Sculptor, painter, collagist, and educator, Luise Kaish was a key figure in the New York art scene of the late 20th century. Kaish’s multidisciplinary and process-oriented practice contributed to various artistic discourses at the time. The strength and breadth of her work, her influential role in education, and the prestigious awards she received in recognition of her practice set her apart as an early female leader in the arts. Kaish was Chair of Columbia University’s painting and sculpture division (1980-86), one of the first women to receive the Rome Prize Fellowship (1970-72), and a participant in pioneering shows such as the SculptureCenter’s “Women Welders” (1953), which highlighted women’s contributions to the welding process.
Kaish was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1925. After earning a BFA from Syracuse University in 1946, Kaish won a grant to study in Mexico City, Mexico. She then returned to Syracuse to obtain an MFA under the mentorship of sculptor Ivan Meštrović. While a student, Kaish received her first major commission from Syracuse University for which she created the Saltine Warrior (1951), a bronze rendition of the university’s symbol at the time. Kaish’s work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, in which she was one of only a few women, including: “American Sculpture 1951”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1951); “Recent Sculpture U.S.A.”, the Museum of Modern Art (1959); annuals at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1962, 1964); “Luise Kaish, Sculpture” (retrospective), The Jewish Museum (1973); and “Luise Kaish, Recent Collages”, Staempfli Gallery, NY, 1981.
Kaish had a lifelong interest in the spiritual and metaphysical. This interest became a resonating theme throughout her practice, manifesting itself through both abstraction and figuration. In addition, Kaish paid homage to a broad range of natural, cultural, and philosophical allusions – from the Old Testament, Jewish history, and Kabbalah mysticism to the cosmos and the environment. Kaish’s sensitivity to human experience and expression allows her work to go beyond its aesthetic appeal, to addressing wider themes of spirituality, representation, process, figuration, and storytelling that remain relevant for new audiences today.
“One glance at later works such as “The Great Ark of Revelations” (Temple B’rith Kodesh, Rochester NY, 1961–64) or “Christ in Glory” (Holy Trinity Mission Seminary, Silver Spring MD, 1965–66) makes clear that Kaish belonged to the centuries-old Italian figurative tradition as much as to the American avant-garde. Its fluency and controlled sense of theater had become her own.”
The iconic photograph of Kaish shows her in her MacDougal Street studio working on an immense sculpture commissioned by the Temple B'rith Kodesh, ten tons when cast in bronze.