Kurt Kauper’s figurative paintings of historical and imagined people elude easy categorization. Characterized by their content’s ambiguity and an often unidentifiable strangeness, Kauper’s works are nonetheless rendered with a hyperreal and illusionistic articulation of space and form. Perverting the familiarity of cultural figures—some identifiable, such as the actor Cary Grant or the Obamas, and others more archetypal, such as athletes, opera divas, “men,” and “women”—Kauper’s works originate from a place of, in his words, “watching cultural expectations from a desiring but alienated distance.” Formed in part as a response to social and cultural ideals that he felt unable to fulfill, Kauper’s paintings are attempts to hint at the elaborate performativity required to navigate the world. The exactitude of his paintings’ realism corresponds to the mastery required to achieve societal expectations that exist only as a collective fantasy, and are thus uncanny when seen. Caught in suspended animation, his figures are placed into indeterminate tableaus with narratives that are suggested but unresolved. With an often inaccessible interiority, the naturalism of Kauper’s characters create a presence that engages the viewer and variably prompts a response of empathy, estrangement, or disidentification.
Kauper (b. 1966, Boston, MA) received his BFA from Boston University in 1988 and MFA from UCLA in 1995. For the past 20 years he has lived and worked in New York City. Kauper has had solo exhibitions at Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles (2022); Almine Rech Gallery, New York, New York (2018); ACME Gallery, Los Angeles, California (2015); and Deitch Projects, New York, NY (2009). He has been included in numerous institutional exhibitions, including Flesh, Newchild Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium (2021); Mixed Signals: Artists Consider Identity in Sports, Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (2009); Cheir Peintre, Centre Pompidou, Musée National D’Art Moderne, Paris, France (2002); and the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York (2000), among others. His work is included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Hammer Museum, The Oakland Museum of Art, the Weatherspoon Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery. He is the recipient of grants from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, and the Pollock Krasner Foundation. He is currently a Professor of Art at Queens College, New York.