Frederick I. Kann

Theme/Style – Modernism, Abstraction, Surrealism, figural sculpture

Media – Oil, gouache, watercolor, sculpture

Artistic Focus – Frederick Kann was already established as a European Modernist and pioneer Abstractionist when he helped found New York’s important American Abstract Artists group. His early exposure to avant-garde circles in Paris gave his work a depth and sophistication that prompted his close friend, author Henry Miller, to comment, “There is a great deal of mystification in Kann’s abstract paintings, a curious blending of the mathematical and the introspective. Without transition, he jumps from the most rigid academicism to the strange no-man’s land which is not even Surrealism.”

Career Highlights –

• Born in Gablonz, Czechoslovakia in 1884, Frederick Kann studied at the Technical College of Prague and attended both Prague’s and Munich’s Academies of Fine Arts, and exhibited with the German Expressionist group Die Brücke in 1905.
• He first immigrated to Canada, and then became a U.S. citizen in 1910, living in New York and working as a commercial artist.
• Kann moved to Paris in 1928, where he taught studio art and began painting abstractions. He also became one of writer Henry Miller’s closest friends and benefactors, appearing as “Kruger” in Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. He joined the Surindépendants and the Abstraction-Création groups, exhibiting with Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy, Gorky, Mondrian, and others in the early 1930s. Besides his paintings, Kann exhibited his sculpture, including a piece called Study of a Woman in a show at the Salon des Surindépendants in 1931.
• By 1936 Kann was back in the U.S., teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute along with Thomas Hart Benton. He exhibited and took first prize at the Midwest Artists exhibition in 1937, and was to remain at the Art Institute until 1943.
• A founding member of the American Abstract Artists group in New York, he exhibited in their first show at the Squibb Galleries there in 1937 and continued to exhibit with the group for the next decade. He also helped organize the group’s shows elsewhere in the U.S., and his essay, “In Defense of Abstract Art,” was published in the AAA’s Yearbook in 1938.
• Kann exhibited in a two-person show with Piet Mondrian at New York’s Pinacotheca Gallery in 1940 and had a solo exhibition there in 1942, as well as a solo show at the city’s Mortimer Brandt Gallery in 1943.
• Kann then moved to Los Angeles, where he became an instructor at the Chouinard Art Institute; and in 1944 he opened the Frederick Kann-Frank Martin Gallery (later known as the Circle Gallery), one of the first galleries to exhibit abstract art in Los Angeles. In the late 1940s Kann also helped found the Modern Institute of Art in Beverly Hills with actor and art collector Vincent Price, and later opened The Kann Institute of Art at 9010 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, where the faculty included Sueo Serisawa and Paul Landacre.
• Kann exhibited in “Group Show No.3” along with Knud Merrild, Grace Clements, Helen Lundeberg, and others at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1944. Elsewhere in Los Angeles, Kann exhibited at the L.A. County Art Institute in 1948 (now Otis College of Art and Design), at the Silagy Galleries in 1958, and had a solo show at USC’s Upstairs Gallery in 1961.
• Frederick Kann passed away in Los Angeles in 1965. He was included in a show with work by Jean Charlot and others at the city’s Esther Robles Gallery in 1975, and in 2007 a retrospective of his work was held at the Meredith Ward Fine Art gallery in New York entitled “Frederick Kann: Creative Spirit, Visionary Mind.”