“No sad songs. No minor key. Not for me,” Katz recently told the New York Times and that cheerful mood is particularly evident in the show’s centerpieces: two of Katz’ heroically-scaled landscapes, “Yellow Flags” (2011) and “Pink Roses 4” (2012.)
“There’s something so happy about them,” said Lanya Snyder, the museum’s assistant curator, who put the show together with Katz’ New York City studio. “They brought in “Flags” on the only cold, gray day we’ve had this fall, and it just made me happy to look at it.”
The exhibit is called “Alex Katz: Small Paintings” because, other than the two huge works, the rest of the show consists of 37 petite canvases Katz, known as the father of American contemporary art, completed between 1990 and 2015.
Some are preparatory sketches for Katz’ large paintings, where the artist can be seen experimenting with color or brushstrokes. Some of the paintings seem like snapshots of the details Katz will draw on later in complete pieces, like a close-up of a birch tree where Katz plays with light and shadow.
Others are small, intimate paintings the eye can take in in one glance, an impossibility with his large-scaled works.
“The exhibit is a chance to look at the hand of one of the foremost artists living and working today, to be able to see his process in such a close-up way,” said Snyder. “The vast majority of people don’t see these small paintings. People think they know him from his large canvases, but this gives them a different way to see his work.”
Although Katz is known as a highly-stylized realist, some of the small pieces are abstracted landscapes, where just a few brush strokes suggest lighted windows or city lights.
Katz, now 90, with a 60-year career behind him, still paints every day, says Snyder, either at his summer home in Maine or in his studio, which Snyder visited while assembling the exhibit. “He still runs every day, too, in lower Manhattan,” said Snyder.
In New York, his staff put together a small-scale replica of the gallery in Boca Raton, so Katz could see how the show would look.
“He doesn’t like groupings of things, like putting all his portraits, together. He likes them all interspersed, all mingled together,” said Snyder.
Hung in a horizontal line that winds around the gallery, the exhibit includes plenty of landscapes and several portraits, the twin subjects for which Katz has been known during his 60-year career.
The paintings portray a variety of moods, but all have an essential, confident optimism. Even a painting of a winter scene in grays and cold whites manages to portray a pleasant warmth.
Katz’ use of color, such as a zingy orange as background to otherwise dark portraits such as “Nicole,” and a series of his daughter-in-law, Vivien, make his work satisfyingly fun to spend time with for even casual viewers.
Katz once said he admired the Impressionists like Matisse, who saw “the world through golden eyes. They don’t do garbage pails and people suffering,” a description that could also apply to Katz, and which makes him a fine companion.
On the other hand, the Boca Raton show is a chance for Katz’ legions of knowledgeable admirers to get a close-up look at how an American master became one.
Since Katz usually likes to see exhibits of his work, Snyder is hoping he will visit the museum during the show, which will be up through April.
Maintaining the buoyant sense of fun is the museum’s concurrent exhibit of odd, wacky and wildly creative pottery, called
“Regarding George Ohr: Contemporary Ceramics in the Spirit of the Mad Potter,” that explores pottery’s creative, cutting edge.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Alex Katz: Small Paintings
WHERE: Boca Raton Museum of Art, Mizner Park, Boca Raton
WHEN: Through April 8, 2018.
INFORMATION: bocamuseum.org; 561-392-2500.