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Alex Katz The Black Dress, 1960

The Black Dress

Artwork Factory

Alex Katz paints his wife Ada in a fashion classic—the black cocktail dress. Like a photo shoot, she is shown in six different poses and from changing perspectives; only the dress remains the same. The painted image looks flat, as if the artist wants to put the surfaces in the foreground. He succeeds in this with his recognizable painting style, where there is not one brushstroke too many.

Look closely

Wie unterscheiden sich die sechs Adas voneinander?

Alex Katz paints in a two-dimensional, almost comic-like way, often placing his figures in front of neutral backgrounds. Here it is different. Ada is in a room and the painting on the right-hand side of the picture shows the poet James Schuyler, a friend. Museum, gallery or private room?

In his large-format paintings Alex Katz documents the people around him. In doing so, he conveys the attitude towards life that prevails in New York’s art and literature scene. Extravagance, beauty, charisma—he particularly likes to portray elegant women. But his muse is Ada. He has painted her over 200 times.

Alex and Ada

Talk about it

How do you feel about the terms “beauty” and “elegance”?

Alex Katz works with a Renaissance technique. First, he makes small oil studies, which he transfers onto paper in greatly enlarged form. Through small holes along the outlines he trickles chalk powder onto the canvas placed below. Then everything happens very quickly: the exact contours are painted deftly.

Learn more about Alex Katz’s painting style

Ponder this

What words would you use to describe the artist’s painting style? Is it a realistic representation?

Talk about it

What does the choice of motif and its realization say about the social position of the artist?

"Because you live in the city where there is a value on elegance and beauty and that’s like one of the things I’m involved with. I think some people find it hard to accept that as being art—elegance and beauty—they want to see social messages, suffering, inner expression, all of those things which I’m not interested in."

Alex Katz

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