Alex Katz: The White Coat
Oct 22 - Dec 17, 2021
Essay by Jan Verwoert
Published by GRAY
Hardcover, 68 pages, English
Ships from Chicago
Gray is pleased to announce the forthcoming release of Alex Katz: The White Coat, a publication documenting the eponymous exhibition on view at Gray Chicago from October 22 through December 17, 2021.
Alex Katz: The White Coat is the complete series of eleven paintings titled Vivien in White Coat, based on the likeness of Vivien Bittencourt, the artist's daughter-in-law. Using a palette dominated by white, black and pale blue, Katz radically crops and magnifies the figure from an array of dynamic perspectives within the picture plane. Balancing the specific and abstract, intimate and remote, geometric and gestural, Katz positions the figure in space with deftness, brevity, and sartorial elegance. Notwithstanding Katz’s seriality, the White Coat appears mysterious and enigmatic within each composition.
Alex Katz: The White Coat features an essay by renowned curator and writer, Jan Verwoert, 34 color illustrations and the artist’s biography, and follows Gray’s previous publications, Alex Katz: Grass and Trees and Alex Katz: Flowers.
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
One of the most influential American artists of the last half-century and a leading figure of contemporary figurative painting, Alex Katz presents a new series of eleven large-scale portraits in a focused solo exhibition titled The White Coat. Alex Katz: The White Coat was on view at Gray Chicago from October 22 through December 17, 2021.
Created between 2020 and 2021, Katz’s White Coat paintings are based on the likeness of Vivien Bittencourt, a photographer and filmmaker, and the artist’s daughter-in-law. Across these eleven portraits, Katz paints Vivien in a variety of dynamic compositions unified by a brilliant light blue ground color. With a discerning eye for color, form, and economy of line, Katz upholds the immediacy of portraiture while balancing the specific and abstract, intimate and remote, geometric and gestural.
Katz’s ongoing endeavor to capture fleeting moments in time manifests in this series as a sequence of snapshot-like images. In Vivien in White Coat 1-11, Katz choreographs each composition as if painted in rapid succession. Yet, despite their seriality, Vivien retains an air of mystery in each canvas, turning towards and away from the viewer in a state of perpetual motion. Writer and curator Jan Verwoert, in the text he authored for the accompanying publication, observes: "Vivien looks you in the eye and stands firmly. But still she will not stand for long. The folds and ripples in the white coat she wears give clues to the fact that she may prefer to stay in motion. As do the freely interlacing patterns of black lines on the blouse she put on under the coat. Vivien looks around, turns, and is on her way."
Producing familiarity through repetition, Katz’s practice of painting subjects with whom he holds close personal relationships would seem to invite viewers into an intimate and ethereal space. At the same time, Katz is careful to preserve his subject’s identity at a safe distance. As Verwoert observes, “The face, name, and presence may be rendered familiar by the paintings. But at no point do they invite incursions into the life of the portrayed. Katz refrains from laying life bare to a mode of reading that would overstep boundaries, penetrate and dissect a subject. He does so consistently, and strikingly, regardless of whether he introduces you to a human being, family of trees, or landscape… So it’s not like he blocks readings. He simply does not bait the invasive gaze. Rather than embolden viewers to insinuate themselves into works and rashly read between lines, Katz will choose to paint very few… [Katz] paints a big yes to the power of the face to speak of life, but a distinctive no to psychological carnivores getting their fill. He gives you the look, not the scoop.”