In Memoriam: Alexis Kuhr (1955 – 2023)

The Department of Art remembers a dear friend, colleague, and former chair on the occasion of her passing.
A smiling woman stands in front of a window

It is with great sadness that the Department of Art marks the passing of our dear friend and former colleague Alexis Kuhr, who served on our faculty from 1998 to 2014. Collected here are some of the many remembrances circulated recently from her friends and colleagues here at the University of Minnesota, where Alexis served as a faculty member from 1998 through 2014, when she moved on to teach at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

For those who wish to support the Alexis Kuhr Scholarship at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst please use this link: https://minutefund.uma-foundation.org/project/6311/donate?des_id=427514

The scholarship will be given annually to a 2nd- or 3rd-year MFA student with financial need who demonstrates excellence in their art practice as well as academic excellence. Preference will be given to graduate students who are the first in their family to attend college.

 

Department of Art Chair & Professor Christine Baeumler:

Our former Department of Art Chair and Associate Professor, dear friend, colleague, mentor, and inspiring artist, Alexis Kuhr, passed away on October 6th, in Massachusetts, with her beloved partner Shirley Idelson by her side. 

In an outpouring of moving reflections from former students, colleagues, and artists, Alexis is fondly remembered as an individual of great integrity, a brilliant critical thinker, a dedicated, skilled, and generous educator, an effective leader, and an artist whose recent work engaged abstraction in addressing important societal concerns. 

Alexis was fiercely supportive of faculty, students, and staff as part of the whole community and skillfully advocated for the Department of Art, while fostering the personal and professional growth of students and colleagues alike. Alexis is also remembered for her thoughtful insights into the process and theory of art-making, and her gentle sense of humor. 

Personally, I feel a deep sense of loss, as I worked closely with Alexis during her time at the University of Minnesota. I valued Alexis as a mentor and role model, as well as a colleague,  co-instructor, and co-curated the exhibition Critical Translations, along with Rachel Breen, at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery.  Alexis was a highly collaborative leader who invigorated all of us with her rigorous intellectual curiosity and genuine care for the community as a whole.  We are grateful for the time she was with us, and appreciate her continued legacy as a teacher, leader,  and artist. We send our love and condolences to Alexis’s partner, family, friends, colleagues, and students who are impacted by this profound loss.

 

Professor Emerita Joyce Lyon:

Alexis’s community here, centered around the Art Department at the U where she taught and was later Chair, is shocked and saddened by her death. There has been a flurry of emails with remembrances and appreciation. I was reminded of her impressive initial interview, part of which was a critique with graduate students, to which faculty were gently but firmly not invited. Her decision, I believe. Reports from the grads were ecstatic. They loved her demeanor, her deeply probing, insightful questions. They felt seen and stimulated. This approach proved to be a hallmark of Alexis’ ways of being.

As chair, she set up conversations among and across stakeholders. We were woven together in ways we had not been, leading to improvement and innovation. She brought this approach to her College and University committee work, with the result that the department’s reputation rose as a result of her representation of it.  

Alexis combined wonderful wide ranging, deep diving curiosity with humane intelligence, strongly based in integrity, all filtered through the gentlest presentation. There was also humor and joy. We curated together an exhibition of drawings from the University’s Weisman Art Museum to accompany our own side by side sabbatical exhibitions. We were both deeply committed to drawing, she coming from abstraction, I from observation. We got to explore the museum’s storehouse, gleefully, like kids in a candy store. We didn’t always agree, the discussion was fascinating and when we found a series of small landscape drawings by American modernist Alfred Mauer — direct observation simplified to essential lines — we both responded with delight, relishing the work and our shared appreciation of it.

