Woman of Substance


Like a camera zooming in, Alex Katz takes viewers high into the branches of a tree. The thick, black boughs of radiant yellow leaves fill our vision, and we are engulfed in the tree’s movement as it shifts in the wind to reveal glimpses of a clear, blue sky. Yellow Tree 1 (2020) evokes the vibrant energy of life in present tense, capturing a fleeting instant of beauty with vivid, penetrating sensation. Katz reveals how painting can bring us to a more intense awareness of the ways we encounter the world moment-to-moment.

A new exhibition on the prolific New York artist at the Guggenheim Museum, Alex Katz: Gathering (through February 20), brings together more than 200 works spanning eight decades. The show reveals a distinctive

painterly style characterized by Katz’s commitment to capturing visceral bursts of lived experience. Forging an intimate and reductively chromatic approach, his pieces experiment with size, scale, surges of color, and abrupt croppings of frame. Katz’s paintings evoke the unfolding rhythms of daily life in a way that transports us into their scenes, as if we were there with the artist himself.

The Guggenheim show recontextualizes the long trajectory of Katz’s portraits and social scenes alongside his ambitious landscape works, showcasing the energy of his recent years. As the exhibition’s curator, Katherine Brinson, emphasizes, “Katz’s radical redirection created the most experimental, open-ended works of his career.” Katz’s new landscapes reveal an obsession with translating the vitality, grandeur, and immanence of nature into massive paintings that engulf the viewer in close-up details of visual experience.

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This story appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of MILIEU.