Alex Katz – Gathering

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Sharon Lorenzo visits The Guggenheim Museum       Alex Katz in his New York City studio, 2022

How does an artist at the age of 97 get the chance to have a solo retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City? For sixty years Alex Katz has painted in his studio on West Broadway where the director of the museum, Richard Armstrong, was an executive assistant to the owner of the building while in NYC for the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.  They have thus been friends for many years, and Armstrong felt he deserved this show so that all of the world could see his oeuvre from his early days to the present.  For four years, the Guggenheim curator Katherine Brinson shepherded this project from start to finish with a brilliant catalog and essays by some of her museum staff, professors at  Harvard University and Colby College, as well as a filmmaker, novelist, architecture student, and specialists from the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum.

The title of the show, Gathering, is from a poem by the Pulitzer award winning poet, James Schuyler from June of 2020:

 Salute

Like that gathering of one each, I planned to gather one of each kind of clover, daisy, and paintbrush that grew in the field and study them one afternoon before they wilted.

Katz noted that Schuyler’s work was a touchstone for him as he felt his poetry was a mix of the vernacular and literary with an easy rhythm and penetrating emotion. Katz’s soft landscapes are just one element of his panoply of observations of the nature in his midst.[1]

Flowers, 2010.

Katz was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, and he became an art student at the Cooper Union School as well as the Skowhegan School of Art in Maine.  He married Ada Del Moro in 1959, a Fulbright scholar and researcher in biology. They have lived in his studio space in New York and summered in Lincolnville, Maine. He has been nurtured by the adjacent Colby College and endowed a center there for artistic scholarship with many of his artworks as donations. This image of Ada in their canoe reflects the peace and tranquility of their Maine retreat.

Good Afternoon, 1974

Katz has mentioned in interviews that he was very much absorbed in his art education with the work of America’s early photographers like Mathew Brady (1822-1896) who were required, because of the time necessary for images to develop, to focus on their subject for long periods as they stood still for portraits like this. It is this kind of focused suspended time that we can also see in Katz’s portraits which render a flat simple sincere image of his subject.

Mathew Brady, Portrait of a Man, 1857, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Portrait of Anna Wintour, 2009.

Besides a studio practice, Katz has been bold and ventured into many places that most artists would fear to tread. In 1977 he was asked to do an extensive mural commission at Times Square and 7th Avenue in New York City which featured 23 faces, each enlarged to 20 feet in width. Entitled Nine Women, he chose a group of ethnically diverse subjects which required what Katz called disciplined-looking  to see both the similarities and differences in each portrait.[2]

Nine Women, Public Art Fund, 1977, Time Square, New York City.

In 2019, he did a project in the subway station of Sixth Avenue and 57th Street in NYC with the Metropolitan Transit Authority Art and Design project.  Nineteen panels enlarged on the walls made the space an intriguing location for residents and visitors alike.

MTA project, New York subway, 57th and Sixth Avenue, 2019.

One more creative venture for Katz was his encounter with modern dance guru Paul Taylor. In 1959 he did a portrait of Taylor, and then in 1976 they worked together on a program called Polaris for which Katz designed the costumes. In 1986 Katz did a painting of some of Taylor’s dancers called  Last Look, which was a dance performed in 2009 after the death of Taylor. We can see the visual symmetry of how each master used his medium to embrace the rhythm and inspiration of modern dance and contemporary art.

Portrait of Paul Taylor, 1959.
Last Look, 1986.
Taylor Troupe Performing Last Look, 2009.

In summary, the life’s work of Alex Katz is available on the six-story ramp of the Guggenheim Museum which every lucky visitor can view in this quiet space.  His attention to detail is profound, his use of color totally masterful.  There is something there for everyone to see and take home as a lasting memory of one of the best of this generation of artists in the USA today.

Blue Umbrella, 1972.
Guggenheim Installation, NYC, 2022.
Guggenheim Museum, NYC.

Guggenheim Museum -New York City

Alex Katz Exhibit – October 20, 2021- February 2, 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Acknowledgments, Richard Armstrong.  Alex Katz Gathering: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2022, p. 12.

[2] Ibid, p. 38.

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