This exhibition tells the story of a year in Alex Katz’s painted-life. A life where landscapes are observed from the edge of his home in Maine. For more than half a century, Katz painted this land with a virtuosity yoked to a consistent elegance. Today, while the elegance remains, something else has beckoned. Katz finds himself in the middle of the tempest.
The paintings are sublime scenes still, but scenes without respite. The sun breaks orange against spruce; day falls out of a thicket of trees; and a nocturnal sky emerges from nothing but irrepressible moves of black and gray, wet into wet, as painters say. A brash spirit emerges—his own hands can even be seen pressed into the black, putting the brush on notice, as if to impose himself directly on the image, charging it with cryptic emotions. This hand brings to mind the conclusion of W. B. Yeats’ “Among School Children”: “O body swayed to music, O brightening glance ~ How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
In these new works, Katz’s hand is bluntly material and inextricably sublime. He has fit his vision to the encroaching dark, engaging with mysteries he can almost summon in the paint. The life of a painting can be truly mysterious, especially to the painter. These paintings exist metaphorically where life edges into death, and perhaps have something uncanny to tell us.
There are really two kinds of life in these paintings: the one the paintings embody, the one we believe we are observing, and then there is the other. It is this other which causes the trouble, this other we long to see.
Alex Katz (b. 1927, Brooklyn, NY) is the preeminent painter of modern life. Acclaimed for his iconic portraits and impressionistic landscape depictions, the now 91-year-old Katz has inspired generations of painters. Katz’s work has been the subject of numerous retrospectives and solo presentations over the course of his encompassing career. His work is included in the permanent collections of over one hundred museums worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Tate, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; el Museum Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tokyo; and the National Galerie, Berlin.
Alex Katz will be on view from April 27 to August 3, 2019 at Gavin Brown’s enterprise Harlem, 439 West 127th Street, NYC