Abstact black and white drawing
Alexis Kuhr, August 2020: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA, 2021. Ink and watercolor on paper, 30” x 22”

Alexis brought the same characteristics— humane intelligence, curiosity, integrity, rigor — to her artmaking practice, with the addition of the freedom to define the areas of investigation. Her work is so personal and so smart and so idiosyncratic! I have only seen her most recent work online. It is a series of gorgeous and fascinating ink and watercolor drawings in which, as she described the process, abstracted from cartoons the linear visual language which defined them, which she then employed in abstract compositions in which she was referencing social justice concerns. I think she brought all of who she was to this work, including the questioning. In our last conversation, a zoom with Shirley two years ago, she wondered if such an abstruse process could be accessible, could further the discourse. I suggested that there are many ways to move the conversation forward  — and that this was certainly one of them. 

 In her artistic practice, in her professional work, in her relationships with others, she moved the discourse further, with gentleness, with support, with brilliant inspiration. We are so much richer for having come into her orbit. I had first written so much poorer for having lost her but I see that is wrong. The gifts she gave are passed forward. In the midst of sorrow, that is the blessing.  

 

Chris Zerendow (MFA ‘00):

Grief is such a powerful thing. So too is collective community. I felt such a strength last night during the Shiva. Memories of Alexis have been chasing me around since I discovered her passing, even waking me up early Wednesday morning to find myself in the old grad annex in my studio talking with her. I loved her form of criticism. She was always able to open up small passages of wonderment and see things as if for the first time. So amazing. I realized too that she advocated for me when so few seemed willing. In this way she became my voice, my Champion, and made me feel heard. I feel lucky to have been a part of that moment with all of you.

 

Professor Emeritus David Feinberg:

I would like to share some stories that I believe are probably not known to many. When Alexis first came on the faculty, I took her to an African Art sale at a cheap motel on the 494 strip. For some reason, each time we met together, I made her laugh. She thought my graphite dog drawings were funny. When we arrived at the motel you could hardly get in the room because it was jam packed with African masks and sculptures. I introduced her to my longtime friend and dealer from Mali. She never saw anything like this before and she was really happy and smiling all the way home. It was like a hoarder’s home, only filled with African art. Most people knew Alexis as a very serious artist, so this experience showed a different side of Alexis’ personality which many of you that were close, also knew. 

One time in Duluth, at a faculty retreat during a break, I took her across the street to a large antique mall. We spent the time looking at how weird the logos and 2D designs were  on the antique toys and other strange objects. She had a smile on her face the whole time and that is what I will miss, but it will always be in my memory.

 

Facilities Coordinator Jim Gubernick:

Alexis was such a wonderful person and did so much for all her students. She will be remembered with great fondness.

 

Professor Lynn Lukkas:

I think of her often, she was a wonderful person and a great colleague. She will be very missed.

 

Associate Professor Mathew Zefeldt:

Alexis was an incredibly thoughtful artist, teacher, and colleague. She was and will continue to be a great role model. Very sad to hear of her passing — she will be sorely missed.

 

Ben Garthus (MFA ‘11):

Alexis was such a kind, gentle, and thoughtful person as well as an amazing artist and teacher. I still have memories of Christine Baeumler and Alexis coming to that game event I put on at Broc's space. They both were so supportive and generous with their time. Sending my love and wishing you all the best.

 

Additional remembrances:

Many other faculty, staff, and alums have shared their remembrances as well over the past month, and we invite you to email artdept@umn.edu if you would like yours added to this list.

Looking back through our archives, we also found this snippet from the Fall 2000 issue of Art-e-Facts that sums up the enthusiasm she engendered in her students during her time here:

Acclaim from her students provides testimony to her suc­cess with them. Ruben Nusz, an undergraduate who recently took her senior seminar, was most enthusiastic about his work with her in the course. 

“If you were to examine my work as a painter before and after I had studied with Alexis Kuhr, you would notice a drastic shift from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. Essentially, she taught me how to paint, how to think about painting, and how to view the world in a differ­ent light. As a teacher, she managed to tactfully cri­tique my work and pushed me in the direction that was suited best for my abilities and interests.

“Some people are born with great personalities; some people are academically intelligent; and some people are great teachers. Alexis Kuhr has all of those qualities. She's the best!”

 

For more of Alexis's artwork: alexiskuhr.com

For her full obituary: czelusniakfuneralhome.com

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