jack Zajac, he was going like this, you know? And he didn't—"oy vey," you know. [They laugh.] What a schlunk. You know, I really didn't—I really didn't have a pot to piss in at the moment.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? But, uh, I was so screwed up over that painting, and so what I finally did with this painting is I painted out the figure. And it just became a straight landscape. And like I never—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Did he ever get the painting?

WOLF KAHN:  He never got the—I still have it in—out front.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It's still here?

WOLF KAHN:  I'll show it to you. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Did he end—did he buy something else?

WOLF KAHN:  He, uh, bought a smaller painting. He—he, uh, you know. So I did have—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So something happened. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —something happ—I think a $200 painting, he bought, you know? Kept me going—going for a couple of weeks. [00:20:00] [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Dear. But, um, how did you like living in Venice.

WOLF KAHN:  In Venice? Oh, it was great. Beautiful city.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How do you think it affected your work? I mean, did it—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it had a terrific effect in the sense that it's—for the first time I discovered a peculiar light. I mean, you might say a, uh, a local kind of light which I tried very hard to, um, to capture. You know? What they've called this sfumatura [ph] of Venice. You know? There's always like a little—little bit of a—of a haze in the summertime. And this crept into all my work.  It really sort of—sort of prepared, uh— it got me into, um you know, painting the way I painted the subsequent 10 years, you know, after that. And I sent those paintings back to Grace and, uh, she had a hell of a time with them. She, um, didn't like them particularly. Well, maybe she even—I'm being unjust. She—she might have liked them, but the clientele didn't like them.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, and they were very disappointed in them. And the show that I subsequently had when I came back— I think I sold three paintings out of it. You know, mostly to friends.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  That was a whole different story from—but Grace, I think, got to like them very much, and she herself bought one from the show. Hung it in her house subsequently. I don't know if it would—didn't wear well or she could spare it, but it's now in the Brooklyn Museum. And she—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. Oh, that's—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  —got rid of it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Went to a nice place didn't it?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But what—what was it that intrigued you about staying in Venice 'cause you spent a lot of time there.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, we—well, we had this terrific studio in an old palazzo. The, uh, ballroom of the—of this old palazzo. [00:22:00] And, uh, the light was just—just so incredible. And it was—it was new every day. It was different. It was—was strange. It was very peculiar light.  I mean, it was the first time I was in a place where I really felt I understood the light. I mean in Provincetown, I used to paint whatever came into my head and sort of let the light—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Happen.

WOLF KAHN:  —take care of itself, and I suppose, in some of the pictures, I got a certain kind of brilliance, you know, that you associate with Provincetown. But I wasn't as conscious of it as I was in—in Venice. You know? I really became very conscious of the particular light that there was there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Were other Americans there that you knew, or were you sort of by yourself or what kind of social world was there?

WOLF KAHN:  Uh.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What kind of social world was it?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, I moved, um, with art historians, and, uh, Roy Fisher was there at the time. Do you know Roy?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I never met him. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  He's—he's the house art historian at Wildenstein now. And a guy named, um, um, Fred Hartt. He was there. He's an art historian, uh quite a well-known one. I think, uh, at Washington U in St. Louis. And, um, then I mostly moved to the circle of Italian artists—Vedova and Santomaso and, uh, the whole Venetian group. You know, they were—they were quite friendly.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Did you learn some Italian?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yes. I got to speak Italian as well I speak English. Fact, I—I learned to speak Venetian. It's quite esoteric. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  It's a language all to itself.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Ah, fantastic.

WOLF KAHN:  Sure. And I noted—I—I had my own gondola which I bought for 25 bucks.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You're kidding.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  And local unemployables fixed it up [00:24:00] for me, and taught me how to row it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I have great stories on how, uh, you know, uh, I got—I—I fooled gondoliers into thinking I was a typical tourist. You know? And I'd fall in the water, and they got me to climb up on the prow, and gave their hand very carefully, handed—[inaudible]—you know, and I'd like make the gondola go round and round, round as though I didn't know where I was going. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  And I would sudden—like, when—when the thing was going—heading in the right direction I'd start leaning into it the oar, and make it go like—[inaudible]—you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  And the gondolier—[inaudible]—stand there and look at me—[inaudible]—I got to be quite an expert.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, Venice was a lot of fun, and then my—my best friend in Venice was, um, the son of—of probably the largest collector at that time in Venice named—he's a—Avocatto Giovanni Brass who was this huge collector of very fine Renaissance and Baroque paintings. And the son was a, um, film enthusiast. And he finally, uh, became a film director in Italy.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What's his name?

WOLF KAHN:  His name is Tinto Brass.  He made a movie called Chi lavora é perduto.  He's sort of an anarchist, and then um, Black on White was a movie that was—they're all—they're all on the edge of pornography. You know? It's—yeah. But he was a wonderful guy, and he was, uh—understood Venice. He was friendly with all the—the famous winners of the regatta, you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yes. Yes.

WOLF KAHN:  —and all that. I mean, he really laid out Venice—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —for us like a—with a—with a red carpet.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How'd you find him?

WOLF KAHN:  I don't know. In—Venice isn't a big town.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So you meet people?

WOLF KAHN:  You meet people. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, Peggy Guggenheim was there, wasn't she?

WOLF KAHN:  I was friendly with Peggy. [00:26:00] She was sort of—especially in the wintertime when Peggy, you know—Venice is a very funny place because the Biennale sort of throws Venice into a tizzy and makes it lose its sense of being backwater. You know, for—like every two years Venice thinks it's the art capital of the world. You know? Basically, it's a very provincial town.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  So—so, uh, people behave atrociously, you know because they're—they're having all these celebrities in town and they forget their normal friends [laughs], you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  So you have to make allowances for that. But in the wintertime, I saw a lot of Peggy.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  'Cause it's quiet—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  'Cause there's nobody else there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Nobody's there.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What was she like in those days, in the mid '60s?

WOLF KAHN:  Probably the same way as always.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.] Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Always a bit of a bitch.  But, uh, underneath you have a sort of feeling she's a Hamish, Jewish lady, you know who, uh, has her feet on the ground.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. She like your work?

WOLF KAHN:  No.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Didn't?

WOLF KAHN:  No. Meant—meant nothing to her.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  She thought—she didn't—in fact, in Italy, nobody could understand what I was into. They all felt that an American painter should be doing something totally different. Yeah. You know, Italy in 1958, who the favorite American painter was? Ben Shahn.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Absolutely. They—they felt that that was American art. Then the next time I went there, their favorite American painter was Andy Warhol—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —which was only four years later.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It's fascinating. They like flat, graphic images then. I mean, there was this odd similarity between the early Warhol and kind of Shahn—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I mean, they—no, I think they had preconceptions about what—what America was about.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And in each instance uh, either positively or negatively the artists fit into it. You see?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  They all prepared [00:28:00] for Ben Shahn because they mostly—I, you know, the intellectual in—in Italy—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —is always invariably a communist.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So they all liked him.

WOLF KAHN:  And they all knew him and his messages and so forth.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. You never showed in Italy, did you?

WOLF KAHN:  No.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Not the—they really—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I showed in the Fulbright group shows.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know and so forth.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But I mean you never—

WOLF KAHN:  No.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —with a dealer or anything.

WOLF KAHN:  No. No, in Italy they didn't und—I—I sometimes used to take my work around as an exercise in masochism. And it was invariably, uh, just that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No—no response?

WOLF KAHN:  No response.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  No. No. The—the foreign—well, the younger people sometimes liked my work.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What about—

WOLF KAHN:  You know, the artists—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, what about the Italian artists? What did they say?

WOLF KAHN:  They sometimes—they liked my work some of them. You know, strange people like—like maybe, uh, somebody like, uh, Totasheloya [ph] or, you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  —these—these—these crazy, uh modern guys who had a sort of a sense—and Daydoya [ph] kind of liked my work. And I actually made a trade with, uh, the painter named Guidi [ph]. He was a Venetian—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Don't know him. [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  —painter, who was quite well known in Italy. He liked my work. And a lot of the kids liked my work. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But do you think that was a, um—you know, based on what you said before, one thinks that there was a certain maturing that took place there in your work. Do you think that happened in a sort of sorting out of things, a little color and the light and—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I was very—I was very aware of—of the fact that my work was terribly reminiscent of a whole lot of other people. Um, and, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  In terms of what? [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, you know, people said Bonnard. People said Kokoschka, you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —from my early work. And, um, I think—I think that got to me after a while, and I sort of felt—I sort of felt, [00:30:00] Well, now I'm old enough. It's about time for me to do my own thing. Uh, but it ended up that I just went from one influence to another and I got influenced more by the Impressionists and then became a sort of a, you know, latter-day Impressionist. But within—within that, um, once I—I decided—you know, I mean, I think for me, true maturity came when I no longer gave a shit either [laughs] way, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  I wasn't influenced by an—what it looked like and so forth.

PAUL CUMMINGS: When did that happen, do you think?

WOLF KAHN:  Over the years.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? I mean, I don't think you can say it ha—you know? It just happened when I became a little more certain of myself. And, um—and then saw many examples, uh, such as Gorky who—who clearly wasn't afraid to be influenced, and I got to know de Kooning better in New York, and he clearly hadn't ever been afraid to be influenced and, uh, so—so, uh, it just seemed to me that, um, it's not the kind of siren voices to which you listen. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How—well, you know, I was just going to ask you almost that. How do you recognize your influences? I mean, were they—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Everybody knows those.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, but I mean—well, did it come from, you know, say, looking at Bonnard at the Modern or something—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, no, I don't think you do it quite like that. I mean, I had a talk once with Allan Kaprow who was a close friend of mine.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And we went all through high school together. We really—I mean, I think in a way I had a good influence on him uh, than he had on me because for a while,  he just sort of followed in my footsteps.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He was your follower, right.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And then, uh, when he went off to do his own thing you know, which was very wise of him to do because as a painter, I don't think he ever would have amounted to anything. You know? And the reason was, [00:32:00] uh, that he was much too aware. He was terribly self-conscious about everything he did. He, he told me once that he could tell where each brush stroke came from that he put down.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm, God, that—

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. You mean in terms of other artists?

