Art Meets Fashion: through the eyes of Alex Katz

Las Rozas Village presents a new chapter of ‘Art Meets Fashion’ in collaboration with the Thyssen Museum, an invitation to explore a dialogue between art and fashion through an Alex Katz exhibition.

A precursor of pop art and one of the leading figures of twentieth century American art, Alex Katz’s works are a masterful portrait of the dream of New York’s high society. He offers impressive, enveloping scenes that can transport the viewer to sipping gin and tonic amid cigarette smoke in Soho, or relaxing in the Hamptons.

The temporary exhibition is on show at the Thyssen Museum until 11 September. The exhibition is the first retrospective of the legendary artist shown in Spain and is the centrepiece of the new chapter of ‘Art Meets Fashion’ – the collaboration between Las Rozas Village and the Thyssen Museum. This truly unique exhibition can be viewed in the museum in person or via a virtual tour. The virtual tour is available in the Village, where a large screen will transform the fourth wall into a portal into Katz’s world.

We spoke to the project's ambassadors, José ‘Josie’ Fernández-Pacheco, stylist and fashion expert, and Coco Dávez, artist and illustrator, to learn more of their expertise on Katz's genuinely American style, where geometry and gesture share the stage with fashion and ready-to-wear.

What space does Katz’s work occupy in the collective imagination?

Coco Dávez: He is one of the most foremost representatives of pop art who’s still active.

Josie: For those of us who’ve dedicated ourselves to fashion, he’s a key figure, because he speaks like few others of a New York that we’ll never see again, a city that was the centre of the world from the Treaty of Paris until practically 9/11.

Katz, A. Red Coat, 1982 Oil on linen 243.8 × 122 cm The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation Inc, Leonard A. Lauder, President, 2015, New York. Inv.: 2015.605

Describe the emotions Katz’s work evokes in you in five words.

Josie: Attractive and inspired city dwellers.
Coco Dávez: Ease, elegance, uniqueness, idleness, modernity.

How do art and fashion speak to each other in your work?

Josie: Fashion is crucial in our work. It envelops the figure and offers another way to convey the model’s personality, to tell a story, to create a moment.

Katz, A. The Cocktail Party, 1965 Oil on linen 183 x 244 cm Private collection. Courtesy Gray, Chicago/New York. Inv.: RGG1019022

Double Sarah B., Red Coat, Round Hill, The Cocktail Party... which do you think best expresses the dialogue between art and fashion?

Josie: I would choose The Cocktail Party (1965) because you want to be part of that New York scene, those conversations, to get to know the people who dress like that, in a simple, classic and even a bit old-fashioned cosmopolitan way... with a few very defining and strong Woody-Allen-esque elements.

What inspires you the most and why?

Josie: The portraits he made of people wearing sunglasses. How can you convey so much of a person’s features when their eyes are hidden, when you put it all in one element, the sunglasses?
Coco Dávez: The images that move me the most are the ones dedicated to his muse, his wife Ada.

Katz, A. Round Hill, 1977 Oil on linen 180 x 244 cm Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Partialand Promised Gift of Barry and Julie Smooke, Los Ángeles. Inv.: M.2006.112

Little black dresses, swimming costumes, hats... In Katz’s paintings, fashion has always been a true supporting actor. If fashion is a sign of identity, how would you define the clothing Katz used in his works?

Coco Dávez: Katz is more than a mere observer of society. Katz enjoys fashion. He passionately chooses accessories that define his protagonists.
Josie: There’s a term that perfectly defines the figures and the environments they sometimes share, and that’s ‘intellegance’. The intellectual allure of being someone who may not be the most beautiful person in the human species, but then again, they don’t have to be. They shine due to their intellectual interior, which transcends their exterior and the image when you view it.

Fashion is inherently changeable and draws from ephemeral trends, yet Katz’s own vision of fashion is contemporary. How do you explain the relevance of his universe over the years?

Josie: Because he chooses his components well. They’re destined to become classics – everything from an LBD to a pair of Ray-Ban Olympians.
Coco Dávez: In general, he works with flatness. He doesn’t go in so much for prints, and when he does, he doesn’t pick out ‘trendy’ things. He focuses more on form, making his paintings transport you to an era while keeping them current.

Katz, A. Double Sarah B, 2011 Oil on linen 213 x 305 cm Private collection. Courtesy Galería Javier López & Fer Frances, Madrid. Inv.: ALKA197

Red is very important for Katz. What does it signify?

Josie: It’s a really imperial Roman thing; a symbol of status and wealth that crept into 90s power dressing in an amazing way, especially affecting the form of winterwear in the mornings and Valentino in the evenings. All red, all the time. Coco Dávez: Katz uses vibrant colours because he draws inspiration from pop art. He creates icons, and the icons are always based on people with a lot of personality, charisma, boldness, elegance and strength. The colour tells us what who we’re dealing with.

In the early 1980s, Katz painted a series of models with Norma Kamali designs, resulting in a seven-metre painting, Eleuthera, in 1984 that featured four pairs of women in Kamali swimming costumes. What does the increasing fascination of luxury brands with artists and their desire to work with them say about the times we’re living in?

Josie: The whole Thyssen exhibition is full of examples and references to art, fashion and the constant feedback between two worlds that are so close to each other. Every time I pass by Round Hill, I’m reminded of a 1997 photograph by the great Steven Meisel that evokes the composition and landscape depicted by Alex Katz in this painting. It’s one of my favourite paintings in the exhibition.

Title Image: Katz, A. Vivien, 2016 Oil on linen 152.5 x 381 cm Private collection. Courtesy Galería Javier López & Fer Frances, Madrid. Inv.: ALKA191

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