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Alex Katz Paints Ada

October 27, 2006 - March 18, 2007


The Jewish Museum will present Alex Katz Paints Ada, a wide-ranging survey exhibition, from October 27, 2006 through March 18, 2007. Nearly 40 paintings created by the artist from 1957 to 2005, starring his wife, muse and favorite subject, will be on view. Alex Katz's impressive oeuvre includes landscapes, portraits and still lifes but he is best known for his ability to capture the essence of those close to him -- his wife Ada, their son Vincent, and artists and friends in the couple's inner circle. These formal portraits, group scenes, and small paintings, which capture the extraordinary role Ada Katz has played in her husband's creative life, have attained an iconic status and are unprecedented in their focus on a single subject over so many decades. (right: Alex Katz, Ada in Pillbox Hat, 1961, oil on linen. Collection Paul J. Schupf, Hamilton, New York. Art © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)

As critic Irving Sandler wrote, Ada is "woman, wife, mother, muse, model, sociable hostess, myth, icon, and New York goddess." In an essay for the book which is being published in conjunction with the exhibition, art historian Robert Storr writes of the "series of paintings Alex Katz has devoted to the muse who is for him closest to home -- his wife, Ada. Still in progress, the series stretches over a period of nearly fifty years -- from the waning heyday of New York School gestural abstraction through the advent and attenuation of Pop, Minimalism, and Neo-Expressionism, as well as a host of other tendencies not excluding those which sought to eclipse traditional means altogether starting with figurative painting. In short, during that half century everything about art and much about American society has changed. Remarkably very little about Ada has. That is the mark of her musedom."

For exhibition curator Ruth Beesch, The Jewish Museum's Deputy Director for Program, Katz's paintings are "a sort of window to the worldly and fashionable...there is a sense of glamour about Katz's subjects, particularly Ada." Storr observes that "Katz's reality is a 'Paradise Found' of cultivated taste, aesthetic accomplishment, social ease, and marital contentment suspended above a world of clashing ideas, high-cost failures, general unrest, and sexual strife."

These paintings reveal a technique that, observes Storr, "is predicated on careful premeditation and deft execution, on slow observation followed by meticulous design and refinement of shape and outline, as well as ruthless editing of pictorial information." These paintings are pleasing to the eye, vivid in their use of color, immediate in their connection to the viewer. They have been characterized as typifying "a new and distinctive type of realism in American art which combines aspects of both abstraction and representation." (right: Alex Katz, Ada and Alex, 1980, oil on linen. Collection of Joan and Alan Safir. Art © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)

The exhibition is organized into a series of thematic sections beginning with an introduction followed by: "Only Ada," "Ada, Ada, Ada," "Friends and Family," "Existential Ada," and "Style and Glamour." They focus on the artist's stylistic developments and concerns but also on the contexts that Ada is pictured in. In "Only Ada," the standing portraits are remarkably astute in their use of the subject as vehicle for formal explorations of flatness, light, and color reminiscent of Matisse. The "Ada, Ada, Ada" section presents works containing multiple representations of Ada. In "Friends and Family," paintings of Katz's favorite subjects, those close to him, including Ada, his son Vincent, and the circle of artists, poets, and dancers who make up his social milieu, are on view. Katz has described himself as a cool painter; he likes detachment and deliberately cultivates an impersonal look about his paintings and their subjects. In "Existential Ada," works such as Blue Umbrella #2 contain references to large-scale cinematic scenes taking their cues from the commercial imagery employed for billboards while using some of the same strategies as Degas. Katz's interest in fashion -- what clothes mean and say -- and Ada's timeless sense of style are evident in the paintings in the "Style and Glamour" section of the exhibition.

Alex Katz met Ada Del Moro in 1957 and they married in 1958. Ada in Black Sweater marks the beginning of their collaboration as artist and model. Ada has been called Katz's muse. Ruth Beesch notes "His paintings of her are emblematic of far more: they chart the changes in American art and culture of the last fifty years, challenge current theories of feminism and representation, and remind us that this is an artist who understands art history from the Renaissance to Matisse and Rothko. These works are often captivating because of what they leave out and do not say, and for the way they explore formal aspects of painting while hinting at thinly veiled narratives. It is also clear that Ada directly influences how much Katz reveals about her."

Alex Katz was born in 1927 in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and after graduating from high school and serving in the Navy, studied from 1946 to 1949 at The Cooper Union in New York. In 1994, the school endowed the Alex Katz Visiting Chair in Painting, and in 2000 honored the artist with its Artist of the City award. From 1949 to 1950, Katz continued his studies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.

Alex Katz's early career spans postwar American art from Abstract Expressionism through the rise of Minimalism and Conceptual art, movements that were at odds with figurative painting. For more than four decades he has consistently worked in a representational manner, closely observing what he sees in his "own backyard" and creating an expressly American form of realism. It is reductive and economical and conveys only as much as Katz needs it to, reconciling the intangible realm of abstract art and the everyday stuff of living.

He had his first solo exhibition in 1954 at the Roko Gallery in New York, and since then his work has received nearly 200 solo exhibition around the globe, including a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1986. His works are collected in numerous public collections worldwide. Today, Katz is viewed as a mentor for a new generation of artists in a variety of mediums.

A lavishly illustrated 128-page book, Alex Katz Paints Ada by Robert Storr with additional essays by Lawrence Alloway and James Schuyler, containing 66 color plates and 6 black-and-white illustrations, accompanies the exhibition and is being co-published by The Jewish Museum, New York and Yale University Press. The hardcover book is available at The Jewish Museum's Cooper Shop and at bookstores worldwide.

Artist Alex Katz will discuss his career and the exhibition, Alex Katz Paints Ada, with art historian Robert Storr in a public program at The Jewish Museum on Thursday, November 9 at 6:30 pm. Fee. Program tickets can be obtained at www.thejewishmuseum.org, 212.423.3337, or in person at the Museum's Admissions Desk.

Alex Katz Paints Ada was funded through generous gifts from Ruth Albert and the Eugene and Emily Grant Family Foundation in honor of Evelyn G. Clyman. Additional support was provided by The Bank of New York.


Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

and from other websites:

From ArtForum:

From Art Journal:

and these VHS videos:

Alex Katz: Five Hours is a 20 minute 1996 video directed by Vivien Bittencourt and Vincent Katz. "We get to see the artist's famous portrait style, as well as the landscape style for which Katz has recently been acclaimed. The videomakers decided against the use of dialogue; the painter is accompanied only by the music of composer and theater artist Merideth Monk. This video captures the essence of Katz, that quality Robert Storr of the Museum of Modern Art defines as the unquantifiable "cool", in a dazzling and moving display of commitment to the experience of painting." (quote from Checkerboard Film Foundation)


Alex Katz: 38-minute 1977 Alex Katz. interview from the Video Data Bank, a resource for videotapes by and about contemporary artists.

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rev. 10/17/06

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