Spring 2007 Talks
In 1977, Alex Katz (b.1927, New York City, NY) created a monumental frieze featuring multistory headshots of glamorous women on the wraparound advertising space of a building at 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue in Times Square. It happened to be one of the very first projects of the Public Art Fund, which was founded that same year, and was also the first time that Katz had created his work on such a heroic scale; he later described it as “one of the big kicks” of his life. One of the most influential painters of our time, Katz came onto the New York art scene in the late 1950s, at the height of Abstract Expressionism, and his iconic style of painting took that movement’s monumental proportions and flat surfaces into uncharted representational territory. Characterized by reductive imagery and rich hues, Katz’s vibrant canvases employ the most economic means to lovingly portray the people and places in his life, from Maine seascapes to New York cocktail parties, from portraits of poets and artists to his most famous subject, his wife, Ada. Interested in the gestures and colors that characterize a fleeting moment, Katz has said, “I’m just trying to see the world I live in, not the world that someone else lived in, to get into the present tense and see where I am.”
Charles Ray (b.1953, Chicago, IL) has created wide-ranging art that has continually entertained viewers and upended expectations for more than three decades. With a lively, self-deprecating sense of humor and virtuoso craftsmanship, the Los Angeles-based artist depicts familiar elements of everyday life and modern art in disarmingly altered ways. His abstract and figurative sculptures—many of them among the most iconic artworks of our time—are the result of “some everyday thought that sticks,” as he puts it. From his black ink-filled minimalist cube to his elaborate cast-aluminum sculpture of an abandoned piece of work equipment, Untitled (Tractor) (2003-05), Ray’s boisterous works cause shifts in perception and address sculpture’s most fundamental questions: mass, space, color, and gravity. Interested in the active processes that are happening when one looks at art, Ray’s work encourages viewers to focus not just on subject matter, but also on how a sculpture occupies and shapes its surroundings. Toy Truck (1993), a Tonka fire truck scaled up to the size of the actual thing, was the show-stopping icon of the 1993 Whitney Biennial. Parked in front of the museum, its one-to-one scale with the city suggested that perhaps everything else around it was a toy version of itself, too.
Brash, sensual, monstrous and lovely—sometimes all at once—Lisa Yuskavage’s paintings and drawings have enchanted and startled viewers since her first New York solo show in 1993. Yuskavage (b.1962, Philadelphia, PA) is known for her extreme and provocative depictions of women in virtuoso, jewel-tone paintings that blend high and low aesthetic influences. She has recently turned in a more complex, psychological direction with a series of investigations of symbiotic relationships, which strike a delicate balance between tenderness and violence, and between the sacred and the profane. Her exaggerated figures of the 1990s have evolved into the contemplative protagonist of the painting Persimmons, lost in thought amidst a sunny still life of flowers and ripe fruit, or the two figures in Imprint (2006), who seem to meld into one another. Acknowledging the influence of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne and other classical works depicting passionate struggles between two people, Yuskavage’s quiet power plays take place against dreamy sfumato backdrops or within cozy, close-color interiors.
Public Art Fund Talks are organized by the Public Art Fund in collaboration with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School
The New School