Gavin Brown’s Enterprise
New York, 439 West 127th Street
This exhibition tells the story of a year in Alex Katz’s ( Brooklyn, b.1927) painted-life. A life where landscapes are observed from the edge of his home in Maine. For more than half a century, Katz painted this land with a virtuosity yoked to a consistent elegance. Today, while the elegance remains, something else has beckoned. Katz finds himself in the middle of the tempest.
The paintings are sublime scenes still, but scenes without respite. The sun breaks orange against spruce; day falls out of a thicket of trees; and a nocturnal sky emerges from nothing but irrepressible moves of black and gray, wet into wet, as painters say. A brash spirit emerges—his own hands can even be seen pressed into the black, putting the brush on notice, as if to impose himself directly on the image, charging it with cryptic emotions. This hand brings to mind the conclusion of W. B. Yeats’ “Among School Children”: "O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, / How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
In these new works, Katz’s hand is bluntly material and inextricably sublime. He has fit his vision to the encroaching dark, engaging with mysteries he can almost summon in the paint. The life of a painting can be truly mysterious, especially to the painter. These paintings exist metaphorically where life edges into death, and perhaps have something uncanny to tell us.
There are really two kinds of life in these paintings: the one the paintings embody, the one we believe we are observing, and then there is the other. It is this other which causes the trouble, this other we long to see.
on view through August 3, 2019