The thirteen works by Omaha-based artist Kim Reid Kuhn currently on display at the Fred Simon Gallery (a great space tucked within the offices of the Nebraska Arts Council at 1004 Farnam) are rewarding to the eye in ways that are not easy to capture in prose.
Formally inventive, whimsical, and psychologically involving all at the same time, Reid Kuhn’s images are made even more interesting by her clear desire to have these images be read as comments on, and expressions of, social conditions.
Start with the show’s alluring title, The Sacraments of Domesticity, which locates these images at the point where the moments of everyday become symbols of themselves, sacred in their capacity to represent the heart of who we are.
All the more interesting, then, that Reid Kuhn’s paintings feel so liberating, as if the structures of domesticity had unleashed an adventurous soul, one drawn to lifelike shapes punctuated with spray paint, scraps of writing, creatures of various kinds, and a command of color that is variously subtle and explosive. Spend some time with “The Objections of Domesticity,” a wood block drenched in color and suggestion.
These are abstractions that frequently verge on becoming representations, and the eye can roam across these rich images without feeling pressured toward one interpretation or another. In their playfulness, they seem less like representations of domesticity than various escape hatches from domesticity, portals into a dreamscape that is both personal and yet universal in its capacity to echo sensations and experiences of our own.
With a few exceptions, Reid Kuhn’s explorations do not extend to the edge of the canvas. Instead, they hover within it as some strange amalgam of shape, color and scraps of meaning. In several of these works, the presence of tubes and valves suggests some strange organ that is digesting a mix of personal experiences as social reactions. The fragments of writing are not always legible but evocative when they are, and yet Reid Kuhn seems perfectly comfortable giving us a window into the narratives and their component parts.
In her statement about the exhibition, Reid Kuhn notes that “we tend to mirror and revere the way large and powerful establishments confine us.” Whereas many artists and thinkers have pondered the relationship between the social and the personal, Reid Kuhn unique images suggest she is drawn to the point at which the social becomes the personal. Her paintings are compressed, distilled representations of complicated personal narratives.
The adventure of Reid Kuhn’s work is in part an art-historical one. In addition to the presence of Philip Guston, another lover of organs, the images, particularly those in the second gallery, are suggestive of lesser-known hybrids of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism such as William Baziotes (see “The Room,” 1945) and Ezio Martinelli (see “surreal structure,” 1943).
The specific connections are not important, but the command of imagery and the channeled expression of emotion are. Reid Kuhn mentioned to me in conversation that the show at Fred Simon Gallery is—in a deeper way than any show in an artist’s career is—one part of a larger narrative. Given this show in its entirety right up to “Allocation,” the large-scale mixed media on birch that is the most recent work in the show, I very much look forward to future chapters.
The Sacraments of Domesticity: New Work by Kim Reid Kuhn is on display at the Fred Simon Gallery until October 17. For details go to nebraskaartscouncil.org.