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Walt Kuhn

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Walt Kuhn was an American artist who specialized in portraits, modern art, and is credited for aiding in the creation of the Armory Show. Born in New York in 1877, the artists’ mother exposed him to art, theater, and the circus at an early age. This exposure inspired the themes of his later portraits and influenced him to take art classes at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. Six years later, Kuhn travels to California and gets hired to be a cartoonist for The Wasp magazine. In 1901 he decided to travel abroad and develop his art career further. In Paris, he attended the Academie Colarossi and then went to the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich. After completing his studies, Kuhn returned back to New York and became employed by Life and New York World to be their illustrator and cartoonist. One of the projects Walt Kuhn is most known for is his involvement and founding of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS). Their goal was to elevate contemporary artists through non-juried exhibitions. In 1912, Kuhn traveled to Europe as the group’s secretary to look for artists that could submit pieces for their International Exhibition of Modern Art, also known as the Armory Show. This exhibition served as a way to introduce modern art styles such as cubism, fauvism, and expressionism to American audiences. This exhibition was a success and led Kuhn to work in the new, modern styles that he had seen at the exhibit. Although busy still working for AAPS, the artist took up other commissions such as designing new club cars for the Union Pacific Railroad and by the 1930s, achieving a personal style of portraiture that is unique to his contemporaries. What makes his portraits so different is his subjects were mostly burlesque performers, circus acrobats, and clowns. Although the costumes and staged poses were light hearted and fun, his portraits took on a darker, more serious demeanor. After being institutionalized a year prior, Walt Kuhn had died in 1949 due to declining health.

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