Art News Alex Katz – Alex Katz, photographed in his New York studio on June 16, 2022. The artist, who has painted for nearly eight decades, will be the subject of a Guggenheim retrospective this fall. By… Photo by Alec Soth. Images by Alex Katz © 2022 Alex Katz / VAGA licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
ENTERING ALEX KATZ’s house and studio in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, where he has lived and worked since 1968, is like stepping directly into his mind, from which the aesthetic world around him originates. When I arrive in his bright attic on a late summer morning, Katz, who turned 95 in July, is in a spare corner of the kitchen, where he has just finished a study of lavender peonies, one of the first repeated steps toward creation. his monumental works that hang on the walls and rest on various surfaces in the living room and the adjoining studio. The abundance of these paintings, the simple furniture, the metal cart filled with brushes and paints brought into the kitchen: it all reminds of a place where work and life do not differ. Through the door of the room in front of the kitchen, I see her single husband, 94-year-old Ada, a picturesque gray-haired figure. Since 1957, when they met, he has portrayed her almost a thousand times in various media.
Art News Alex Katz
The artist talks about the 14th century BC. a bust of Queen Nefertiti attributed to Thutmose, whom she admired from her youth. Credit… Jordan Taylor Fuller
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Katz, a vivacious man whose gauntness and completely bald head give off an aura of debonair elegance, greets me without introduction or introduction. “I’m going to Venice,” he announces, referring to a possible upcoming performance. He’s dressed in stained khakis and dirty canvas sneakers—painter’s weeds. There is a cute little blob of dried white pigment next to her left eye. He told me that for this exhibition, which is still in the planning stages, he was thinking of painting “all grass, like lawn paintings” (his large-scale abstract works of recent years include grass and trees in light green and yellow colors. ) or “all water like black paintings” ( (since the late 1980s, he has created dark images of a variety of subjects, from cityscapes to a particular Maine stream to recent black ocean images). . “And then,” he says, “I had an idea in the middle of the night, ‘What about Claire McCardell?'”
Katz’s long-standing interest in fashion—as seen, for example, in “Pas de Deux” (1983), his painting of five pairs of padded shoulder dresses—refers to the mid-century American sportswear designer. Her practical, rustic creations (including ballet slippers ordered from Capezio due to wartime shortages and a house dress with an oven mitt) became popular during World War II. Katz, not a fan of exaggeration or exuberance in any art form, told me he liked how “unaffected” his designs were: “They’re perfect now because everything is so pretentious,” he says. “The idea was that you could spend the day welding and go home and cook hamburgers outside and wear the same clothes.”
Works in Katz’s SoHo studio include shared portraits and flower paintings. Photo credit: Alec Soth. Images by Alex Katz © 2022 Alex Katz / VAGA licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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Katz talks like a painter – he’s witty and gets to the heart of the matter. This rare and attractive quality is evident in all his work: he began painting in the late 1950s in both the urban, stripped-down portraits for which he is best known, and his massive, more abstract landscapes (which he describes as “environments”, referring to their size and close perspective that gives a sense of immersion). “A friend of mine once remarked that he would recognize a Katz painting when it fell from an airplane at 30,000 feet,” wrote artist David Salle. The statement refers as much to the formal qualities of Katz’s work—its flat planes, stylized sensibility, and distinctive palette—as to his unique way of seeing.
“I think American culture has a tremendous energy,” Katz continues, still talking about McCardell, as we wander around his studio and look at his stunning paintings, which seem American in their ultimate bravado. (A grassy landscape that must be 20 feet wide rests on the back wall.) McCardell, who died in 1958, was an all-American artist, but somehow, despite his immense popularity, he is now remembered almost exclusively by fashionistas. Katz, too, remains a painter of something. Despite his commercial success and relative ubiquity – since 1951 he has had over 250 solo exhibitions and participated in nearly 500 group exhibitions – he is known primarily in the art world and recognized among others in the pantheon of big-league contemporary artists (e.g. Jasper). Johns, Robert Rauschenberg).
This fall, a full retrospective of his amazingly long and robust career may finally make him a household name. “Alex Katz: The Gathering,” curated by Katherine Brinson, opens in late October at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Brinson told me that the earliest piece in the show is a small ink painting that has been redrawn — a painting by Katz’s mother — from 1946. “I’ve been painting for 77 years,” says Katz. “I don’t think almost any painter gets this opportunity,” perhaps a reference not only to the exhibition but also to his longevity. Interestingly, the fact that Katz was somehow appreciated and overlooked influenced the Guggenheim’s decision to do a retrospective. “He’s someone I’ve admired for a long time,” museum director Richard Armstrong said, calling the last 10 years of Katz’s career — since he was 85 — especially brilliant. “And then we realized that there is no picture of him in the collection. As far as we know, it has never been shown at the Guggenheim. So wow, I thought that was a complete miss.
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Katz’s wife Ada was a frequent subject of the artist. This painting “Ada in a black sweater” is from 1957, the year the couple met. Credit… Photo courtesy of Colby College Museum of Art © 2022 Alex Katz / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York licensed by VAGA
This is Katz’s second major retrospective; he also had one in 1986 at the Whitney. In his unusual and wonderfully honest 2012 memoir, “Invented Symbols: An Artistic Autobiography,” edited by his son, the poet and art critic Vincent Katz, composed primarily of voice recordings, Katz said. recalls after the first exhibition: “I realized that some painters paint masterpieces even after their retrospectives, a little worse than before or a little better, it doesn’t matter. I wanted to move to a place in art that was unstable and terrifying.” Over the course of 36 years, he has succeeded: with the vast, haunting landscapes he still paints from a ladder at the age of 90; his night paintings, in which he turned his constant interest in light on its head; his portraits of delicate flowers; and his series of repeated works of the human figure, such as noted artist Arthur Jafa in his catalog essay, as in a comic or a montage.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer who would no doubt have loved Katz’s cool and sophisticated paintings, famously wrote that “there are no other acts in American life.” Katz, of course, has had a second career since the last retrospective, almost 60 years old. His work is beautiful, technically inventive, and a testament to following his own artistic instincts while remaining alert to the new. But just as important are his resilience, discipline and unwavering commitment to the life he lives in art. “He devoted his life to one thing,” his dealer Gavin Brown, a partner at New York’s Gladstone Gallery, which represents Katz in the United States, told me. “It’s kind of a strange bird of paradise perfecting its dance or perfecting its nest building. It’s in its DNA to do that
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… this is his project. In some ways, it’s such a small project, but it’s also more valuable than ever.
ALEX KATZ was born in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn in 1927 and grew up in St. Albans, Queens, where his family moved in 1928, just before the onset of the Depression. Her earliest aesthetic influences came from immigrant parents who met in Russia during World War I and reunited in New York. Her mother, Sima, was an actress, a star of the Lower East Side Yiddish theater who performed under the stage name Ella Marion. Katz says he was “very literary,” teaching himself English from a dictionary and Edgar Allan Poe
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