WOLF KAHN:  In terms of other art, yeah. And that—that—that, uh, took—took a lot of the pleasure out of it. Uh, and I never had that problem. I mean, that's almost—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, that really would spoil the fun.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Um, I can, in retrospect, look at paintings and see where certain ideas might have conceivably arisen. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. But so you were just reacting to things that you liked?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You know, it wasn't—it appeared in your work one way or another.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. I think so. And now, of course, I think I'm most influenced by myself. You know? I mean, that's the most pernicious influence that there is. You know? I mean, that happens to every artist after a certain number of paintings. You know? After you've done 2,000 paintings, I suppose uh, it gets to be that you start thinking about all—all the paintings you already made, you know, rather than—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It's interesting 'cause that was pretty in the Gucci [ph] interview I did half a dozen years ago, and he said almost the same thing and where the artist has to become wary of his own style.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, sure.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —because he starts polishing his own style based on what he—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —did before.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He could—becomes—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  You get to be your own expert—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —an expert on—on—I'm the greatest expert on Wolf Kahn. You know? I know every move he makes. [They laugh.] You know? And—and of course that also takes a lot of fun out of it because I think one of the things about being an artist that's terrific is that it offers you, or should offer you, a constant source for self-renewal. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, that's what he said. People can get so involved with that success and that kind of style—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —that [00:34:00] they won't fall on their face and start up or pick up or make the mistake again.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Well, that's why it's kind of admirable, like, what Dine is doing now. You know, painting still life after—in fact, I told him, I said, "Jim," you know, when I saw those figure drawings—it's really kind of admirable, you know, like a general who yanks the epaulettes off his own shoulders.  You know? Now you're all of a sudden a soldier in the ranks when you're making figure drawings. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, it is—sure. But I think it's also a case where he got to the point where the style was so taut and tense and tight.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, well he got to be extremely expert at being Jim Dine.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But, uh, when you were in Venice was—did you look at old art, I mean, go around and see the collections and things, you know?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh sure, I've always been interested in, in painting, you know historical painting. Not in the way that Dine is or in the way that Larry Rivers was, you know, or in the way that Louis Finkelstein is, you know, to go—to go, uh, use it for intellectual validation of ideas that you already have, you know, even to derive—to derive, uh, intellectual ideas from painting. You know? I was—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —[inaudible]—your interests—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I—I tried to derive them from nature you know, or maybe from a tube of paint.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But I mean—

WOLF KAHN:  [Inaudible.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —your interest in other paintings just as—as pleasure or—

WOLF KAHN:  I have a tendency—I sometimes look at myself and I say, You know, I do the same thing now as I do in reading. I go to the museum for entertainment. You know? Just to be—just to be made happy. You know? I mean, art still has the capacity to—to do that for me. But, um, I don't think I try to, um, consciously, uh, steal from anybody or learn tricks, you know? I go—I go to have insights but sort of the way you would. [00:36:00] You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative]. How long did you spend in Italy that first time?

WOLF KAHN:  Two years.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Two years?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  From sixty—

WOLF KAHN:  From—from, uh, fifty, uh, seven to '59.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  All in Venice—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  No. We lived in two other places. We lived in Spoleto one winter. And, um, uh—No, it was—I, uh—it was just Venice and Spoleto, and we lived a little while in Rome. We visited there, but not really—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How'd you pick Spoleto?

WOLF KAHN:  Because Louis Finkelstein was there, and—and, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, he lived in Spoleto.

WOLF KAHN:  —he found a house for us. Oh, yeah. Louis and—and, and I've been old friends. —[inaudible]—sure.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Where'd you meet him?

WOLF KAHN:  Don't know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He's—he's been here forever.

WOLF KAHN:  That goes—that goes into, in the dark ages. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  I think he once wrote an article or something like that in which he—you know, way, way back in the early '50s—but, you know, the art world was very small then. Everybody knew each other, practically.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, that's true. But didn't you miss the New York life, the New York contact, the milieu that you'd been in for a while?

WOLF KAHN:  I suppose I did, but I had a new milieu. I mean, I was, you know living with a very beautiful young girl in—in a new, in a new, uh, totally new surroundings making new friends, learning the language, uh and painting, you know. I—I was old enough to paint on my own without needing—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —needing to have people painting uh, you know, on all sides of me or having shows and so forth. And I had a gallery, you know? I could send all my work back to New York if I liked it well enough to do so.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Did you sell much for you during the years you were there or not?

WOLF KAHN:  She continued to sell, yeah because while I was away a whole lot of stuff happened. Um, a color reproduction appeared in Time magazine [00:38:00] together with, uh, Helen Frankenthaler and Jan Muller and, uh, who else? Couple of y—it was younger artists that were worthy of notice is what it was, and then the museums—you know, once—I think the museums that's all they read is Time magazine, because—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  They don't even—[cross talk]—go to the studio—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  They started—they started going—coming around to the gallery in droves.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  I think that was my high point is after that magazine article came out, I got to be, like, great white hope of American painting. And I sold pictures to, uh, Virginia Museum, the Houston Museum the, uh, city art museum in—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  St. Louis.

WOLF KAHN:  —St. Louis, uh, the University of—of Illinois museum, whatever it's called.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  The Krannert, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And I mean, you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's fascinating—[inaudible]—all kinds of—

WOLF KAHN:  —the Whitney. Um, I guess that was like the ultimate validation. You know? I mean, Tom Hess had already written about me but when Time mag came through, boy, oh, boy.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  When it all became real.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. Then—and so she continued to send checks.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  It was okay.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, that's—but why did you come back? What was the reason to, um—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I didn't—I felt—I felt that I didn't have the makings of an expatriate. I also felt that, um, I wa—I began to—to feel that I'd like to be part of a, uh—of an art world again. You know? In Venice, they hadn't any such thing.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. But how did you like going back to Europe, 'cause that was your first trip back since the war, wasn't it not?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, well, uh, yeah, but it was totally different. I mean, I went to a friendly country under nice auspices. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  I didn't go to Germany.  I had an opportunity [00:40:00] to go to Germany, and I didn't go back. I went—I went, um, to the railway station. We were invited to stay in Munich with a man named Glichoff Holan [ph], who was the first tenor at the Munich Opera, friend of my father's. And, um, uh, when I was about to buy tickets, I saw some German who was going through a crowd—you know the Venice railway station's always incredibly crowded.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And he went through this crowd of people pushing with his elbow and saying—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  "Don't push. Don't push." You know? [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  So I figured, gee, what do I want to go see those people for?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know? The whole country's like that. You know? I still don't like the Germans.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He end—he ended the whole thing for you.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, so I said—we went to Austria, went to Vienna instead. And, um, then I found out that the Viennese behaved even worse toward the Jews than Germans did you know, under Hitler. But still, they're very pleasant people, and they behaved very well toward—toward us. You know, we had a good time there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —Vienna's a marvelous city, I mean—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Then—how long were you there?

WOLF KAHN:  Just visiting for a week.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, we always took these little side trips like you do when you live in Europe. We went to Spain. We went to, uh, Greece, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Look around and see what it's like.

WOLF KAHN:  That's why every time a check came from Grace, I looked at Emily and said, "Where do we go now?" [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So that was really a lot of, uh, exciting times.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah. It was great.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —[inaudible]—work and—

WOLF KAHN:  It was great, but it was—I was a bit nervous about my work because it was changing right underneath my feet. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. So what did you do when you came back?

WOLF KAHN:  When I came back? Uh, then life began in earnest because we had a child. Um, and, uh, we, things weren't going terribly well financially. I got a job teaching at Cooper Union. And I got a couple of grants. Got a—a Guggenheim [00:42:00], you know? Tide me over—over a year—a couple of years.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  But, uh, I—I, uh, sort of, could see that it didn't necessarily have to be fun to be an artist. You know? But there too, Sally Avery and Milton had prepared me. They told me it goes up, and then it goes down. And it goes up, and it goes down.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And you just—

WOLF KAHN:  Just—you got to be ready for both—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know, they both—they both have their pitfalls.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You just keep working.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, now, did your work change after you came back?

WOLF KAHN:  When I came back.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, it changed again. Then it went through a whole lot of changes, and now that I look at it, uh, it seems to me that I was responding much more than I was aware of to what was in the air at the time.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You mean in what? What—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Um, the work that I did in, um, like in the sixt—in the early '60s had a lot of this sort of a Abstract Impressionist uh, uh—look, you know, like Resnick and so forth.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. It got very dark at one point, too.

WOLF KAHN:  Then it—well, that was later.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That was later.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, it got—it was very—at that time, it was almost—almost white. You know? And then I got a job. I got a—my first teaching job I went to Berkeley, and I—I was a visiting professor there. Um, and that made me very nervous because—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How'd you like that? I mean, that's another world out there.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, and I didn't like it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I didn't like it. It seemed—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why?

WOLF KAHN:  —to me to be a place that I would never get used to. Um, yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How long were you there?

WOLF KAHN:  It was summer—it was a summer place all year round.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know? [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative]. No seasons.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, no, it's just, you know, you go up to Provincetown, and you know that it's going to be less intense than in the wintertime in certain sense. In other—as far as pleasures and screwing around and so forth. It's going to be more intense.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You're going to be less responsible and living [00:44:00] better than you do in the winter. You know? But you're not go—you're going to be, sort of, living on the top of things. You know? On the surface of things. And that's kind of the way I felt in—in San Francisco. I had—I had this one semester job. And Cajori was there at the time. And Sid Gordon—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —and, uh, Raymond Rockland [ph] and all kinds of people like that. De Kooning was there. De Kooning had—there was a party before my first day of teaching, and I said to de Kooning, "You know, I'm rather worried about,"— Because I was—I'm teaching mostly graduate students, and most of these people are older than I am. And, uh, "I have a feeling they're not going to take anything I say," and de Kooning said, "Well, you just tell them—tell them to talk to the president. Don't tell me. Don't complain to me because the president asked me to be here because he thinks I'm a big shot, see?" [They laugh.] "Don't talk to me." So [laughs] I—I—I—I took that much to heart, but then as soon as anybody gave me a—a—a terrible argument—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —which they did 'cause I was very dogmatic too at the time.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  Um, I didn't have the courage to—to spring that de Kooning [laughs] on them.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know? I just told them—I'm—I mean, you know, um, go to see the president, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —[inaudible]—complain to him. You know? [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, how did you like teaching in a fancy place like that?

