I am always impressed by spaces that do not have to lure their audience with free champagne, but rather with the opportunity to be cultured. Case in point: the pairing of two established and prominent art world heavyweights, Alex Katz and Jeremy Deller, in their dual solo openings at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise on November 10th 2012. Katz is the American painting staple and Deller is the English, Turner Prize winning multimedia artist, curator, and more. Both have had multiple museum and gallery shows, coffee table books, etc. The space itself at Gavin Brown’s is remarkable and impeccably kept. The crowd, equally as impeccable (except for that one guy whom I witnessed getting kicked out of a James Cohan opening once.) Lucky for me, in my desperate search for a restroom I unintentionally ended up in the private back room where the artists themselves were actually sipping champagne.
A Gesture, a Woman, a Time
Alex Katz has been a leading American painter for the last five decades, effortlessly capturing momentary timelessness. His signature flat, matte, flesh tone faces, single gesture outlines that suggest facial features are widely recognizable. On view are 11 new paintings of women wearing headscarves. They are of different age, and we know that because a single brushstroke would signify a wrinkle, a sucked in cheek. A horizontal red line makes a mouth, and one single toned arch with a circle makes an eye. The identity of the women are unknown, they could be portraits of people he knows, strangers, etc.
The core though is that these are portraits of the universal being, the existential fact that these are women with whom we can relate, and whom we can project on. The lack of identifiers in their faces makes them my mother, my aunt. One painting depicted a woman wearing what looked like a Slavic scarf and I couldn’t help but see my grandmother, which in turn made me nostalgic and sentimental. And at the end of the day isn’t the point of an artwork to make someone think something or feel something? Katz’s remarkable success as a painter is the ability to transcend what someone should see and have the viewer see exactly what they feel and want to see.