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Art

Tour the studio of artist Tobi Kahn

Watch a video of Kahn’s work and process and register for an online and in-person discussion

One of the first things Tobi Kahn showed us when we visited his Queens studio was a room packed with lumber, a band saw and a dusty old 7-UP sign. When he first moved to the building in the Long Island City neighborhood in the late 1970s, this was where he worked — and, through a door in the corner, slept.

Kahn’s quarters have expanded since then; recently, he took over the floor below. He still keeps a couple of straps pinned to the wall in his “original whole studio,” a remnant of a painting the Guggenheim Museum purchased in 1984.

“I keep that there to remember how I started,” said Kahn.

We came to Kahn’s space during an exciting time. Seven of his paintings were on view at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., alongside works by Picasso. Kahn’s exhibit, “Formation: Images of the Body,” portraits of dancers, was at the Henry Luce III Center for Arts & Religion, also in D.C.

Kahn showed us models of his 9/11 memorial installations, Jewish ritual objects and a series of paintings inspired by nature (and the plight of the ice caps and honeybees). But what he seemed to want to talk about most was Sukkot.

“Sukkot is my favorite Jewish holiday,” he said, while displaying an all-white model of a sukkah built for the meditation room at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan. “You’re inviting in guests, you’re inviting in nature, you’re inviting in ushpizin (guests).”

The sukkah, “IMKHA,” is made of 13 wooden panels, with holes to let in the light. Eleven months of the year, the panels will be spread throughout the JCC’s seventh floor, with eight in the meditation room. On Sukkot, they will come together to create the impression of an indoor room at one with nature and holiness.

“No Sukkah had ever been built for this dual purpose: As a work of art when built, and a work of art when taken apart,” said the sukkah’s patron, Zelda R. Stern.

On Oct. 2, at 6:30, Kahn will be part of a panel discussion, “Sky + Sculpture: The Vulnerable Beauty of Sukkot in a Pioneering Work of Art,” with JCC  Manhattan CEO Rabbi Joanna Samuels and Forward Innovation Editor Talya Zax, moderated by journalist and author Mattie Kahn.

Before you attend that event, either in person, or virtually, you can be a guest at Kahn’s studio by watching the video above.

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