Alex Katz

Cool Painting

Until 29 May 2023

For the 95th birthday of Alex Katz, the ALBERTINA Museum presents a comprehensive tribute to this artist from the rich holdings of its collection: in 2022, the ALBERTINA Museum’s principal works by Katz had been lent out to the Guggenheim Museum and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.

Alex Katz, born in New York in 1927, numbers among the most important exponents of US contemporary art. Large formats, broad brush strokes, vivid colors: these are the familiar Katz hallmarks. His concerns are color and composition. But why has Alex Katz’s oeuvre remained so unique to this day? In terms of formal aesthetics, we doubtless have Katz to thank for his rescue of hard-edge painting’s strictness for use in figurative painting. The sharp edged outlines of hard-edge and “radical flatness” had been viewed as painting’s terminal point: it was art that sought to depict pure abstraction and artificial motifs. In other words: art for the purest depiction of artificial motifs and forms, by no means suited to portraying motifs from the realm of banal reality. Alex Katz broke with this ideal, however, combining emotionally detached depictions of everyday reality with this supposedly incompatible way of painting taken from hard-edge.

Image Gallery – 10 Images
Alex Katz | Beach Stop, 2001 | ALBERTINA, Wien – The ESSL Collection | © Foto: Mischa Nawrata, Wien / Bildrecht, Wien 2023
Alex Katz | Beach Stop, 2001 | ALBERTINA, Wien – The ESSL Collection | © Foto: Mischa Nawrata, Wien / Bildrecht, Wien 2023

Ever since then, Katz has since then been considered—analog to Miles Davis and “cool jazz”—the inventor of “cool painting.” Katz found the motifs for this highly reserved style of painting in the well-heeled leisure society of his art world circles as well as in the landscapes of Maine. The depicted individuals are almost exclusively friends and literary figures, and quite a few hail from New York’s dance scene.

Katz thus ascertained just what reality he was surrounded by—albeit in an abstract and radical manner. By doing so, he succeeded in placing his emotional and vibrant subjects at a cool distance. Even before pop art hit the scene, he had already set out into the realm of figurative painting, characterized by equal measures of rationalism, sensuousness, and abstraction. His art would seem to be purely figurative. Upon closer inspection, however, an infinitely high degree of abstraction is revealed.

Katz only became world-famous as an artist in his 70s. And today, Katz is one of very few artists whose works can be seen in contexts such as the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York’s meatpacking district: one can therefore most decidedly view Katz as being among the “most contemporary” artists, as one of the most important pillars of an understanding of contemporary art. For this reason, as well, Katz also numbers among the “cornerstones” of contemporary art at the ALBERTINA Museum—together with figures such as Maria Lassnig, Georg Baselitz, Valie Export, and Arnulf Rainer.

On view from 4 February until 29 May 2023 at the ALBERTINA museum in Vienna.

Video: Video about the exhibition
In the exhibition | Photos © Robert Bodnar – 5 Images


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