Published: October 17, 2006
The Jewish Museum will present “Alex Katz Paints Ada,” a wide-ranging survey exhibition, from October 27 through March 18. Nearly 40 paintings created by the artist from 1957 to 2005, starring his wife, muse and favorite subject, Ada, will be on view. Katz is best known for his ability to capture the essence of those close to him — Ada, their son Vincent and artists and friends in the couple’s inner circle.
These formal portraits, group scenes and small paintings, which capture the extraordinary role Ada Katz has played in her husband’s creative life, have attained an iconic status and are unprecedented in their focus on a single subject over so many decades.
As critic Irving Sandler wrote, Ada is “woman, wife, mother, muse, model, sociable hostess, myth, icon and New York goddess.” In an essay for the book that is being published in conjunction with the exhibition, art historian Robert Storr writes of the “series of paintings Alex Katz has devoted to the muse who is for him closest to home — his wife, Ada. Still in progress, the series stretches over a period of nearly 50 years — from the waning heyday of New York School gestural abstraction through the advent and attenuation of Pop, Minimalism and Neo-Expressionism.”
For exhibition curator Ruth Beesch, Katz’s paintings are “a sort of window to the worldly and fashionable … there is a sense of glamour about Katz’s subjects, particularly Ada.” Storr observes that “Katz’s reality is a ‘Paradise Found’ of cultivated taste, aesthetic accomplishment, social ease and marital contentment suspended above a world of clashing ideas, high-cost failures, general unrest and sexual strife.”
The exhibition is organized into a series of thematic sections beginning with an introduction followed by: “Only Ada,” “Ada, Ada, Ada,” “Friends and Family,” “Existential Ada” and “Style and Glamour.”
In “Only Ada,” the standing portraits are remarkably astute in their use of the subject as vehicle for formal explorations of flatness, light and color reminiscent of Matisse. The “Ada, Ada, Ada” section presents works containing multiple representations of Ada. In “Friends and Family,” paintings of Katz’s favorite subjects, those close to him, including Ada and Vincent, and the circle of artists, poets, and dancers who make up his social milieu, are on view.
Katz met Ada Del Moro in 1957 and they married in 1958. “Ada in Black Sweater” marks the beginning of their collaboration as artist and model. Beesch notes, “His paintings of her are emblematic of far more: they chart the changes in American art and culture of the last 50 years, challenge current theories of feminism and representation, and remind us that this is an artist who understands art history from the Renaissance to Matisse and Rothko. It is also clear that Ada directly influences how much Katz reveals about her.”
Katz was born in 1927 in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and, after graduating from high school and serving in the Navy, studied from 1946 to 1949 at The Cooper Union. In 1994, the school endowed the Alex Katz Visiting Chair in Painting, and in 2000 honored the artist with its Artist of the City award.
His early career spans postwar American art from Abstract Expressionism through the rise of Minimalism and Conceptual art, movements that were at odds with figurative painting. For more than four decades he has consistently worked in a representational manner, closely observing what he sees in his “own backyard” and creating an expressly American form of realism.
Katz had his first solo exhibition in 1954 at the Roko Gallery in New York, and since then his work has received nearly 200 solo exhibition around the globe, including a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1986. His works are collected in numerous public collections worldwide.
An illustrated 128-page book, Alex Katz Paints Ada by Robert Storr with additional essays by Lawrence Alloway and James Schuyler, accompanies the exhibition and is available at the museum’s shop.
Katz will discuss his career and the exhibition with art historian Storr in a public program at the museum Thursday, November 9, at 6:30 pm. For tickets, www.thejewishmuseum.org, 212-423-3337. The Jewish Museum is at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street.
For general information, www.thejewishmuseum.org or 212-423-3200.
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