Alex Katz, Theory and Practice of Glamour

Alex Katz, Theory and Practice of Glamour

The word barely makes sense anymore, devoured by the indiscriminate and parodic usage that has been made of it. In its time and place, both modern, it pointed to the elusive, semi-imaginary flash that emanates from a person, place, or object, distinguishing it from the massive industrial world. This direct and immediate dimension – something to do with time – is typical of Alex Katz’s paintings. Its quality is physical, aesthetic. In 1983, choreographer Paul Taylor, famous for introducing today’s most mundane rhythms and forms into the historical rigidity of classical dance, staged Sunset with music by Edward Elgar and sets and costumes by Katz. In one photo, the painter appears on the curtain unfolded on the floor, his brush as long as a broom at the ready. Watching it, one cannot help but remember how Jackson Pollock splashed paint on his canvases, immersed in them, enveloped by them. Also, point out the major differences between the two.

Katz is now 95 years old. He continues to paint, wintering on Long Island and summering in Maine. He has never been outspoken, but his disdain for each other – and especially for the discursive Murga that dominates contemporary art – has long since reached proud fame. His painting style always had to assert itself against the prevailing winds and tides. First, the Abstract Expressionists of the 1950s; Especially Pollock. His painting grew by measuring himself against colossal formats, that enveloping sense of grand abstraction that he certainly admired. Then again against the pop of Lichtenstein and Warhol. The relationship between painting and immediate reality – that living present of the time that featured so frequently in his utterances, as Thyssen’s artistic director Guillermo Solana recalled – was once again at stake.

Katz incorporated abstract colossalism and the graphic synthesis of street poster art into his realistic paintings. Thus, like Hemingway, he eliminated anything informative from his scenes and portraits until he coined an art of the surface of life

No longer painters, these successful artists collected images to play with them conceptually. But Katz was willing to do the difficult part: incorporating abstract colossalism into his realistic paintings on the one hand, and the graphic synthesis of street poster art on the other. Thus, like Hemingway, he eliminated anything informative from his scenes and portraits until he coined an art from the surface of life, from its increasingly normal, dull and magnetic appearance. It is not surprising that a theater curtain served as a model: the curtain is not a window that cuts out the space, but an environment that invites you to walk through. The same thing happened in the late 1970s with the gigantic panels of Times Square, on which their women’s faces were enlarged to cinematographic size.

Alex Katz Theory and Practice of GlamourUp in the Bleachers (1983), directed by Alex Katz. Lopez de la Serna CAC

But that presence of time that Katz usually speaks of is not philosophical, it is not about that constant actuality of the metaphysical being that Derrida criticized, but about its opposite: the fleeting splendor of the passing moment, its memorable trace. It is the presence of fashion and advertising – Alison Lurie, who was a friend of Katz’s also wrote The Language of Clothes -: a gaze unburdened by the weight of the story and by the plot of each story. The dream of a painless life. For this reason, Katz’s painting must continue to overcome the disruption of an official, interpretative and content-dominated art world. Moral preachers cry out at the trace of sin: superficiality, sloth, rich women with long necks, dark glasses, their aura. The verses of Frank O’Hara, an intellectual pillar of the time when Katz was shaping his style, also drove that truth from the surface. In the catalog of the first major Spanish exhibition dedicated to the painter, held at the IVAM in 1996, the forerunner of this exhibition that now summarizes his repertoire well, Kevin Power composed a beautiful anthology of the New York School – today we see the wonderful portrait of Ted Berrigan— . Both exhibitions were the brainchild of Tomás Llorens, to whom Thyssen is dedicating his.

Nonetheless, the most accurate correlate of his painting has been found in certain postmodern North American novelists. In a book dedicated to Katz, Ann Beattie spoke of the existential unhappiness that nonetheless emanates from his supposedly flat and light paintings (he denied it). More than any other, a movement by James Salter could be the perfect lyrics for this music. In painting, literary accuracy becomes visual synthesis; the ellipse, detached from each narrative in turn. The sophisticated parties of photographers and editors. The window frieze shone in the high Manhattan night. The smoothness of the summer light on the water, between the dunes. The fear of expressionist wrinkles now silenced under the big black glasses and slick makeup.

“Alex cat”. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Madrid. Until 11.09.

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