Alex Katz American, born 1927

"I've been working to make this kind of 'artificial realistic' painting," he says of the latest efforts. "I want to do something larger than a descriptive painting."

- from an interview by Cathleen McGuigan

Artist Statement

You don't paint alone to start with, you are part of a culture. You are painting in reaction to what others say about your work. It is like a collaboration with other people when you paint.

- Alex Katz


born 1927 Brooklyn, NY

1946-1949 The Cooper Union, New York
1949-1950 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine
1984 Honorary Doctorate, Colby College, Waterville, Maine
(opened an new wing dedicated to Katz's work)

Public Collections
Andover, MA, The Addison Gallery
Athens, GA, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia
Atlanta, GA, The High Museum of Art
Boston, MA, The Museum of Fine Arts
Brunswick, ME, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Buffalo, NY, Albright-Knox Museum
Cambridge, MA, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University
Cambridge, MA, The Albert & Vera List of Arts Center, M.I.T.
Chicago, IL, The Art Institute of Chicago
Cincinnati, OH, Cincinnati Art Museum
Cleveland, OH, Cleveland Museum of Art
Denver, CO, Denver Art Museum
Des Moines, IA, Des Moines Art Center
Detroit, MI, The Detroit Institute of Art
Fort Worth, TX, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Greensboro, NC, Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Hamilton, NY, The Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University
Hanover, NH, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College
Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Athenaeum
Honolulu, HI, Honolulu Academy of Art
Houston, TX, Rice Museum, Rice University
Iowa City, IA, University of Iowa Museum of Art
Kansas City, MO, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Lawrence, KS, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas
Lewiston, ME, Olin Art Center, Bates College
Little Rock, AR, The Arkansas Art Center
Los Angeles, CA, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Madison, WI, Madison Art Center
Malibu, CA, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University
Manitowoc, WI, Rahr West Museum
Miami, FL, Miami-Dade Community College
Milwaukee, WI, Milwaukee Art Museum
New Orleans, LA, New Orleans Museum of Art
New York, NY, The Brooklyn Museum
New York, NY, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, NY, The Museum of Modern Art
New York, NY, The Grey Art Gallery, NYU Art Collection, New York University
New York, NY, Whitney Museum of American Art
Norfolk, VA, Chrysler Museum
Oberlin, OH, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College
Omaha, NE, Joslyn Art Museum
Philadelphia, PA, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Philadelphia, PA, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Pittsburgh, PA, Carnegie Museum of Art
Portland, ME, Portland Museum of Art
Portland, OR, Portland Art Museum
Providence, RI, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Raleigh, NC, North Carolina Museum of Art
Richmond, VA, Virginia Museum of Fine Art
Rochester, MI, Meadow Brook Art Gallery, Oakland University
Rockland, ME, William A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum
Salt Lake City, UT, Utah Museum of Fine Arts
Scranton, PA, Everhart Museum
Seattle, WA, Virginia Wright Fund
Sioux City, IA, Sioux City Art Center
Syracuse, NY, Joe & Emily Loe Art Gallery, Syracuse University
Tampa, FL, University of South Florida Art Galleries
Trenton, NJ, New Jersey State Museum
Utica, NY, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute of Art
Waltham, MA, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University
Washington, DC, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Washington, DC, National Collection of Fine Arts
Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art
Washington, DC, National Portrait Gallery
Washington, DC, Smithsonian Institute
Waterville, ME, Colby College Museum of Art
Wilmington, DE, Delaware Art Museum
Winston-Salem, NC, Wake Forest University
Worcester, MA, Worcester Art Museum
Vienna, Essl Museum
Vienna, Graphische Sammlung Albertina
Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst
Toronto, The Art Gallery of Ontario
London, Saatchi Collection
London, The Tate Gallery
Helsinki, Atenium Taidemuso
Musée National d'Art Moderne - Centre Georges Pompidou
Aachen, Neue Galerie
Bad Hamburg, Altana Haus Museum
Berlin, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Nationalgalerie
Künzelsau, Museum Würth
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Moderne Kunst
Spanbroek, Frisia Museum
Spanbroek, Scheringa Museum Voor Realism
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum
Hiroshima, Hiroshima City Museum
Iwaki, Iwaki City Art Museum
Tokyo, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Kyonqiu-Shi, Sonje Museum of Contemporary Art
Musée National d'Histoire et d'Art Luxembourg
Mexico City, Museo Rufino Tamayo
Sintra, Berardo Museum Collection
Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
Valencia, IVAM Centre Julio Gonzalez
Lausanne, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Art
Zurich, Daros Collection

Time Is On His Side
by Jackie Wullschlager
Financial Times. May 26, 2012

American painting is about surface, European painting is about depth. Pioneering postwar figures - Pollock and Warhol, Bacon and Freud – confirmed the truth of that cliché. But the two most interesting American painters of the end of the 20th century, who survived into the 21st to make radical, exhilarating late work, each built a unique oeuvre by collapsing that difference.

Both Cy Twombly, who died last year aged 83, and 84-year-old Alex Katz, whose new show at Tate St Ives in south-west England includes daring, monumental paintings made between 2007 and 2011, combine the language of American abstraction with a European inflection: in Twombly’s case the influence of history, myth, lyric poetry, in Katz’s the impulse of plein air painting of light and sea, and an engagement with society at play, alluding to Monet, Bonnard and Matisse.

Superbly installed in bright, sea-facing galleries, Alex Katz: Give Me Tomorrow is this summer’s most optimistic, pleasure-charged UK exhibition. For half a century, Katz has delighted audiences with his consistent, lucid, condensed depictions of beautiful people and beautiful places: from "Ives Field" (1956), a near-monochrome in brilliant orange that owes as much to Rothko as to the landscape tradition, to the parade of stylised, long-limbed bathers in DayGlo swim-caps, constructed like a classical frieze in "Eleuthera" (1984) and the magnificently simplified "Black Hat (Bettina)" (2010) – scarlet lips; cool shades; the slight incline of a head under a wide-brimmed hat; a brilliant, sunburst-yellow ground.