WOLF KAHN:  I was very nervous at that time.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So it wasn't—

WOLF KAHN:  My work was changing. It wasn't a good time to be teaching.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  It was my first teaching job, and I sort of, you know, was touted as a celebrity, as a hot New York painter. I felt anything but that because I—I really was very nervous about my work, and I was undergoing, uh, all sorts of—of [00:46:00] difficulties at the time.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. Then you started, what, in '61 you started at Cooper.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How did that come about?

WOLF KAHN:  Be—through—through Emily, I think, mostly—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  —because the dean, uh, I think met Emily on the street and he asked her, "How's your husband doing?" And I think she said, "He's not doing all that well right now," so he said, "Well, why don't we give him a job?"

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. So that was—

WOLF KAHN:  "We've been looking for young—young people." [Inaudible]—Dowden—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Ray Dowden.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And at Cooper I really, uh, liked teaching there much better. By that time, I was a little more experienced too, yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But how long, or you're still a teacher, aren't you?

WOLF KAHN:  No, I don't. I quit last year.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, you quit?

WOLF KAHN:  After 16 years.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You finally decided—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. Well, I quit because I think, um—I think they need young—young people.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, I'm too bad tempered to be a teacher.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why do you say that?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I don't have enough sympathy for—for the ethos of—of young people today. You know, I think, uh—I think—I think maybe, uh, having to deal with a teenager at home, uh, soured me on—on—on these kids because I constantly saw echoes of my own daughter, you know in in—in these kids, certain—I mean, I couldn't relate to them. My idea as an art student and their idea, seemed to me to be, uh, very different. You know? And unless you can see yourself as a student in the people that you're dealing with, I think you have no right to teach them.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I think you're right. I think their ambition and points of reference now are very different from more traditional—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, and I mean—you know, I mean, I happened to think that the ambitions and point of references are—are like—like on a lower plane. You know? Um, but [00:48:00] I think that's very damaging to them to have to deal with somebody who thinks that. You know? So I like, I gracefully withdrew, especially as from—since I, for the last few years certainly haven't had to teach. You know? Uh, I taught almost from a sense of—of, uh, noblesse oblige. I felt that I'd been the recipient of good instruction, and uh, I should carry on because I took teaching seriously. I—I still don't think art students are being spoiled by the instruction they're getting. You know? I mean, they're being—they're not being spoiled in the sense that they're getting too much good instruction, [laughs] you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, right. Well, I don't think they ever do.

WOLF KAHN:  Huh?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  They never really do, do they?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, well, uh, I did. I—I think Hofmann was a super teacher. You know? Not—not only a good teacher but even a good example, a sort of a good role model. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah. What—what did you teach there at Cooper? The same thing?

WOLF KAHN:  Drawing and painting.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  On the—which—what levels—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  All kinds. What I liked to teach the best, especially toward the end, were freshmen.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah. You know? Like—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Because they—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  —the Catholic church, give them to me before they're three and four years old, and after that you can do whatever you want with them.

PAUL CUMMINGS: [Laughs.] Get 'em while they're young. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. That's an interesting observation, that you like the younger ones.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, the younger ones just you don't have to unteach. I'm sure if you—if—have you ever taught, Paul?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm, no. [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, anyway, in painting most—most—most of your job is to unteach something that somebody else has taught wrong anyway.  You know? And people come up with the damnedest things, like, some teachers say you can't cut off corners, and others say you can't use white in your painting. Others say you can't use black. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Can't paint—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  All—All kinds of—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Can't paint in the edge [00:50:00]—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, all—all kinds of silly rules and—and prisons which, uh—for which, uh, I—I see no sense, I suppose. I—I—I created my own rules and prisons for which somebody else can't see the sense.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  So, you know? Or at least I wasn't aware of it. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  I tried not to in any way. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You did some teaching at Haystack.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, I taught at Haystack.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What was that about?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, that was just—just one summer.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Summer, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I taught, uh, painting, but the students—you know, I mean, I—painting, you see—in any context, where there's other things being taught, such as weaving and pottery and, um, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  All the crafts they have—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  —all these crafts, uh—you know, painting is something in which unless—it's sort of like violin playing—unless you're—you're very good, it's really painful. You know, you have to—you have to overcome, like, a certain level before you can give pleasure to anyone. You know? Painting is really a difficult art. Difficult medium. And, uh, in a school where, you know—almost anybody after a week can make a pot that looks like a pot. You know? It's no longer painfully inept. You know? But I think in order to—to become a painter and have your picture look other than painfully inept, you have to already have like two or three years of practice, you know, so the brush starts doing more or less what you want it to.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative]. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? And so I was always made very uncomfortable by the way people were particularly unhappy and [cross talk] inept in craft school.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  A weaving person [00:52:00] at the end of two weeks had—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —something to show.

WOLF KAHN:  They—they could do a necktie or a scarf—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —and it looked like a perfectly reasonable scarf. You know? Why not?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And a poor painting student was there—[laughs].

WOLF KAHN:  Poor painting student was still—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Fighting. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —fighting the medium, like, it was too dry looking and, uh, stiff and you know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  All of those—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah. What do you think that—you know, I always sort of ask people who've taught this. What—what do you say to a young art student who wants to study painting? In your case you got more interested in the freshman. Um, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, the first thing I'd say to them is, "Learn to be a student." That's something that very few kids nowadays know how to do. And I think being a student means to really, uh, find a good teacher, respect what he does, and have a sort of a predatory attitude toward him, you know that you learn, try and swipe whatever he knows how to do, you know, by—by might and main. Uh, and forget about this precious individual—individual that's yourself because you're not going to make it, uh, mean anything by zooming in on that fact anyway. You know? Individuals are a dime a dozen. Like, everybody's an individual. But somebody who knows how to learn is already rare. You know? So I think the first thing you have to learn is like to—to listen and to—to—to follow instructions, and to—to be humble. It's something very few students know how to do, too.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, not today. How can they?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. I'm sure it's not—it's not hip.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? But on the other hand, how are you going to learn? You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  It—it—it's not logical. You can't learn by knowing it all.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Did you find they took that advice? Did students ever take that advice?

WOLF KAHN:  My better students [00:54:00] do it without, you know, without knowing it, almost.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. Don't you think also that the art student has, uh, personage—per—persona has changed in the last decade or so? Or wouldn't you think so?

WOLF KAHN:  I—I think the quality of kid that goes into art today—the average quality of kid, is lower. And I tell you why. Um, because everybody who can't get it together thinks that by that very fact, they're an artist. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Because they're suffering and they're—they're, you know? And—and they can't respond to authority. And they read about Van Gogh having a hard time in [inaudible]—and cutting off his ear and being crazy, you know, and so forth.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's why they all—yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  So we figure, well, you know, there's something to be said for me being—feeling so crazy—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah—[inaudible]—[Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  I'm really an artist. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And so you get some very sentimental kids who—who are in art schools. And, um, and it's especially those kids that you can't teach anything.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really? I mean, are they just—[cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  Because clearly, they want to ex—they want to express themselves.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I think that's one other thing that art students have to forget about, is to express themselves. That's a pernicious idea.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, they don't know what to express? I mean, they don't know who they are to do it anyway.

WOLF KAHN:  Right. Right. You know, so—so what they're really basically doing is just messing about, mucking about. You know? And, uh, the attrition rate is—is tremendous, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah. Well, it always is, though, isn't it?

WOLF KAHN:  It always is.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  But it used to be that people could somehow go from—from—[00:56:00] if they couldn't be artists, they could go to Madison Avenue or they could go—I mean—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —that still happens, of course.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah. [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  But I think there's more and more people who really have to absolutely kiss the whole idea goodbye, and—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That may be true too.

WOLF KAHN:  —uh—you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's funny you said that about students recently because, uh, this morning somebody was telling me about Scowhegan and how Jack Eastman had said that about students that have applied and the ones they've taken in the last two, three years, four years, they're way below the quality of previous years.

WOLF KAHN:  Hmm. Well, I don't know. Look, you can still get terrific students.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Oh, sure.

WOLF KAHN:  I don't know. But I think the—the extremes are greater—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  —maybe than they used to be, and, uh, the—the norm is lower. I think the norm is lower because the kids don't—don't come with the proper attitude.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, in the art—the art world was a glamorous thing all through the '60s and—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, maybe they—they're looking for glamour, and they're looking for easy outs. And, uh, there's all sorts of ways of—of diluting yourself and fooling yourself in art. You know? But then you get out, you get out into the world at large, and then, of course, things uh, become much harsher.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. I meant to ask you, you've had this commission that's been going on—on at the Jewish Theological Seminary doing portraits.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How'd that all come about?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, that came about when I came back the second time, um, from Italy.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So that was—

WOLF KAHN:  I was, again, terribly broke.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  One—the second one was sixty—

WOLF KAHN:  That was in '64.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Sixty-four.

WOLF KAHN:  I came back, and I had a second child.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. What is it about Italy that produces children? [They laugh.]

WOLF KAHN:  It's true. But the Italians have a very high birth rate, too, don't they?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, well, I—maybe I was tarred with a Catholic brush. [00:58:00]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Are you Catholic, Paul? Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.] Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You must be a bad Catholic—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No.

WOLF KAHN:  —'cause you don't have any children. [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But anyway, going back to the commissions, what—how did that come about 'cause you've done a lot of paintings for them, haven't you now?

WOLF KAHN:  No, I only did five.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I thought it sort of—

WOLF KAHN:  No, no, they ran out of money at a certain point, and also, I think, of interest. And, um, even though they claimed to like those paintings that I made or some of them anyway I'm not sure if—if I'm the right painter for the Jewish Theological Seminary. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Who did you paint? Now, what were the—

WOLF KAHN:  I paint—My first picture I did, um—and I tell you who's responsible for those commissions, and be it said to their eternal credit, I think they cooked the whole thing up in order that I could make money—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Ah.

WOLF KAHN:  —because, um uh, I—I was really broke, and I called up Meyer Schapiro—he's a great friend of mine, marvelous man—and I said, "Meyer, what, uh—do you have any [laughs] ideas?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm.

