cover image Alex Katz

Alex Katz

Rizzoli, Et Al Rosenblum. Rizzoli International Publications, $40 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8478-0717-8

Hovering uneasily between realism and pop art, Katz's gigantic portraits strike detractors as slick and lifeless, while admirers praise their energy, style and optimism. An exhibition now at New York's Whitney Museum may help viewers decide whether Katz's swimmers, couples, partygoers and motorists are empty pop icons or, as Rosenblum puts it, ""a loving, directly perceived record of the sweet facts of people and places that provide the continuities of the artist's life.'' This lavish exhibition catalogue smacks of promotionalism in its academic gush over Katz's work. Marshall argues that the pictures are ``full of formal, social, and psychological references, both historical and current,'' but the brief essays do not go far beyond the usual comparisons with the large-scale works of Manet, Leger and Picasso and the stark croppings of Degas and Caillebotte. In the end, Katz may be an artist who cleverly exploits illusionistic devices of billboard ads and movie stills to fashion gargantuan portraits that make ambiguous social commentaries. (May 23)