Cutout installation highlight of Alex Katz solo show

Wang Jie
After several months of lockdown, Alex Katz's solo exhibition is now on display at Fosun Foundation (Shanghai).
Wang Jie

A muse has always provided an inspiration for artists: like Dora Maar to Pablo Picasso and Ada Del Moro to Alex Katz. And, fortunately, after several months of lockdown, art lovers can see one of those muse-inspired artists as Katz’s solo exhibition is now on display at Fosun Foundation (Shanghai).

The exhibit showcases more than 30 representative works of the now 92-year-old artist, including paintings, cutouts, sculptures, as well as videos and archives.

As one of the most influential artists of his era, Katz’s artworks are included in over 100 museums worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and Tate Modern.

Obviously, Ada is an enchanting repeated subject under his brushstrokes since he first encountered her in 1957.

Anyone who loves the portrait paintings created by Katz must be familiar with Ada’s images: elegant suit, sexy swimwear with chic sunglasses and a beautiful headcloth from her blossoming youth to the twilight in her life. Critics and commentators have said that Ada is the epitome of those modern women.

Born in 1927 in a Jewish family in Brooklyn in New York, Katz pursued painting at Cooper Union School of Art from 1946 to 1949, and then continued his study at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.

His artistic journey began in the 1950s, which coincided with the subversive period when Abstract Expressionism prevailed. However, Katz was persistent in pursuing his own aesthetic style and creative methods: simple lines, contrasting colors and large colorfields, reminiscent of the close-up shots seen in a movie or an advertisement.

By simplifying the shape and outline of the character, and borrowing the form of a billboard, Katz erased the space between the background and subjects. He decisively cropped and enlarged figures on a monochrome background that eliminates depths.

The spotlight of the exhibition goes to a cutout installation series that he created in 2013. The cutouts came about in 1959, when Katz decided to cut out two painted figures from one of the portraits he considered not up to par. He mounted those cutouts, first on the wall, then after much thought, on wooden sheets. Since then, Katz has brought flatness to almost absurd extremes, cutting figures into free-standing wood and aluminum sculptures with no depth, merging high modernism and folk-art metaphors together. The cutout installation, according to him, “is the pursuit of plain to solid space.”

Large-scaled landscape paintings of Katz are also showcased at the exhibition.

Enamored with natural light, more than the scenery itself, he used abstract expressions to present the instantaneous light and external figurative world on the canvas. In his practice, forests and cities at night, moonlight and streetlights penetrating into the shade, water under the sun, and flowers or plants are all his favorite objects for portrayal.

Apart from the paintings and sculptures, a video titled “Five Hours” unveiled the “wet-on-wet” painting technique of Katz when it recorded his real painting process at his studio in New York in 1993, which took five hours.

Similar to Chinese calligraphy, the special painting technique demands continuity, overall arrangement and pardons no mistakes.

“I like Chinese calligraphy, relaxed and carefree, and I also have not many modifications on my works, and I prefer all-in-one-go, which echoes Chinese calligraphy,” Katz said in a short video at the entrance of the exhibition.

Exhibition info

Date: Through August 9 (closed on Mondays); 10am-6pm (admission extended until 8pm every Thursday and Saturday evenings)
Venue: Fosun Foundation (Shanghai)
Address: 600 Zhongshan Road E2

Cutout installation highlight of Alex Katz solo show
Courtesy of Alex Katz and Gavin Brown's enterprise

Split 6 (Ariel), 2014, by Alex Katz

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