Alex Katz Adorns the Guggenheim with 'Gathering'

09 Nov 2022

Excited attendees erupted into sudden applause when Alex Katz emerged at the opening of Gathering at the Guggenheim — in a moment that also solidified his spot among the top artists in the world.

On view until the 20th of February, this retrospective exhibition shows work from the 1940s to the present. More than 70 years of Katz’s creative consistency envelopes the Guggenheim’s spiral ramp.

Having lived and worked in New York for most of his life, the 95-year-old artist’s collection has become a record of the city’s creative scene. Immense portraits of strangers, dancers, poets and other creatives stare back at viewers, begging them to participate in the intimate confrontation.

Alex Katz, 'Sharon and Vivien,' 2009
Alex Katz, 'Sharon and Vivien,' 2009
Alex Katz, 'Yellow Tree 1,' 2020.
Alex Katz, 'Yellow Tree 1,' 2020.

Ada, Katz's wife of 64 years and model in hundreds of paintings, provides a face of reference when tracking the consistencies and changes in his signature portraiture style.

Katz highlights the shape of the subjects' faces, which lack imperfections to analyse and possibly shift focus away from the transfixing gaze. Deconstructed cutouts and segmented portraits indicate Katz's willingness to evolve artistically as he, the subjects and their surroundings change.

The city's surroundings also receive representation throughout the 154 selected works.

1988 nocturne Varrick is an example of Katz's ability to capture a burst of light effortlessly and engagingly. This painting strips the cityscape of all its discernible qualities, save the sole span of illuminated windows. Blended black paint becomes an illusion that invites the viewer to imagine the building's lines in relation to the light.

Katz again captures an instantaneous burst of energy in a recent series of single trees fixed on a bright monochromatic background. These scenes are clouded and concealed by motion rather than darkness, adding another visual dimension to Katz’s collection.

Gathering gives due credit to a living legend who spent his life depicting the city that so many people fall in love with.

-- Words by Gideon Fortune