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Museum Kurhaus Kleve Exhibition Honors Influential Figurative Painter Alex Katz
Approximately 40 works of art made by Alex Katz between 1957 and 2008 are on view at Museum Kurhaus Kleve. Photo: EFE/Andreas Endermann
KLEVE.- The Museum Kurhaus Kleve presents a major exhibition of the American artist Alex Katz with more than 40 works, paintings as well as cut-outs, from the period 1957-2008. It thereby honors one of the most influential figurative painters worldwide.

The work of Alex Katz, born in Brooklyn / NY in 1927, has developed with impressive coherence since the late 1950s. Right from the beginning Katz dedicated himself to figurative painting – to portraits, still-lifes, and landscapes – consciously opposing the then predominant trend of abstract art. The artist drew his inspiration from the revolutionary pictorial strategies of the media, of film, television, and advertising. He thereby achieved a manner of painting which is as realistic as it is abstract. His highly stylized pictures mirror the reality of our time, but are definitely not narrative. In formats that can often only be referred to as monumental, his paintings live from the tension between a fleeting impression and a solid form, between permanence and transitoriness.

In terms of portraiture this collection of paintings is archetypal of Katz's output. Throughout his extended career of over fifty years, glamour and 'styling' have been central to his work. Katz's sartorial discernment originates from his fathers influence, who encouraged him to observe groups of people from an early age. But, as David Cohen states, "For this artist, sartorial presentation is as much a metaphor for painting as a motif. Like his own technique, his sitters' wardrobe is at once classy and casual, composed and nonchalant, high energy and cool."

His sitters are not the subjects of his paintings; instead they serve as a means to make style the content of each piece. He once stated that his aim was a style "emptied of meaning, emptied of content."

However there is an undeniable aspect of social commentary intrinsic to Katz's work considering he paints people that he naturally encounters in his milieu; almost exclusively actors, artists, models, celebrities as well as his wife and long term muse, Ada. Contradictory to his ambition to depict fashion, which he once defined as "ephemeral," Katz's output is relatively consistent, and is impossible to compartmentalize as subscribing to any specific movement.

A key source of inspiration are the woodcuts produced by Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro (1754-1806). He also references other arts; music, film, poetry, photography as well as showing a great interest in dance. Katz works quickly, using bold colors, resulting in a pared down final image. His paintings of people vary considerably in size and are often unexpectedly cropped, similar to a photograph or a film close-up. The choreography of his figures is often unconventional and the same figure is regularly depicted more than once within a picture.

The Museum Kurhaus Kleve | Alex Katz | Figurative Painters |


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