Portland Museum of Art

Portland, Maine

1-207-775-6148 or 1-800-639-4067



First Retrospective of Landscapes

by American Master and Maine Artist Alex Katz

Since the early 1950s, Alex Katz has been capturing the style and essence of
American life through his paintings, marrying the passion, scale, and idealism of Abstract
Expressionism with the ironic, commercial, and cartoonish interests of Pop Art. Best known for
his cropped, flatly colored realist portraits, Katz has painted hundreds of landscapes since his
career began, this body of work being one of the most important and sustained in modern
American art. These landscapes are featured in Alex Katz Under the Stars: American Landscapes
1951-1995, on view at the Portland Museum of Art June 19, 1997 through September 14, 1997.
Featuring 34 paintings and 12 collages, Alex Katz Under the Stars is the first retrospective
exhibition of Katz's acclaimed landscape painting. Represented in the exhibition are all aspects of
the artist's landscape painting, ranging from woodland and beach scenes in Maine--where Katz
spends his summer--to the urban landscapes of New York City.
Alex Katz was born in 1927 in New York City, where he makes his home today. There he studied
at the Cooper Union Art School from 1946-1949, at which point he enrolled in the Skowhegan
School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, Maine. It was during his scholarship study in
Skowhegan that his interest in landscapes began, inspiring him to paint from directly observation
of nature to create spontaneous pictures saturated with atmospheric light.
In the late 1950s, Katz began to see the Abstract Expressionist art of his peers as mannered,
which led him to reject the all-over gestural approach to painting. Katz turned to the classical
tradition of realist painting, in which he executed the paintings of the 1960s and 1970s. With these
works, his style became distinctive, marked by close compositional crops, symmetrical order,
freeze-frame monumentality, and the striking alternation of close-ups and wide-angle views. This
second period in Katz's artistic development produced eight of the exhibition's works,
characterized by grand scale, simplified images, and rich color.
The majority of the paintings displayed in Alex Katz Under the Stars represent Katz's recent
work, completed in the last fifteen years. In works such as Thick Woods, Morning (1992), the
viewer can perceive an evolving level of abstraction, which recalls the artist's gestural roots.
Katz's experimentation with extreme landscape close-ups results in fuzzy, out of focus treatments,
much different from his realistic style of the 1960s and 1970s. This group of later works shows
Katz's affinity for choreographying nature and stylizing the world around him to the extent that
one feels that each tree, bird, or building could exist only in one of his paintings.
Also included in the exhibition are 12 collages, eleven of which were created in the 1950s. Like
the paintings of his early period, the collages are of a smaller size than the monumental landscapes
of later decades. These collages stand out from those by other artists because Katz used matte,
hand-colored, cleanly cut papers rather than the diverse materials characteristic of this period.
Though his style would evolve through the next three decades, Katz's earliest landscapes already
demonstrate his remarkable mastery of light, which became ever more refined as his career
Alex Katz Under the Stars was organized by The Institute for Contemporary Art/P.S. 1 Museum,
Long Island, New York, and curated by President and Executive Director, Alanna Heiss. Alex
Katz Under the Stars premiered at The Baltimore Museum of Art (June 12-September 8); then
traveled to The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida (March 15-May 3). After the
Portland Museum of Art venue, its final showing will be at The Institute of Contemporary
Art/P.S. 1 Museum (Fall 1998).
A fully-illustrated, 100-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition and includes an interview with
Katz by exhibition curator Alanna Heiss and an essays by Simon Schama and Dave Hickey. The
catalogue will be available in the Museum Shop for $25.
Alex Katz Under the Stars: American Landscapes 1951-1995 was organized by The Institute
for Contemporary Art/P.S. 1 Museum. Curated by Alanna Heiss. Major support for the
exhibition has been provided by The National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, the
New York State Council on the Arts, and the Marlborough Gallery, New York. Presentation
at the Portland Museum of Art is generously sponsored by Shop 'n Save Supermarkets and
NYNEX, with additional support from the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
Lecture: An Evening with Alex Katz
Thursday, June 19, 7 p.m., Auditorium. Free with Museum admission.
Alex Katz has exhibited throughout the world and his work is featured in the best American
museums. Katz has also been associated with the State of Maine since his first trip to the
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1949. The Portland Museum of Art is pleased to
welcome Alex Katz as he discusses his work from the exhibition Alex Katz Under the Stars:
America Landscapes 1951-1995.



Images from top to bottom:

Bathers, 1959, collage, 4 x 6 inches
Pines, 1957, oil on canvas, 24 x 38 inches, Robert Miller Gallery, New York
Superb Lillies #2, 1967, oil on canvas, 72 x 144 inches, Marlborough Gallery, New York
Violet Dasies #2, `966, oil on canvas, 108 x 76 inches, Marlborough Gallery, New York
January Snow, 1993, oil on canvas, 126 x 96 inches, Marlborough Gallery, New York
Rain, 1989, oil on canvas, 54 x 72 inches, Marlborough Gallery, New York

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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