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ARTISTS | Dena Kahan


Dena Kahan’s painting practice aims to subvert our natural inclination for order and perfection.

Using museum collections as subject matter for still life painting, such as the world famous collection of glass botanical specimens in the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and closer to home, the University of Melbourne Herbarium Collection, Kahan introduces ambiguities of scale, space and reflection to undermine the clear containment of the museum case. In doing so, she transforms museum objects into a kind of substitute romantic landscape, hinting at the awe of the natural world.

Working with thin layers of oil on linen, resulting in delicate and translucent surfaces, Kahan’s application of paint keeps the focus upon the materiality, reflecting the delicate nature of her subject matter. Her paintings segue neatly into the art museum environment, evidenced by the survey exhibition of her work curated and hosted by Ballarat Fine Art Gallery in 2014.

Dena Kahan, Still life with Marcantia and butterfly



Dena Kahan, Still life with Dianthus and White Willow

Lure | Dena Kahan

Using museum collections as subject matter for still life painting, Dena Kahan plays with ambiguities of scale, space and reflection to undermine the clear containment of the museum case. In her exhibition, Lure, insects are drawn to these artificial replicas of the plant world. This imagery references the tradition of 17th century Dutch still life, in which plants and insects take on symbolic meanings and flowers of different seasons bloom together...
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Painting by Dena Kahan

An Unnatural History | Dena Kahan

An Un-natural History concerns itself with the human desire for order and perfection through an investigation of our attempts to control nature. These seductive images take as their subject the Blaschka Glass Flower display at the Harvard Natural History Museum in the USA...
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Painting by Dena Kahan

The Provisional Sublime | Dena Kahan

Dena Kahan’s current work derives from her close study of the famous assemblage of botanical specimens made from glass in the Harvard Museum of Natural History – known for over a century as the Glass Flowers Collection of Harvard University....
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Painting by Dena Kahan

Strange Garden | Dena Kahan

Dena Kahan’s delicate Strange Garden explores the insatiable human desire for order by classification, documentation and presentation. These works replicate museum display cases of glass specimens, but Kahan’s simple shifts in perspective, depth of field and pictorial composition subvert taxonomy to create a strange and chaotic wonderland.
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Dena Kahan
born 1960, lives in Melbourne


2015     Masters of Arts by research, Federation University, Victoria

1992     Bachelor of Fine Arts, Victorian College of the Arts

1982     Bachelor of Arts, Honours Degree in Art History, University of Melbourne

Solo Exhibitions

2018     Lure, Gallerysmith, Melbourne

2017     Herbarium, Gallerysmith, Melbourne

2015     Dena Kahan: The Glass Garden, Art Gallery Ballarat, Ballarat
2014     An Un-Natural History, Gallerysmith, Melbourne
2012     The Provisional Sublime, Gallerysmith, Melbourne

2011     Glass Garden, Gallerysmith, Melbourne

2009     Strange Garden, Red Gallery, Melbourne

2008     Recent Paintings, Fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

2008     On Glass, Woodbine Art, Malmsbury

2007     The Idea of Perfection, Alluvial Gallery, Bendigo

2006     Looking Through Glass, Fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

2002     New Paintings, Dickerson Gallery, Melbourne

1997     Some things to do with string, WestSpace, Melbourne

1993     Looking Up, RM 4, Linden Gallery, Melbourne

Selected Group Exhibitions

2018     Recent Acquisitions, Town Hall Gallery, Victoria

2017     Hyperbotanica, Gallerysmith, Victoria
2016     Rick Amor Drawing Prize, Ballarat Art Gallery, Victoria

2015     Unintended (Refrains:), George Paton Gallery, University of Melbourne
2014     Stanthorpe Festival Art Show, Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery, QLD (winner)

Geelong Art Prize, Geelong Art Gallery

Gold Coast Art Prize, Gold Coast Art Gallery, Queensland

2012     Tidal: City of Devonport Art Award, Devonport

McGivern Prize, Maroondah Art Gallery

2010     Fletcher Jones art prize, Geelong Gallery

Strange Nature, Red Gallery, Melbourne

2009     R&M McGivern Prize, Maroondah Art Gallery

2008     In Modern Memory, Latrobe University Visual Arts Centre, Bendigo

2007     Darebin Art Prize

An intimate look, UPstairs Gallery, Bundanon Homestead, NSW

2006     Fletcher Jones Art Prize, Geelong Art Gallery

Robert Jacks Drawing Prize, Bendigo Art Gallery

In Modern Memory, Blindside Gallery, Melbourne

2004     Phyllis Palmer Gallery, La Trobe University, Bendigo

2003     Reunion, George Paton Gallery, University of Melbourne

2001-03 We Are Australian, Travelling Exhibition, Australia and abroad, Victorian Arts Centre

1999     Minim-art, Talk Artist’s Initiative, Melbourne

1998     Carolyn Dew, Dena Kahan & Susan Hewitt, Talk Artist’s Initiative, Melbourne

1997     Latrobe Street Gallery, Melbourne

1996     Love at the Carlisle Lodge Motel, Carlisle Lodge Motel, Melbourne

Everyone Goes to Dimmeys, Dimmeys shop window, Melbourne

1995     Artworkz 7, Gallery 101, Melbourne

Shifting Ground, Linden Gallery, Melbourne

Murdoch Prize Exhibition, Melbourne

1994     6 Easy Pieces, Elizabeth Boustead & Dena Kahan, Temple Studios, Melbourne

1993     Parcel Post Show, RM 4, Linden Gallery, Melbourne

1992     Platform, Melbourne

 Awards / Residencies

2018     Wyndham Art Prize, Finalist
2015     Foundation Obras art residency, Evoramonte, Portugal
2014     Stanthorpe Art Prize, Qld, WINNER
2008     Awarded a New Work Grant by the Australia Council for the Arts
2008     Studio Residency, Barbican Arts Trust, London
2005     Bundanon Artist’s Residency
1995     Awarded Pat Corrigan exhibition grant
1989     Sponsored by the Ian Potter Foundation to study in Florence
1984     Awarded the Harold Wright and Sarah and William Holmes

Scholarships to study in the Department of Prints and Drawings, British Museum


Media/ Essays

Wondrous but strange: botanical collections and the contemporary artist, Alison Inglis, November 2012
After the Weather, Win News, Channel 9, 23, May 2007

Terri-Anne Kingsley, ABC Website, 14 May 2007

Jo Printz, Breakfast with Jonathan Ridnell, ABC Local Radio, Central Victoria, 14 May 2007

James Taylor, The Bendigo Advertiser, 17 May 2007

Amanda Smith, The Deep End, Radio National, 6 September, 2006

Penny Webb, The Age, 15 September, 2006

Megan Backhouse, The Age, 16 September, 2006

Stephen Haley, A reflection, on glass, Catalogue Essay, 2006

Megan Backhouse, The Age, 25 February, 2006

Amanda Johnson, New Paintings, Sky Pieces, Catalogue Essay, 2002

Megan Backhouse, The Age, July 2002

Sandra Bridie, Conversations between Carolyn Dew, Susan Hewitt, Dena

Rebecca Lancashire, The Age, 19 December, 1997

Anna Clabburn, The Age, 17 December, 1997


Bundanon Trust
Ian Potter Museum, Melbourne
Museum of Victoria
Town Hall Gallery, City of Boroondara, Melbourne
Private collections in Australia and abroad
Lyceum Club, Melbourne

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