Welcome to the glamorous world of the New York art scene. What, you don't have famous artist friends to meet in New York? Not to worry. You're invited to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where "Alex Katz Prints," the featured summer exhibition, will introduce you to the artist's sophisticated circle of family and friends.
His wife, Ada, needs no introduction. Her face is as familiar as a film star’s to art lovers who appreciate Katz's crisp, flat pictures. She is his model and muse. Since they met at a gallery opening more than fifty years ago, he has never stopped doing her portrait, although she is not always identified.
Katz often withholds names in the title of his work. Pictures of Ada, for example, are simply titled “Red Coat,” “Orange Hat,” and “Gray Day.” The walls of the MFA galleries beam her image as she appeared through the years, ever changing, ever elegant.
Katz, who was born in Brooklyn in 1927, has New York in his DNA. Tall and lean, he resembles the characters on TV’s Mad Men in his self-portraits. The Manhattan cultural scene is his passion. It’s reflected in his work, not with the buildings, but with its people. His prints capture the likenesses and lifestyles of a diverse cosmopolitan crowd. In addition to other artists, his portraits include his poet/son Vincent and Vincent’s wife, academics, critics, dancers and fashion designers.
Many of them appear in “Rush,” a 1971 work making its debut at the MFA. The title refers to the emotion that viewers may feel in the gallery dedicated to this one work. It comprises 37 painted aluminum silhouetted heads of people he knew in the 60s and 70s. They include artist Barbara Schwartz, critic and curator Irving Sandler, photographer and film maker Rudy Burkhardt, clothing designer Joan Fagin, and, of course, Ada. Mounted in a continuous line, side by side at eye level, the portraits resemble a frieze. The individual heads are not identified, but the museum thoughtfully provides a cheat sheet.
“Rush is a remarkable work of art…,”says Edward Saywell, co-curator with Clifford S. Ackley of the retrospective that covers about 60 years of the artist’s work. “To be faced – literally – in the round by some of the great cultural figures of the 1970s is a startling experience.” Two brief videos of the curators discussing Katz’s art may be viewed at www.mfa.org/katz.
Among the approximately 130 works in the exhibition, “Pas de deux,” a silkscreen of five partying couples in high-fashion dress, reflects Katz’s long-time interest in dance. They include David Salle, Red Grooms, and Francesco Clemente. Unlike most of his work, this print is black and white, unusual for Katz who favors a vivid palette and who describes himself as a “colorist.”
More recently, Katz has created sculptures, aluminum cut-outs of people and animals. It began when he decided to discard a painting that he’d been working on and cut out the image of Ada. He mounted it on backing. Since then, he’s done aluminum images of people as well as the family dog and a cow, his largest piece.
As a graduate student at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Katz fell in love with Maine. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the New Yorkers reside in Lincolnville. Lyrical landscapes testify to his affection for the area.
“Alex Katz Prints” will be on view through July 29.