Alex Katz: myth behind the madness

Someone still needs to explain the mysterious merit behind Alex Katz. The 89 year-old American artist is an international star, with celebrity collectors practically queuing around the block to buy up his unique figurative paintings from Richard Gray in New York or Timothy Taylor in London. I’ve had one knowledgable friend urge me that his work it’s accessible and collectors feel part of the contemporary art game when they buy his work.

Now with a retrospective at the Serpentine Galleries over the summer, it seemed like the first opportunity to really get to the bottom of what the fuss was all about.


Adrian Searle’s rave review in the Guardian declares the hidden complexity of Katz’s painting makes it stand out from the ground. There are cityscapes and rolling hills, abandoned houses and dancing figures, and of course the artist’s long time muse and wife, Ada.

Circling the Serpentine galleries, there is Ada again – frozen in a multitude of different poses. To the untrained eye the works seem simple, with dashes of colour and light rebounding across the canvas that are unplanned and unchecked. But perhaps there is more than meets the eye.

But if Katz is playing with a trick of the light, he certainly never reveals the truth behind the magic. It is as if there is truly a hidden message, a hidden depth behind that veneer of simple, flat painting that refuses to become transparent.


Katz grew up in New York and studied at the The Cooper Union in Manhattan, the same school that churned out Tom Wesselmann in the 1950s and reverberations of the Pop sensation is apparent in both of their works. Certainly Katz’s vibrant palette, monochrome backgrounds and simplified forms rings true with American collectors buying in on the Pop tidal wave. But really Katz is so much more, and his enduring legacy and importance makes that all too clear – with a gobsmacking 200 solo exhibitions under his belt (so far).

While Katz is the bigger blockbuster name, arguably the most exciting spectacle in Hyde Park this summer is actually Edel Adnan – the Lebanese-American artist that captures the heartbreaking anguish and destruction of war in the middle east in radiant abstract landscapes. While Katz intellectualizes, Adnan’s work has true value and power.




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