Psychology Department's "Artist in Residence"

April 1, 2007
Right Now
I a Villema II

Irwin Kremen collages: Right Now, top; I a Villema II, bottom. Les Todd

Irwin Kremen, an assistant professor emeritus of psychology, is known almost as well for his art as for the academic career that has been his primary occupation.

This spring, “Irwin Kremen: Beyond Black Mountain (1996-2006),” a retrospective featuring more than 160 of the artist’s works, opened at the Nasher Museum of Art. The exhibition, which will run through June 19, comprises collages, paintings, and sculpture that span the forty years that Kremen has been making art—since he began in earnest at age forty-one, three years into his teaching career at Duke. On April 29, Kremen will lecture on a series of eleven collages included in the exhibition that relate to images of the Holocaust.

Many of Kremen’s collages consist of scraps of weathered paper he gathered during overseas travels. His sculptures, often large in scale, are composed of iron, saw blades, and steel, among other materials.

Kremen’s career as part-scholar, part-artist actually began years before he joined the Duke faculty, years before he considered psychology an interest, much less a career choice. He dropped out of Northwestern University after three years and worked as a reporter and a columnist for a local newspaper before moving to New York. There, he read an article about Black Mountain College, an art school near Asheville, North Carolina. “I immediately got on the train and went down there,” he said in a 2000 Duke Magazine profile, “and I decided that was the place for me to go.”

At Black Mountain, he concentrated on his writing, forming a close relationship with teacher M.C. Richards, a writer and potter. In 1951 in New York, Richards introduced him to celebrated artists associated with Black Mountain—John Cage, David Tutor, and Merce Cunningham—all of whom became close friends and eventually ardent supporters.

Later, after Kremen had discovered his love for psychology and made his start along an academic career path, Richards pushed him to turn his attention to collage making. What began in the late 1960s as a personal experiment would morph into a lifelong pursuit.

Kremen’s debut exhibit was organized by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection in 1978; since then, his work has been shown in more than thirty venues at museums and art centers nationally and abroad. “The Art of Irwin Kremen,” an exhibition consisting of seventy-three collages and seventeen metal sculptures, was displayed at the Nasher’s predecessor, the Duke University Museum of Art, in 1990.