Alex Katz - Reflection

Hors Les Murs

© Alex Katz / Adagp, Paris, 2022. Photo © Primae / Louis Bourjac

From 09.12.2022 to 26.03.2023
Espace Louis Vuitton Séoul
454 Apgujeong-ro, Gangnam-gu
Seoul 06015 Korea
T. +82 2 3432 1854
Monday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Following the tributes to Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol, the Espace Louis Vuitton Seoul presents a new exhibition of works by Alex Katz with a selection of exclusive pieces from the Collection as part of the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s “Hors-les-murs” programme. This programme unfolds at the Espaces Louis Vuitton in Tokyo, Munich, Venice, Beijing, Seoul, and Osaka, pursuing the Fondation’s ambition to reach an international audience.

The work of Alex Katz is often associated with pop art, owing to its realism and choice of subjects, but there are important differences. The seeming simplicity of his works has earned them a place as distant heirs to Matisse’s style, but they are inextricably tied to the history of American painting. In the early 1960s, the monumental nature of his paintings, which feature tightly framed models, brought to mind advertising billboards.

Known for his portraits of women and his landscapes, Katz mostly paints those close to him. His wife, Ada, is the subject of more than 250 portraits. A feeling of tranquility and the representation of an idealized American way of life emerge by way of a meticulous, multi-step process. Observational oil sketches are followed by detailed pencil or charcoal drawings transferred to the canvas, which Katz paints in a single studio session.

Portraiture has been Alex Katz’s preferred genre since the late 1950s, despite abstraction having dominated the North American art scene at the time. With their understated lines, his timeless portraits impress viewers with the idealized plenitude they exude. Katz looked to Manet, Degas, and Beckmann at the time, but Matisse remained his primary role model. The work Sandra 2 (1986), for example, is a lesson in light and color: the way the sun sweeps across the model’s chest, the way the hues come together between the figure and the background, enhanced with a few details, including a radiant yellow that also evokes the sun.

"The difference between my art and that of other artists, especially those who work in a realist or descriptive manner, resides in the fact that I am a colorist,” explains Katz. Like several of his large portraits, this painting has a cinematographic quality about it because of its composition (a closeup in front of a landscape) and size, like a projected character, larger than life. 

The cut-out portrait Ada (2013) displayed in the space on an aluminum structure, kindles feelings of both tranquility and instability.  

Alex Katz takes an Edenic view of nature and his loved ones. The artist’s youthful and refreshing touch, though Katz is over 90 years of age, explains the new interest in his work among younger generations. The Fondation Louis Vuitton presented his works as part of the A Vision for Painting exhibition in 2019.

© Alex Katz / Adagp, Paris, 2019 © Fondation Louis Vuitton / Marc Domage

“Light should be the first thing you see; that’s what I’m after. People ask about color, but color doesn’t matter. I can change the colors as long as I have light. People think my colors are very unique, but they’re not – I look for light, first and foremost.”

Alex Katz, 2016

The artist

Alex Katz

The work of Alex Katz is readily associated with Pop Art, both for its realism and choice of subjects, yet it differs significantly. The apparent simplicity of his pieces reflects a distant Matissian heritage, while simultaneously remaining indissociable from the history of American painting.

In the early 1960s, the monumental size of his paintings, depicting tightly-framed subjects, evoked a billboard-like aesthetic. Known for his landscapes and portraits of women, Katz primarily paints his entourage; his wife, Ada, is depicted in more than 250 portraits. A feeling of tranquility and the representation of an idealized American way of life emerge by way of a meticulous, multi-stage process. Oil sketches from life are followed by drawings in pencil or charcoal transferred to a canvas, which is then painted in a single workshop session. Katz calls his large-format landscapes created in Maine “environmental paintings.” Using diluted materials that seem to extend beyond the frame, he captures sunlight and foliage in Black Brook 18 and Figure in the Woods. For more than twenty years, Katz painted the same river, Black Brook, near his Lincolnville studio/house every summer. In this series, which includes pieces ranging from small to massive formats, he captures the landscape’s reflection on the surface of the water without clearly distinguishing what is represented.