Defiantly flat, closely cropped, hard-edged, precisely deliberated, each image has just enough depth to insist – with a touch of irony – on the illusion of reality. Each, too, is in dialogue with various epochs and media of art history, including the commercial, but Katz’s concern from the start was to be a painter of modern life. That was an audacious, ill-received idea in the 1950s; Katz stuck to it doggedly: "What I wanted to do felt right. There wasn’t a reason in the world why there couldn’t be a contemporary representational painting. It just seemed to me that there should be a way to see a representational world in our time."

An array of 1950s-1960s portraits of Ada, his wife and lifelong muse, demonstrates how rapidly, wittily and inventively Katz evolved his depictive vocabulary. "Ada on Red Diamond" riffs on abstract geometric forms. "Red Blouse (Big Ada)" anticipates, at bold scale, pop art’s clean lines and graphic stylization.

On a saturated fiery red surface, "Reclining Bather" casts Ada as an odalisque updated, with her dark bob and lemon swimsuit, to the 1960s. Nonchalant, inscrutable, she is portrayed six times in varying cocktail-party poses in "The Black Dress", with an economy of gesture and detail, as well as a joke on the idea of identikit series, that makes the work an emblem of the times.

Katz has likened Ada to Dora Maar, Picasso’s lover, in her malleability. Her high cheekbones, Roman nose and expression of inner composure lend her the air of a goddess, yet it is really the detachment and force of Katz’s formal compositions that make her an icon. In "Beach" (1965), she is a model from the milieu of advertising, her profile enlarged and turned horizontal, blending with a clichéd idyll of sand and sunbathers. This was a breakthrough piece, where Katz appropriated devices from film and commercial photography into a painterly idiom; he wanted, he said, "to make paintings you could hang up in Times Square".

Yet, unlike pop artists, he was never interested in redeploying media symbols or in the commodification of culture: it is hard to think of a less political painter. Nor did he overtly, like his contemporaries Warhol or Gerhard Richter, challenge photography by co-opting its mechanized repetitions or aestheticizing its blur. Instead, he challenged the camera by demonstrating painting’s ability to freeze the moment, and remain fresh and direct, in contrast to the nostalgic datedness of a photograph. Time is his greatest theme.

That is clear enough in the five-metre seascape called "4.30pm": with spare marks, a simplified construction and a reduced palette – just three bands of colour and a few tiny white block-like boats – Katz fixes the eternity of an instant of clear, late afternoon light on the Maine coast. The abstracting tendency is emphasized by the work’s juxtaposition here with two other marines that are almost pure monochromes: "Beige Ocean", whose lively strokes suggest dynamic, breaking waves, and the quieter "Green Reflections 3", where the white lights sparkling on the water’s surface recall Monet’s water lilies.

But time is as pertinently the subject of the large-scale Manet-like society beach scenes of the 1970s. "Isleboro Ferry Slip" (1975), depicting Katz’s 15-year-old son Vincent walking on a jetty in Maine, also captures that late afternoon crystalline light on a deep blue sea. The presence of Vincent – a long-haired, dreamy, poignant, 1970s adolescent pin-up calling to mind Tadzio in Visconti’s 1971 film Death in Venice – makes the work a meditation on beauty, youth, time passing yet preserved for ever through the vividness of paint, the fall of light.

"It’s the instantaneous light, if you get it right then you get it in the total present tense, that’s what you’re going for, that’s eternity," Katz says. In "Round Hill" (1977), the light is a harsh glare, enveloping five languid bathers in the Caribbean in a self-contained, enclosed moment of time and place. The figure in the foreground turns away from us, so we see only the back of his head; the others are self-absorbed, expressions hidden behind sunglasses. One is lost in reading – Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.

Why that play? Perhaps because it is so cynical about human relationships – the reference underlines the unease, the feeling of dislocation, between Katz’s figures. More likely, though, it is because Troilus contains Ulysses’ famous speech, "Time hath my lord a wallet at his back", about time and fashion.

"For time is like a fashionable host That slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand, And with his arm outstretched, as he would fly, Grasps in the comer," Ulysses tells the sulking Achilles. But Katz seeks to defy time by fashion: Ada’s 1960s little black dress; Vincent’s 1970s big coiffed hair rippling in the wind; the 21st-century extravagant spectacle of Bettina’s floppy hat. "I think style is the content of my painting, and style belongs to fashion. Fashion is the immediate present and that’s what I’m really after ... to maintain that present tense feeling," Katz says. In an overly conceptual era, he has become our pre-eminent painter of modern life by acknowledging that surface has depths, and "painting must try to get to the most mysterious thing, which is appearance".

* enjoy further reviews on Alex Katz

catalogue raisonné of prints
Alex Katz: The Complete Prints, Nicholas P Maravell, Alpine Fine Arts Collection New York, 1983

Print archive

books/catalogues for sale on Alex Katz.

Alex Katz: Prints, exhibition catalogue with essays by Elke M. Solomon and Richard S. Field, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1974. Fair condition. Price $10

Alex Katz: A Print Retrospective, by Barry Walker, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, 1987. Excellent condition. Price $20

Alex Katz: Seeing, Drawing, Making. by Alex Katz. Windsor Press, Hamburg, PA, 2008

Alex Katz: Positions and Contemporary Art. by Alex Katz. Cantz Editions, Ostfildern, Germany, 1997

complete listing of books
Colby Museum of Art

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