The Maude Kerns Art Center is proud to present “The Pursuit of Pure Form: The Work of Maude I. Kerns,” opening on Friday, April 13, with an Opening Reception from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. The exhibit features the work of the Center’s namesake, a visionary artist and educator, the first head of the Art Education Department at the University of Oregon (1921 – 1947), and an internationally recognized artist in the Non-Objective Art Movement. “The Pursuit of Pure Form” is on view through Friday, May 11. Nancy Pobanz and David Wade are the Title Sponsors.
“The Pursuit of Pure Form” marks the first time in eight years that the Art Center has shown Kerns’s work. The exhibit is curated by members of the Art Center’s Duchess Committee, which is dedicated to perpetuating the artistic legacy of Maude I. Kerns. It centers around works from the estate of the late Leslie Brockelbank, Maude Kerns’s great niece, and focuses on Kerns’s non-representational paintings for which she is most acclaimed. Also included are works on paper from the Art Center’s own collection of Kerns’s work. The exhibit includes over 50 pieces, a number of which have never been shown before. Most of the works will be available for purchase.
Maude I. Kerns was born on August 1, 1876, in Portland, Oregon. She graduated from the University of Oregon in 1899, attended the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco in 1901, and then studied at Columbia University Teachers College in New York, where she graduated in 1906 with a B.A. in Fine Arts and a B.S. in Education.
Kerns experimented with a variety of styles, including realistic landscapes and portraits as well as non-objective explorations of color and form. Over the course of her long career, she studied with some of the most well-known modernist artists, including Hans Hoffman, Rolph Scarlett, and Alexander Archipenko. She travelled extensively both in Europe and Asia, and was influenced by European modernism and Asian art.
It was in the 1940s that Kerns’s search for an expressive visual form for her spiritual ideals culminated in non-objective paintings composed of interlocking triangles, circles, and rectangles. She was the only woman in the Northwest to be active in the Non-Objective Art Movement. Kerns was in close contact with a number of avant-garde painters in New York, including the Baroness Hilla Rebay, the first director of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (now the Guggenheim), where Kerns showed regularly from 1941 – 1951.
Kerns shared with Rebay the aspiration to find a visual expression of a spiritual state. “Non-Objective painting represents no object or subject known to us on earth,” Rebay said. The masterpieces of non-objective art are “the culmination of spiritual power made intuitively visible. The forms and colors we see are secondary to their spiritual rhythm which we feel.”