WOLF KAHN:  "And I really need a job or, or, uh, sell some paintings or something." And, um—And Meyer said, "Oh, I just heard that they're going to build a new building. Gordon Bunshaft has designed a new library "for the Jewish Theological Seminary." And I've—I heard them say, uh, David Finn, who was on the board of trustees, uh, was saying, "Wouldn't it be nice to have portraits of the senior faculty or a big picture of the senior faculty?" And, uh, "So maybe you should be the one to do it." And he also remembered, he said—he mentioned that he'd seen a portrait that I did of Tom Hess. It's on show at the New School. And he's very impressed with that. And I used to be a pretty fair portrait artist. You know? Did you ever see the portrait I did of Frank O'Hara? I can show you.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I don't remember that one.

WOLF KAHN:  It's—It's good picture. And even my Hess portrait is a very, [01:00:00] uh, good likeness.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You know who'd be interested in the O'Hara—

WOLF KAHN:  Who?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —is Peter Schjeldahl. He was writing a book on him.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, really?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Peter is?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. So you should tell him you have that.

WOLF KAHN:  Do you see him?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No, but I send him postcards when I see things or—

WOLF KAHN:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —stuff related to O'Hara.

WOLF KAHN:  I'll show it to you after—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Okay. [Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  I invited Peter Schjeldahl to a—to a party about two years ago and he didn't come, you know—because he gave me a very nice—he gave me a very nice write up in the Sunday Times about four or five years ago, you know? And then he met Emily, uh, in jury duty.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And, uh, so I invited him to this party. I felt, well, you know, why not? And then he didn't come, or he made it sound as though I was maybe trying to make some sort of self-promotion.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, well, he's very neurotic—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And that wasn't the case at all.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  But, you know, if I wrote him a card now, then he'd think even more—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know, I was trying—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Okay.

WOLF KAHN:  —to—to—so maybe if—if you sent—I'll show you the picture afterwards. It's fun. It's a good picture.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Anyway, going back to the portrait business. Uh, now wasn't—didn't that present a problem, though? Well, the seminary is having—

WOLF KAHN:  It—it did.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —portraits—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  It did. It did, and, um, David Finn—do you know David?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yes. Yeah. I know David.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, he, uh—he solved it with a masterful stroke of his public relations pen.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Um, he wrote them a note saying—a memo, in which he said—he says, "Why don't we, instead of having"—well, he—first of all, he wanted to have this group portrait, but I was scared by that, you know, because if one of them doesn't turn out [laughs] to be any good, the whole—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  The whole thing is dumped—

WOLF KAHN:  —portrait is dumped. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And I'm not that expert that I can do, um, you know, a picture [01:02:00] with—with 20 people in it and make it come off.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. So, um—

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, I was really using those rabbis to get back into portraiture [laughs] rather than, you know, as I should have, which is to start—I was a professional portrait painter you know, and then do the work.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, let me—

[END OF TAPE 2 OF 2, SIDE A.]

This is tape two of two, side B.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Side four. I think I said it's side four. Anyway, you were going to continue the story about how the portraits came about and after David Finn wrote his memo, which consisted of what?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, oh, yes. He said, um, that contrary to—to what they think, it's really not a representation, but it's an abstraction because I'm not going to be painting individuals, but I'm—I'll be painting a picture of a friendship. So it—it was two guys, you see, Dr. Lieberman and Dr. Finkelstein and I had them posing, having an exchange of conversation. You see? And so it wasn't the graven image at all, but it was an abstraction. [They laugh.] Under those auspices, they finally agreed—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —reluctantly somewhat, you know, to allow this—this indecency to be perpetrated upon them.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How'd you like painting those people?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, they're great because they're great men. You know, Lieberman especially—He's a foremost uh, Talmudic Scholar, practically, in the world.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  You know? And he is a splendid guy, and I got to be very good friends with him. And, uh, through him learned to have a belated very high respect for the religion of my fathers.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And also, then I painted another man Dr. Spiegel [ph] uh, who, um, was an expert on—on—on Medieval Hebrew poetry, Jewish poetry. And he was a splendid guy, too. I mean, these are very high—high quality people, these rabbis, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Now where did you do those?

WOLF KAHN:  Up there. I took—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —traveled all my stuff up to the seminary.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, my heavens.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And set up.

WOLF KAHN:  Or else in their apartments.  I think, uh, Spiegel had it in [00:02:00] his house.  Yeah. Yeah, it was kind of fun, but, again, made me a bit nervous because I was really practicing portraiture on these very busy people.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And three—I—I—I generally did about four of them of which three were totally unrecognizable, you know? And in desperation, finally, the fourth one turned out to be halfway decent.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What did you make, drawings of them or—

WOLF KAHN:  No, I actually started the painting of them there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I see.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So you worked right from—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  From nature.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And I'm now able, like Augustus John, to keep a conversation going and still keep my attention on my work which I think is sign of a really professional portrait artist because you've got to do a whole lot of other things aside from—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —being a good painter, too.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Do that—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  You know you have to keep your—you have to keep your sitter animated—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —'cause otherwise they fall asleep.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, they're not used to sitting still, these people.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. They're used to busy—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. How many years was that again, you did?

WOLF KAHN:  This was 1964 through about '67 I did it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Hmm. And no more? I mean, you don't do them anymore?

WOLF KAHN:  No, and I don't miss it—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —which was fun while it lasted, but it was also—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It was enough. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  It was enough, and it was hard work.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah. You really haven't gone back to do portraits or paintings of people very much.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I—I tell you. The thing—my idea about portraiture is it's a knack, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  And, um, it's something which gets lost rather easily, and then you have to regain it painfully by—by practicing and getting a lot of people to sit for you. And you get it back. It's sort of like—[inaudible]—but you have to do finger exercises.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Ah, I see. You've got to keep—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, only at that—yeah, and—and forget about landscape painting, forget about all—all the more freer [00:04:00] exercises. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I think that's why the people that do it end up just doing only that.

WOLF KAHN:  Being portrait painters. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And, of course, there's a tremendous, uh, call for it, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, you can make a lot of money doing that.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. You have a fancy style or something different.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  People want it.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And—but there's—there aren't any good portrait painters today. I mean, it's it's—it's right that it should be relegated to the kind of people who paint for Portraits Incorporated. You know? Um, very few people who do a decent job. There's one guy—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I wonder why.

WOLF KAHN:  —named, uh, Shikler. You know Aaron Shikler?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Aaron Shikler, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  He does a decent job. I mean, he's not a great artist, but he's a good portrait artist.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? Because he, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But they have a lot of skills, some of those people, you know?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think it's mostly a matter of skill, like my problem as a portrait artist was that my great god really was Kokoschka, you know, who tried very hard to—to deal with the psychological insights that he had uh, um, so I had to get to know my sitters. You know? And—and, uh, in fact, the early ones that Kokoschka did were all of his friends and people in—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —his circle. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. I once had a painting class with him.

WOLF KAHN:  Really? In Greece or in—in London?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No, I think it was in Minnesota.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, really?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, he was—

WOLF KAHN:  He got up there?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  He was a visiting artist there at one time.

WOLF KAHN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Well, he must be a—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Can you imagine paint—

WOLF KAHN:  —very impressive personality.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Sort of.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Sort of. I mean, I don't remember him like Hofmann, for example.

WOLF KAHN:  Did you study with Hofmann too, Paul?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No, I just knew him.

WOLF KAHN:  Knew him.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I mean, I wasn't studying painting for painting. I was just taking drawing classes—

WOLF KAHN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative].

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —for—for other purposes, but, um—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, Kokoschka had a terrible falling off, I think. I think—I mean, if you think—I mean, he's really one of the [00:06:00] modern artists who, who had no development. I mean, he just sort of petered out. I think his later work is—is much, much weaker than—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, he didn't seem to have—but don't you think also it's hard to be an Expressionist for one's lifetime?

WOLF KAHN:  I think it is. I think there's very few instances—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  As a young man, you paint even when you're angry and have a lot of energy and drive and—

WOLF KAHN:  —anybody—yeah. Yeah. The only—the only person who was an Expressionist and, uh, became better as he went along really is Beckmann, I think.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —even there is a bit of an argument. You know? But at least he had a—a kind of, you know, a sense. He had a sense that—that his compass grew larger.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, that's true. That's true. You know, one—one of the things that, over the years, that's—that's interesting is the various artists you've mentioned—you know, Braque, that you were interested and your Picasso or Bonnard, um—are these interests that came and went, or did some of them linger—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, they all lingered. I mean, you know, I'm one of those people who—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —uh, that doesn't ever give anything up. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You know, once it's there, it stays.

WOLF KAHN:  Like once I've been in bed with a woman, I want to fuck her the rest of my life. [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So rare these days, you know?

WOLF KAHN:  Really?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, sure.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, but look at me here.  I mean, I've been in this studio for 27 years.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Um, I'm—I'm a stick in the mud, I guess.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know? But that's also my strength—[inaudible]—you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  I—I—I have a feeling things get better as—as—as you get to know them better. You know?  I never wear any—any—anything out or very few things that I wear out. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Just goes on and on and on?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it just—it's not so much that it goes on and on. I keep—keep finding new reasons for [00:08:00] being involved. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  Um, the only—the only person—the only person with whom I was very involved when I was an, um, young who—who I had—who I was disappointed in more recently was Dostoyevsky.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Really? Why?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, I, all of sudden, I—I can't stand it anymore, all that hysteric—uh, hysterical business. You know? I mean, it seems to me that, um, life shouldn't be on that kind of a plane of unresolvedness all the time you know, of incompletion—[cross talk]—as his characters.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  His characters are—you know, it's—it's—finally, I—I read The Brothers K[aramazov] and I got to the end, and I said, "What a God damn tempest in a teapot this all is." You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, I'm—I'm sure I'm wrong. But it's like one of the few instances where I came across something which I adored when I was younger which I'm no longer so involved with. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Do you still read much?

WOLF KAHN:  Um, not with the intensity that I used to.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I think, you know, I've become considerably more stupid and less interesting since I was young.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laugh.]

