A Tribute to Wolf Kahn


The Brooklyn Rail, March 2020

They say, “Never meet your heroes.” I couldn’t disagree more.
I first met Wolf in the 1990s, long after I knew his paintings. He gave a lecture, and along with the rest of his captivated audience, I became a true believer.  
I learned firsthand that evening that Wolf had an uncanny knack for storytelling, both visually and orally. His anecdotes, like the man, were peppered with charm, grace, humor, intelligence, and wit.
The evening ended, and I returned home with even greater convictions about Wolf and his work.
My heart was full, and my belly was warm with the proverbial Kool-Aid. Any thought of forging a personal or professional relationship was a pipe dream. I was content to follow Wolf’s work as a grateful and enthusiastic spectator.
Fortune smiled on me several years later when I happened to be seated next to Wolf at an American Academy of Arts and Letters dinner.  
We became fast friends that night, and he invited me to his studio the next day, an invitation I eagerly accepted.
The following day, I rang the buzzer at Wolf's 21st Street studio and enthusiastically bounded up the three flights of stairs, where I was greeted by my new friend, who stood mythically at the top landing with a thick head of brilliant silver hair, a gleam in his eye, and a devilish grin. He was wearing his painting jacket, which was similar to a lab coat, only it was adorned with random licks of brightly hued fresh oil paint, giving him the appearance of equal parts artistic genius and mad scientist.
There are defining moments in a person’s life, and this was a day that forever shaped my future and who I would become. I left the studio that day as Wolf’s primary gallerist. It was an honor, and a newfound responsibility that I’m not certain I fully deserved at the time. Nonetheless, Wolf believed in and trusted me, even if I didn’t yet have full confidence in myself.
More important, our friendship was cemented. For the next 20 years, I spoke with Wolf almost daily and visited him weekly until this past March, when I had the honor of being with him at the end.
Wolf and I were beyond close. He and Emily were family.
He taught me much about art, life, and everything in-between. We shared many of life’s special moments, including birthdays, holidays, vacations, and weddings. He loved celebrations, especially those centered around him.
He was a generous soul who embraced and was fiercely loyal to those close to him.
I miss my friend Wolfie terribly, and this past spring has felt colder, darker, and lonelier without him.
He leaves behind a rich legacy, however, in both his art and his family. We need only look to be reminded of his spirit and of the joy that he brought us all.
Wolf often generously referred to me as his lifeline to the world. He had it backward. It was Wolf who was my lifeline. He inspired me, he changed the way I look at the world, he gave me a real sense of purpose, and he saved me from a life less ordinary.
Wolfie would say “Knock it off, Milo. You’re overdoing it.”
But again, I disagree. Isn’t that what great friends sometimes do?