Last June The Phillips Collection acquired its first painting by the New York artist Tobi Kahn, Lyie (1991). It has now been installed in the spiral staircase of the museum’s Goh Annex. Given by Victoria Schonfeld in memory of her parents, the painting is one of Kahn’s most important paintings of his mature period when forms other than landscape, such as flowers, became a dominant theme. Like most of Kahn’s paintings, Lyie is built up of about 20 layers, beginning with modeling paste containing marble dust on top of white underpainting, followed by opaque paint layers, and finally, a layer of translucent washes.
Earlier this year, Kahn gave an inspiring keynote address at the Phillips during its Art & Innovation Design Gathering, an annual meeting of creative minds that is jointly presented by the Phillips and the University of Virginia.
This week Kahn was invited to speak at Georgetown University by the Program for Jewish Civilization. In conversation with Ori Soltes who teaches theology, philosophy, and art history at Georgetown University, Kahn spoke passionately about how he does not consider himself a Jewish artist or a painter or a sculptor, but just an artist; yet at the same time he cannot separate the knowledge of his Jewish heritage from art history. This combination undoubtedly contributes to Kahn’s unique style of painting that seems equally influenced by Jewish mysticism, such as the color symbolism of the Kabbalah, and the tradition of American modernism, so richly represented by The Phillips Collection’s holdings of Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Toward the end of the conversation, Kahn expressed gratitude to The Phillips Collection for his painting being given such generous placement: “Artists always want to have more space, ” he added, “The Phillips Collection is the perfect space.”