Oscar Cahén (1916 – 1956) was one of the most inventive and influential Canadian artists of the 20th Century. He was an inspiration to, and a leader of, the renowned Painters Eleven, a group of Canadian abstract artists formed in 1953. Cahén was a dominant force in Canadian art, and his work is included in some of the most pinnacle public art museum collections in Canada.
Tragically, he was killed in an accident at the age of 40.
His works have been chronicled by all major art history accounts of the period and are consistently showcased in public art museums. However, he is primarily known by a mere handful of images; the vast majority and breadth of his work has been out of view, and seldom, if ever, been seen by the public.
This fall will change that.
This tribute exhibition is the first large scale examination of Cahén’s career in over thirty years. In it, curator Jeffrey Spalding traces the artist’s impact on progressive art in Montreal and Toronto in the 1940s and 1950s, and brings together the very finest of the artist’s signature works: The Warrior (1956) and Painting on Olive Ground (1956, collection of the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota Florida). Both of these superb works have been generously loaned to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.
Over the past decade, research has also brought to light new aspects of the artist’s career. This exhibition presents works previously unknown to the public, and offers a revised assessment of the artist’s place in Canadian art history.
Viewers of the exhibition will discover the work of an abstract artist that was a central influence on subsequent developments in 1960s Canadian art. Though he died far too young, Cahén’s accomplishments changed the course of Canadian art. He was the forerunner to the modernist abstraction of the1960s that we witness in the exhibition of works by Jack Bush, Gershon Iskowitz and David Bolduc.
The exhibition is complemented by a lavishly illustrated monograph examining Cahén’s work, featuring commentaries from leading art historians.
Curator: Jeffrey Spalding
Organized by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery