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Found within the leafy recesses of Hyde Park, The Serpentine Gallery is rapidly establishing itself as one of the premier art galleries within both London and the United Kingdom. This summer, the gallery only succeeds in taking one step further in cementing its rapidly blossoming reputation with its impressive and thought-provoking exhibition “Alex Katz: Quick Light”.
Alex Katz is unequivocally one of the most prevalent artists of his generation, and, despite the fact that he is now on the cusp of his 90s, remains a hugely influential figure within the art world in both his native United States and across the Atlantic. Katz’ signature emphases upon figuration and the use of bold colors proved crucial influences in the formation of the Pop Art movement – a movement that would ultimately come to characterize the cultural landscape of the heart of the 20th Century.
In “Quick Light”, Katz stays very much true to form; and the works contained within the exhibition are defined by their flatness of color and simplified form. However, perhaps the most striking aspect of “Quick Light” is Katz’s versatility as an artist as he elegantly shifts between portraiture and landscape painting, effortlessly navigating the disparities between both disciplines. For this exhibition, Katz has interestingly elected to exclusively focus upon portraying female subjects in an undeniably androgynous manner, with the notable exception of his wife ‘Ada’. These androgynous representations, coupled with the bright orange backgrounds against which they are set, are hallmarks of Katz’s craft.
As the title of the exhibition suggests, “Quick Light” is primarily concerned with the dual notions of motion and time that are inextricably linked, joined at the hip, through the idea of the ‘present’. Katz’s obsession with capturing the ‘present’ is manifested in both his portraiture and his landscapes: the former through the off-centre perspectives of his subjects – most of whom appear to be caught in the act of turning or, in the case of ‘Vivien’ and ‘Emma’, whose movements are actually documented through Katz’s ‘time-lapse’ technique; whilst the latter are dominated by representations of seasons, ‘Snow Scene 3’ and ‘Fog’, and specific times – ‘4PM’ and ‘January 7PM’.
Thus, the viewer is left with the inexorable impression that Katz’s pursuit of capturing the ‘present’ – whether by means of seeking to chronicle his subjects’ split-second movements and reactions or by attempting to depict the seasonal or chronological paradigm of a particular environment – is what proves to be the driving force behind “Quick Light”: this exhibition’s raison d’être. However, the fact that Katz strives to convey the ‘present’, which is an inherently abstract idea, through largely non-abstract and figurative techniques is what forms the fundamental and paradoxical tension that lies at the heart of “Quick Light”, elevating this veteran artist’s ambitious and intriguing exhibition to new heights.
By Ben Roith