Deborah Kass b. 1952, USA


Deborah Kass is a living legend whose multi-faceted visual arts practice is rooted in unflinching honesty, scintillating wit, and a tireless compulsion to scrutinize American sensitivities. Among her most pressing concerns is the ways in which aesthetic culture affects and informs the construction of self.


Kass is a fan of popular culture and a rigorous student of art history. She has said that if the canonized giants of Pop Art and Minimalism were still alive, her work might kill them. As much as anything else, those artists defined themselves by their diametric opposition to each other. Pop Art could be anything; Minimalism was everything Pop Art wasn’t. However, as a young artist, Kass saw things differently. Pop and Minimalism were both cool. Her dual admiration, along with her commitment to examining the political climate of today, expresses itself abundantly throughout her various bodies of work.


“I use history as a readymade,” Kass says. “I use the language of painting to talk about value and meaning. How has art history constructed power and meaning? How has it reflected the culture at large? How does art and the history of art describe power?”


Kass considers all of the world’s existing artistic content as useful material from which to draw. One of her most illustrative series is her long running body of work appropriating Andy Warhol’s signature screenprints. Using Warhol’s technique, Kass creates empowering, feminist images by replacing his iconic subjects with images of females from art history and popular culture that inspire her. For her, this series asks the key question: Who are you, versus who you have historically needed to be in order to succeed in a white, male dominated world? As much as she unabashedly loves art history, Kass also knows damn well that a queer, Jewish, feminist like herself never would have been given a chance to participate in most of the movements of the past that inspire her, nor show with most of the artists she considers her “first loves.”


“The resonance of my work is that so many can identify with it,” Kass explains. “So much of my art is about who does, and who can. When I saw Barbra Streisand take the world by storm when I was a 12-year-old Jewish girl from Long Island, that meant I could do it, too! Identity is a noun. It is WHAT you are. It’s how you come out of your mother. But when you identify with something outside of yourself, it’s active. It's a verb. That's how you start constructing WHO you are as a subject, a person—internally, emotionally, spiritually—and imagining how you can be in the world. Now people say, ‘If you can see it you can be it.’ This is the very meaning of inspiration.”


Kass is an inductee into the New York Foundation for the Arts Hall of Fame and the National Academy of Design. She has received the Passionate Artist Award from the Neuberger Museum, and is a Cultural Honoree at the Jewish Museum. She serves on the boards of the Sharpe Walentas Studio Program and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Kass’s work has been shown nationally and internationally, including at the Venice Biennale, the Istanbul Biennale, and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne. In 2012, The Andy Warhol Museum presented Deborah Kass, Before and Happily Ever After, Mid-Career Retrospective, with a catalogue published by Rizzoli. Other recent major exhibitions include Orange Disaster (Linda Nochlin), Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; Deborah Kass: Day After Day, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY; Deborah Kass: Painting and Sculpture, Kavi Gupta, Chicago, IL; About Face: Stonewall Revolt and the New Queer, Wrightwood 659, Chicago, IL; and My Andy: a retrospective, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Kansas City, MO. Kass’s monumental sculpture OY/YO in Brooklyn Bridge Park became an instant icon and is now installed in front of the Brooklyn Museum. Additional editions of the sculpture are permanently located in the cities of Stanford, CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Work by Kass is in the collections of dozens of the most influential public and private collections in the world, including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; the Jewish Museum, NY; the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, MA; the Cincinnati Museum, OH; the New Orleans Museum, LA; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC; Pérez Art Museum Miami, FL; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; and many others. Kass is a graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA; the Whitney Museum Independent Studies Program, New York, NY; and the Art Students League, New York, NY; and is the recipient of an honorary Doctorate of Arts from Oregon College of Art and Craft, Portland, OR.