WOLF KAHN:  Painting really makes you stupid.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why do you say that?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, because you don't think. You're all the time looking, you know, and you're into—yeah, I mean, you know, you—you—you become so interested in—in focusing on something narrow—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —uh, that—that you're—and—and, uh, you get further and further away from conceptual thinking—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  —and into a kind of—into a kind of—what is it? The right hemispheric thinking, you know, where you're involved with—with kind of intuitive insights. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You mean Conceptual art is a misnomer by definition then. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  I think that's right. [00:10:00] I don't think there is any such thing.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? It's a public relations game.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, why do you say you get dumber? I mean, I'm curious about that.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, that's exaggerating.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, you get smarter about some things, and you lose interest and capacity for others. But I can no longer read a—a page of—of—of really dense writing. I mean I'm, uh—you know, I'd say a philosophical text I can no longer deal with.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. 'Cause it doesn't interest you or—?

WOLF KAHN:  No, because I don't have the concentration for that kind of thing anymore.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You have it for something else then?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, I have increased concentration for my work and less concentration for—for things that don't bear directly on it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So you've refined what your interests are.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I don't know if I've—I've—that—that presupposes a kind of conscious intentionality which—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, I mean just in—

WOLF KAHN:  —which I would like to there, too.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  I'd like to be able to hold on to what I used to be able to do rather, you know, successfully.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But I mean in—just in the process of working, you decided, well, that's what I want to do, and the other things—

WOLF KAHN:  I haven't decided anything. It all happened.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, but I mean, the act—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —is the decision.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Well, the decision is sort of forced on you. I mean in the sense that you get more interested in one thing and you're not able to focus energy on everything—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —to—to that degree.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's true. That's true.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, it happens to all of us.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, um, you know, the—over the years, I was thinking the other—yesterday about, oh, the color in your paintings and the brush stroke changes and all the things, you know, and—and, uh, you've never had a big retrospective or anything, have you?

WOLF KAHN:  Mm-mm [negative].

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I couldn't find one—it would just be fascinating to see—

WOLF KAHN:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Well, uh, I was negotiating with the Tulsa Museum. They were interested in having me having—starting one there. And, uh, I was perfectly willing, um, [00:12:00] but nothing much has come of it yet, although they seem to be still vaguely be interested. But I—I want to be sure that it happens in—in—in a decent way, that they have enough money and—you know, I'm—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  I'm in no hurry.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  No hurry. I don't want uh, really, um—I have a feeling—I really do have a feeling that I'm like—like one of the two or three best landscape painters in the country.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Who do you think the other ones are?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, one of them's dead.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  Fairfield, I thought was my peer.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Porter, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And, um, oh, I have respect for John Button. And I have—I certainly loved, uh, uh, Diebenkorn's landscape when he was painting them. But, um, aside from that, I really don't—don't have that much feeling for—for anyone else's right now. You know? I'm sure I'm overlooking people.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  But, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What interested you about Fairfield Porter's work?

WOLF KAHN:  Um, well, its similarity to mine.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, the fact that he was digging in in one place, and really, uh, you know, without trying to—to go far afield from his roots, from his, uh, the place he knew well and his—his control of tonalities um, his touch, not always beautiful but always—always very conscious, very controlled—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Very awkward sometimes.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But he always, you know, he would always—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, there was kind of rectitude about him, you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —which I liked very much. And the young kids like it very much. He's a kind of a god among some of these young kids—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah. Who don't—who—on the other hand have—have no idea of where his culture comes from. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Hmm. I mean, they just see occasional pictures and respond to them. Well, that's nice to know. [00:14:00] I think he's a very overlooked artist still in a lot of ways.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, he is, and he's not. I mean, you know, in my circles everybody certainly knows he's there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. Now—

WOLF KAHN:  —did you ever interview Fairfield?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yes.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Well, he has, you know—the admiral thing about him is the width of his culture, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, astounding.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And I think some of—you know, that again the young people don't understand is how—how important that is to inform your art, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  To just sort of think that you're going to be narrow, provincial, and—and, uh, still—still come out you know, having something large to say.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Doesn't happen. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  No.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No. Um, you've—let me ask you about—you've done a couple other teacher things. You did one at the Brooklyn Museum.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, that was just a one, one-shot deal. I went and—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —talked—talked to the students.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  I do that all the time.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How do you like that?

WOLF KAHN:  I like—I like it very much. I call it hit-and-run teaching.  You know, you go wherever you go, you—you go full steam, you know and you charge in there, and you—you see—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Take over. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You see the students flying up in all directions, you know, and then you wait for somebody else to clean up the mess after you're gone. You know? It's—but my favorite teaching right now really is to teach adults, amateurs.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  I have a feeling—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why's that?

WOLF KAHN:  I have a feeling they're the—the most grateful and the most, uh, least spoiled and—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Do you—where you—do you do that now?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, I do that quite a bit.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  I get invited by, um, art associations, like Huntington Township Art League.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You mean to come on for a day or two or something—?

WOLF KAHN:  No, I do a four-day workshop.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh.

WOLF KAHN:  Um—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What is that—wha—what do you do? I didn't know about this.

WOLF KAHN:  I go in spring—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —generally, [00:16:00] or if the climate's nice let's say in Florida, or uh, you know I've gone down to Texas and so forth to, um, to an amateur group. They invite me. And they—I have a four-day intensive working uh, thing, where I—I take down my own materials and, uh, I work side by side with the other people—my students ostensibly—and it's usually a very mixed group of all—all kinds of abilities and—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Ages and—

WOLF KAHN:  —ages—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —everything else—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  —and school teachers. Art teachers are in there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? Talented kids. You know? Retired people.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How many would you have in a group like that?

WOLF KAHN:  About 25, generally. You know, and they—they each pay 50 bucks, something like that, maybe a little more now with inflation and—and, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Expenses and whatnot.

WOLF KAHN:  That's right, and I go down. I give a lecture, generally a public lecture.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, and then you go to—the four days that I'm there, we generally go to six different spots—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, [inaudible].

WOLF KAHN:  —six or seven different spots.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Do they pick those?

WOLF KAHN:  —been pre-scouted—with me going around with the person that's, uh sort of in—you know arranging the thing. And we start things, you know. We don't try to finish anything—we start things. Then we have one evening where people bring in their outside work that they, you know. We talk about it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  To critique, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  To critique. Yeah, and—and it's—it's generally four very intense days for—for everybody, including me. [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, I'm charging on, trying to start my own picture, and still see 25 other people and all—all of them with—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How does—what—

WOLF KAHN:  —tremendous expectations.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How do these things happen? Do they find you or—

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, yeah. They find me, and sometimes I, um—like at Princeton—Princeton Art Association, I've been going down there four—I went four times in a [00:18:00] row, but then I kept getting—getting the same people over and over again and some of them were starting to get influenced by me and so forth that—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh dear, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —I figured it's better for me to—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's enough.

WOLF KAHN:  —go elsewhere.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? Uh, so I haven't gone down there, uh, anymore, and they're very sad because people start looking forward to those—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —[inaudible]—I'm—I'm good in those kind of—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —situations, you know? But I'm not good over the whole year with young art students that are—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  It's too persistent.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it's just the responsibility hangs too heavy on me. That's part of it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. Do you do other lectures and all that other business that so many people do, and—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Everybody, you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  It's just part of the whole—whole game that's going on.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Um, what I usually do is I take a bunch of slides of—of landscape paintings from the past and then I talk about them. And then I cap the whole thing with my last show. [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, terrific.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Terrific. You know, Speaking of shows, you've had lots of exhibitions with Grace, almost, uh, Borgenicht, almost every—

WOLF KAHN: Yeah, I've been with her—to talk about—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —20 years.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. You know, a stick in the mud.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Everything is 20 years. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah, I don't change. You know, she's a decent gallery.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, Grace is all right. I don't think she can—no, she's not the kind of gallery that's able to make an artist's reputation. You have to sort of do it yourself almost.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. She works along with you, and sort of lets you do the outside work.

WOLF KAHN:  I think so.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —[inaudible]—but she used to. I mean, in the beginning, she was very helpful in getting publicity and so on. But I think she's gotten a little tired. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. What do the exhibitions mean to you? I mean, because that's the first time you really see everything [00:20:00] kind of lined up and out and—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, what they usually mean—I don't know.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, they usually mean that you raise your hopes, uh, unrealistically and then have them dashed down to the ground.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know? And then you walk away consoling yourself with—with—you know, crying all the way to the bank, so to speak. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But I mean you've—

WOLF KAHN:  It's always done well there. I generally sell out the shows.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Um, but I keep thinking something terrific's going to happen, like Hilton Kramer's going to change his mind, you know? [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Everybody thinks that. It will never happen.

WOLF KAHN:  He's going to finally like—like art that isn't deadly, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] But you know—Do you sometimes come in and look at the paintings and say, "Oh, yeah. Well, why'd I do that one?" You know? Do they look different to you?

WOLF KAHN:  When they're over? When they're in the gallery?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, they do, but they usually look much better than they do in the studio.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know, so they're not useful at all—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —in that regard. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Because some people really go through a whole change once they see things out of the studio and in the gallery and up and framed and—

WOLF KAHN:  That's not—I don't think that's a—a good—that's a good basis for one's development.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? I think you should be able to—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Do it before—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I mean, I really don't know—don't even think you judge your own work in—in that kind of a way. I—I don't.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How do you do it then?

WOLF KAHN:  Um, picture by picture. I mean every—the times that I've judged my work in total been always dreadful times when I was awfully depressed, you know for some other reason—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].  

WOLF KAHN:  —you know, in which I started questioning my work in total. And, um, I thought, well, you know, what a drag to be a landscape painter or what a drag to be so bright or what a drag to be painting only white and black paintings, you know? [00:22:00]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  Um, but I think that doesn't mean anything. Basically, you take your stand on each painting. You know? And I've always believed in imposing my will upon my work as little as possible. You know, I don't think that's— I think the—I think the brush does its own work.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So you just kind of let it happen.

WOLF KAHN:  You just work there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You just kind of—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] You just paint the down.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, you're behind the brush. That's all. You know? And you're sort of guiding, gently guiding, the brush but it does its own [laughs] work. The paint does its own work.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But now sometimes your paintings seem to be in series. I know the—the—the sort of barns, the woods and certain—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, that's because I have very few ideas.  You know, I'm not very bright. [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But—

WOLF KAHN:  Not very rest—not rested—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  They're not really in series. You know, series presupposes that you'll have a, uh, dominating, uh, format, which you want to go see through some sort of, um, permutation, right? And that's not the way I work at all. You know? I just—I just happen to like my barns right in front of my nose at all the time when I'm up there in Vermont, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Whereabouts?

