Frederick Kann US, 1884-1965


"Not only a pioneer in abstraction in America, Kann is notable for his energy in founding institutions to promote and preserve the practices he believed in. He founded the American Abstract Artists group, the Circle Gallery, as well as the Modern Institute of Art in Los Angeles with actor Vincent Price."


- Aaron Payne

Frederick Kann was a European-American painter, sculptor and designer who was at the forefront of the movement toward abstraction during the early twentieth century. As a young man, Kann experienced the hardship of World War I and the rise of authoritarian governments. Like many other European artists, abstraction freed him to reimagine reality by combining his creative skills with his desire for a better world. 


Frederick Kann was born on May 25, 1884, in Gablonz, a city in the modern-day Czech Republic. From the beginning, Kann had a diverse range of artistic interests. He studied architecture, painting, sculpture, and the applied arts at schools in Prague and Munich. As a student, Kann exhibited with a group of experimental German expressionist painters called Die Brücke. In 1910, Kann immigrated to the United States to pursue opportunities as a commercial artist and worked there for the next eighteen years.


In 1928, Kann moved to Paris to teach art at the Louvre as its first American instructor. There, Kann joined the  Surindépendants and Abstraction-Création, two groups of French painters that included Wassily Kandinsky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Arshile Gorky and Piet Mondrian. They advocated for formal abstraction over the fantastical dreamscapes of Surrealism. With their influence, Kann moved away from realism, applying the mathematical precision he learned as a commercial designer to create elaborate geometric abstractions.  


In 1936, Kann moved back to the United States to teach advertising and industrial design at the Kansas City Art Institute. While in Kansas City, he helped found the American Abstract Artists based in New York, a group that promoted abstract art through exhibitions across the country. In 1938, he published an essay called "In Defense of Abstract Art" in which he argued that realistic representation was not the artist's only purpose, stating that "[abstract art] is the urge to become united more closely with life of which we form a part, to act as life itself -- to become creators rather than imitators."


Kann remained in Kansas City until 1943, when he moved to Los Angeles to teach at the Chouinard Art Institute. In 1944, he opened his own gallery dedicated to abstract art called The Circle Gallery. A few years later, he was instrumental in founding the Modern Institute of Art in Beverly Hills with actor Vincent Price, then opened an art school called the Kann Institute. Kann died in 1965 at his home in Los Angeles. His artworks are preserved by collections worldwide, and his efforts helped create the movements of abstract art we know today.