Alex Katz and Renoir, Intimate Moments

by Jim Puzinas on May 31, 2012

It always is an uplifting experience when I go to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Recently, I had the opportunity to view two featured exhibitions currently on display – Alex Katz Prints and Dancing with Renoir.

Alex Katz, detail   (screenprint) at the MFA

Alex Katz, detail, Gray Day (screenprint), 1992 at the MFA

Downstairs, in the Gund Gallery, I explored the wonderfully colorful Alex Katz print exhibition. His take on the commercialization of the world has been around for years utilized by such Pop Art giants as Lichtenstein and Warhol, featuring intimate, close up, larger than life, head shots of people, some famous, some not. This motif has been used by the advertising industry for many years, trying to get us to buy something. But instead of poking fun at the increasing and occasional vulgar overuse of common images in our culture, Alex Katz chooses this large format device to create an intimate yet almost voyeuristic focus on his lovely wife and muse, Ana Katz. 

Alex Katz, detail, Brisk Day (woodblock), Brisk Day (aquatint), Brisk Day (Screenprint), 1990 at MFA

Alex Katz, detail, Brisk Day (woodblock), Brisk Day (aquatint), Brisk Day (Screenprint), 1990 at MFA

Although Katz created his prints through various processes such as aquatint, screenprint and lithography, it is his deeply color-saturated large scale woodblock prints of Ana that are clearly my favorite, revealing her lush colored lips and deeply expressive eyes. 

Renoir, Dancing Couple at the MFA

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at Bougival, Dance in the City, and Dance in the Country, all 1883.

This romantic intimacy that Katz captures is somewhat unique for most Pop Art works, but not so for fine art in general. A hundred plus years earlier, Renoir set up a similar response in the viewer, by painting a larger than life couple, intertwined and dancing with fervid abandon. The “Dancing with Renoir” exhibition on display upstairs in the European Gallery,  features three works, all painted by Renoir in 1883, that  focus entirely on this romantic couple, almost as a silhouette, with little background distraction. All the action is in their interaction, captured in the split second of a dance swirl.  

Renoir, Husband and wife, pastel at the MFA

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the Boating Couple, pastel at the MFA

In like fashion, Renoir was also able to entice a voyeuristic response in his wonderful medium size pastel self portrait of himself and his wife-to-be, entitle “The Boating Couple”. Likely a study for the figural elements of his larger dancing couple series, this pastel lures the viewer into an intimate scene between husband and wife.  

Both Renoir and Katz explore our human desire to both peer into other peoples lives and ponder what just happened or is about to happen: two artists, spanning more than a century, evoking similar thoughts from the viewer. Which image is your favorite?

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