WOLF KAHN:  In West Brattleboro.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, so—so—uh, and—and a barn as a structure seems to me to—to, uh, to be, um, very interesting. You know? Very, very pregnant.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, even though I'm—I'm really basically sick and tired of painting barns, I keep going back to them because I keep seeing new possibilities in them. You know? But I wouldn't call myself a series painter at all. You know? I'm—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No, but it's just a sort of—

WOLF KAHN:  It's just an obsession of sorts.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Or a, uh, like I say, a lack of imagination.  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. [00:24:00] What else do you paint? You did the—the—the—a lake or a pond or—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, I like—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —water—

WOLF KAHN:  —like ponds.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I like things like that. I like fields.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —[inaudible]—kind of rows of trees.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, trees. You know—[inaudible]—the landscape uh, involvement. Uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How do you kind of pick what you paint?

WOLF KAHN:  Um, that's very interesting. I pick what I paint, uh—that's the most nervous-making part of the whole thing. The—the most anxiety-laden part is to pick a spot where you're going to paint. You know? Because you have to have some reason for being there and not elsewhere. You know, I mean, you sort of know that there's, like, 10 million spots, and you've got to choose one. So why are you going to choose that spot?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You see? At the same time that you're—that you're trying to find a reason, you don't want to have a reason. You don't want to know what you're choosing. You know? You have—want to sort of have the feeling it's choosing you, you know, because I—I—I believe in some kind of passivity on the part of the artist. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So it's kind of relying on intuition.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. And it's very—you don't want to be too sure about why you're there. At the same time, you want to have an intimation that there's something there that—that you're really very interested in. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And if you—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Full of possibilities—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —and it's only in the process of work that you're going to really find out whether it's so. You know? And many times it's not.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  You know? So—so—so that's—that's probably the most anxiety-laden part of being the kind of painter I am is to—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But what do you do in the country? I mean, do you make—you don't paint outside, do you?

WOLF KAHN:  Sure, I—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I mean, like drawings or—

WOLF KAHN:  Sure, I paint outside.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  I try as much as I can to start outside. You know, I don't finish out—very seldom finish something outside. I always have second thoughts about it. And then sometimes I have bad starts and I have a feeling. Well, so much the better because it means I really have to work like a—like a [00:26:00] horse—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —to, uh, be able—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  To do it.

WOLF KAHN:  —pull something off out of it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But now do you finish a lot of paintings in the studio, or do you—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —start paintings here based on—

WOLF KAHN:  I do that, too. I—and I often start paintings based on an image that I've worked up to a certain point in another painting in which I've seen, then possibilities that—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I see.

WOLF KAHN:  —escaped me previously. You know, I work—I sort of work things out in the wintertime.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So it kind of becomes [ph] variants and—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, right. Yeah. You know, I mean, it's sort of like you feel—you feel a soft point. You feel that there's a place where there's some give. And that's where you—that's where you start attacking the problem, you know where there's some give. You know, if you've made a painting that's halfway good, you figure, well, I'm going to work on that problem, and make it better.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. You know, it's fascinating. You use the word "problem," which is a term I find that I don't hear from younger artists very much.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, really?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I don't see it very much in the work of many younger artists.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And I just wondered, what did—what does that mean to you?

WOLF KAHN:  A problem, uh, well, it's—it—I guess it defines me as a formalist, basically because I—I—I still think, you know, an artistic problem to me would be, uh, something which you feel is capable of formal resolution. Then you see, let's say, the way a building sits in a certain place, so if tying up sky horizon, land, foreground, middle ground, background in any—any kind of way that allows the movement of forms. You know? That's like a problem. You know? A coherent movement of forms. Um, sometimes it may be a mood that—that defines your problem for you. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  But it's finally always going to be in terms of a quick, coherent movement of forms. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. [Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  And [00:28:00] I think each painting should have its own idea in it—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —its own problem, sort of—sort of—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —and the way—the—the way I work on a painting is to, like, resolve the problem. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But is that a conscious problem before the fact, or—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  No, the problem defines itself in the—in—in the process of working.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  You have a vague inkling that there's a possibility. Let's say, the possibility of a problem, you know? [They laugh.] Because once you've got the problem, then half your work is done. Then you understand which way the painting wants to go where the axes are, you know, uh, whether you've got too much foreground, too much sky, uh, which way the movements should go, the hierarchy of the forms whether the—the—the trees are too big or too small. You know? And these are all defined in the moment that you become coherent about your problem.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So that once you find your spot somewhere out there on the landscape, then the problems begin as you—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, then the problem period begins.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. [They laugh.]

WOLF KAHN:  But it's like Cezanne, he says to, uh—the thing is to find the center of your picture, and then everything moves around it. You know? I mean the way I understand that, like instead of center you can say, the problem. [Laughs.] You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I see.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, uh, where things tie together. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But now, do you—

WOLF KAHN:  Transition. What—what kind of transitions to—to—to make. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  So that—so that you accentuate this—this flow, this movement. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But do you rely on what the atmosphere is like or the color? I mean, because sometimes you end up with yellow trees and all sorts of different, um—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. You know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —color saturations.

WOLF KAHN:  That—that all—that all helps, sure. Sure, that all helps. [00:30:00]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But you never feel tied to any of those things.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yes, you do. You feel—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You feel very, very, uh—tou feel very tied, uh—I feel very tied to uh, what I see. You know? I don't want to do violence to it for the sake of, uh—you know, like painting out the figure in that painting that I was talking about earlier seemed to me a terrible sacrifice—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  You know, it's almost like cutting off my own head because what—what I was trying to deal with—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —was that very thing, the relation between the figure and the landscape. The fact that I wasn't able to deal with it and had to sacrifice the whole problem and start over again seemed like a terrible defeat. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  Um, and sometimes you have those kinds of defeats, and you—you, uh, allow them, just in order to, uh, make a painting. You know? But it's always a defeat. You know? And sometimes it's hardly worth—worth it in your mind. It's hardly worthwhile to arrive at a painting at the sacrifice of all the things that seem to you to be important in the beginning. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, but sometimes to make a picture work, do you then go on to make another painting that does something else using the—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —same, yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You do. Then—then you find out really where you were wrong in the beginning what—what—what mistakes you made at the start. You know? 'Cause sometimes you make—in the very beginning of a picture you make mistakes, which—which hound you all through the—which keep the picture from—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Ever working.

WOLF KAHN:  —ever working.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And then—then maybe after some time—after two years you find out what you did wrong. As this thing becomes more and more objective as a fact than—and less—and more and more free from your hopes and fears that—that keep it from being in your eyes, an objective fact, but, you know, like the great artists, I think, let's say Matisse or somebody like that you would think that that space of time would be very—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. [00:32:00]

WOLF KAHN:  —condensed, you know, that he understands—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Oh, I—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  —what's needed objectively—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Fixes it right away—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  —in the pictures right away. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, as he, you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Is it—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  He makes like these small hesitations—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —and at that moment, he's figuring out what the picture needs. You know? I mean, he's—he understands the laws of his canvas right away. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But do you work on several paintings at once or one at a time or—

WOLF KAHN:  Thirty or 40 at a time.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah. That's the only way I can work because, uh, I—I have to constantly work on them for a while, take them down, see them fresh, work on them, take them down, see them fresh. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So it's like this merry-go-round. This one—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —today and—

WOLF KAHN:  And then sometimes for—for—for two months I won't finish a single picture. And then the next two weeks, I finish them all. [They laugh.] You know? That sometimes happens. Yeah. I feel like I'm—certain—certain times, and then—then you're very happy. You know? You know then, like—like Matisse say—says, "J'ai connu le bonheur."

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Mm.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, I figure it's the—those times when everything falls into place you know, in your work and in your life, and sometimes the two go together.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But how can you—how do you work on that many pictures at the same time? I mean, physically, they go in and out of the racks sort of—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, they go in and out of the racks—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  'Cause you don't have enough space to keep them on the wall.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. Piles of unfinished—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —pictures leaning—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —against the wall. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How do you decide which ones you're going to work on, which one—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, in the morning you riffle through a pile, and you see something, uh, that—that looks possible. Pull—pull it out, and you say, Gee, I—I—I, yeah, right. Let me look at that. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Hmm.

WOLF KAHN:  Sure.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How do you know when a picture's finished then?

WOLF KAHN:  When the problem is solved.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Back to the problem. [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Why do you think that term—that word "problem" became such a fixture in the dialogue of the late '40s to '50s—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, because the Abstract [00:34:00] Expressionists, uh, quite unlike what people believed about them, were all involved in a very hard and fast, kind of problematic. And, uh, you know, 'cause Abstract Expressionism is—is a direct descendant of Cubism which is a highly formalistic art. You know? Abstract Expressionism, seen under certain light, is a highly formalistic art.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Mm.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, Hofmann used to say, it's a matter of a millimeter, you know, whether the thing comes off or not. And, uh, I think the—the distance between Mondrian and Abstract Expressionism is very small.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. You mean in terms of what makes—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  In terms of what makes the picture work.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  In terms of what the artists are finally looking for. They're looking for a certain click, you know when everything starts to lock together. You know, when the problem's solved. [They laugh.] And I'm still looking for that, you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —as a landscape painter. I mean, I feel myself thoroughly a child of Abstract Expressionism although the work doesn't show it anymore. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, there's certain things, you know, the space sometimes and the, sort of, ability to push or move large areas around and—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Um, I mean, you have gone a long way from what it was—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, but I—I—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —like 30 years ago.

