I have been looking at Alex Katz paintings for nearly fifty years, but mostly as page-size reproductions in contemporary art magazines, where they stand out as rare attractive depictions of the real world, but this is the first time I have seen a roomful in all their original, full-sized splendor. Well, perhaps splendor is not the right word, even if these paintings are very well made.
Katz displays a well-studied discipline for design and execution. You can see the instantaneous pull of his brush through paint, as well as the dynamics and scale of the design within which it operates. The resulting decorative effect is almost like an eighteenth-century Japanese screen, except that its beauty is more like off-the-rack, ready-to-wear casual fashions from a mail-order catalog than a precious, unique kimono.
His wall-size, multi-figure “Summer Triptych” dates back to 1985, but most of the other work on display is current. Perhaps for his generation of Depression-born, first-generation Americans, struggling to build such a life was a sufficient goal, but his vision feels like such an ordinary, workaday American world, as managed by corporate experts in marketing, law and finance. If you really want to experience that, why not just visit a super-sized suburban shopping mall? (Chris Miller)
Through November 2 at Richard Gray Gallery, 875 North Michigan.