Walking into the third-floor gallery at Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM), one is transported into the personal world of Alex Katz. Specifically, his life in New York City, spending time with poets and unwinding outdoors. At 91 years old he’s still actively working and staying true to the distinctive style for which he’s known — flat figurative works in a “cut-out” pop-art style, nature scenes and his favorite subject, his wife Ada. At a press tour of the show, collector Jordan Schnitzer lovingly said Katz is in phenomenal shape and does 300 sit-ups — a year. Schnitzer bought his first Katz print in 1988 and has amassed an extensive collection since, part of which is on display at BAM. He speaks highly of the artist and sees him as an important player in the contemporary art scene. He considers Katz’ work complementary to pop artists Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein, who also addressed consumerism and materialism.
“He is at the top of the heap of showing us over the last 50 years of post-World War II America. What style, fashion, what people were like,” said Schnitzer. “The way that he took his craft and his genius is totally unique to him. No one else has done these unbelievable, communicative pieces that are so flat and defined. And, like Ellsworth Kelly, eliminates all distractions.”
The BAM exhibition also includes sculptures. Near a small cow grazing in a field is a set of nine women. The display is reminiscent of the models in Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video, minus the musical instruments. Katz’ women are all wearing little black dresses, standing with the upper part of their bodies shifted to the side with one arm around their waists. Aside from different names, hair color and shoes, they’re all strikingly similar – chic and could easily be guests at a cocktail party. Katz doesn’t condemn materialism. His work is a reflection of his surroundings. He’s documented high society of New York, his artistic circle of friends and his family.
BAM Chief Curator Ben Heywood said the subject matter sets the Katz exhibition apart from other shows they’ve had in the past.
“The work is about a life well lived. It’s about a long life, a happy life; it’s about a successful life. It’s about being good at being an artist. It’s about making beautiful images,” said Heywood. “It’s weirdly aspirational. There’s very little here that is about the dark side of life. To me, in some ways that’s a little unusual for a show. Why not have an exhibition that’s about being happy with your life?”
Katz was born in 1927 in Brooklyn to Jewish parents who emigrated from Ukraine. He attended a technical high school, which gave him the opportunity to paint in the afternoons after classes. He studied at The Cooper Union in New York from 1946–1949, then spent a year at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Four years later he held his first solo exhibition at Roko Gallery in New York. According to BAM his work has been shown in more than 200 solo exhibitions and nearly 500 group exhibitions worldwide since 1951.
BAM described the images as “light, airy, almost insubstantial, yet present themselves with a graphic clarity and penetrating sense of the history of image-making.” Of all the elements in Katz’ work, Schnitzer said he’s drawn to the eyes.
“The eyes are what sort of tell us or lead us on a journey to try and understand his art. When I look at these and see those eyes I can’t stop thinking, what’s she thinking? Is she happy? Where is she? What kind of mood she’s in,” said Schnitzer. “It’s almost this ethereal whimsy, this magical sense.”
Katz is described as a master colorist and an artist’s artist. His prints easily transport the audience to a weekend getaway to the Hamptons complete with linen pants, oversized shades and Sperry’s packed in an overnight bag. Even if that’s not the lifestyle you’re living or aspire to, Schnitzer considers viewing any style of art as an opportunity to make one’s own decisions about how to interpret it and appreciate the skill level necessary to complete it.
“For me, art is a refuge,” said Schnitzer. “When I come here I get distracted. I get taken on my own journey.”
WHAT: “Alex Katz: A Life in Print”
WHEN: Runs until Oct. 14
WHERE: Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE
Avenger of Justice: Cartoonist Vishavjit Singh throws a mighty shield at hate as a Sikh Captain America
Sepia Stills: Tacoma Art Museum celebrates the photography of Ella McBride
Penny Prints: José Guadalupe Posada illustrations on display at Bellevue Arts Museum
Wait, there's more. Check out the full June 6 - June 12 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.