WOLF KAHN:  I must say, uh, in what I'm after, it's still that click, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  When I feel that—that things start locking in place. You know? You know, the thing that you, uh, admire so much in Cezanne. You know, the—the amount of sky and the thickness of the brush stroke and it's just perfect in relation to the amount of shrubbery in the left foreground [laughs]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —so forth. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But how do you work on the color because—you know, over the [00:36:00] years you've done very, almost white paintings at—

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —one point. And then they got almost black at another—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —point.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  Now the—they're chromatic.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —very chromatic—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —and luminous and—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  How does the color work is that, sort of, of itself in—in the process?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, there was a—there was an in-between stage where I was sort of pasteling [ph] where—where my paintings were informed by an overall haze—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Um, and then I, uh, felt strong enough to—to use strong color. You know? It's—You change. I really—you know, about those things the artist is—is always the last one to give the true answer.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I mean, you know you haven't evolved any theory about color or—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah, I've got lots of theories about—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —color, but they're not able to be formulated. You know? But I'm very systematic about color.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  In what way is systematic?

WOLF KAHN:  In my head. I mean, I feel—I feel I know exactly what I want, and I have, uh, certain tried-and-true combinations which I try to constantly avoid [laughs] and, uh, get beyond. You know? At the same time that I fall back on if I have to. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So there's sort of an ideal in your mind that you hope evolves on a canvas at some point, or is that too cut and dried?

WOLF KAHN:  No, that's too cut and dried. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  No, the idea is very vague in my mind.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —[cross talk]—the idea—

WOLF KAHN:  It needs to be carried out.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  The idea, the ideal is something that—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, there's an ideal.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, I think I'm—you know, I was talking the other night with Jim—Jim Ackerman, the art historian at Harvard—he's a good friend of mine—who's writing, uh—he wants to write a book about, uh, this—the criteria that underlie, you know, judgments of quality. And, uh, I said to him, I said [00:38:00] to him, "Well, basically, you know, people are going to—going to tell you all sorts of things, but if they make any sense they're going to go right back to Plato." You know? And he said, "Well, they could also go back to Aristotle." And he's more interested in the pragmatic, in the Aristotelian kind of—kind of idea, you know? But I'm really very interested in the Platonic. I think that—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  I think that—that your—your schemes, your—finally all pictures reduce themselves to certain kinds of schemes, I think. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What do you—what do you mean by that, scheme?

WOLF KAHN:  Um, well, that, you know, the simplest one is by symmetry, right? I mean, which—which is something that, uh, certainly Ellsworth Kelly knows, you know? People like that.  Um, and, uh, they get more and more complex, but they still stay schemes, you know? There's certain, uh, geometric sub—substratum, you know, which I think corresponds to categories of the mind. You know, in some, some kind of a Neoplatonic, Kantian thing that—that—and I think that's sort of when you feel formalist, that's what you're after. You know? At the highest level.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Back to the structure business.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And so I mean, you know, that's all idealism.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yeah, right. Right. But, you know, where—it comes back to problem again, doesn't it? [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  That's right. Well, once you start using the word problem, then you're right in the—in—in—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —the swamp of idealism. [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But still, you know, the process then of making a painting, for you, could be sort of a rather indefinite period of time from—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —when you start—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yes. I've got paintings that are—haven't taken shape over a period of three years of—of rather [00:40:00] frequent attack—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —and other paintings that I do in an hour. You know, so it's just a matter of how—how quickly I solve the problem. [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, do you think when you are working on a painting, let's say it takes several months or a year, the—the ones that are—

WOLF KAHN:  Underneath?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, the ones that are underneath, or the ones that come along parallel to it, help the solution, help toward the solution of the difficult one?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Oh, yeah. And I think the ones that you work the longest on, very often turn out to be even though you as the artist hate them the most because they've caused you all this pain—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —and all this extra work still, they turn out to be the richest and the most interesting, very often. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really? I mean, because they ju—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  Because they have—they have all these, uh—all this input. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  All—all these ideas that are, you know, brought to bear on that painting. I mean, I sort of feel about a painting like I do about a party, that the more planning and the more worrying beforehand, you know, the better the party's going to be.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  If you just invite a bunch—everybody you know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Arbitrarily.

WOLF KAHN:  —and throw them all together, and feed them a whole lot of slop, you know, it's going to be that kind of a thing.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  But if you really think, Gee, does such and such get along with so and so, you know, what—what can we feed them at what hour? When, you know, you start getting the food out too early, and then they can't get drunk, and nothing happens. [They laugh.] You know? So you have to—you have to have worry about the thing, you know, care.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  And the same thing with painting. The more worry and care you put into a painting—either it goes dead completely or else—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —it gets to be your best work.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. What do you think are the qualities then of your best work? [Cross talk.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, uh, there's two kinds of best work I have. Those paintings that have caused me the most pain, [00:42:00] the—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —most work, and that nevertheless survive in an enriched form. And then the ones that are just knock off where—because I think I'm very talented.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You see? So if I can allow this talent, this bravura business—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  —you know, to hold sway, uh, which only happens, you know, in the first hour or so that you work, or two hours, you know, before you have any worries and second thoughts. If—if that happens, then you also can come up with terrific paintings, yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So there's really a total contrast.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Either instantaneous or drudgery.

WOLF KAHN:  That's right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  That's right. That's right. And it's the in-between paintings that are not usually worth all that much.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Hmm. I was going to ask you one thing, speak—thinking and sort of talking about the '50s. Did you see the 10th Street exhibition?

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  What did you think of those?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I thought it's amazing how, first of all, how tame they all become over time.  You know? Uh, even the wildest people kind of look almost classical now. You know? And, uh, then also how the mediocre painters were better then than they are now. You know? Because they were younger. They had more—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  They had more shit and molasses. You know? And the people who've—who've lasted and who've become well-known painters were good then, too you know, in a different way.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Like Pearlstein's early paintings are quite terrific.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? [Cross talk] better then—then what he's doing now, but don't tell him, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But totally different from—

WOLF KAHN:  Totally different.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —what we might expect.

WOLF KAHN:  But it was a very good Expressionist landscape, that early painting of Pearlstein's.  You know? Um, Alex Katz's painting was not necessarily painting, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Because there are so many—

WOLF KAHN:  —[cross talk]—little bit less—was a little bit less, um, bravura than what he's doing now. You know? More modest, more [00:44:00] humble. But that was sort of nice. It was very good though. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Wesselmann just got bigger and bigger and bigger.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, Wesselmann—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  —is a guy who stayed exactly the same, you know? He sort of—I don't know what he was doing at 10th Street in the first place. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, he just sort of appeared—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He sort of—he was the—the announcement of the demise, really. [They laugh.] The fact that the [inaudible] gave him that show meant that their whole raison d'etre had—had already, uh, gone by the board, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  They didn't know where their real interests lay.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, they'd changed by that time, I think.

WOLF KAHN:  There wasn't anything—yeah, well—the—the thing that made them cohere as—as a group you know, was no longer, uh, available. Otherwise, they would have all banded against Wesselmann. Let's face it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah, that's true, too. Um, so when did you move up to the country? How did that come about?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, we always, uh, had, um—we always had summer places, you know, that we rented. And as soon as you could no longer rent a summer place, which happened, uh, in the late '60s, you know, then we found it was too, um—it was just too awkward and too risky and too expensive. You know? Then you might as well have your own place. You know, and then we also had two small children. It got—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —to be very unwieldy. So, uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So—

WOLF KAHN:  We just found this place.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  So what do you spend, three months or four months, generally?

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I generally spend four or five months up there in—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, really?

WOLF KAHN:  —the summer. Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Quite a bit of time out of the year.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Yeah. I do a lot of painting in the fall. And—and I think, uh, once our youngest daughter's out of high school, we're going to spend a whole fall there. You know, the place certainly allows it.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Spend half a year there.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, would like to.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You don't miss the city then? I mean, you—[inaudible]—

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, I mean, if you have six months of New York, you—you have [00:46:00] enough [ph]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Let's face it. You know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You've had it up to here. [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You need the, uh, the relief.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You don't travel much anymore, do you, or have you been to Europe recently?

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah. We went to London last Christmas. And we go to the Caribbean. Oh, we live a nice life. You know? Sure. But I don't like to—to go on very long trips. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. I mean, you go to one place and stay there for a bit of—

WOLF KAHN:  Stay there for a while, you know? Um, I'd like to go back to Italy, and—and—and—and settle there and paint for a while somewhere. You know? But again, you—then your kids have to be older.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? This will all happen in three, four years.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Sounds very nice.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Yes, it is. But I mean, you know, uh, family life take—takes a big beating out of—out of, um—and if you have any concern for your children, um—on the other hand if you don't care about, uh, bringing your kids up as vagabonds, you know? You can be like Augustus John and drag them all over the world. You know? Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  But I don't think it's good for your kids.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  You know, kids—kids thrive on stability.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. You seem very involved in your family, though, much—much more so than a lot of other artists actually.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. Well, I happen to have a nice family. You know? Good marriage. Only married to one woman.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  All these years.

WOLF KAHN:  All these years.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  You know, and she's an artist. She's good to have around.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  I use her a lot. She tells me when a painting's finished sometimes. [They laugh.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's how you find out. [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, uh, you know, when I start—[inaudible]—painting hang on the wall and I start getting piddlier [ph] and piddlier [ph] on it then she says, "Oh, that painting is really great. "Why don't you just send it uptown?" I say, "Oh, thank God. She just saved me from myself." [They laugh.] [00:48:00]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  That's marvelous. What do you—you know, it's—it's—um—

WOLF KAHN:  Avery was a good family man, too.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know? He didn't think that there was any—any conflict between being an artist and being a good family man.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  You know? I mean, I, uh—I used to be a Bohemian of sorts. You know? But it wasn't the happiest period of my life. I think I'm better off now than I was when I was in my early 20s. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, Bohemian life is very, uh, exasperating and difficult—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, and, you know, I—I—and I also I—I didn't really—I don't think I really enjoyed it. I wasn't made for it I guess. You know, I just—just lived it because that's all I had.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  I didn't have any money to live right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, I—I wasn't mature enough to—to, uh, have—have enduring relationships and, uh—and I—I—I just sort of, you know, went through a lot of changes then. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Do you think that all affected your work in any way?

WOLF KAHN:  In those days?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. I mean was there some, some good that came out—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  Sure, sure. I—I would like—I mean, the—one of the things in—in those days, um—I wasn't interested at all in things I'm interested in now. I'm interested in—in resolving things, you know? In those days I was just interested in—in making them exciting. You know? Exciting for myself. Like if I met a nice girl, I'd throw her over the next, next girl I met, uh, because I figured, you know, that'd be—that's more exciting. Uh—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Novelty, newness.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, right. You know? And then I found out it's really much nicer to—to, uh, build an enduring relationship. It's better. You know? Allows you to, uh, to be free [00:50:00] to do other things.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Hmm.

