Saturday, January 11, 2014

 Alex Katz at the Albertina

(also see Alex Katz Prints)

Alex Katz
Black Hat #2, 2010
Oil on canvas
Albertina, Batliner collection © Bildrecht, Vienna, 2013

Alex Katz
Carver's Corner, 2000
Oil on canvas
Albertina, Vienna © Bildrecht, Vienna, 2013

Alex Katz ranks among today’s most important US artists. He has been considered the key figure of a self-reflective US tradition of painting characterized by a unison of rationality, sensuality, and abstraction. Turning them into icons, as it were, the artist renders ostensibly passionless motifs from the New York intellectual scene and art world as well as the well-off leisure-oriented society in monumental formats. Another emphasis lies on the depiction of idyllic landscapes of Maine which radiate both immediacy and an air of aloofness.

Printed works are of crucial importance within Katz’s oeuvre. It is the medium in which he reproduces, reflects, and reduces his motifs in further stages, using mainly ideas from hispaintings and cut-outs. The synthesizing effect of his printing techniques – mainly silkscreen printing, aquatint, and lithography – which the artist refines together withoutstanding printers contributes to the two-dimensional and artificial appearance of the represented motifs. The printing techniques help maintain the color surfaces shining from their deep that are so typical of his prints. The works’ formal and technical precision as well as their extreme reduction and close-up views ultimately refer the observer to the picture on the wall and to the process of viewing as such.

In autumn 2009 Katz donated his complete graphic oeuvre to the Albertina. The exhibition shows a representative selection of it, with works dating from the 1960s to the present.

Alex Katz
Alex at Cheat Lake, 1969
Lithograph and photo-offset
©Alex Katz/VBK,Vienna

Alex Katz
Large Magnolia, 2002
Charcoal, red chalk on perforated brown paper
Alex Katz, Large Magnolia, 2002. On permanent loan from the Stiftung Ludwig © Bildrecht, Vienna, 2013

Alex Katz
Men on Subway with Newspaper, 1946-1949
Albertina, Vienna © Bildrecht, Vienna, 2013

Alex Katz
Roof Garden 333-2, 1975
Albertina, Vienna © Bildrecht, Vienna, 2013

Alex Katz
Study for Mary Tyler Moore, 2000
Albertina, Vienna © Bildrecht, Vienna, 2013

From an outstanding review of the same show: (images added)

I relished my chance to see the large selection of Katz’s graphic enterprise now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. (The same show, in a slightly different form, was initially on view at the Albertina in Vienna in 2010, the Kunsthalle Würth in Schwäbisch Hall in 2011, and earlier this year at the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt.) Clearly the prints are closely linked to his paintings, and they ought to be considered parallel to the course of the development of his painting style.

The Boston exhibition is installed non-chronologically, and although Katz had undertaken printmaking as early as 1947, this grouping begins with

“Luna Park 1” (1965)

and continues to the present. With every conceivable technique, including screen prints, lithographs, photo-offset lithographs, etchings, soft-ground etchings, aquatints, woodcuts, woodblocks, and linocuts, Katz has maximized the harmony of particular techniques with specific images. From the very start, I was taken with the combination of contrasts. In the first gallery are two versions of “Boy with Branch”:

(1975 and


which are subtle in tonal range. The young boy’s supple face is cropped, centered in the foreground of the horizontal field, surrounded by branches; a landscape with a lake is seen in the far background. In sharp contrast, the boldly delineated

“Olympic Swimmer” (1976)

articulates motion through a slash of water that cuts across a near-profile of the swimmer, who is anchored by the vertical field.

“Orange Hat” (1990)

monumentalizes the whole horizontal plane with a woman’s profile tucked below the perfect symmetry of the hat...

“Self-Portrait” (1978)

offers a different version of self-glamorization, with its benevolent smile and a sensitive use of tones and cropping. A contrasting image is

“Sweatshirt II” (1990)

where the painter is portrayed without fanfare as an average American man wearing typical American clothes.

From another excellent review of the Boston show:

Nowhere is the sense of familial intimacy stronger than in the dozens of prints depicting Katz’s wife and artistic muse, Ada. The two met at a gallery opening in 1957 and have been together ever since. In works like Orange Hat (1990) (above),

Red Coat (1983),

and Reclining Figure/Indian Blanket (1987), Ada is portrayed as stylish and glamorous, eyes heavily lidded, lips painted an alluring red, chiseled patrician features—in short, a figure to be reckoned with. In the show, Katz describes her as “a great beauty,” whose “gestures are perfect.” It’s easy to see what he means. The way she tilts her head, drapes a scarf across her shoulders, or stares languidly out from behind aviator sunglasses conveys a regal presence...

Other landscapes explore color and tint. In two lithographs, Swamp Maple 1 and Swamp Maple 2, both from 1970, a lone swamp maple is in the foreground against a background of water and hills—but with vastly different results. In the first, the colors are vivid, in the second the palette is much more subdued and monochromatic. So too with the two prints Good Afternoon (1974) and Good Afternoon 2 (1975). In both, a woman in a rowboat heads to the opposite shore. Where the first lithograph is all vibrant greens and blues, the second is rendered in shades of gray, gray-blue, and olive green.

Alex Katz, Good Afternoon 1, 1974, Museum of Fine Arts MFA Boston, Alex Katz Prints

Katz has always been in some ways a loner. At a time when nearly all of his contemporaries gravitated toward abstractionism, he embraced figurative painting. The show is arranged thematically rather than chronologically, giving viewers an opportunity to see how the artist returned again and again to certain ideas and subjects.