Gary Kuehn was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, in 1939. He received a BFA in art history in 1962 from Drew University, and with the encouragement of his mentor, George Segal, he went on to receive an MFA from Rutgers University in 1964. As a student in New Jersey, Kuehn was immersed in the Fluxus movement, surrounded by professors such as Allan Kaprow and Geoffrey Hendricks. He produced a sculpture for the 1963 Yam Festival, organized by George Brecht and Robert Watts in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and in 1964 he choreographed a performance at the Hardware Poets Play House in New York, an event he later described as “terrifying.”
Kuehn rejected the lack of order and control in the Fluxus movement, choosing instead to develop a dialectical working method that focused on the inherent expressive quality of raw materials. Kuehn worked as a union construction worker in the 1950s and 1960s as a way to support himself. His experience as an ironworker and a roofer was formative in the development of his conceptual approach to materials. In 1966 Kuehn was included in the pivotal group exhibition Eccentric Abstraction, curated by Lucy Lippard at Fischbach Gallery in New York, which first brought together a group of artists including Eva Hesse and Bruce Nauman, whose work would later be designated as Anti-Form, Postminimal, or Process art.
Kuehn’s work of the 1960s navigates the space between expressionism and Minimalism through binary struggles and material investigations. In this time he exhibited at Bianchini Gallery, New York (1966, 1967), the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1966, 1968), and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (1967). Kuehn’s work was included in the legendary exhibition Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form (1969), curated by Harald Szeemann at the Kunsthalle Bern, which traveled to Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, and Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and was restaged in 2013 at the Fondazione Prada, Milan.
In the 1960s Kuehn also began what would become a lifelong friendship and working relationship with the German dealer Rolf Ricke, prompting a series of exhibitions and residencies in Germany including Documenta 6, Kassel (1977), and the DAAD Fellowship, Berlin (1979). Kuehn has been the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Grant (1967, 1976), the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant (1976), and the Francis J. Greenburger Award (1992).
Kuehn’s work has been exhibited at the Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal (1971), Kunstverein Stuttgart (1972), the Portland Art Museum (1975), the New Jersey State Museum, Trenton (1977), PS1, Long Island City (1978), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1980), Hamburger Kunsthalle (1986), Kölnischer Kunstverein (1989), Kunsthalle Bielefeld (1990, 2001), Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg (1991), Le Syndicat d’Initiative, Cluis (1995), National Building Museum, Washington, DC (1997), Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome (2000), Bergen Kunstmuseum (2001), Neues Museum in Nürnberg (2002), Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (2004), Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2007, 2010), Museum Gegenstandsfreier Kunst, Otterndorf (2008), Weserburg Museum, Bremen (2012), Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford (2014), Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz (2014), Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2015), the Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2017), and GAMeC—Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Bergamo (2018).
In a letter written in 1990 to Seth Siegelaub for the exhibition The Context of Art / The Art of Context, Kuehn writes, “I’m a holdout for the artist in the privacy of the studio addressing issues that may or may not be of interest to distributing or consuming aspects of the art world.” Kuehn’s first studios were in converted farmhouses and run-down barns in the countryside of New Jersey, where his first studio assistant was his daughter Nanette. Today he lives and works between New York City and Wellfleet, Massachusetts, with his wife, the writer Suzanne McConnell.
-By Cindy Hinant, first published in “Gary Kuehn: Practitioner’s Delight” on the occasion of his 2018 retrospective exhibition at GAMeC – Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Bergamo.