Irwin Kremen, Duke Professor of Psychology and Internationally Acclaimed Artist, Dies at 94

Monday, February 10, 2020
Irwin Kremen

Irwin Kremen, PhD, a Duke Professor of Psychology, rose to international acclaim as a collagist, sculpture artist, and painter. Kremen died Feb. 5, 2020 at the age of 94.

Kremen joined the Duke faculty in 1963 and continued his academic career in psychology at Duke until he retired as an emeritus in 1992. Kremen taught classes specializing in personality theory; later in his career, he developed an innovative course at Duke called "Art and its Making" in which he brought well-known artists to Duke to be interviewed.

While director of the Duke Graduate Program in Clinical Psychology – with the encouragement of life-long friend and poet MC Richards – Kremen took scraps of colored, patterned cloth, sewed them together on a black fabric backing, and created his first abstract collage. Since that pivotal moment, Kremen began producing art that would be highlighted in more than two dozen solo exhibitions worldwide. His works currently are part of the collections of the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and other leading museums.  In 2007, the Nasher Museum of Art held a retrospective exhibition of his work called “Irwin Kremen: Beyond Black Mountain (1966 to 2006).”

Nearly anything was potential material for his collages: scraps of weathered paper, wasp nests, torn pieces from posters, saw blades and bits of steel. In 2000, Kremen described his artistic process in Duke Magazine: "My general way of working is to start with a heap of materials before me, selecting from them, then arranging and rearranging the elements, often altering them by many different kinds of manipulations," he said. "With these larger panels and materials that are more difficult to manipulate, I had to conceive the works beforehand and visualize them imaginatively to know what I needed and how they would go with everything else. I had to make maquette after maquette, one start revised by another and another, until I got what I wanted.”

“I am saddened to lose a friend, colleague and important artist,” said Nasher Museum of Art Director Sarah Schroth. “Krem, as we affectionately called him, created sophisticated, mysterious, thoughtful collages of stunning beauty and elegance, which attracted acclaim from critics around the country. He loved the process of making them and loved sharing them with others. He was a wonderful force of nature, and will be sorely missed.” 

Kremen is survived by his wife, the writer Barbara Kremen; his son, Adam Kremen, a clinical psychologist in Oakland, Calif.; and his daughter, Claire Kremen, a biology professor at University of British Columbia, who obtained her Ph.D. from Duke as a James B. Duke Fellow in Zoology in 1987.

Full articles: 

Duke Flags Lowered: Irwin Kremen, Psychology Professor Whose Art Gained International Praise, Dies (Duke Today, Feb 10, 2020)

Kremen, Duke Professor Who Found Mid-Career Acclaim for Abstract Collages, Has Died (ARTNews, Feb 10, 2020)