A Tribute to Jacob Kainen on his 90th Birthday
For decades Kainen has been an energetic presence in Washington. A gifted painter and printmaker as well as curator, teacher, scholar and collector, Kainen has played a major role in helping the city evolve from what he described as a “desert” for contemporary art to its present vibrant state. For 50 years he has nurtured ties among Washington’s artists, museums, artist organizations and art galleries. With respect to the Corcoran, he has been most important as an artist, the identity Kainen himself most cherishes.
Kainen’s works in the Corcoran’s collection span from the mid-1940s to the 1990s and illustrate many of the techniques he mastered during the course of his long career. As a painter, he has worked primarily in oil and has alternated between abstraction and figuration. As a printmaker, he has experimented with a wide range of techniques, from the most traditional to the most technologically advanced, including intaglio, relief and computer-generated processes.
“The richness and variety of Kainen’s work finds a parallel in his long, productive life,” says Laura Coyle, assistant curator of exhibitions at the Corcoran. “Few have contributed more lyrically, creatively, and unselfishly to the cultural life of Washington, DC.”
Born in Connecticut in 1909, Kainen grew up in New York City. He studied at the Art Students League, the Pratt Institute School of Art, and the New York University School of Architecture. In 1935 he enrolled in the New York Graphics Art Project, part of the government’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project. This experience launched a lifelong commitment to printmaking. In 1942, he moved to Washington to work in the Division of Graphic Arts at the US National Museum (now the Museum of American History) of the Smithsonian Institution. By the time he retired as Curator of Graphic Arts in 1970 he had assembled a remarkable collection of Old Master and modern European and American prints for the Institution. During his time at the Smithsonian, he continued to create his own paintings, prints, and drawings. Kainen’s work is in the permanent collections of many prestigious museums including the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, the National Museum of American Art and the Phillips Collection. At the Corcoran, he has participated in 25 group shows and received four awards for his painting. This installation marks his fourth one-man show at the Corcoran. In 1992, he received an Honorary Degree in Fine Art from the Corcoran College of Art and Design.