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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, 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 at Ballarat Fine Art Gallery in 2014.

Kahan’s recent work extends her exploration of the natural history museum, taking as her subject the collection of antique botanical models at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, the University of Aberdeen and the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney. In these current works, insects infiltrate the sterile environment of the museum store or display case, 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.

Photography: Chris Budgeon.


I AM WOMAN | A Group Exhibition for International Women’s Day 2021

On International Women's Day 2021 we acknowledge the achievements of girls and women around the world. We celebrate those who dedicate their lives to sport, art, health, family, politics, business and a host of other creative, professional and selfless endeavours. We thank those who are our mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, colleagues and friends....
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Hothouse | Dena Kahan

Dena Kahan’s new body of work, Hothouse, continues her investigation into museum collections, taking as her subject the antique botanical models in the collection of the University of Melbourne Herbarium and the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney...
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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...
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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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Dena Kahan, Glass Garden #4, 51x107cm

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

Hothouse, Gallerysmith, Melbourne
Hothouse, M Contemporary, Sydney

Lure, Gallerysmith, Melbourne

Herbarium, Gallerysmith, Melbourne

Dena Kahan: The Glass Garden, Art Gallery Ballarat, Ballarat

An Un-Natural History, Gallerysmith, Melbourne

The Provisional Sublime
, Gallerysmith, Melbourne

Glass Garden, Gallerysmith, Melbourne

Strange Garden, Red Gallery, Melbourne

Recent Paintings, Fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne
On Glass, Woodbine Art, Malmsbury

The Idea of Perfection, Alluvial Gallery, Bendigo

Looking Through Glass, Fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

New Paintings, Dickerson Gallery, Melbourne

Some things to do with string, WestSpace, Melbourne

Looking Up, Linden Gallery, Melbourne

Selected Curated and Prize Exhibitions

The Sublime Sea: Rapture and Reality, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery
Arthur Guy Painting Prize, (finalist), Bendigo Art Gallery
Georges River Art Prize, (finalist), Hurstville Museum and Gallery, Sydney

Recent Acquisitions, Town Hall Gallery, Victoria
Wyndham Art Prize, (finalist)

Hyperbotanica, Gallerysmith, Victoria

Rick Amor Drawing Prize, (shortlisted), Ballarat Art Gallery, Victoria

Unintended (Refrains:), George Paton Gallery, University of Melbourne

Stanthorpe Festival Art Show, Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery, QLD (winner)
Geelong Art Prize, (shortlisted), Geelong Art Gallery
Gold Coast Art Prize, (shortlisted) Gold Coast Art Gallery, Queensland

Tidal: City of Devonport Art Award, (shortlisted), Devonport, Tasmania
McGivern Prize, (shortlisted), Maroondah Art Gallery

Fletcher Jones art prize, (shortlisted), Geelong Gallery
Strange Nature, Red Gallery, Melbourne

R&M McGivern Prize, (shortlisted)
In Modern Memory, Latrobe University Visual Arts Centre, Bendigo

Darebin Art Prize, (shortlisted)
An intimate look, UPstairs Gallery, Bundanon Homestead, NSW

Fletcher Jones Art Prize, (shortlisted), Geelong Art Gallery
Robert Jacks Drawing Prize, (shortlisted), Bendigo Art Gallery
In Modern Memory, Blindside Gallery, Melbourne

Phyllis Palmer Gallery, La Trobe University, Bendigo

Reunion, George Paton Gallery, University of Melbourne

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

Minim-art, Talk Artist’s Initiative, Melbourne

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

Latrobe Street Gallery, Melbourne

Love at the Carlisle Lodge Motel, Carlisle Lodge Motel, Melbourne
Everyone Goes to Dimmeys, Dimmeys shop window, Melbourne

Artworkz 7, Gallery 101, Melbourne
Shifting Ground, Linden Gallery, Melbourne
Murdoch Prize Exhibition, Melbourne

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

Parcel Post Show, RM 4, Linden Gallery, Melbourne

Platform, Melbourne

 Awards / Residencies

2015     Foundation Obras art residency, Evoramonte, Portugal
2014     Winner – Stanthorpe Art Prize, Qld
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 Kahan
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
Lyceum Club, Melbourne
Private collections in Australia and abroad



Dena Kahan’s painting practice aims to subvert our natural inclination for order and perfection. Using museum collections as subject matter…

read more


Dena Kahan was selected by interior designer Bree Leech to feature in the Dulux 2020 winter colour forecast campaign. This…

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