Alex Katz is the outstanding protagonist of figurative Painting, and one of the most influential painters in the world. Alex Katz was often said to be one of the father of the Pop Art movement, but his style was always independent on the borderline between abstraction and realism.
Katz’s first one-person show was held at the Roko Gallery in 1954. Katz had begun to develop greater acquaintances with the New York School and their allies in the other arts; he counted amongst his friends’ figurative painters Larry Rivers and Fairfield Porter, photographer Rudolph Burckhardt, and poets John Ashbery, Edwin Denby, Frank O’Hara, and James Schuyler. From 1955 to 1959, usually following a day of painting, Katz made small collages of figures in landscapes from hand-colored strips of delicately cut paper. In the late 1950s, he moved towards greater realism in his paintings. Katz became increasingly interested in portraiture, and painted his friends and his wife and muse, Ada. He embraced monochrome backgrounds, which would become a defining characteristic of his style, anticipating Pop Art and separating him from gestural figure painters and the New Perceptual Realism. In 1959, Katz made his first cutout, which would grow into a series of flat “sculptures;” freestanding or relief portraits that exist in actual space.
In the early 1960s, influenced by films, television, and billboard advertising, Katz began painting large-scale paintings, often with dramatically cropped faces. In 1965, he also embarked on a prolific career in printmaking. Katz would go on to produce many editions in lithography, etching, silkscreen, woodcut and linoleum cut. After 1964, Katz increasingly portrayed groups of figures. He would continue painting these complex groups into the 1970s, portraying the social world of painters, poets, critics, and other colleagues that surrounded him. He began designing sets and costumes for choreographer Paul Taylor in the early 1960s, and he has painted many images of dancers throughout the years. In the 1980s, Katz took on a new subject in his work: fashion models in designer clothing.
Katz’s work continues to grow and evolve today.
Alex Katz’s work has been the subject of more than 200 solo exhibitions and nearly 500 group exhibitions internationally since 1951. In 2010, Alex Katz Prints was on view at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, which showed a retrospective survey of over 150 graphic works from a recent donation to the museum by Katz of his complete graphic oeuvre. The National Portrait Gallery in London presented an exhibition titled Alex Katz Portraits. In June 2010, The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine opened Alex Katz: New Work, exhibiting recent large-scale paintings inspired by his summers spent in Maine. Katz was also represented in a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, curated by Marla Prather, entitled Facing the Figure: Selections from the Permanent Collection, 2010.
In 2009-2010, Alex Katz: An American Way Of Seeing was on view at the Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere, Finland; Musée Grenoble, Grenoble, France; and the Museum Kurhaus Kleve, Kleve, Germany. In 2007, Alex Katz: New York opened at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland. The show, which included approximately 40 paintings and aquatints, was the first exhibition to concentrate primarily on Katz’s relationship with his native city. The Jewish Museum, New York, presented Alex Katz Paints Ada in 2006-2007, an exhibition of 40 paintings focused on Katz’s wife, Ada, dating from 1957 to 2005. It coincided with an exhibition devoted to Katz’s paintings of the 1960s at PaceWildenstein, Alex Katz: The Sixties, on view from April 27 through June 17, 2006 at 545 West 22nd Street. Alex Katz in Maine, an exhibition of landscapes and portraits made over six decades, opened at The Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center, Rockland, Maine in 2005, and then travelled to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia in 2006. In 2005 Colby College Museum of Art organized a survey of more than 70 of Katz’s early collages and the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Spain, exhibited recent paintings. In the summer of 2003, the first European exhibition devoted solely to the artist’s celebrated portraits opened at the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa in Venice. An exhibition of the artist’s aluminum cutouts opened at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg in 2003 and traveled to the Museum Moderner Kunst Kaernten, Klagenfurt, Austria.
Major exhibitions of Katz’s landscape and portrait painting in America and Europe followed his 1986 Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective and 1988 print retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. These exhibitions include: Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden (1995), Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, Valencia (1996), P.S. 1/Institute for Contemporary Art, New York (1997-1998), the Saatchi Gallery, London (1998), Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea, Trento (1999), and Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn (2002). A retrospective of Katz’s print work was held at the Albertina museum in Vienna in 2010 and will open at at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in April of 2012.
The Paul J. Schupf Wing for the Works of Alex Katz, which opened in 1996, presents ongoing exhibitions of its in-depth collection of Katz’s paintings, cutouts, drawings, and prints, made possible through the generosity of then Colby trustee Paul J. Schupf and the personal donations of works by Katz himself. The Schupf Wing is one of the few wings of a museum in the United States devoted solely to the work of a single living artist.
Katz has received numerous accolades throughout his career. In 2007, he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy Museum, New York. In 2005, Katz was the honored artist at the Chicago Humanities Festival’s Inaugural Richard Gray Annual Visual Arts Series. The same year, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Colgate University, Hamilton, New York— his second Honorary Doctorate, following one from Colby College, Maine, in 1984. Katz was named the Philip Morris Distinguished Artist at the American Academy in Berlin in 2001 and received the Cooper Union Annual Artist of the City Award in 2000. In addition to this honor from Cooper Union, in 1994, his alma mater created the Alex Katz Visiting Chair in Painting with the endowment provided by the sale of ten paintings donated by the artist. Katz was inducted by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1988. In 1987 he was the recipient of the Pratt Institute’s Mary Buckley Award for achievement and also received the Queens Museum of Art Award for Lifetime Achievement. The Chicago Bar Association honored Katz with the Award for Art in Public Places in 1985. In 1978, Katz received the U.S. Government grant to participate in an educational and cultural exchange with the USSR. Katz was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship for Painting in 1972.