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Serpentine Gallery Review – Alex Katz paintings and Bjarke Ingles sculpture

Alex Katz
Born in Brooklyn in 1927, Katz came of age in a New York where abstract
expressionism was in the middle of displacing the old realists, and the chaos of pop
lay around the corner. In between, he developed a legacy. He’s best known for his
portraits of friends and family: warm, crooked hybrids of naturalism and illustration.
it’s easy to heap praise on an 89-year-old artist for still working on canvases nearly
20 feet wide, but that does a disfavor to him, because the simple fact is that they’re
also very very good. Katz has frequently likened his work to poetry, and there’s
something haiku-like in his ability to record passing events, leaves floating on the
surface of a brook; moonlight lacing the branches of trees, in a series of seemingly
shallow swipes and dabs. this casualness, this deceptive shorthand, is in each and
every piece, whether it’s a smudged track of black and pink describing a frizzy
curtain of hair, or square slabs of white applied with a flat-ended brush resembling
the windows of an apartment. specially the most current works it makes them as
sophisticated as they are seductive. From a distance, they’re hip, bright, cheerful
images of an artist’s day-to-day life. Up close, they’re a reminder that painting is,
and always has been, a noticeably difficult process of pushing coloured mud around
on a surface. Though the show focuses on landscapes, there are a number of
portraits included in the display. The colour palette remains bold with simple figures
painted against backgrounds of orange. It could have been so easy for such brilliance
in the background to overwhelm the sitter but actually it all works in harmony.
Bjarke Ingles
The entire pavilion has been built using a single structural element: a fibre glass
reinforced polymer box, left open at either end to admit views of the park. Onethousand eight-hundred and two of these specially developed blocks have been
stacked together, lending the pavilion’s curling surfaces an elegantly pixelated
effect. Central to the design’s appeal is the haziness of such a large volume being
realised by means of so lightweight a structure. The fact that the plastic is
translucent and becomes more so towards the top, thanks to the successive
reduction of its thickness further emphasizes that indicted fragility. Its design is
based on the idea of an unzipped brick wall, Ingels, who is the founder of Danish
firm BIG, posted an image of the blocks during construction with a caption saying
"Minecraft" which is the world-building computer game that he has previously cited
as an inspiration for his designs. Described the architect as "both transparent and
opaque, both solid box and blob", its intended as a simple wall that has been
distorted into a more freeform shape. Viewed side-on, the pavilion is rectangular but
when seen from the front or at an angle, its curving silhouette is exposed. He said, "I
think we tried to make a structure, that in an effortless way, combines a lot of
differences, so it's a wall that becomes a hall inside, it's a gate to the Serpentine
Gallery, but it also creates a space for events. In one direction it’s all orthogonal and
all transparent, but when you look through the other side it's all opaque and
translucent and has this curvilinear face’’. There is a feeling of lightness as the
structure rises higher while each individual box features solid sides, their open ends
allow the pavilion to become virtually transparent, creating the strength of
connection between park and pavilion that is beautifully captured.