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, that's, you know, that's—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —maturity, I guess.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Who, who—you know, do you still have a lot of artist friends who you see, or are there new people or pretty much the same ones you've seen over the years?

WOLF KAHN:  I—I wish I had more artist friends than I do.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Really?

WOLF KAHN:  I feel a bit bad that the community has—has—that I used to be a part of has been, you know, dispersed to the four winds as much as it has.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, like you said Pasilis is selling jewelry now and—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah, selling jewelry in California. You know, we were very close and I was, uh, uh, all through the Hansa Gallery I was—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —close with a lot of artists. The—the gallery I'm with now, uh, I—none of the artists in the gallery are really my friends. You know? Um, but I'm—I'm very happy, for example, to have met Dine, who, who I think is a very fascinating person.  And—and we have good times together. Um, and then I have friends in Vermont, Frank Stout and David Rohn is a good watercolorist up there, and, uh, I'm friends with quite a few of my students—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  —you know, who've since left school and and—and that I'm still keeping up with. Um—but, uh, basically—well, I mean, you know, I'm friends with Ressica [ph]. I'm friends with—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —Georges, and I'm friends with, like, other people of my persuasion so to speak.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, and I'm still friendly with, um, the older guys, you know, we say hello to each other, and we like to see each other, uh, like Tworkov—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Uh-huh [affirmative]. He's not around that much.

WOLF KAHN:  And—and Bill de Kooning—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Um, Spaventa—you know, but not—we don't really see each other socially all that much.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, he doesn't live—I mean that whole—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. [00:52:00]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —proximity is gone.

WOLF KAHN:  Right. The—the proximity is gone.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Do you miss that, the fact you—

WOLF KAHN:  I'm friendly with Bill King, who lives really—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —you know—works right downstairs from here.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm [affirmative].

WOLF KAHN:  You know? He's a swell artist.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But do you find this—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  Friendly with Mary Frank.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know, who—who I've known from way back. I mean, she goes right back to the Hansa days.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Right. Do you miss that whole ambience, when there used to be so many people up and down Broadway and 10th Street and around?

WOLF KAHN:  I think it—I think—yeah, I think I miss it. I think it'd be better for me if I saw more artists and still, uh, had the arguments constantly that we used to have then. You know? On the other hand, I don't miss it to the point where it stops me from doing what I want to do.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, otherwise, I suppose I'd go out and—and look for it, although, again, as a family man, it's difficult to go out in the evening to bars and so forth.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  There isn't any anymore.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I'm sure down in SoHo there's bars where you can—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Not so—yeah, but not—

WOLF KAHN:  —go and meet—meet people, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  They don't, uh—people from Jersey come over to West Broadway.

WOLF KAHN:  Oh, yeah?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  Well, no, I'm sure there's artist bars, too. I mean, I know there are where people still meet.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Mm-hmm [affirmative]. I mean, there's Spring Street and places like that—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —but not, uh—they don't seem to be as gregarious as before.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I don't know. I—I have a feeling—I have a feeling it's normal—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —at a certain stage of life, you become autonomous. You become more family bound. You—you, uh—one of the things that I abhor, which also happens, is that artists tend to segregate according to economic level, you know? The rich artists hang out together and all the, all the poor artists [laughs] hang out together and never the twain shall meet because it's too painful, sort of—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  I try to make, like, a real effort to kind of not get into that. You know? 'Cause I think that's sort of anti-democratic. And—and I'm friendly—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Anyway, [00:54:00] I'm not that—that—that's—I'm not—not any superstar that—that, uh, you know, just—just by dint of, uh, normal happenings, I just spend all my time with museum directors and—and big collectors you know, and—and, you know, like—like I imagine, uh, Jasper Johns does, although I don't know. [Laughs.] You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  No, not really. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I mean, he spends a lot of time on his island, you know, not accessible to anybody.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  And I—the thing I find fascinating, in talking to younger artists, is that they have an admiration for the days up to the early '60s when—when you could run into all the big guys.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Well, the—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  You know? [Inaudible.]

WOLF KAHN:  —big guys were—they really were very accessible, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. And they're not anymore.

WOLF KAHN:  And the reason they were accessible was because they're all—all, uh, like to drink. You know? They were all at the bars all the time. Uh, the people who didn't weren't as accessible, like Rothko wasn't very accessible. You know? Um, but Franz and Bill de Kooning and uh, Milton Resnick and all those people—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  They would always used to—

WOLF KAHN:  Always there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —come on—

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —out a lot. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Um, and they came to our shows. It was—was a—there was much more cross fertilization. But then we also had like a much more, I think, uncomplicated admiration for those guys. You know, I think—I'm not quite sure how the young people feel about—you know, the other day I was at a panel. I—let me just call Emily because things get—[audio break.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, right.

WOLF KAHN:  —gallery—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  —in one of the—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, yeah, for the 10th Street exhibition.

WOLF KAHN:  Yes. I was on this panel at NoHo [ph] Gallery, and, um, Tom Hess was the moderator. And, of course, the talk was all about, um, power, power. I was—I [laughs]—I was—[inaudible]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.] [00:56:00]

WOLF KAHN:  —because it seemed to me, you know, that was an inappropriate subject, and, of course, the reason it was that subject is because Tom was there.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And they sort of using Tom as a shooting gallery, and as a, uh, a complaining board. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, he was a big power monger for years.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. And they feel like that—you know, there's such a thing as power, and they don't have any. You know? Kind of. And they wanted to know, like, what we thought about power. And wasn't it unjust that all the power should be uptown, and in so few hands, well—so it was all—all this talk about power and enough—I finally got sore, and I said, "You know, why don't we talk about—about—about art and things that might conceivably have some bearing on our work, you know because it's when you start thinking about power you know, it doesn't do anything for your work. It just—just sort of—sort of dissipates your energy and gets you angry and upset. Uh, and takes the fun out of, uh, out of doing your work." Um, but somehow, you know, that was the overriding subject. [Laughs.] So then at—when the—when the panel was over, one of the organizers came up to me, younger painter whom I've never met before, and he said, "Well, the most important part is that you're here." And I said, "What do you mean by that?" And he said, "Well, you—you were talking about how the older painters, um, in the 10th Street days were available to the younger people, and, uh, this is the first time you've ever made yourself available to the younger people that—that I know of, and that's very important for us." And I said to him, "Well, you know, I'm very easy to get along with. Just invite me again. I'll be available." You know? I just don't necessarily [00:58:00] feel invited. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right. Right.

WOLF KAHN:  And, in fact, like, last year they organized a show of realistic painters down in SoHo. You know, all these figurative galleries and co-op galleries, and I—I put in my slides, and they didn't invite me to the show.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  I mean, clearly my work wasn't good enough for that show. You know? So I didn't feel—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  But that was the figurative people, wasn't it?

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah—[cross talk]—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  The—the figgies [ph].

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  The new figgies, they—

WOLF KAHN:  Right.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —call them.

WOLF KAHN:  Can you imagine, let's say de Kooning, uh, you know, being one of the older guys that's, that's available not being invited to—or having to even submit slides—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  [Laughs.]

WOLF KAHN:  —you know, and so forth. So—so, you know, I mean, they want it both ways.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. True.

WOLF KAHN:  And, uh, I just think they've got a very mixed up sense of hierarchy, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, it's all politics. It's not—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  Well, it's a lot of, uh, a—it's also—it's also a little bit that the—there's the feeling, which, you know, like—like D.H. Lawrence said about in—in the studies on classical American literature, he said, uh, that the Americans say, "Henceforth be masterless." You know? And—and this is part of the American ethos. There's no doubt about it. You know? But you can't want to have to do with the older guys who think they know more than the younger guys, you know, and who effectively do know more than the younger guys you know, about certain things.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Sure. Sure.

WOLF KAHN:  —uh, and have that attitude that you're going to be masterless. If you're going to invite the older guys because we had—we had—when we were talking with Franz, uh, we loved him. You know? We knew that he'd done something that we hadn't done—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN: —and that he prevailed, you know? We were just upstarts, you know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  And still, he was available. But he was available within a confine—within a context of—of affection and—and uncomplicated admiration—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Right.

WOLF KAHN:  —on our part. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. It certainly is different these [01:00:00] days.

WOLF KAHN:  And that's—that's a bit what's missing. Yeah, you know, and then that's why I don't particularly, uh, feel terribly willing to go down there. I don't even know—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, I—[cross talk]—

WOLF KAHN:  —that—if they know me. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I think it's also the, you know, weird description of one's attitude towards Klein is one of affection, basically and now I don't sense much of that.

WOLF KAHN:  You mean toward the older people.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. I mean, it's very—

WOLF KAHN:  Competitive.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Careerism and—

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  —competitive.

WOLF KAHN:  Yeah. Well, I—I didn't feel all competitive toward Klein because I—I felt that he was a master. You know? I mean, how could I be competitive? I was barely out of art school. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah. Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, it was a different—different level of—of accomplishment, ou know? I imagine there's—there must still be some—some of that attitude around because, after all, it corresponds to reality.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well—

WOLF KAHN:  But careerism is something that's—that's—it's—it's drug in from nowhere in a way.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Yeah.

WOLF KAHN:  You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Well, it's—I don't know what it is anymore.

WOLF KAHN:  [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I used to think I knew. Now I don't anymore.

WOLF KAHN:  Well, I don't want to deplore the young. That's a terrible—

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Oh, I agree.

WOLF KAHN:  —terrible game to get into.

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I agree. It's so easy.

WOLF KAHN:  Uh, uh, I see a lot of very, very interesting work going on. And I think, um, they still have the—the capacity to astound us. You know?

PAUL CUMMINGS:  I hope so.

WOLF KAHN:  [Laughs.]

PAUL CUMMINGS:  Anyway, that's—

[END OF TAPE 2 OF 2, SIDE B.]

[END OF INTERVIEW.]

How to Use This Collection

Transcript is available on the Archives of American Art's website.

For information on how to access this interview contact Reference Services.

Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Wolf Kahn, 1977 Nov. 28-1978 Jan. 6. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.