With the waning days of summer upon us, take some respite from the August haze to cool off and refresh at our area museums. The region’s vibrant artistic rhythms are reflected in what’s on view nearby.
Alex Katz at Nassau County Museum of Art
New York’s Whitney Museum comes to Long Island in the form of a solo exhibit of works by painter Alex Katz, in “Alex Katz: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art.” This exhibition, which opened in late June and runs through Oct. 13, includes early landscapes and collages, as well as the enormous and brilliantly colored portraits of family and friends that are the hallmark of the artist’s career.
“He’s one of a very few living artists with a highly recognizable style. People adore his work,” said Karl Willers, the Nassau County Museum of Art’s director. “He stands out in that circle of [Roy] Lichtenstein, [Andy] Warhol and Larry Rivers as one of the premier pop artists of the ‘60s. He has hung on to develop a style that he has made completely his own.”
It’s an approach that draws inspiration from the boldly colored billboards of the 1960s and movies, which resulted in Katz’s seminal works. “These were a series of large paintings, among them The Red Smile and Eli, both done in 1963, that used bright color on large canvases that almost seem to take over the wall,” explained Willers. Also in that style, Katz’s later work Apple Blossom, in which he focused on blossoming apple trees to similar affect.
His technique reflected the pop art and culture of the time, including advertising and panoramic film. Using large canvases, Katz painted people — often his wife and muse Ada and their circle of friends and others in the artistic community — in a portraiture style, according to Willers, that captured the subtleties of his subject’s features. “He painted with broad, flat strokes and made great use of color,” Willers said. “He gave them the appeal of Hollywood glamour. His portraits reflect a a classic movie style image, as if they were getting a screen close-up.”
The exhibit, which includes 33 paintings and 28 prints, is culled from the Whitney’s extensive collection of Katz’s works. “The Whitney has substantial holdings that they generously permitted us to use for this exhibit. It’s similar to a 2007 retrospective that traveled to Albany. For us, it was re-evaluated and revised,” said Willers.
Katz, who was born in Brooklyn in 1927, grew up in the St. Albans section of Queens and attended Cooper Union’s School of Art where he was trained in modern art theories and techniques. He later earned a scholarship to continue his studies at Maine’s Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture. He has said that Skowhegan’s plein air painting gave him “a reason to devote my life to painting.”
In New York during the 1950s, resisting the dominant abstractionism of the time, Katz associated with other figurative painters, among them Rivers and Fairfield Porter. Toward the latter part of the decade, his work evolved towards greater realism as he became increasingly interested in portraiture with monochrome backgrounds, painting his friends and family and especially his wife.Katz began creating large-scale paintings, often depicting dramatically cropped faces in a style that was to become his signature.
The power of Katz’s portraits, said Dana Miller, Curator, Permanent Collection, of the Whitney Museum of American Art, “…comes from their color and their scale.”
This retrospective, which includes works rarely on view, is divided between Katz’s well-known portraits and his landscape paintings. “It gives a comprehensive overview of the artist’s career,” said Willers. “It is a very solid body of work that includes his early studies, to much more recent and large scale pieces. It shows all the different mediums and sizes he works in.”
And it’s an ideal summer exhibit, according to Willers. “Even though much of it is portraiture, it has an ease and glamour that is very fresh and summery, ” he said.
As always, the museum offers additional programming to enhance the viewing experience. Lunchtime lectures on Katz’s work are scheduled on Aug. 22 and Sept. 26. The influential art critic Bill Berkson visits, on Oct. 12, to share his insights on Katz’s painting. For details on these and other events, visit nassaumuseum.org/events.
Stan Brodsky: A Retrospective
The career of another current artist, Long Island’s Stan Brodsky, is celebrated in The Heckscher Museum of Art’s new exhibit, “Stan Brodsky: Retrospective.” The exhibition, which opens Saturday and runs through Dec. 1, traces the artist’s evolution from early representational works that focus on city structures, through the minimalist landscapes executed during the artist’s early years on Long Island, to the Abstract Expressionism that manifest Brodsky’s deepest engagement with the painting process itself.
“Stan Brodsky has made Huntington his home for almost 50 years and during that time has been included in many group exhibitions at the museum, as well as the subject of two solo shows, the most recent more than 20 years ago,” said Lisa Chalif, curator of the Heckscher Museum of Art. “Since then, Stan’s work has continued to evolve towards dense, multi-layered compositions full of animated gesture, attesting to his engagement with the process of painting itself. This retrospective spans almost his entire career, including recent work executed earlier this year.”
For 50 years Brodsky has created abstract works of lyrical beauty inspired by the Long Island landscape and his travels in the U.S. and abroad. His multi-layered paintings exude dynamic energy and reveal an elegant sensitivity to color rare among his contemporaries.
Brodsky, a professor emeritus at LIU Post, draws his primary inspiration from his surroundings. He has transformed his personal experience of the landscape — and its light, color and mood — into abstract paintings. His earliest landscapes, executed while he lived in New York, explore how light suffuses objects, reducing rigid, grid-like structures into unmodulated bands of color that define the fore-, middle-, and background of the pictorial space.
After he moved to Long Island in 1965, the horizon — marking the division between the shifting surface of the water below and the empty sky above — replaced defined elements as an anchor in minimalist works of blended color that derived from his experience working with pastel.
By the early 1980s, Brodsky’s approach involved an exploration of flattened pictorial space built up from layers of pigment that create an overall surface pattern of light and shade, animated by energetic ribbons of color that dance across the canvas, attesting to his engagement with the process of painting itself. His frequent travels — to New Mexico, Greece, Israel, Sicily, Arizona, Prague, Ireland, France, California, and Tuscany — are documented by his many series of paintings whose varied palettes capture the essence of place.
The Lyon, the Which, and The Warhol Redux
Over at Hofstra University, the museum continues its 50th anniversary celebration with “The Lyon, the Which, and The Warhol: The Sequel,” through Sept. 15.
It is indeed a sequel to the museum’s early spring 2013 exhibition (The Lyon, the Which and The Warhol) and focuses on themes of gender and identity while highlighting photography from the Museum’s permanent
As with the exhibit’s first round, this current installation is again culled from the museum’s extensive photography collection, combining photos by photojournalist Danny Lyons and pop icon Andy Warhol juxtaposed with contributions by other photographers and artists in various mediums. Works by Diane Arbus are also on view, as well as works in other media by Oskar Kokoschka, Alfred Maurers and Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi.