"Imagine that you want to organize an exhibition on Titian's painting and that Titian himself told you: such a painting would have to be hung 15 centimeters further to the left," smiles Guillermo Solana, director of the Thyssen Museum in Madrid, to describe the experience they have had. lived with his new exhibition, for which they have had, he assures, "a direct line with God”. And God is Alex Katz (New York, 1927), one of the main figures of American art of the 20th century, who is surprised to see walking by the museum in excellent shape at the age of 94 to contemplate his first retrospective in Spain, after which he will visit the Venice Art Biennale.
Some large format figurative paintings that should have been seen in 2020 in Madrid and the pandemic prevented it, and which the current escalation in transport prices has put in check, but finally, and with the sponsorship of the artist himself to move any of the works, the exhibition has arrived and its immersive landscapes, its social scenes, especially of New York parties with his friends, and above all his enormous faces, especially that of his wife, Ada del Moro, of whom he has painted a and again since they met in 1958, they will see each other until September 11.
There are only 35 large-format paintings and five studies, but as visitors will see, nothing else fits on the walls given the size of the works. One of which, the magnetic Vivien, in which the painter portrays her daughter-in-law, has been acquired by Borja and Blanca Thyssen and will be exhibited in the museum after the show.
"The exhibition is a tour de force, it aims to tell a career of more than seventy years in 40 works hung in chronological order," explains Solana, who is also the curator of the exhibition and who remembers that they went to Katz's studio and he was generous and helped them track down lenders and even choose a piece.
Solana says that the development of Katz's painting, which is situated in the return to figuration after abstract expressionism, "is relatively homogeneous between 1957 and 1986". He first paints landscapes, to which he will return much later, and then begins to experiment with the figure, but, he remarks, “when the idea that he should concentrate on portraits takes hold, it is in 1957, shortly before he met Ada. Abstraction is running out and the portrait is to return to reality and at the same time connect with the iconic. In the mass media, the image is simple, direct, has great impact, and a portrait can have that better than another type of painting. Warhol, a little later than Katz, also bursts in with portraits, with Marilyn, Jackie, Liz Taylor, who are icons."
Katz, he notes, "makes close ups that terribly enlarge the image, make it overwhelming, like billboards. And he has never abandoned that desire for large scale. He says that great European painting is large, the Venetians, Tintoretto, Veronese, the 19th century French, David, Delacroix”.
And he highlights that “there are two characteristics of Katz that are very clear to me. On the one hand, the affirmation of life lives in the here and now and its painting is made so that we can enjoy it and life. And then he is an enormously cool man, distant, who likes to control everything, not getting carried away by outbursts or rhetoric, he is direct, dry, things are like that. He loves jazz music and New York poetry, as is his culture. There are paintings of his that are reminiscent of Woody Allen, they are two types of New York's bohemian elite who share many things, a world that is now remote”.
A creator who, says Solana, when he is about to turn sixty and they are doing a retrospective at the Whitney, decides to introduce a new genre into his work, the environmental landscape, landscape paintings that are so wide that the viewer feels inside the painting. Landscapes that, he concludes, return a bit to abstraction, but without ever abandoning his monumental portraits: “He sometimes says that his great idea was to see that figuration had to appropriate the energy of the large-scale painting that the expressionists had painted abstract, of that power and heroic character of Pollock, Kline, de Kooning. Figuration didn't have to do little things, but to live up to that”.